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Upgrade Report [Superfast Graphics - 01/11/2005]

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      15th Jan 2005
January 11th, 2005

Superfast Graphics

By Jon L. Jacobi, PC World Contributor

A new technology that allows a PC to use two PCI Express graphics
boards in tandem delivers the fastest graphics performance we've ever
seen. We tested a system built with NVidia's SLI (Scalable Link
Interface) technology and saw a dramatic performance boost in newer
games played at high resolutions--though older, less
graphics-dependent games showed little or no benefit.

SLI's Speed Boost

Alas, SLI isn't something you can graft onto your current PC. You'll
need a new SLI-ready motherboard featuring NVidia's own NForce4
PCI-Express chip set for Athlon 64. For more on that chip set, read
"Nvidia Puts a Firewall on a Motherboard":

Four NVidia PCI Express graphics cards currently support SLI: the
midprice $200 GeForce 6600 GT; and the high-end 6800, 6800 GT, and
6800 Ultra models, which cost between $300 and $500 apiece. In
addition, Alienware makes a $6000 dual-Xeon SLI PC, and Gigabyte has
been developing an SLI motherboard based on Intel's 915 chip set.
NForce boards built to work with Intel CPUs are still a few months
away from readiness.

We tested a preproduction Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard with 6800 GT
cards in both single and dual (SLI) configurations, using an ATI X800
board as a reference point. Older games such as Return to Castle
Wolfenstein, Commanche 4, and Unreal Tournament 2004 depended less on
the graphics board, and they showed little or no performance gain with
SLI. In some cases, the SLI setup ran a frame or two per second slower
than the system configured with the single card--most likely due to
SLI overhead.

With newer GPU-centric games like Doom 3, Halo, and Far Cry, SLI
showed a noticeable but inconsequential improvement in frame rate at
1024 by 728 resolution. When we expanded the pixel grid to 1600 by
1200, however, SLI strutted its stuff--offering gains of up to 56
percent over the single-card setup with antialiasing enabled.

All in all, SLI delivered the fastest graphics performance we've ever
tested. A completely loaded SLI system is expensive, but if you're
buying or building a new PC, it's nice to know that you could
dramatically enhance its graphics performance by adding a second card

And if even an SLI system isn't fast enough for you, you can milk
every last drop of speed out of your system by using NVidia's NTune;
this downloadable utility works with NForce motherboards to permit you
to overclock your system--that is, run its memory, graphics card, and
buses at faster-than-standard clock speeds. NTune will benchmark and
automatically adjust your PC for best performance, or you can tweak
individual settings as you see fit.


Using NTune on a preproduction MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum NForce4 graphics
card, we were safely able to increase our test system's graphics
performance by almost 3 percent (gauged conservatively) for gaming and
then to reduce performance by nearly 3 percent so the PC could run
cooler and quieter, and use less energy while we played DVDs or
downloaded large files. Once you've perfected your settings, you can
save them for future use. NTune also lets you monitor your PC's
temperatures and voltage--an essential feature for debugging
overclocking settings.

For more news on the latest technologies, browse the PC World site:

"You can easily judge the character of a man by the way he treats those who can do nothing for him."
-- Goethe
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