SLI. Those three little letters conjure up memories of a bygone era. If you wanted the biggest, baddest 3D performer for gaming, you'd have not one, but two 3dfx Voodoo2 cards in your system. And since Voodoo2 didn't do 2D, you'd need a third graphics card to run Windows or DOS 2D. That system would give you about 180Mpixels/sec of pixel-blasting fill-rate, which at the time was about double what any other GPU on the market could hope to deliver. Today we're going to show you a 3D sub-system whose peak fill-rate is roughly 75 times greater than the original Voodoo2 SLI configuration.
The demise of high-flyer 3dfx is one of the saddest stories in the annals of 3D GPU history. But many of 3dfx's engineers, including architect Gary Taroli, wound up working for nVidia after that company acquired 3dfx's IP portfolio several years ago. Recently, nVidia decided to revive the SLI concept, though in name only. At a very basic level, the concept is the same: two is better than one. But how the new SLI (Scalable Link Interface) actually handles the incoming rendering workload is much more sophisticated than the old-school scan-line interleave technology that 3dfx pioneered years ago.
nVidia recently scored a major advance for its chipset business by finally securing a cross-licensing deal with CPU giant Intel. With this deal in place, nVidia chipsets can now address the much larger Intel-based side of the platform market, which comprises about 80% of the overall market. But currently, only nForce4 chipsets supporting AMD's Athlon64 processors will have SLI enabled on consumer desktops. Some Intel Xeon workstation class motherboards also ship with two PCI Express x16 slots.
Today, we're here to show you nVidia's Athlon64-based nForce 4, how its new SLI technology performs, how much more performance it buys you, and whether an SLI-based system makes sense for you.