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This story was printed from CdrInfo.com,
located at http://www.cdrinfo.com.
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Appeared on: Friday, February 04, 2005
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe


1. Introduction

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe - Page 1

As AMD64 processors are fast becoming more and more popular in gaming quarters and AMD introduces the 939 socket processors for CPU speeds lower than 3500+, end users are now looking for the best 939 socket motherboard to buy. Following on AMD's 64 bit architecture, ASUSTek released their new motherboard series for the AMD64 processors that utilize NVidia's new nForce4 MCP (Media and Communications Processor), offering a whole series of features implemented at the hardware level.

SLI support, PCI Express graphics support and secure network engine are some benefits that A8N-SLI users will enjoy. There are two versions of these motherboards, the A8N-SLI and A8N-SLI Deluxe. In this review, we put to the test the deluxe version of this motherboard armed with two ASUS Extreme N6600GT graphics cards operating in SLI mode. The million dollar questions are how do two 6600GT cards compare against one 6800GT card, and will their combined performance reach higher levels than those of the 6800GT?

- Features

The A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard offers a wide variety of features that are not easily found in other, similar motherboards. It supports all nForce4 innovations, along with AMD's cutting edge technologies such as Cool'n'Quiet.

Supports AMD Socket 939 Athlon 64FX/Athlon 64, which are based on AMD's 64-bit and 32-bit architecture. These processors provide a dramatic leap forward in compatibility and performance.
The NVIDIA nForce4 Scalable Link Interface (SLI) technology allows two graphics processing units in a single computer. This technology takes advantage of the PCI Express bus architecture and features intelligent hardware and software solutions that allows multiple GPUs to work together and achieve exceptional performance.
NVIDIA introduces built-in NVFirewall, a high-performance firewall application and NVActiveArmor engine that provides advanced data packet inspection.
The A8N-SLI Deluxe supports AMD's Cool'n'Quiet technology that will automatically monitor and control VCore voltage, CPU speed and power and adjust it accordingly, depending on CPU demands.
HyperTransport technology increases the communications speed between integrated circuits in computers and networks, achieving 48 times faster communication. It is basically a high-speed, low-latency point-to-point link.
Double Data Rate (DDR) memory technology is supported, offering ultra-fast memory bandwidth
Next-Generation Serial ATA 3GB/sec is supported, providing twice the bandwidth of current Serial ATA products. Additionally, Serial ATA allows thinner and more flexible cables with lower pin counts and reduced voltage requirements. RAID controllers provide Dual-RAID functionality that allows you to select the best RAID solution.

The A8N-SLI Deluxe supports 8-channel audio through the onboard ALC850 CODEC with 16-bit DAC, a stereo 16-bit ADC, and an AC97 2.3 compatible multi-channel audio designed for PC multimedia systems.

The motherboards offers up to 10 USB 2.0 compatible ports, and 2 IEEE1394a (Firewire) ports.

Apart from the AIAudio feature described above, ASUS uses several others AI Proactive features to further improve network and overclocking performance on this motherboard.
ASUS Non-delay Overclocking System (AI NOS) will monitor CPU demands and overclock the system automatically, only when it is needed.
AI NET2 will report all Ethernet cable faults and shorts. During the boot-up process, AI NET2 will check the cable's condition and report back all problems found.

The features list does not end here! There are more ASUS innovative features:

ASUS EZ Plug is a 4-pin auxiliary +12V connector that is used to ensure voltage stability on your motherboard and for other installed peripherals.
CrashFree BIOS 2 will protect you from bad BIOS flashing, with the ability to restore the BIOS to its original state from the installation CD.
Alternatively, with ASUS Post Reporter you can forget all those annoying, beeping sounds if something is wrong with your hardware. The A8N-SLI will inform you of any hardware failure with pre-recorded voice messages.
Asus QFan will adjust the fan rotation speed according to the system's temperature/load reducing noise and ensuring quiet, cool and efficient operation.
You can also turn your computer into a stand-alone CD player with ASUS InstantMusic, since you do not have to turn your PC on in order to use your CD/DVD player for audio playback.

You can see a full detailed specification table below:

CPU - Socket 939 for AMD Athlon 64FX / Athlon 64
- AMD64 architecture enables simultaneous 32- and 64-bit computing
- Supports AMD Cool 'n' Quiet Technology
Chipset NVIDIA nForce®4 SLI
Front Side Bus 2000 MT/s, 1600MT/s
Memory - 4 x 184-pin DIMM Sockets support max. 4GB DDR400/DDR333/DDR266 ECC/ non-ECC un-buffered DDR SDRAM memory
- Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Expansion Slots - 2 x PCI Express x16 slot
*SLI mode : x8 , x8
*Default(Single VGA) mode : x16, x1
- 2 x PCI Express x1
- 3 x PCI
SLI - Under SLI mode : support two identical SLI-ready graphics cards
- Under Default(Single VGA) mode: supports all PCI Express graphics cards
- ASUS EZ Plug
- ASUS SLI Warning LED
- ASUS EZ Selector
- ASUS two-slot thermal design
- ASUS PEG Link for dual PCIe graphic cards
Storage/ RAID nForce4 Storage:
- 4 x SATA 3Gb/s
- 2 x UltraDMA 133/100/66/33
- NVRAID : RAID0, RAID1, RAID 0+1 and JBOD span cross SATA and PATA
Silicon Image 3114R RAID controller:
- 4 x Serial ATA with RAID0, 1, 0+1, and RAID5
LAN nForce4 built-in Gbit MAC with external Marvell PHY :
- NV ActiveArmor
- NV Firewall
- AI NET2
MARVELL PCI Gbit LAN controller :
- AI NET2
Audio Realtek ALC850, 8-channel CODEC
Audio Sensing and Enumeration Technology
Coaxial/Optical S/PDIF out ports on back I/O
IEEE 1394 TI 1394 controller supports 2 x 1394 ports
USB Max. 10 USB2.0 ports
ASUS AI Proactive Features AI NOS(Non-delay Overclocking System)
AI NET2 network diagnosis before entering OS
Overclocking Features AI NOS (Non-delay Overclocking System)
AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)
ASUS PEG Link for single/dual graphics cards

Precision Tweaker:
- vDIMM: 9-step DRAM voltage control
- vCore: Adjustable CPU voltage at 0.0125 increment
- SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection): allowing FSB tuning from 200MHz up to 400MHz at 1MHz increment
- PCIe Frequency: allowing PCIe frequency from 100MHz up to 200MHz at 1MHz increment

Adjustable FSB/DDR ratio. Fixed PCIe/PCI/SATA frequencies.
ASUS PEG Link for single/dual graphics cards
ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
ASUS Special Features Post Reporter
ASUS EZFlash
ASUS CrashFree BIOS 2
ASUS Q-Fan
ASUS MyLogo2
ASUS Multilanguage BIOS
ASUS Instant Music
ASUS SLI warning LED
ASUS EZ Selector
ASUS EZ Plug
BIOS 4 Mb Flash ROM, AWARD BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.3
Back Panel I/O Ports 1 x Optical + 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output
1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x PS/2 Mouse
1 x Parallel
2 x RJ45
1 x 1394
4 x USB 2.0/1.1
8-Channel Audio I/O
Internal I/O Connectors - 1 x SLI selector card connector
- 3 x USB 2.0 connector supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
- 1 x IEEE1394 connectors
- 1 x Paraller connector
- 1 x COM connector
- 1 x GAME/MIDI connector
- CPU Fan / 2x Chassis Fan/ Power Fan/ Chipset Fan connectors
- Front panel audio connector
- Chassis Intrusion connector
- CD audio-in connector
- 24-pin ATX Power connector
- 4-pin ATX 12V Power connector
Support CD Drivers
ASUS PC Probe - PC Health Monitoring Software
ASUS LiveUpdate Utility
ASUS AI Booster
ASUS Cool ' n' Quiet Utility
NVIDIA nTune Utility
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
Accessories SLI connector
1 x 1-port IEEE1394 module
1 x SLI retention bracket
8 x Serial ATA cables
1 x SATA Extension module for external devices
4 x 2-port SATA power cable
1 x 2-port USB2.0 / Game module
1 x 2-port USB2.0 module
1 x COM Port module
1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
1 x IDE cable
1 x FDD cable
1 x I/O Shield
User's manual
Instant Music
Setting Sticker
WinDVD Suite
Form Factor ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9.6"(30.5cm x 24.5cm)

2. The mainboard - Packaging

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe - Page 2

- The mainboard - Packaging

ASUSTek includes in the package almost everything a user will ever need for this motherboard, from the IEEE1394 modules to Serial ATA and IDE cables. There's an 80 conductor cable included for hard disk connections, while a 40 conductor cable is provided for your CD/DVD burner/reader needs. You'll also find a Serial ATA extension module so that you can install Serial ATA devices without having to open the case.

click to enlarge!

The A8N-SLI Deluxe is designed on a black PCB with coloured components. This way, you can easily identify all the connection interfaces, without the danger of confusing different memory banks or IDE channels. There are also several led which indicate stability/problems on the mainboard. For example, if the EZ Plug is not connected, a red colored led will light up to notify the user. If the motherboard lights up green, then you are ready to fire it up. A list of all the accessories that come with the A8N-SLI Deluxe is shown below.

Accessories SLI connector
1 x 1-port IEEE1394 module
1 x SLI retention bracket
8 x Serial ATA cables
1 x SATA Extension module for external devices
4 x 2-port SATA power cable
1 x 2-port USB2.0 / Game module
1 x 2-port USB2.0 module
1 x COM Port module
1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
1 x IDE cable
1 x FDD cable
1 x I/O Shield
User's manual
Instant Music
Setting Sticker
WinDVD Suite

The latest NVidia chipset, the nForce4, is cooled with a small fan to reduce heat and increase performance, with no danger of damaging your system.

You can see the CPU motherboard socket that supports AMD64/FX 939 socketed processors.

The memory module slots are coloured black and blue. You can always put two memory modules of the same memory size on the same coloured slots and enable the Dual Channel's symmetry mode support, or even use two memory modules of different memory size and use the asymmetric mode.

On the inputs panel located on the rear, you will find the keyboard and mouse (PS2) ports, parallel port, audio ports (digital, analog and coaxial), one IEEE1394a port, 4 USB2.0 ports and two ethernet RJ-45 inputs.

Below you can see the standard IDE channel and Serial ATA connectors.

By combining the nForce4 with the Silicon Image storage capacities, you can connect up to 8 SATA devices. The NVRAID storage (nForce4) supports RAID0, RAID1, RAID 0+1 and JBOD span cross SATA and PATA, while the Silicon Image 3114R RAID controller offers 4 x Serial ATA with RAID0, 1, 0+1, and RAID5.

The A8N-SLI Deluxe offers two PCI Express slots used for graphics cards and two PCI Express x1 slots. Here, the two PCI Express x16 slots are colored. In SLI mode, the user should always remember that the graphics card is connected to the blue PCI slot which should be considered as the primary VGA card that will handle all signal transfers to the monitors. The secondary card (black slot), is used only for graphics acceleration. The monitor connected to the secondary VGA card will go blank in SLI mode.

In order to switch from single VGA mode to SLI mode and vice-versa, the A8N-SLI Deluxe uses a small interface card that needs to be inserted accordingly. Looking at the picture below, notice the indications on the inserted card for "Single Video Card" and "Dual Video Cards". This card is removed and inserted in the correct direction depending on the mode desired. You also need to be wary of the fact that despite there being an option in the motherboard's BIOS to enable/disable SLI mode, the interface card still needs to be inserted correctly.

When two VGA cards are used, the PCI Express slots share the graphics acceleration speed. So, you can have two PCI Express x8 slots, or in Single VGA mode, you can have one PCI Express x16 slot (blue) and one PCI Express x1 slot (black).

The IT8712F is the newest member of ITE Tech's growing family of Low Pin Count Interface-based Super I/O devices with Environment Controller integration. It provides enhanced hardware monitoring, fan speed control, SmartGuardian control and it can also support SmartCard reader, has two 16C550 UARTs, one Game port, one parallel port, floppy disk controller, keyboard controller and one ITE innovative automatic power-failure resume & power button debounce.

The Marvell Yukon 32-bit 88E8001 offers an additional network connectivity solution, the Yukon Gigabit Ethernet controller with Intergrated PHY. It also provides an advanced cable diagnostics function, (Virtual Cable Tester technology) that will enable IT managers to easily pinpoint the location of cable problems.

This small Winbond chip will give to your system the ability to speak. It is a programmable speech synthesizer that will inform you if any errors occur during the BIOS self test scanning process. Users can edit and change the voices and even add their own voice for every error that might occur.

For this review, we tested the ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard with two ASUS Extreme N6600GT graphics cards. You can always see how this card performed in Single VGA mode here. On the following page we provide some background information on these graphic cards for reference reasons.


3. ASUS Extreme N6600GT - SLI enabled

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe - Page 3

- ASUS Extreme N6600GT - SLI enabled

For the requirements of this review, we used two ASUS Extreme N6600GT graphic cards. In the following table you can see the main features of this SLI enabled card. An NVidia based card, it differs from all other 6600GT cards by having slightly increased clock speeds (from 500MHz to 515MHz).

Main Features
GPU Nvidia 6600GT - NV43
Memory Type 128MB 128-bit DDR3
Memory Speed 515MHz
Core Speed 515MHz
Memory Bandwidth

16.0 GB/sec

Pixel Pipelines 8x1
Vertex Pipelines 3
DX Support 9.0
OpenGL Support 1.5
Output VGA/ DVI-I / D-Sub
Bus PCI Express 16x (requires 2 expansion slots to fit)
Processing technology 0.11 micron

The heart of this card is the NV43 graphics processor that includes support for Shader Model 3.0, 64-bit texture filtering and blending, 32-bit pixel shader precision and UltraShadow II. The NV43 has a 128-bit memory interface, up to 256MB of memory (the graphics cards we used had 128MB of 128-bit DDR3 memory).

The NV43 offers eight pixel pipelines and three vertex shaders. It has a native PCI Express/SLI interface. You might notice the small SLI connectors (goldfingers). These are used to connect the cards together and merge their performance in SLI mode.

click to enlarge!

It should be reminded that this graphics card received CDRInfo's "Best Buy Award" for its overclocking capabilities and overall performance, considering the price an end user should pay to purchase an ASUS Extreme N6600GT.

Let us now see what SLI is and how it works...


4. A look in the past

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe - Page 4

- A look in the past

Back in 1998, 3dfx introduced the Voodoo2 graphics chipset, offering twice the performance of all other graphics chipsets available at that time. The Voodoo2 graphics cards also included the TexelFX2 chip, pushing performance even further with the ability to render multiple textures per pixel in one pass.

The first reference to "SLI cards" was made by 3dfx. By SLI, they meant scan-line interleaving, promising double the performance when two cards were combined. A normal 2D card was needed for non-3D applications, and two Voodoo2 cards to handle 3D applications. The work that needed to be done by the cards was split in two where one card would render the odd lines, while the second card rendered the even.

First Voodoo2 card

Second Voodoo2 card

Final results of Scan-Line Interleaving

With the appearance of AGP, the whole SLI concept was put aside, while several attempts at AGP+PCI combinations were not as effective as they should have been. In the end, end users preferred to buy one card that did it all rather than getting two cards which meant increased cost.

- NVidia's Scalable Link Interface (SLI™)

With the appearance of the PCI Express x16 bus architecture, NVidia realized that the main idea of using DUAL GPUs to share the load of today's high demand graphical environments could be applied once again, with amazing results. As NVidia says: NVIDIA® SLI™ (Scalable Link Interface) technology is a revolutionary approach to scalability and increased performance. NVIDIA SLI takes advantage of the increased bandwidth of the PCI Express™ bus architecture, and features hardware and software innovations within NVIDIA GPUs (graphics processing units) and NVIDIA MCPs (media and communications processors). Together the NVIDIA SLI patent-pending technologies work seamlessly to deliver heart-pounding PC performance. And depending on the application, NVIDIA SLI can deliver as much as 2x the performance of a single GPU configuration for unparalleled gaming experiences.

First GPU

Second GPU

Final results of Scalable Link Interface (SLI™)

The graphics load that the two GPUs undertake are not always the same. You can see that the graphics load in our example above is not 50% for both GPUs. NVidia uses advanced dynamic load balancing algorithms that are responsible for splitting the load into two. This is a very clever approach, since in most games and applications, the upper part of an image might need more processing power than the lower. Having this in mind, NVidia decided to share the GPU load according to the GPU power needs of the game/application.

NVidia uses a digital SLI connector (3dfx's connectors were analog connectors) to connect the two cards. You will find this connector provided by ASUS in the retail package.

click to enlarge!

On the other hand, power requirements are increased since the two GPUs need more power to function efficiently. The following table indicates the power requirements suggested by ASUS.

Configuration Heavy Load Normal Load Light Load
AMD K8 939 CPU Type
FX-55
3800+
3500+
PCIe x16 Video Cards
6800Ultra x2
6800GT x2
6600GT x2
DDR DIMM Modules
4
2
2
HDD(IDE or SATA)
4
2
2
CD/DVD (IDE or SATA)
2
2
1
PCIe x1 Cards
1
0
0
PCI Cards
3
2
1
1394 Devices
1
0
0
USB Devices
6
4
3
Required + 12V current
>  (25A)
>  (20A)
> (17A)
Required wattage
>= 500W
>= 400W
>= 350W

According to NVidia, available GPUs featuring SLI support are the GeForce 6800 Ultra, GeForce 6800 GT, GeForce 6800 and GeForce 6600 GT GPUs. On the other hand, ASUS released a list of certified add-in SLI VGA cards that are recommended for the A8N-SLI Deluxe. This list is shown below:

Company Model Number
ASUS Extreme N6600GT
ASUS Extreme N6800Ultra (EN6800Ultra)
Leadtek WinFast PX6600GT
Leadtek WinFast PX6800GT
Elsa ELSA  GLADIAC™ 660GT        
MSI MS-8983 NX6600GT-VTD128E / NX6600GT-TD128E
Albatron Albatron GF6600GT

You can always find more information on Scalable Link Interface in the NVidia web page.


5. Installation

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe - Page 5

- Installation

We had no problem installing the two VGA cards on the A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard. Windows recognized the two graphics cards as separate GPUs, and windows informed us that we should enable the Multi-GPU feature to increase performance.

When "Show GPU load balancing" is enabled, a green line appears on the screen indicating the GPU load for each card.

After enabling Multi-GPU (SLI), the ASUS/NVidia driver identifies the two GPUs as one graphics card. However, the temperature is monitored on both cards separately to prevent burn outs.


6. Test System

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe - Page 6

- Test System

Benchmarking Software

In this review of the ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard, we will also compare the performance of the two ASUS Extreme N6600GT Graphic cards (SLI mode) with the MSI NX6800Ultra and the ASUS Extreme N6600GT (Single VGA mode).


7. 3DMark05

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe - Page 7

3DMark05

With 3DMark05, Futuremark continues the tradition in its benchmarking software by providing a state-of-the-art Microsoft ® DirectX ® 9 3D performance benchmark.
3DMark05 is an all new 3DMark version, making the most out of Microsoft's DirectX 9. The previous version, 3DMark03, provided a nice testbench for this technology. However, 3DMark03 used DirectX 9 specific features in a limited manner, because fully supporting hardware was rare at the time of its launch. In contrast, 3DMark05 requires DirectX 9 hardware with full support for at least Shader Model 2, and takes shader usage to never before seen levels.
Just like its predecessors, 3DMark05's point system is set so that at the moment of release, the high-end VGA cards available on the market can only score around 5000 3DMarks, whereas the worst card that meets the program's requirements, yields a score of 1000.

 

 

Game Test 1 - Return to Proxycon

Being the sequel to the "Battle of Proxycon" from 3DMark03, in "Return to Proxycon" we're once again set in space and the battle continues as space pirates invade a cargo ship in order to take control of its valuable cargo.

This test, tries to simulate a futuristic first-person shooter game with all the high details that such a game entails. The dynamic shadows, highly detailed environment and advanced lighting techniques, ensure that under normal circumstances, no recent card can run it with decent frame rates.

/

In this test, with the two cards combined, the performance is similar to a 6800Ultra GPU. The second 6600GT processor certainly manages to accelerate all the dynamic shadows and advanced lighting processing.

Game Test 2 - Firefly Forest

A forest is filled with magic fireflies at night. The moon is nearly full, illuminating the forest with a bluish faint light. The magic fireflies have flickering, bright green lights that playfully move around the forest.

This scene is a nice example of a smaller scale outdoor scene with rich vegetation. Immediate visibility is only short range, and there is a skybox surrounding the whole scene.

A large number of trees with their branches swinging separately, and dense vegetation being dynamically distributed according to the camera movements, make this test the most demanding of the three.

 

With this game test, the two Extreme N6600GTs performed even better, giving 18fps while the 6800Ultra was stuck at 15.1. It should be noted that we expected the Multi-GPUs performance to be better than a single ASUS 6600GT, but we did not expect such a big difference. Llet's carry on with these game tests to get the full picture with the SLI performance.

Game Test 3 - Canyon Flight

A Jules Verne type airship flies through a canyon guarded by a dangerous sea monster. The airmen defend their ship using heavy cannons, but these seem to have no effect on the huge sea monster. Finally, the crew manages a narrow escape using the airship's "last resort" afterburners.

This scene is fairly complex with large areas of water reflecting the high canyon walls. The water is actually one of the key points of interest in this scene. The water not only does realistic looking reflections and refractions, it has a depth fog, making the sea monster swimming under the airship appear deep down in the water. The air in this scene also uses a volumetric fog, making distant cliffs in the canyon appear far away.

 

Same picture here, with the SLI enabled cards giving an extreme 32fps. Excellent performance by ASUS.

Final Score

 3DMarks on 3DMark05 are now calculated with the following formula:

(Game Test 1 * Game Test 2 * Game Test 3)^0.33 * 250

This is basically the geometric mean of the total frames in each game multiplied by 250, which means that all game tests are on an equal par.
Let us now see the results for the two ASUS Extreme N6600GT cards:

Since the dual GPUs managed to outperform its competitors in all test, its reasonable that it receive the highest 3DMarks.


8. 3DMark 2003

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe - Page 8

3DMark 2003

3D Mark is a widely used and accepted benchmark that stresses the DirectX performance of a VGA card. A very strong point of 3DMark is that its VGA card measuring does not require any CPU power. So the resulting fps are a good reference of a VGA card's rendering performance. For testing the performance of each card, we used the 4 game benchmarks from 3DMark.

3Dmark03 also includes sound and CPU tests as well as some other feature tests.

- Game Test 1 - Wings of Fury (DX7)

This test is a combat flight simulator written for older hardware (DirectX 7). Particles are used a lot in this test - smoke and vapor trails, flak and gunfire, and explosions are produced using point sprites and quads.

- Game Test 2 - Battle of Proxycon (DX8)

This test is a simulation of a first person shooter game. 1.1 and 1.4 Vertex shaders are widely used since all character models are skinned using vertex shaders.This makes this test a good vertex shader comparison for VGA cards.

- Game Test 3 - Trolls' Lair (DX8)

This test should be the favorite of all RPG lovers. It is a cut scene of a female warrior facing two malicious trolls. Again, the same vertex and pixel processing is used as in game test 2.

This test also uses post-processing effects, such as Depth of Field and Bloom effects which are widely used in today's game cut scene sequences.

- Game Test 4 - Mother Nature (DX9)

Mother nature represents the level of effects and realism that are possible using 2.0 vertex and pixel shaders, plus some other features that DirectX 9 offers.

Going back a few pages in this review, you will see a small explanation of how SLI works and how the graphics processing load is shared between the two cards. In all the game tests of 3DMark03, the SLI cards managed once again to perform even better that the MSI NX6800Ultra GPU. But, you can see that in Wings of Fury, the two graphics cards could not even get close to MSI's card. In this game, most scenes are divided into high demand and low demand sections. For example, in the upper part of a moving image, you might see aeroplanes flying, shooting and burning, while in the bottom nothing happens. This means that NVidia's advanced dynamic load balancing algorithms should give 70% of the image to one card and 30% to the other. Although results were not bad (for game test 1), a 60/40 load was delivered. We believe that NVidia will further improve these algorithms in a future driver release to deliver more fps in games such as this (DX7).

- 3DMark Official score

If you test your machine with 3DMark you can post the results at 3DMark's online results page. For more information visit futuremark.com.

As expected, the SLI Multi-GPUs received the best 3DMark03 score.


9. Codecreatures

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Codecreatures

CodeCreatures is a synthetic 3D benchmark that is a good reference for VGA performance comparison. This is a high-end 3D benchmark that also requires DirectX 8 hardware, making it a good tool for measuring the potential of DirectX 8 game performance.

The Codecreatures benchmark is written with Microsoft's DirectX 8.1 API and incorporates the use of Vertex and PixelShaders, popular on next generation 3D accelerators.

The benchmark plays a photo-realistic nature scene and calculates the performance of the graphics adapter by measuring the fps that it can display at 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 pixels resolutions.

 

 

In this 3D benchmark, the combined power of two ASUS Extreme N6600GT graphics cards is not enough to outperform the processing power of one 6800Ultra GPU. It should be noted though, that the 6800Ultra GPU reported a 20fps drop between 1024x768 to 1600x1200, while the SLI enabled cards dropped only by 13fps.

-Codecreatures number

The codecreatures number is the resulting score of the total benchmarking process and is basically the geometric mean of the three framerates multiplied by 100.


10. Half life 2

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Half life 2

Half life 2 is no doubt the most anticipated pc game of all times. Gamers keeping the excellence of Half Life 1 in their mind as well as the remarkable E3 demo preview, have been anxiously waiting for the much delayed release of HL2.

Regarding the storyline, the player again picks up the crowbar of research scientist Gordon Freeman, who finds himself on an alien-infested Earth being picked to the bone, its resources depleted, its populace dwindling. Freeman is thrust into the unenviable role of rescuing the world from the wrong he unleashed back at Black Mesa. And a lot of people he cares about are counting on him.

Characters - Advanced facial animation system delivers the most sophisticated in-game characters ever seen. With 40 distinct facial "muscles," human characters convey the full array of human emotion, and respond to the player with fluidity and intelligence.

Physics - From pebbles to water to 2-ton trucks respond as expected, as they obey the laws of mass, friction, gravity, and buoyancy.

Graphics - Source's shader-based renderer, like the one used at Pixar to create movies such as Toy Story® and Monster's, Inc.®, creates the most beautiful and realistic environments ever seen in a video game.

AI - Neither friends nor enemies charge blindly into the fray. They can assess threats, navigate tricky terrain, and fashion weapons from whatever is at hand.

To measure performance we used the Video Stress Test(VST) that is available in the CounterStrike:Source beta available through Steam. We set all the details to the highest level and changed the resolutions from 800x600 to 1600x1200.

 

 

The overall performance of the SLI 6600GTs was slightly lower than the 6800Ultra's performance. But it is very interesting to see SLI behavior under heavy processing loads and under low graphics processing demands. You can see that with lower resolutions, the SLI cards are stuck at 143fps, almost 50fps lower than the MSI card, but with 1600x1200, the difference is down to 5fps. As more GPU power is needed under higher resolutions, the second card takes more of the load, not letting the average fps reported drop below 117. You will notice this behavior in most applications/games.

When setting Anisotropic Filtering to 8x and Anti-Aliasing to 4x, the performance of the SLI ASUS 6600GT and 6800Ultra drop as expected. However, the ASUS Extreme combined cards reported 46fps, a not so small number afterall.


11. Doom 3

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Doom 3

A massive demonic invasion has overwhelmed the Union Aerospace Corporation's (UAC) Mars Research Facility leaving only chaos and horror in its wake. As one of the few survivors, you struggle with shock and fear as you fight your way to Hell and back, in an epic clash against pure evil.

Activision made it's miracle again with Doom 3 which is said to be the best-looking game ever, thanks to the brand-new OpenGL graphics engine used to generate its convincingly lifelike, densely atmospheric, and surprisingly expansive environments. If you are a fan of the previous Doom games then you will get many flashbacks with this revision, since you will find reimagined versions of almost every monster from both Doom and Doom II.

To measure performance on the game we used the timedemo demo1 command from the console (Alt+Ctrl+~).
Enabling the high quality setting and executing the timedemo demo1 command twice for each resolution, we witnessed the following:

First without the Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering settings enabled, we had the following results:

Since most NVidia based graphics cards do not have any problems with Doom3, the two 6600GT GPUs managed for all resolutions, fps values that lay between the single 6600GT and the 6800Ultra. Despit the fact that the MSI card could not be outperformed at any point, the results were nonetheless rather good.

Multi-GPU performance is reduced with advanced quality settings, and as before, the Multi-GPU architecture cannot deliver better results than the 6800Ultra, although it did report decent results.


12. Far Cry

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Far Cry

You are Jack Carver running your own boat charter business in beautiful Micronesia. With a past best left behind you, you'll be focusing on your present assignment: escorting an ambitious journalist named Valerie Cortez to the Island of Cabatu. It seems like a piece of cake, but you'll soon learn: paradise can be hell.

Farcry is an awesome First Person Shooter (FPS) based on a last generation 3D engine named as CryEngine. Real-time editing, bump-mapping, static lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features that the CryEngine offers.

A great advantage and strong point of the CryEngine is its physics system which supports character inverse kinematics, vehicles, rigid bodies, liquid, rag doll, cloth and body effects. All physics seem to be very realistic and you never get bored when facing enemies, since character models have multiple animations that blend in believable ways.

With an integrated shader system and a massive terrain which maximizes the view distance to 2km these features make Farcry a perfect action game and also a referable benchmark to speak of.

- Benchmark Settings

For this game we recorded a new demo from the start of the Rebellion stage. We chose an indoor scene in order to avoid being CPU bound under any circumstances. This will produce slightly higher results since it is also less GPU intensive but we can't afford being stuck at 40-50 fps because of our CPU.

The latest patch (1.3) was used for our tests which updates the game's graphics engine to use the Shader model 3.0.

The resolutions we run the demo at are the following: 800x600,1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. The first test was executed with Anti Aliasing (AA) and Anisotropic Filtering (AF) features off. In the second test we leveled up AA to 4x and AF to 8x.

Like Half Life 2, lower resolution means lower GPU power demands. But at higher resolutions, the second graphics card kicks in to show its teeth at the 6800Ultra. In SLI mode, from 800x600 to 1600x1200 gaming experience, we have only a 30fps drop, while the 6800Ultra's fps are reduced by 100.

Same applies here. Although at lower resolutions the 6800Ultra is the king, at higher resolutions, the dual 6600GTs claim the throne.


13. Thief 3

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Thief 3

Instead of Deus Ex, from now on we'll be testing our cards using Thief 3. It is based on the same engine but it's much less GPU intensive and playable on more VGA cards than Deus.

The game makes severe use of Pixel Shader 1.1 instructions, the bloom effect and stencil shadows to achieve a wonderful result on your screen.

In the game, you play the part of Master Thief Garrett who is back to rule out any evil forces using his unique stealth abilities. Deadly Shadows shows what stealth gameplay is all about. This game really gives you the feel of sneaking around and holding your breath when stuck in a sticky situation.

Since there is no official benchmark for the game, we'll do our tests using a GPU intensive scene from the tutorial-level which we believe represents the average fps you'll get when playing the game.

 

 

 

In a game such as Thief 3 with a demanding graphics engine, only high end cards can make it through the consecutive resolution increments without dropping their performance to awful levels. Unfortunately, although the combined force of two GPUs makes a lot of difference, it could not compare with the 6800Ultra in any case. .

Even from the start, enabling AA and AF is a disaster for the card. Only 10 fps were reported at 1600x1200. It should be noted though that this is the most demanding game test in this review.


14. Colin McRae 05

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Colin McRae 05

For all you racing fans out there, this test is for you and will represent the Racing game category in our benchmarks.

 

From the graphics point of view the first thing you'll notice in the game, is the excellent amount of detail on your racing car. High resolution textures on the car and lighting make it quite impressive. All the eye candy, such as the sun reflection in the virtual camera are still the same as the older CM versions but motion blur has been added when your car hits something hard which will happen most often if you're new to the racing simulation world.

To measure performance on the game, we used fraps to get the average fps of the whole 8th stage of UK which is actually the only stage you get to play on the demo.

Everything looks normal here, with the SLI enabled cards taking second place at all resolutions tested. However, users will not have any problem playing the game, even at the maximum resolution of 1600x1200.

Ditto. With 8x anisotropic filtering and 4x Anti-Aliasing, 1280x1024 seems to be the best resolution for playing this game.


15. Ground Control II

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Ground Control II

Ground Control 2 is an action-oriented game of tactics and warfare. As Captain Jacob Angelus of the Northern Star Alliance, you will command squads of infantry, artillery, and airpower against the might of the Empire of Terra. Base building and resource-collecting are replaced with unit control and combat tactics where your knowledge of the battlefield maneuvers will make the difference in your fight against a ruthless enemy. Position your troops on hilltops for better aim or inside buildings and forests for protection as you'll need to use every inch of terrain to your advantage. Call in air strikes or assault pods to bring the battle behind enemy lines. Send out scouts to locate the enemy and use spotters for your artillery with the 360° free-roaming camera. Experience the total immersion of futuristic warfare as you lead your forces to victory!

 

For our benchmark test, we used the highest possible settings on the first mission of the single player game and moved the camera around to get an average framerate using fraps.

Ground Control II offers really impressive graphics without requiring much GPU power. Click on the picture above to view a screenshot from the game. Check out the excellent water effects!

As before, the Multi-GPU concept took second place in this test, but again, users can enjoy the Ground Control II graphics engine even at 1600x1200 with no problems. We got a minimum 60fps, which is more than good, but not perfect.

With AA and AF enabled, fps drop dramatically. 1600x1200 is not the suggested resolution anymore, since we got only 24.7fps.


16. Other Motherboard Benchmarks

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Other Motherboard Benchmarks

For testing the motherboard, we used 3 benchmarks. One concerning overall performance (PCMark04) and two for checking out the integrated graphics processor (Aquamark03, 3DMark01). The later two are known for their dependence on the CPU processor so there's no fear of us concentrating solely on the GPU.

- PCMark04

PCMark04 is an application-based benchmark and a premium tool for measuring overall PC performance. It uses portions of real applications instead of including very large applications or using specifically created code. This allows PCMark04 to be a smaller installation as well as to report very accurate results.

ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe with ASUS Extreme N6600GT
PCMarks
2222
File Compression
3.2 MB/s
File Encryption
35.1 MB/s
File Decompression
27.2 MB/s
Image Processing
13.7MPixels/s
Virus Scanning
2406.2 MB/s
Grammar Check
3.6 KB/s
File Decryption
70.0 MB/s
Audio Conversion
2994.0 KB/s
Web Page Rendering
5.3 Pages/s
WMV Video Compression
53.4 FPS
DivX Video Compression
68.3 FPS
Physics Calculation and 3D
198.8 FPS
Graphics Memory - 64 lines
0.2 FPS

It should be noted that because of compatibility issues with SLI motherboards, the "Physics Calculation and 3D" reading and the "Graphics Memory - 64 lines" reading should be ignored. As new software patches become available, we will update these readings with new ones. The total PCMarks achieved are reduced because of these faulty readings.

- 3DMark01

In 3DMark01, the Duali-GPUs architecture achieved slightly higher 3DMarks than the single ASUS Extreme N6600GT but it cannot be compared with the 6800Ultra GPU.

- Aquamark03

When two 6600GTs were combined, we observed a great boost in performance, achieving a total Aquamark score of 70948, which is slightly lower than the 6800Ultra score, but much greater than the ASUS N6600GT functioning in single mode.


17. BIOS & Overclocking

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BIOS & Overclocking

ASUS introduces in their A8N-SLI model the Crash-free (v.2) BIOS to ensure that no harm will be done to your system, and to eliminate bad flashing. There are several useful features, like Post Reporter and Instant Music that were mentioned earlier on in this review.

The BIOS CMOS setup utility offers a wide range of options, from standard device setup to CPU overclocking management.

In the CPU Configuration tab, you can easily set the Hyper Transport frequency, the AMD Cool'n'Quiet feature (auto or disabled) and configure DRAM.

You can always enable or disable the Q-Fan controller from the Hardware Monitor tab. When set to "enabled", you can set a CPU target temperature for Q-Fan to use.

Under the "JumperFree Configuration" tab, you will find all you need to overclock your system and boost hardware performance. The overclock profile is set to "auto" by default. By using manual configuration, you can easily change CPU frequency (maximum value is 400), PCI bus clock (maximum value is 145MHz), DDR voltage (maximum value is 2.60V), and CPU Voltage and multiplier. The CPU voltage can be configured from 0.800V up to 1.650V.

ASUS Non-delay Overclocking System (AI NOS) will monitor CPU demands and overclock the system automatically, only when it is needed. You can set a maximum overclock option to 10% more performance, but be careful, because even if your system seems to function flawlessly, even at 10%, you might get system crashes under heavy load. This might occur because the AI NOS feature does not boost your system under light loads but only when needed. We tried to overclock our AMD64 3500+ up to 10%, and for 7 hours of heavy load, we had no system crashes. Great overclocking potential from ASUS.

Alternatively, you can use standard overclocking options, again with up to 10% boost performance. We also tried the 10% overclocking option, and for 7 hours of heavy load we had no system crashes. It is noted that we used the standard fan that came in AMD's box, and two 12cm case fans.

ASUS did a great job in organizing all devices connected to the motherboard. There is plenty of room for graphics cards and the CPU fan to "breath".


18. Bundled Software & Overclocking

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Bundled Software & Overclocking

Except for the WinDVD Suite (OEM version) and System Security software that is included in the retail package, ASUS offers a set of utilities and monitoring tools for the A8N-SLI Deluxe.

- PC Probe utility

ASUS PC Probe is a very simple utility that monitors vital information in the computer such as fan rototation speed, voltages and temperature. It also gives system information about hard disk space, memory usage, CPU type and processor speed. It resides in the taskbar and provides audible warnings through the PC speakers if certain thresholds, such as temperature and voltage, have been exceeded. If your system is overclocked, remember to raise the appropriate warning limits or face frequent warning pop-ups.

- PC Probe utility

Cool'n'Quiet™ technology is an innovative solution available on AMD Athlon™ 64 processor-based systems that can effectively lower the power consumption and enable a quieter-running system while delivering performance on demand, for the ultimate computing experience. The main benefits of this technology is reduced heat outputs and a quieter system. According to the ASUS Cool'n'Quiet monitoring utility, the AMD64 3500+ processor was tuned to 1000MHz with Cool'n'Quiet enabled.

- Asus Update utility

This is also a very simple utility for updating the BIOS of your board.

- NVidia NTune utility

The NVIDIA® nTune™ is the easiest, fastest, and safest performance optimization and monitoring application available for your PC. Incorporating more features than any other system tuning or monitoring product, NVIDIA nTune is the only performance tuning application designed exclusively for your NVIDIA nForce-based PC. With NVIDIA nTune your system can automatically adjust to maximum performance settings for intense gaming or will detect that you've inserted a DVD and will set the system to quiet operation. This intelligent application offers the safest way to change bus speeds, memory timings, and even tweak voltages. Changes are made easily within a simple-to-use Windows interface. So you no longer need to make changes to the BIOS or reboot your system.

- AI Booster utility

ASUS AI booster aims to overclock your PC without the need to do it through BIOS setup utility. You can now use this easy to use graphical interface. AI Booster will boost up your system's performance real time, without the need of restarting.

As you can see, AI booster has all the overclocking option that can be found in the BIOS utility. Again, we were able to clock up our AMD64 3500+ CPU to 2422.71MHz with no problem.


19. GPU Overclocking

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GPU Overclocking

No matter your graphics card, there comes a time in your computer's life when it can no longer cope with the latest technological demands the ever so popular games impose. This is one of the main reasons for overclocking your graphics card. Gamers are always looking forward to a little extra boost in terms of framerate. Even though most of the times the boost is far from noticeable, overclocking remains the last resort when you can't afford to buy a brand new VGA card.

The default speeds for the Asus Extreme N6600GT are 515MHz for both the core and the memory clock. In order to overclock the card, we used NVidia's NTune utility and Rivatuner V2.0 RC 15.3 New Year Edition.

Our goal was to find the maximum values for the two clocks where the card would still be able to handle the graphics load without overheating to the point of becoming unstable. Through trial and error for each clock, the final stable settings we derived are 550MHz for the GPU and 600MHz for the memory clock.

Let's see how much of a difference in performance 35MHz for the core and 85Mhz on the memory would yield:

Unfortunately, when the two ASUS Extreme N6600GT graphic cards are combined, overclocking potential is reduced. In Half Life 2, we only got a boost of 3fps. Same deal with Doom3 timedemo. In Far Cry, we got 5fps gain at 1024x768 resolution, while we could only gain 2fps at 1600x1200.


20. Conclusion

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Conclusion

The first thing that users will be impressed with is the retail package for the ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe. It practically has it all, from IDE cables to PCI modules and power cables. The black colored PCB looks rather impressive as well, with different colors for every connection interface. The motherboard design seems robust something we have come to expect from ASUS who designe first class products.

click to enlarge!

The mainboard has a bunch of smart utilities and offers a wide range of goodies and benefits and supported interfaces. x8 SATA (3Gb/s) are more than enough, 2 Ethernet controllers are all you'll ever need, and 2 IEEE1394a connections are not always needed, since firewire devices can be daisy-chained together with one IEEE1394a port. The only thing that is missing is WiFi support. The A8N-SLI Deluxe showed excellent overclocking potential, boosting up our test CPU (AMD64 3500+ NewCastle) by 10%.

We were very curious to see how the two ASUS Extreme N6600GT with SLI enable dwould perform. We were happy to see a major boost in performance with almost all tested procedures we undertook although unfortunately, overclocking capabilities are limited in SLI mode.

On the other hand, the SLI interface target group is made up of computer enthusiasts, that will not be disappointed by the SLI performance. But only in some cases did the two 6600GT based graphics cards outperform NVidia's 6800Ultra performance. Considering the price that end users will have to pay to purchase two 6600GT cards instead of just one 6800GT, SLI enabled motherboards are mainly attractive for users that are considering a "GPU upgrade". The ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard, combined with two SLI certified 6600GT graphics cards, received CDRInfo's Editor's Choice Award.

Pros:

Cons:

Like to be fixed

Features
Performance
BIOS/Overclocking
Value for money


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