Which Board To Buy?

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SLI Light Tbreak informs us that some SLI boards won’t be “real SLI boards.”.

Before we explain this, it might be best to explain what a “real” SLI board is.

In a PCI Express board, a normal configuration for video is supposed to be one 16X slot for the video card. Since 1X equals up to 250MB/sec bandwidth, 16X = 4000MB/sec.

In a “normal” SLI setup, you get two 16X slots, but the 16X circuitry is split in two, so electronically, you actually have two 8X slots.

That 8X slot (2000 MB/sec) actually has a bit less maximum potential than an 8X AGP slot (2133 MB/sec), but since video cards aren’t really pushing the 8X AGP limit yet, this is no big deal.

The nVidia SLI chipset is very expensive, so what a few mobo makers plan to do is to tinker with a non-SLI nForce4 chipset, and have a 16X and 4X slot. They estimate that this will hurt performance by 5%, but allow for a rather cheaper SLI motherboard.

This is hardly an original reaction, but if you plan on spending big money on video cards, you shouldn’t be penny-pinching on the mobo meant to make them work.

Especially when it is likely you can have your cake and eat it, too, if you’d just wait a little.

The Other Guys

nVidia isn’t the only game in town. There’s another company known for making chipsets for good (and OK, sometimes not so good at times) AMD motherboards: Via.

Within the next three-six months, Via will offer chipsets that will let mobo makers:

  • offer AGP AND PCI Express or
  • have Via’s version of SLI.

    Yes, I know a lot of people still feel burned over less-than-perfect Via boards during the early Athlon era, and turned to nVidia with a sigh of relief when they got into the business. Others simply preferred features nVidia offered like PCI/AGP locks that Via didn’t provide until recently.

    But even if you think less of Via than al Queda, simple competition ought to bring the price of nVidia SLI down, and it’s always possible Via’s mobos might prove a little better than nVidia’s.

    You Need A CPU In It, Too

    I know, wait is a four-letter word to many reading this, and waiting another quarter or two hoping that a line of mobos might be a little better is a bridge too far for many, but consider what you’ll also have to buy with that mobo: a CPU.

    We know second-generation 90nm AMD CPUs are coming. We know they’ll be somewhat better than what you can get today. Unless you like buying CPUs every few months (and we’re not talking about $60 a pop), if you’re going to shift over to Hammer, odds are you’ll be better off making one of these upcoming chips your first Hammer.

    F*%& This Wait S$@#!!!!

    Any long time visitor to this site knows that I have never hesitated to use the word “wait.”

    Until about two years ago, the main reason for that has been our belief that there are better and worse times to buy computer equipment, and we’ve tried pretty hard to identify the better times, and warn you off during the worse times.

    This task has gotten a lot harder for roughly the last two years, simply because:

  • Computers have stopped getting better at the pace they had in the past. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say
    that most computer news stories the last two years could be described as either “Delay, delay, delay, OK” or “Delay, delay, delay, not OK, abort.”

  • Most people are still pretty much satified with what they have, and see little improvement justifying an upgrade.

    If improvements in computer technology were an economy, we’ve been in a depression the last couple years, and depressions are, well, depressing.

    Frankly, you could probably take most of my articles the last eighteen months and call the compilation, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Curb? “Kill Your Enthusiasm” might be more accurate. 🙂

    Unfortunately, that has been the reality of the situation. You want to be enthusiastic, fine, but you ought to have reasons to be so, and they haven’t been there. From some emails I’ve gotten, it seems that some think our main job ought to be to give folks a cheap thrill and get them excited, but we find that techporn, and bogus techporn is even worse.

    Sometimes, life just sucks. The last 18-24 months have sucked in this area. They have sucked hard. Video cards are the only major area where you can say with a straight face are much better than they were two years ago.

    When the train isn’t moving, pretending that it is doesn’t get you anywhere.

    For those who have waited and waited and waited, we do see some light at the end of the tunnel over the next six months, at least from the perspective of the typical socket A owner. We think Hammer systems will become better enough/priced right enough for most reading this to justify buying one.

    After that comes dualies (and Intel fans will probably have to wait for that as their next maybe-reasonable opportunity), but dualies aren’t going to become a realistic option for most until 2006, and software seriously optimized for dualies probably will follow that.

    The other likely major factor by that time is likely to be whether or not consoles like the XBox 2/Playstation 3 will seriously contend against PCs.

    That’s the future the next few years. Pick your spots.

    Email Ed

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