Summary: Without a doubt, one of the most talked about new technologies that debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show last month was NVIDIA's Quad SLI technology showcased in the Dell XPS 600 Renegade PC. In today's article we go over the technology behind it as well as answer some of the more common questions -- when will Quad SLI make its debut on the PC, and most importantly to the DIY market, when will cards hit retail? All those questions and more are answered! We've also conducted a Q&A session with Dell complete gameplay video footage of the system up and running F.E.A.R. in full 2560x1600 glory on a Dell 3007WFP monitor. Check it all out inside!
Quite a few new technologies made their debut at Consumer Electronics Show this year. In the mobile world, Intel’s Core Duo processor made a big splash, while multimedia mavens no doubt were excited to see the first crop of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players from Sony, Toshiba, Pioneer, and many others on display.
For the PC gamer or hardware enthusiast though, the big news from the show was no doubt the Dell/NVIDIA Quad SLI announcement.
Up to now NVIDIA’s SLI technology has been limited to just two GPUs. Two GPUs running in SLI has been just fine and all for gaming at say 1280x1024 or 1600x1200 with 4xAA and 16xAF, but as any gamer with a high-end 21”+ CRT will tell you, 2048x1536 has been the holy grail of gaming for quite some time now. In addition, thanks to rapidly falling LCD prices, an increasing number of gamers are running 24” LCDs like Dell’s highly popular 2405FPW at resolutions as high as 1920x1200, and a new crop of 30” LCDs are flooding the marketplace driving resolution demands even higher. The Dell 3007WFP and Apple Cinema display both run at a native res of 2560x1600. In fact, Dell proudly proclaims that the 3007WFP boasts "over three times the resolution of so-called 'high-def gaming' that comes with an Xbox 360."
To game at resolutions this high with adequate frame rates, two graphics cards just aren’t enough. We’ve also discovered that even NVIDIA’s fastest GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB card begins to chug with NVIDIA’s 16x SLI AA mode. This is where NVIDIA’s Quad SLI technology comes in.
As its name implies, Quad SLI doubles up on the SLI goodness, combining four GPUs to provide double the performance of a conventional SLI setup. NVIDIA also includes a new 32x SLI AA mode that’s unique to Quad SLI.
How it works
Quad SLI is much more complicated than just combining four cards into one system though. In order to make Quad SLI compatible with as wide a range of PCs as possible, NVIDIA combines two GPUs onto one physical card. More specifically, each Quad SLI card combines two PCBs onto one board.
In the case of the Dell demonstration launched at CES, the PCBs for two GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB GPUs were grafted onto one board, requiring one x16 PCI Express graphics slot. You must then combine this card with a second board to enable Quad SLI. The whole setup only requires two x16 PCI Express graphics slots, even though it looks like four cards at first glance.
How it works (cont’d)
We’ve been told that NVIDIA’s Quad SLI solution is only compatible with their nForce4 SLI X16 chipsets. Older nForce4 SLI chipsets aren’t compatible with Quad SLI.
We’d guess that NVIDIA likely chose to demonstrate Quad SLI with Dell because NVIDIA knew in advance that Dell was going to launch their 3007WFP LCD at CES. Think of it from NVIDIA’s perspective – what better way to showcase Quad SLI than to show it up and running on a 30” LCD at 2560x1600?
Also, while this wasn’t made clear on launch day at CES, NVIDIA was quick to reiterate to us that this wasn’t a new product introduction. Instead NVIDIA characterized the Quad SLI announcement as a technology demonstration.
Basically, don’t expect NVIDIA to start selling Quad SLI GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB-based cards tomorrow. In fact it’s most likely that a GeForce 7800 GTX-based Quad SLI card will never see retail shelves. Instead you should expect the first Quad SLI cards to ship with upcoming GeForce GPUs that haven’t been announced yet. After all it wouldn’t make much sense to fork over thousands of dollars for a GeForce 7800 GTX-based Quad SLI solution if a newer GPU were available in just a few months (or less) would it?
Based on all this, we seriously doubt that the XPS 600 Renegade as it was demonstrated by Dell at CES last month will ever see the light of day. On the contrary, the final Quad SLI solution should be even faster!
This could be a repeat of the exact same situation that occurred with the GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB late last year, where a limited number of cards could be found on store shelves on launch day before supplies dried up. Since then, we’ve discovered that a large reason why NVIDIA’s had so many nagging retail availability issues with this GPU in particular is because OEMs were just eating them up for use in their flagship PCs. These systems sell for the highest profit margins for manufacturers and bring in lots of buzz due to their extraordinary performance, so the GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB has been in high demand since its introduction.
We’re hoping our sources will be wrong on this point, and that NVIDIA’s board partners will be able to supply the retail and OEM markets with Quad SLI cards equally well, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
In terms of when you can expect the first Quad SLI cards to ship, as the old saying goes, we could tell you, but then we’d have to kill you. All indications are that it won’t be long though. At CES Dell stated they’d begin shipping Quad SLI in the March/April timeframe.
Just when you thought two graphics cards was overkill, NVIDIA ups the ante by introducing Quad SLI. The best part about their technology is that NVIDIA doesn’t require anything special to get it up and running – existing nForce4 SLI X16 motherboards should work fine with no problems. Unlike ATI’s CrossFire, no dongles are required while NVIDIA’s ForceWare driver features SLI profiles that can be customized for specific games.
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