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MSI GeForce 6600 GT PCIe SLI Performance Review
By Vijay Anand
Category : Graphics
Published by Jimmy Tang on Tuesday, 28th December, 2004

The MSI nForce4 SLI Combo

SLI, although a technology, is almost equivalent to a whole new platform in terms of the effort required to bring it to reality because implementing and validating it thoroughly is no easy feat. To hasten this process, NVIDIA roped in the big three tier-one motherboard vendors - ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI. After months of behind the scenes development, the result of which we now have retail worthy nForce4 SLI boards and these three motherboard vendors have the privilege to first offer their products to the market; just in time for the holiday season. Besides privilege reasons, expect ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI to be the only brands for a while before versions from other manufacturers hit the shelves as nForce4 SLI MCPs are in hot demand by major PC vendors and supply is limited at the moment.

We were lucky to have gotten hold of an nForce4 SLI package from MSI, which consists of their top of the line MSI K8N Diamond motherboard (retail-ready) and dual MSI NX6600GT-TD128E graphics cards. Remember, a high-speed digital interface link is required to activate SLI between the two graphics cards and this is supplied with the nForce4 SLI motherboard package. Since our aim of this article is about graphics performance, we'll reserve full detail of the motherboard and the graphics card in respective reviews. However, we'll leave you with a few descriptive pictures to get you in the swing of things.

As highlighted above, the K8N Diamond motherboard is the flagship MSI motherboard in the entire NVIDIA nForce series. Besides dual PCIe x16 slots, its other noteworthy highlights are six SATA II ports, on-board Creative Sound Blaster Live 24-bit audio, dual Gigabit LAN and a communications module with WLAN and Bluetooth connectivity. Packed to the brim, it is certainly a (n)Force to be reckoned with.

The flagship MSI K8N Diamond motherboard is based on the nForce4 SLI MCP chip.

SLI doesn't just rely upon the PCI Express bandwidth, but also that of NVIDIA's high-speed digital link interface which syncs data between the two SLI-enabled graphics cards and provides extra transfer bandwidth. It is a simple bridge that has a bandwidth of up to 1GB/s and without this, SLI mode is not available. Currently, only PCI Express graphics cards based on the GeForce 6800 Ultra, GeForce 6800 GT and the GeForce 6600 GT have a PCB designed to accommodate this bridge interface. One of these bridges is supplied in every MSI nForce4 SLI motherboard. Try not to misplace it if you want to keep an upgrade path intact, as we are not aware of any other methods of obtaining this bridge (yet).

This is the high-speed digital link bridge unit that enables SLI mode.

And these are the gold fingers on the PCB that accommodates the high-speed digital link bridge.

High-end PCIe graphics cards are still in tight supply, so we are using the mid-range GeForce 6600 GT graphics cards that are widely available. Here is one of the MSI NX6600GT-TD128E graphics cards that is used with the MSI K8N Diamond motherboard:-

Along with the expected performance of the GPU, SLI brings with it power and cooling issues since two graphics cards will be stuffed into a consumer chassis. In the case of the GeForce 6600 GT on PCI Express, it obtains all its power needs directly from the motherboard and thankfully it isn't a power hog like the GeForce 6800 Ultra. Furthermore the card utilizes a single slot design. Hence, general cooling within a spacious system chassis is hardly a complicated issue as long as the case has good ventilation characteristics.

The trio used to make the SLI setup possible in this review:- The MSI K8N Diamond, dual MSI NX6600GT-TD128E and the high-speed digital interface link.

A close-up of the entire setup put together.

This how the connection is established between the two SLI-capable graphics cards.

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