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ECS P55H-AK: P55/NF200 Versus X58 In 3-Way SLI

ECS P55H-AK: P55/NF200 Versus X58 In 3-Way SLI
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We’ve seen how three-way SLI boosts gaming performance, but do we really need X58's PCI Express connectivity to realize those gains? Using three GTX 480s, we pit the latest P55/NF200 solution from ECS against a powerful X58-based incumbent to find out.

Captain Obvious dictates that, in order to properly support three graphics cards, your motherboard needs three PCIe x16 slots. Boards with three slots have been available at multiple price points for several generations. The problem with most of those boards was that the third slot was limited to only four PCIe 1.0 lanes. Nvidia would never allow such a low-bandwidth slot to support SLI because the card in the slowest slot often dragged down the performance of every other card in the array.

This is where enthusiasts might scream for a chipset with 48 PCI Express 2.0 lanes to support three graphics cards at full bandwidth from the primary controller. Unfortunately, no such product exists (though AMD comes close). Our own tests have shown that x8 mode is not much of a hindrance to SLI performance on Nvidia’s fastest cards, since CPU bottlenecks come into play long before a PCIe 2.0 x8 slot is completely tapped-out.

So, is the real requirement of three-way SLI really something as simple as a chipset that has 24 direct pathways? While many of our readers recommend X58-based motherboards to their friends specifically for the platform's 36 PCIe 2.0 pathways, we didn’t say that those lanes all had to come from a PCI Express controller. Long ago, Nvidia figured out that, since every card in an SLI array uses the same data, repeating data is an easy way to feed two graphics cards with the full 16 lanes of bandwidth from a chipset that supports only one x16 card. Nvidia calls this method “broadcast” and began using it several years ago to convert its low-cost 750a SLI chipset into a multi-card-supporting monster.

This bridge has since been used on everything from its 680i to Intel’s X58, opening three-way SLI to a broad customer base. Today we consider one such motherboard that allows buyers of mainstream LGA 1156 processor buyers to seek the ultimate level of features and graphics performance, and see how it compares to an LGA 1366 alternative.

Display 6 Comments.
  • 0 Hide
    mi1ez , 14 October 2010 16:08
    Nic looking board but will those covers not hinder the cooling of the heatsinks?
  • 1 Hide
    mi1ez , 14 October 2010 16:41
    And why not run the X58 system with dual channel memory. would that not be a fairer comparison?
  • 1 Hide
    Stupido , 14 October 2010 19:25
    very nice review...
    Thanks :) 
  • 1 Hide
    aje21 , 14 October 2010 20:27
    mi1ezAnd why not run the X58 system with dual channel memory. would that not be a fairer comparison?

    Agreed, but would this have made the X58 system much slower? It should use less power so that might affect the efficiency results.
    I assume the opinion was that anyone dropping three 480s into a system won't skimp on a couple of GB of RAM.
  • 1 Hide
    Redsnake77 , 15 October 2010 00:57
    But why use an X58 board with a bridge chip on at all? My EX58-UD5 automatically switches to 16,8,8 with 3 graphics cards installed and 8,8,8,8 with 4. I thought you proved in a previous article that the NF200 didn't add anything beneficial to X58.
  • 0 Hide
    wikkus , 15 October 2010 20:05
    aje21Agreed, but would this have made the X58 system much slower? It should use less power so that might affect the efficiency results.I assume the opinion was that anyone dropping three 480s into a system won't skimp on a couple of GB of RAM.


    I agree with this point also and I too found the article enlightening, but would add that whilst possible, are there really that many people that can afford to splurge that amount of moolah on their rig? Heck, if I blew that sort of folding on my pooter, my missus would have my cajones for conkers...

    R.

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