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Taking Power to The Extreme

Any questions that may have existed about the ability of Nvidia’s SLI chipset to work well with Intel’s 45nm processors can be put to rest.

The combination of Nvidia’s latest chipset motherboard—based on its Scalable Link Interface technology—with Intel’s high-end, Core 2 Extreme Quad Core processor QX9650 CPU results in a powerful, wicked-fast solution that is positioned well for 3-D, video rendering or (perhaps especially) gaming.

Late last year, when Intel kicked off its 45nm Penryn processor family, some industry executives voiced caution about its integration with Nvidia’s SLI-based technology. In fact, HP’s VoodooPC unit even withheld initial support for Penryn based on those reservations.

Since then, Intel has launched its QX9650 CPU, code-named Yorkfield, and Nvidia is now supporting it with its 780i SLI chipset.

SLI is a proprietary architecture that provides for parallel processing in graphics applications and is aimed at breaking performance bottlenecks. The 780i SLI media and communications processor (MCP) was designed specifically for integration with Yorkfield and is the first in Nvidia’s lineup to support three-way SLI.

The CMP Channel Test Center got a good look at the integration of the components in a finished solution during an evaluation of Velocity Micro’s Raptor Signature Edition gaming system. It presents itself as a stable, benchmark-crushing platform when running a no-frills version of Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit.

Put through Futuremark’s 3DMark software, widely regarded as a gamer’s benchmark, and supplemented by benchmarking with Primate Labs’ Geekbench software, the results were impressive.

3DMark optimizes the tests to look at graphics and video encoding. The Raptor scored 6,196 on Geekbench, which is in the general range of high-end gaming systems with the same Intel processor. The 3DMark test ran three times at 1280x1024 resolution with default image and video options. The Raptor scored 20,085, which is on the high range for similar machines on the market. The test also reported the CPU subscore, which was 5,493.

The system also proved to be stable during a variety of audio, video and 3-D applications. In particular, the audio quality was outstanding even using a pair of low-end, off-the-shelf PC speakers from Creative Technology.

The Intel processor, with quad 3.0GHz cores and configured with 12 Mbytes of shared Level 2 cache, is based on the company’s 45nm manufacturing process. Because of the architecture of the chipset motherboard, Raptor showed itself to be a tough platform to beat. SLI support allowed the system to come with three Nvidia GeForce 8800 graphic cards, with three-way support.

The processors are not for the budget-conscious. Intel prices the QX9650 Core 2 Extreme Quad Core chips at $999 in 1,000-unit quantities. Intel’s Core 2 Duo chips, by comparison, are priced at $530 in 1,000-unit quantities. Street prices on Nvidia’s 780i chipset motherboard range between $275 and $290.

In real-world terms, the combination of Intel’s 45nm technology in Yorkfield and Nvidia’s three-way SLI technology made possible by its 780i chipset motherboard now represents the high end of desktop performance. For solution providers and system builders delivering to high-touch customers with a need for raw performance, it’s a configuration that must be on the top of the list.

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