Nvidia to enable native SLI on certified X58 motherboards

NVISION — If you want to combine a pair of GeForce graphics cards with a new Core i7 processor from Intel later this year, you’re in luck. Just after the grand finale for its Nvision conference, Nvidia gathered reporters to inform them of a somewhat surprising and apparently very recent decision: the firm plans to enable its SLI multi-GPU scheme to work with Intel’s X58 chipset—without the need for an nForce 200 PCI Express bridge chip on the motherboard.

The fate of SLI support on the X58 chipset—intended for Core i7 processors, which are code-named "Nehalem"—has been a question mark for some time now. Nvidia has said that it won’t be making chipsets that work with the Core i7’s QuickPath Interconnect (QPI), and it had instead proposed that motherboard makers use its nForce 200 chip on their boards. The presence of that bit of Nvidia hardware would then make the mobo kosher for SLI support. However, the company said today that it realized such a silicon solution would limit SLI to a small number of very high end motherboards, effectively roping off SLI from the mainstream of the enthusiast PC market. Rather than be forced into that situation, Nvidia has elected to allow SLI on the X58 chipset—under certain circumstances.

Motherboard makers who wish to have their X58 boards certified for SLI will have to submit their products for testing in Nvidia’s Santa Clara certification lab, and those boards must pass basic testing for functionality, slot placement, and the like. Certification will not be free, either. Board makers will have to select from a menu of licensing options available to them. Certified boards will also be required to display an "SLI Certified" logo on their boxes and other marketing materials.

Once a board is certified, Nvidia will provide the board maker with an approval key (called a "cookie") that it must embed in the system BIOS. The combination of this approval key and an X58 chipset will then unlock SLI support in Nvidia’s ForceWare driver software. Nvidia acknowledged to us up front that users would more than likely hack the BIOSes of non-certified X58 boards and add "cookies" to them, but said it won’t get in the way of such things. The certification program is intended for motherboard and PC makers, and end-users’ actions don’t appear to be a big source of concern.

X58 SLI will come in a variety of flavors, since the firm will support a fairly broad array of PCI Express lane configurations for PCIe graphics slots on motherboards, including everything from dual x16 to quad x8 lanes of Gen2 PCIe connectivity. (Yep, it looks like we may see quad SLI in four cards make its debut with the Core i7.) The nForce 200 will still get a piece of the action, too—configs with four true 16-lane PCIe slots via dual nForce 200 chips will of course be supported. X58 boards with nForce 200 chips are likely already deep into the development process by now, or we likely wouldn’t see many of these, I suspect.

Why the change in direction? Nvidia says its reasoning in part was simply that without a QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) chipset of its own, the market for Core i7 motherboards would be difficult for it to attack. In other words, Intel seems to have forced Nvidia’s hand here by blocking off access to its QuickPath Interconnect. Forced to choose between opening up SLI to work on Intel chipsets or losing out on GPU sales, the firm chose something of a middle way in which it retains control over SLI certification and reaps some royalty fees but still brings SLI to Intel’s enthusiast-class PC platform. Intel is even welcome to submit its own X58 motherboards for SLI certification, Nvidia spokesman Tom Petersen said, although not all board makers will be offered the same set of licensing options at the same price.

Petersen also told us Intel wasn’t a party to Nvidia’s decision to allow SLI on the X58, so there’s no apparent quid pro quo here.

Nvidia does not plan to abandon its chipset business entirely and will continue to make core-logic products for other Intel platforms, like the current Core 2 one. In fact, Petersen noted that Nvidia will soon be making an announcement related to integrated graphics chipsets for Intel processors. That’s a big change for Nvidia; the company hasn’t yet challenged Intel’s higher-volume chipsets in the mainstream PC market, despite the fact that Intel’s integrated graphics solutions are generally considered to be rather weak.

Unfortunately, Nvidia still seems committed to maintaining the fiction that locking its competitors’ chipsets out of SLI was (and still is) driven by technological barriers rather than business reasons. When asked why the company had decided to open up SLI on the X58, Petersen claimed SLI had previously relied on two functions specific to nForce chipsets, PW Shortcut and broadcast. Now, however, PCIe Gen 2 has made peer-to-peer writes a standard feature, eliminating the need for PW Shortcut. Nvidia’s driver team, he said, is modifying its driver to handle the broadcast function in software. That explanation would seem to make perfect sense, yet one can’t help but note that SLI support is not forthcoming for AMD’s PCIe Gen2-capable chipsets or for Intel’s Core 2 chipsets. Business concerns are the in driver’s seat here, not technical hurdles.

Regardless of its justification, though, this development is undoubtedly a welcome one for PC enthusiasts, who should be able to select from a number of Core i7 motherboards that support not only CrossFire but SLI, as well, later this year.

Comments closed
    • Skyboat
    • 11 years ago

    /[<"Nvidia acknowledged to us up front that users would more than likely hack the BIOSes of non-certified X58 boards and add "cookies" to them, but said it won't get in the way of such things."<]/ I read that as "we don't care, it'll just mean people will buy more of our graphics cards so it's a win-win scenario"

    • Mightyflapjack
    • 11 years ago

    Speaking as an SLI user myself I must say that I hope we re-visit the ATX motherboard standard soon and increase the size of these motherboards by at least 33% and as much as 50-75% larger.

    The industry keeps wanting to make things smaller and smaller, but as heat and power increases in these systems all I want is a few more inches of breathing room for my PC components.

      • smilingcrow
      • 11 years ago

      β€œI hope we re-visit the ATX motherboard standard soon and increase the size of these motherboards by at least 33% and as much as 50-75% larger.”

      You want a board 75% larger than ATX!!! That would be monstrous and complete overkill and imagine how large your case would need to be. From a technical perspective it’s preferable to keep the trace lines fairly short I believe!

    • pogsnet
    • 11 years ago
    • DrDillyBar
    • 11 years ago

    So what do you suppose Intel is going to call their GPU teaming technology? Maybe nVidia realizes that intel too will come up with a version of CF/SLI, and this is a move for them to find a defencible position to see what happens. Keep your friends close….

    • Tamale
    • 11 years ago

    this isn’t nearly as good of news to nVidia as it is to intel.

    leaving intel as the only chipset provider who supports both crossfire and sli means most enthusiasts like me probably won’t even consider anyone else for their motherboards… choice always reigns supreme!

    • ADRENALIN
    • 11 years ago

    better than no SLI i guess, or that hot nForce 200 chip.

    • ChangWang
    • 11 years ago

    What happened to all that special sauce in the nForce chipsets that only allowed SLI to work “correctly”…

    Hopefully someone will backport some bios’s on X38s and X48s to allow the same thing

      • Krogoth
      • 11 years ago

      Just more marketing BS to “justify” SLI’s exclusion to Nvidia chipsets.

        • Voldenuit
        • 11 years ago

        QFFT.

        “Swansong” is too generous a description. “Dying shriek” is more euphonious to me.

      • ColdMist
      • 11 years ago

      From TFA:

      Petersen claimed SLI had previously relied on two functions specific to nForce chipsets, PW Shortcut and broadcast. Now, however, PCIe Gen 2 has made peer-to-peer writes a standard feature, eliminating the need for PW Shortcut. Nvidia’s driver team, he said, is modifying its driver to handle the broadcast function in software. That explanation would seem to make perfect sense, yet one can’t help but note that SLI support is not forthcoming for AMD’s PCIe Gen2-capable chipsets or for Intel’s Core 2 chipsets.

      Hope that explains the “special sauce” for you.

        • A_Pickle
        • 11 years ago

        From TFA:

        That explanation would seem to make perfect sense, yet one can’t help but note that SLI support is not forthcoming for AMD’s PCIe Gen2-capable chipsets or for Intel’s Core 2 chipsets. Business concerns are the in driver’s seat here, not technical hurdles.

        Hope that explains the “special sauce” for you.

    • Forge
    • 11 years ago

    So now while I’m editing BIOSes to enable MS screwage, I can make a side stop and enable Nvidia screwage as well?

    I’m going to be very busy with my hex editors for the next few months.

      • A_Pickle
      • 11 years ago

      You can make BIOSes? Damn…

      …I just took my first ever coding class yesterday. I got my syllabus… πŸ˜€

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    I would hazard to guess that in the portion in the drivers where it unlocks SLI if it detects a certified part can be easily be cracked or fooled to working with non-certified boards.

    • cegras
    • 11 years ago

    > The certification program is intended for motherboard and PC makers, and end-users’ actions don’t appear to be a big source of concern.

    Oh jee, nvidia’s money motives become painfully obvious here.

    • jensend
    • 11 years ago

    This sounds like a swansong for nV’s chipset business (“we’ll just make chipsets for old processors which soon won’t be produced any more”). It’s a real shame to see the 3rd party chipset vendors falling one after another.

    I wonder whether there would be any legal options for attacking the way things are going- antitrust or class action against Intel for dirty tricks in killing other chipset makers off.

      • cygnus1
      • 11 years ago

      well, you can partly blame intel for this scenario as well. they have yet to agree to license Quickpath tech to anyone. they may in a year or two, just to appear to be fair but to have their competition be far enough behind to give them a nice advantage

    • smilingcrow
    • 11 years ago

    Now if only you could use HybridPower with an Intel SLI board as well; obviously not the X58 as it lacks an IGP.

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 11 years ago

    I bet Lucid’s GPU load-balancer has something to do with it.
    Open SLI up to more boards before lucid’s balancer becomes a standard feature.
    It’s probably too little, too late though.
    Nvidia and ATI should have opened multi-gpu support up for everyone a long time ago.

      • spartus4
      • 11 years ago

      I agree. Must be it actually works as Lucid says.

      • deruberhanyok
      • 11 years ago

      Stop me if I’m wrong here but I’m pretty sure Crossfire is supported on any board regardless of chipset as long as it has the right PCI Express slots…

        • MrJP
        • 11 years ago

        Not on Nvidia chipsets, just Intel and AMD/ATi.

          • deruberhanyok
          • 11 years ago

          I was unaware of that. Thanks for the info.

          • [TR]
          • 11 years ago

          -[

      • GTVic
      • 11 years ago

      Dumb comment, NVidia and ATI/AMD do not care about competition from Lucid. If Lucid’s technology works then ATI and NVidia get to sell more video cards and eventually stop development on crossfire/sli.

    • Faiakes
    • 11 years ago

    Is that that really the case?
    Will there be both Crossfire and SLI suport?
    (Is Crossfire handled natively on Intel boards currently?)

      • deruberhanyok
      • 11 years ago

      Yes, and it has been for a while.

        • Faiakes
        • 11 years ago

        Nice!

        This should also make reselling your mobo easier.

          • [TR]
          • 11 years ago

          Or choosing GPUs. No worries about future dual GPU support is a good thing when SLI and Crossfire are perfectly good choices if you buy a single GPU and want to capitalize on it and a price drop a few months later.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 11 years ago

    q[

      • Mithent
      • 11 years ago

      There’s high-end and there’s ultra high-end. I think they’re saying that if it required an nForce 200 chip then it would be limited to motherboards like Skulltrail, which no-one has. I wouldn’t be too surprised if certification is limited to X58, as the X-series chipsets are intended as general enthusiast chipsets.

      Then again, Nvidia will be getting paid for this and they don’t get proceeds from the motherboard sales otherwise, so there’s no reason for them to block it?

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      The tech trickles down eventually, though. If they continued putting up a “no way, no how…unless you buy our silicon” front now, it would just make the sham a hundred times more destructive to de-spin in two years when the X58 (or most recent derivative) is a mainstream prdouct, and nobody wants to pay for the extra chip because the margins have thinned out.

    • Prodeous
    • 11 years ago

    This is welcomed news by everyone (except Nvidia).

    Something we have been waiting since the initial release of SLI and Crosfire. Now finaly becomming true. One simple board that supports both.

    Now all we need to do is wait for some BIOS hacks for AMD platforms.

    • KarateBob
    • 11 years ago

    /[

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      I wouldn’t go to such lengths just yet.

      • BiffStroganoffsky
      • 11 years ago

      See the part about hacking the cookie into non-certified bios.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 11 years ago

      NVidia will use the same tactic with motherboard manufacturers that they currently use with graphics card manufacturers and with game developers. If you support AMD, then NVidia makes your life hard. If you snub AMD, then NVidia has a big bag of cash for you, The Way It’s Meant To Be Played.

        • DrDillyBar
        • 11 years ago

        Isn’t that exactly the AMD / intel lawsuit?

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