DFI has performed a miraculous change of marketing directions in the past two years. They have moved from a solid second tier motherboard manufacturer producing nice OEM motherboards and a few solid, but dull, branded motherboards to a company whose products have come to define the Computer Enthusiast market. We can all chuckle when we say that Diamond Flower International became Designed For Innovation to fit their new image, but the transition is truly that remarkable.

A quick visit to www.xtremesystems.org or any other site devoted to enthusiasts who live to top the orb at Futuremark will find huge discussions of each little feature of upcoming DFI motherboards. Now, enthusiasts seem to ask with each new motherboard review, "That's fine, but what will the coming DFI do?" The DFI Socket 754 nF3 250Gb was one of the last 754 boards to market, but it was so heavily anticipated that DFI pre-sales totaled several months of production even before the board landed on the market.

This time around, the new nForce4 boards from DFI are some of the first to market, surely a first for DFI, and the new boards have already created quite a buzz when it was found that their new nF4 Ultra board, with two x16 PCIe slots, could be modded easily into an nForce4 SLI by closing a bridge on the nF4 Ultra chipset. Suddenly, a $140 motherboard could deliver everything that a full SLI board could deliver with a simple mod using a #2 pencil. Details of that mod are at Morphing nForce4 Ultra into nForce4 SLI. Add to that the incredible range of tweaking controls, which are becoming trademark DFI, and enthusiasts have been lining up to buy the new DFI nForce4 boards, which should actually be available right now.

There are two new DFI nForce4 boards covered in this review - the full-blown LANParty nF4 SLI-DR and the LANParty UT nF4 Ultra-D. However, the boards are basically the same and built on the same PCB. The LANParty is based on the nVidia nForce4 SLI chipset, while the UT has a few less features and is based on the nForce4 Ultra chipset. However, both boards sport 2 x16 PCIe slots, both boards perform the same, and they even use the same BIOS. As we found in the Ultra to SLI mod article, the UT board becomes, in every way, an SLI board after the simple mod. We will talk about the few differences between the boards in this review, but all benchmarking, overclocking, and memory performance tests apply equally to both boards.

DFI wanted to be certain that buyers of the lower-priced UT Ultra board still had all the overclocking controls and options available on the full-blown LANParty, and in this case, it is not just lip service. The SLI and Ultra boards can be considered equal in performance. The full-blown LANParty package with SLI adds a few more features to justify the $60 premium that the LANParty SLI will ask.


UPDATE 2/05/2005: nVidia has acted to prevent, or at least make it more difficult, to mod the Ultra board to SLI. First, DFI has advised us, and posted on their website, that they will NOT sell the SLI bridge to buyers of the Ultra board. Second, nVidia has advised us that future shipments of the Ultra chipset have been modified so that the mod to SLI will no longer be possible. An additional side effect of this second action is that the "Dual Video" mode, which performs at about 90% of SLI performance levels, will only work with nVidia SLI drivers 66.75 or earlier. If you do a quick check of web driver postings you will see it is now very difficult to find 66.75 drivers. With a chipset modded to SLI the "Dual Video" mode worked through 70.xx versions of the nVidia driver. nVidia also made it clear they will continue to make driver changes to prevent functioning of any "non-standard" (8X/8X) operation of their SLI driver. This also throws into question whether the VIA "dual graphics" mode on the 894 Pro chipset will ever work with nVidia graphics cards. If you are interested in the current UT Ultra-D we suggest you buy one now if you can find it. Future versions of the UT Ultra-D will not have the same capabilities as a result of these actions.


Basic Features: DFI nForce4
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  • chevas - Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - link

    Did I miss something? Why do I not see the A8N-SLI deluxe included in these tests?!? Reply
  • Penth - Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - link

    NO SLI Bridge? What am I to do with my Ultra-D now? Reply
  • beany323 - Monday, February 07, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • bigtoe36 - Monday, February 07, 2005 - link

    many companies have applied chipset tweaks with Asus pioneering PAT on 865PE boards from the onset...seems all of a suden the tier ones are being made to tow the line??? Reply
  • ViRGE - Sunday, February 06, 2005 - link

    Wesley, that's certainly a very believable story. Though Asus is a very good mobo company, they're also who I would suspect any such complainer to be. They're the most powerful tier 1 last I checked, and most likely to lose SLI sales due to semi-SLI, in part because it wouldn't be like them to release their own semi-SLI board. I'd hate to think that someone is trying to kill the modding community like that though. Reply
  • bbomb - Sunday, February 06, 2005 - link

    Nvidia is going to kill off SLI before it even gets off the ground by making it the most insanely difficult and expensive thing for computer users to do. Why cant they make it so that you can just slap in any two nvidia cards and get SLI to work? Why do they have to make it so that motherboards now cost over $250 retail for an SLI version?

    I pray to god that ATI's version is half the price of Nvidias and allows any two ATI cards to work in an SLI fashion just top put Nvida back in their place. I bet the Nvidia prevents any ATI cards from working in SLI mode on any Nforce chipset should ATI get that to work.

    This is what happens when graphics card companies use their chipsets to restrict what computer users can do with that companies video cards. I do belive that Nvidia said that they were two separate businesses but now they must have combined them to place the most restricitons possible through drivers to prevent affordable solutions from coming out.

    F you Nvida it's all ATI and Via for me now.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Sunday, February 06, 2005 - link

    #93 - There was no press at all on the MSI "semi-SLI" Ultra - just a couple of posts on Forums - and nVidia was all over it. MSI said they canned the idea and the nVidia drivers were quickly changed so "semi-sli" would not work with current drivers on the Ultra.

    I doubt it was the press that caused this to happen. Ultra chip shipments were still going to all the manufacturers after the "mod" article went up on January 18th and there was not one word from nVidia until Friday February 4.

    The best we can figure is that a powerful tier 1 manufacturer complained loudly to nVidia late this week that they were losing SLI sales to DFI because of the "illegal" SLI. nVidia was forced to act due to the political clout of this manufacturer.

    Of course nVidia had other options as well. They could have decided to lower the price of SLI and discontinue Ultra, which is what we thought would happen.
    Reply
  • bigtoe36 - Sunday, February 06, 2005 - link

    #93

    It was all over the forums MSI had a semi SLI board and NV came down on them hard...nothing was in the "official press" though.

    I have a feeling a tier 1 has moaned here as DFI are tier 2 and probably had no help designing the board...so pretty much went it alone and designed the board how they wanted to.

    I would have thought the best move would have been to lower the cost of SLI and remove the "branding tax" and drop the Ultra chipset.
    Still NV make the decissions here not us.
    Reply
  • arfan - Sunday, February 06, 2005 - link

    likes what i say, nvida is not stupid, i hope via can make sli mobo with cheap price Reply
  • stephenbrooks - Sunday, February 06, 2005 - link

    It's time for another "The message is clear:" thing.
    If chip manufacturers want to sell different products at different prices they should make sure they use DIFFERENT CHIPS! Nobody can pencil mod across a submicron trace. Why oh why do they do this and then put the lock in software?! I suspect it's because they wanted to be able to make a load of generic chips and brand them as the market demands.
    Still... it's stupid! I remember reading AT's article on that pencil mod and had to blink a few times to make sure I was reading it right... :)
    Reply

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