Commentary: Double your gaming

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NVIDIA calls them the ultra enthusiasts -- an elite band of about 1 million PC nuts worldwide that will buy anything thrown at them.

They carry so much import in the hearts and minds battle for graphics card supremacy, that NVIDIA has just announced a new graphics solution designed for them.

Called Scaleable Link Interface (SLI), it enables two high-end graphics cards to work together, nearly doubling performance in some cases. It will require a bleeding edge PC to work, relying on PCI Express technology which was officially unveiled by Intel last week, but it is set to send a rocket through the world of hardcore PC lovers.

While NVIDIA has had the technology built into all its graphics chips for the past four years, it has needed PCI Express to make it work.

'No-one built an AGP based dual card solution,' states NVIDIAs chief scientist, Dr David Kirk, who goes on to explain that SLI has come about thanks to the bi-directional communication speed of PCI Express and the ability to mix the end signal digitally thanks to DVI output.

The technology will be enabled on the PCI Express versions of NVIDIA's high end GeForce 6800 Ultra and GeForce 6800 GT cards, which sell for US$499 and US$399 respectively.

All of these cards will come with the small connector needed to get the SLI setup running, and the only constraint is that NVIDIA recommends two of the same model of card, from the same manufacturer.

Designed for ease of use, SLI uses special driver algorithms to split up a 3D scene and balance the load between the two cards.

It does not require any specialised coding to get it running, and performance is set to increase when the next generation of 3D games are released.

These games will make use of the advanced Shader Model 3.0 features within the GeForce 6800 chip to produce graphics approaching the quality seen in the cinema over the past few years.

While a mere handful of consumers will be able to afford the initially high price of setting up an SLI solution, the real benefits may not appear for another six months to a year when the cards drop in price.

It also mitigates the rapid yearly upgrade cycle experienced by the graphics industry, which can see this years top performance be doubled or tripled in a new generation product.

With SLI a user who needs a higher performing graphics solution can simply buy another GeForce 6800 Ultra or GT and double their gaming performance instantly.

Or as Kirk puts it: 'SLI makes the GeForce 6800 future proof'.

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