MSI Gaming 3 and 4-way SLI Bridge Connector Reviewccokeman -
Category: Video Cards
Price: 3Way Bridge $49.99, 4 Way Bridge $52.99
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MSI Gaming 3-Way & 4-Way SLI Bridge Connector Introduction:
There is always a segment of the market that is going to push the limits of their graphics hardware to get the best visual quality and highest in-game FPS. Running a multiple GPU setup is one way to achieve that goal. CrossFireX is AMD's multi-GPU scenario, while SLI is NVIDIA's name for its multi-GPU strategy. If one card is good, then multiple cards have to better, right? To a point, yes. With more GPUs come additional issues related to frame timing and stuttering once you go past two cards in a multi-GPU configuration. In part, it's one of the reasons that NVIDIA is sticking with a two cards is best strategy on the latest Pascal architecture cards, the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070.
While 3-Way and 4-Way solutions are still supported, you have to jump through a few hoops to get there. That being said, with the new architecture came a new standard for the SLI Bridge connections that maximize the data throughput. These SLI bridge connections for NVIDIA GPUs are designed for GTX 9xx and lower GPUs that do not use this new interface on the Pascal cards. This does give you option of really putting together that ultimate gaming rig with a trio or quartet of cards to improve your overall visual quality settings or FPS levels to get a leg up in games.
So what is SLI technology? It is the technology used by NVIDIA to connect two, three, or four video cards in a multi-GPU configuration. Initially, this technology went by the Scan Link Interleave name while the technology was under the 3dfx umbrella, and now goes by Scalable Link Interface. There is a ton of information online if you want a deep dive into the tech. What I am looking at today is some hardware from MSI that allows the end user to get a part that enhances the looks of their gaming system, while also adding additional cooling functionality. Let's take a look at these 3-Way and 4-Way SLI bridges from MSI.
MSI Gaming 3-Way & 4-Way SLI Bridge Connector Closer Look:
Most of us are used to the typical SLI bridges we get as part of the motherboard accessory bundle when we buy a board that supports NVIDIA's SLI technology. Depending on what motherboard you buy and how far up in the product stack the product is, you get a variety of SLI bridges. Some feature a PCB-based set of bridge connections, while others offer up only the ribbon style SLI bridges. Any way you look at it, they are far from visually appealing, but essentially do work as intended. MSI aims to get you out of the mundane and into some seriously good looking and functional SLI bridges in 2-Way, 3-Way, and 4-Way configurations. I will be looking at the latter two to see how they fit and if they perform as they should.
Each package is fairly large in size for a bridge connection, but when you look at the package as a whole you realize why it is so large. MSI not only is selling some cool looking bridges, but including a large 120mm fan with a mounting system that allows you to push a large volume of air in between the video cards you are using. The front panel shows the whole of the contents in a beauty shot, while the back side of the package gives the potential consumer a deeper dive into why this option is better than the mundane parts we normally see. The highlights are an up to 10% reduction in overall thermals, a premium LED lit bridge assembly, and support for MSI GTX 9xx series video cards.
As is the case with all of MSI's Gaming series products, you get a well packed and high class looking package that easily handles the rigors of transport without damaging the impressive internals. The MSI SLI Bridges occupy the left hand side of the package, while the fan assembly and associated parts take up residence on the right hand side of the box. Broken out of the box, you can see the full spectrum of the components in each one of these kits. Included are the MSI Gaming SLI Bridge connectors in 3-Way and 4-Way configuration, with the fan brackets that mount the 120mm MSI-branded Cooler Master 120mm x 15mm fans and the associated hardware. MSI includes everything you need to mount the bridges and cooling parts.
The 3-Way bridge supports up to three MSI 9 series GPUs, while the 4-Way bridge supports four MSI GPUs in SLI configurations as the name suggests. The top side of the MSI Gaming SLI Bridges feature a sleek design that is part and parcel to the MSI Gaming theme of the brand. The center logo lights up while in operation, so you have an idea what is powering your rig. The red end caps are metal, not plastic, for a beefier feel. Anodizing looks so much better than paint in this situation. The LED lighting used in the bridge is one more area that can be controlled via MSI's Gaming App to deliver added visuals. The underside of the SLI bridge gets us back on track with the look we normally see from an SLI bridge. Points of difference are the black PCB and the armor around each of the bridge connections. Since MSI Gaming GTX 9xx cards are the targetted support group, this set of bridges are optimized to deliver the data needed to run intensive 4K gaming.
The SLI bridges are nice enough in their own right, but the second part of the package has added functionality. When you pack two, three, or four GPUs together on a supporting motherboard, the spacing between cards does not really allow for exceptional cooling airflow to the top three GPUs in the stack. To combat this issue, MSI has included a custom bracket to hold a 120mm x 15mm fan to push cooling airflow into the space between the video cards to afford them a chance at running temperatures up to 10% cooler than without the added airflow. The anodized aluminum fan bracket mounts to the side of the MSI Gaming SLI Bridge and supports the 120mm PWM fan. The fan mounts much as you might think. There are rubber sound dampeners for each corner of the fan to eliminate any noise that might occur from the fan/bracket intersection. A pair of rubber feet are used to support the fan assembly over the cards. The aluminum fan bracket can be tweaked, but I found that straight in cooling was the best option.
When all is said and done, installing the cards in a motherboard and mounting the bridges is a simple process. I found it best to leave the cards loose in the PCIe slots until the bridge was fully seated on the video cards. Once in place you can snug down the retaining screws for your GPUs and you will be set going forward. I pulled my Titan X SLI config out of my usual gaming system to see how well these bridge kits work with four cards.
MSI's feature set for these bridges include support for 3-Way and 4-Way SLI on compatible MSI GeForce GTX series graphics cards; incorporates a detachable fan bracket using a 120mm fan to increase heat dissipation from the GPUs; MSI Gaming dragon LED illumination controlled by the MSI Gaming App (version v220.127.116.11 or higher); uses a durable, highly conductive metal shroud on SLI connectors; and is optimized for 4K+ resolutions and 144Hz refresh rates. With installation a breeze, I can run through some quick tests with the bridges installed to validate functionality and the effects of the 120mm fan on card cooling.