Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Grudgematch: Triple Nvidia SLI vs Triple ATI Crossfire

bronecarbronecar Member Posts: 685

Six video cards, 1,000 watts, and two fried eggs later!

 


Three Times

By: Sarju Shah, GameSpot - Posted on May 28, 2010

One powerful GPU is enough to render most games at ridiculous frame rates and insane resolutions. When you add two flagship GPUs to a system to make an SLI or Crossfire setup, it's the definition of excess. Triple SLI and Crossfire is (excuse us while we dip into our newspeak dictionary for a word) doubleplusexcess. Everything about three monster GPUs slapped into one system screams it. The frame rates are ridiculous, the power requirements are monumental, the heat is off the charts, and the cost--it falls under one of those "it's better not to ask" scenarios.

CyberPower sent over a system loaded to the hilt for us to check out in just such a configuration. The company had to build a machine capable of handling the immense loads that a triple GPU setup demands. Outside of heat, there were power, noise, and bottlenecking concerns. CyberPower used the sizeable Thermaltake Element V chassis, inside of which it installed one front-mounted 120mm fan for the drives, another in the back for the Asetek CPU water cooler, and a third wrapped around a ducting system that blows directly onto the video cards--an absolute necessity considering that one GeForce GTX 480 almost runs hot enough to boil water. On the side panel of the Thermaltake Element V sits a gigantic 230mm fan that blows directly onto the GPUs. An excellent cabling job keeps air flow unimpeded throughout the case. To make sure that the GPUs weren't bottlenecked by other hardware, CyberPower pushed the 3.33GHz flagship Intel Core i7 980X processor up to 4.2GHz and paired it with 6GB of 1600MHz Kingston HyperX DDR3 memory. On the storage side, there was a speedy 128GB Kingston SSD paired with a secondary 2TB drive for extra space. A massive 1,000-watt Corsair power supply feeds the rig with energy. Everything totals up to $4,500, which amounts to a princely sum but one heck of a machine.




The 6       CyberPower       Big fan!       Internals       Stacked       H20       1KW      


Noise

 

Firing up the system for the first time, we were expecting something along the lines of a mild tornado or, at the very least, a vacuum cleaner. Surprisingly, the machine didn't emit more noise than your average computer when browsing the Web. In our air-conditioned offices, running the machine at full tilt didn't generate jet engine levels of noise, but it was enough to get our notice.

 


Heat

 

 



Triple SLI vs Triple Crossfire

(Longer bars indicate better performance)




Operating Temperature (Celsius)


3x GeForce GTX 480 Peak



93



3x GeForce GTX 480 Idle



61



3x Radeon HD 5870 Peak



86



3x Radeon HD 5870 Idle



61




 

With the system configured the way it was--three side-to-side GPUs--we thought there would be more cause for alarm. In our earlier testing with the GeForce GTX 480, we pushed a single GPU well into the 90-degree Celsius range. Of course, we were also testing on an open-air test bed, which doesn't benefit from the well-routed air flow that a solid case design offers.

Despite all of the cooling efforts, we still saw high temperatures: 93 degrees. But that was with three GeForce GTX 480s in there and running for hours on end. We saw slightly lower temperature levels with three Radeon HD 5870s. Three power-hungry GPUs jammed into the space of a toaster are bound to cause trouble.

The machine can live in a well-cooled area, but we'd hesitate to recommend using it in a room with no air conditioning, and we definitely wouldn't recommend running it in the dead of summer. Of course, if you have nearly $5,000 to spend on a computer, it's likely you're not skimping on air conditioning. After multiple hours of testing on both setups, we would see the occasional graphical glitch or corrupted texture, which went away if we simply let the GPUs cool down a bit. The cooldown is relatively quick and probably took no longer than 10 to 20 seconds once all graphical load was gone.

 


Complexity

 

Running two GPUs in a system is complicated, but adding a third and possibly a fourth doesn't help matters. In testing both setups, we encountered our fair share of anomalies; quirks that one might expect from being on the bleeding edge. But they certainly weren't something anyone would be thrilled about after spending more than $1,500 on the GPUs alone.

With triple Crossfire, we could not get Eyefinity working with all three cards enabled in Crossfire mode, leaving us to game on a single monitor. The moment we disabled triple Crossfire mode, we regained the ability to play on multiple monitors. We imagine ATI will address this in time. Until then, it's certainly not a great reason to grab three of these cards. We did get Eyefinity working with two GPUs, though.

On the Nvidia side, the company has yet to enable 3D Vision Surround, a feature that requires SLI. The company aims to enable this feature with the next release of its 256 driver, which should occur at the end of June. 3D Vision Surround enables multimonitor gaming, as well as 3D, which requires special monitors and Nvidia's 3D glasses.

 


Performance

 

 



Triple SLI vs Triple Crossfire

(Longer bars indicate better performance)




Just Cause 2, 2560x1600 8xAA/16xAF Max Quality


3x GeForce GTX 480



50



3x Radeon HD 5870



41



2x GeForce GTX 480



38



2x Radeon HD 5870



34



GeForce GTX 480



21



Radeon HD 5870



23




Tom Clancy's HAWX, 2560x1600 8xAA Max Quality


3x GeForce GTX 480



164



3x Radeon HD 5870



160



2x GeForce GTX 480



146



2x Radeon HD 5870



89



GeForce GTX 480



62



Radeon HD 5870



55




Metro 2033, 1920x1080 High Quality, DOF Off, 4xAA/16xAF


3x GeForce GTX 480



64



3x Radeon HD 5870



58



2x GeForce GTX 480



56



2x Radeon HD 5870



45



GeForce GTX 480



32



Radeon HD 5870



26




Dirt 2, 2560x1600 8xAA Ultra Quality


3x GeForce GTX 480



126



3x Radeon HD 5870



127



2x GeForce GTX 480



98



2x Radeon HD 5870



85



GeForce GTX 480



50



Radeon HD 5870



51




 

One of these cards is quick, but two of them are even faster. Forced onto a single monitor, three powerful GPUs tied together can generate very high frame rates. But they do have their limitations when it comes to some games. The matchup is also not entirely fair because the GeForce 480 GTX costs $100 more per card than the Radeon HD 5870, and dropping in three dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970s wasn't an option.

Both triple card setups trounced their single and dual GPU brethren in all of the tests. We've got to hand it to Nvidia, though, because SLI scaling in general beat out Crossfire across the board in our tests. ATI's dual GPU Crossfire gave an averaged 1.6x gain over a single GPU, and when we jumped to three GPUs, we got an averaged 2.3x gain. With dual Nvidia GPUs, we got an averaged 2x gain, but three GPUs only moved us up to an averaged 2.5x. We're seeing some tremendous overall performance from both sets of cards, but we're far from a perfect 3x gain. Future driver revisions will likely improve performance.

 


Conclusion

 

In our tests, the jump from one GPU to two GPUs provided amazing gains. Nvidia seems to have the more mature multi-GPU solution from the games we tested, as two Nvidia GPUs pretty much doubled performance on all games. The jump to three GPUs also favors Nvidia, but the gains don't quite justify the hassle or cost. Temperatures also run quite high on both sets of video cards, and we can't recommend running them outside of a climate-controlled environment. Neither setup can run on multiple monitors at the moment, but the functionality should be present in time.

Test System: Cyberpower - Intel Core i7 980x @ 4.2GHz, Kingston HyperX 1600MHz 6GB DDR3, Asus Rampage III Extreme Motherboard, Kingston 128GB SSD, Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium. Graphics cards: Nvidia GeForce 480 GTX, Forceware 257.15. ATI Radeon HD 5870, Catalyst 10.5.

Comments

  • CatamountCatamount Member Posts: 773

    While an interesting look at the state of tri-card solutions, it doesn't tell us anything new about the GTX480 as compared to the 5870. Had the 5870 NOT fallen behind the more expensive GTX480 in every test, it would have been quite sad for Nvidia. It's already embarrassing that the GTX480 consumes twice as much energy and sounds like a jet engine just trying to keep reasonable temperatures.

    I would also question their conclusions about drivers. It's true that within their small sample, the GTX480's gains beat the 5870's gains a little more often than the reverse was true, but this is just that: a small sample. If you look at the Crossfire review here, from Guru3d, you'll note that in their much larger sample of game tests, the Radeon HD 5850 usually sees bigger gains from crossfire than the GTX285 does from SLI (and I bet the 5770 does too, but I didn't really look at that), and the GTX285 should have more mature drivers, even during this older review than the GTX480 does now.

    Still, like I said, this is all in all an interesting little article.

  • DraemosDraemos Member UncommonPosts: 1,518

    Performance was pretty much what I expected  Although I have a feeling their temperature numbers are slightly misleading.  They are likely using auto software control for the fans... and while a 5870 will run at about 40% at 80- degrees, a 480 runs at about 70-80% at 90 degrees.  Needless to say a 5870 has a lot more room to breath and can be kept at a much cooler temperature w/out maxing out the fans.

    However, the main problem for the 480 in SLI is that your multiplying all the bad stuff about it.  The extra $, the extra power draw, the extra heat... etc.  Of course anyone thats setting up a tri-gpu machine probably won't care about any of that, and will run a liquid cooling setup

    I think with the recent driver updates its safe to say the 480 is making a reasonable argument for itself(performance wise) against the 5870.  Of course it won't be competing against the 5870 for long, which isn't even in its price bracket, but instead against the next high performance card in the 5800 series.

Sign In or Register to comment.