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Advice on new GTX280 SLI build?

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June 21, 2008 4:23:34 AM

Hello folks,

Despite the less than stellar initial reviews for the GTX 280, I've taken the plunge to get two of the eVGA GTX 280 FTW cards (which will be here on Monday), and am planning to build a SLI based rig around them. (Based on the stats, I'm crossing my fingers that when the drivers are tuned, these things will see a huge performance increase.) :) 

I'm a somewhat old school PC builder, but haven't been building new systems every year like I used to, so I'm not as up to speed on all the latest gear as I'd like. Nowdays I only upgrade my system every few years, so I'm willing to spend a bit more to get a great system now which will still be decent in 2010... I just want to make sure I'm doing this right. I did build a new X38/E8400/9800GTX based system for my wife last week (http://secure.newegg.com/WishList/PublicWishDetail.aspx?WishListNumber=11887247), so at least I'm not completely rusty.

I've been doing some research, but have some questions on what my best options are. I know there is no silver bullet on PC building, but I'd like some validation on what I'm doing, and any suggestions for proven alternate gear would be welcomed.

I know the GTX 280's run hot, so water cooling is something I have considered, but not sure I want to go down that route since I'm not really all that familiar with it, and I'm worried it will leak and destroy my system. If I do go down that road, I'd love to do some reasonable overclocking though.

Assuming I stick with air cooling, am leaning towards the following config (http://secure.newegg.com/WishList/PublicWishDetail.aspx?WishListNumber=11884807), all of which is available through New Egg...

Thermaltake SwordM VD5000BNA Full Tower Case (Air)
I really like the look of the SwordM, though it is expensive, it seems like it should have good airflow and plenty of room for 2 long video cards and a tall CPU cooler. I figure a mid-tower case is probably too cramped for two GTX 280's to get decent airflow. I also liked the Silverstone SST-TJ07, CoolerMaster Cosmos S, and Antec Twelve Hundred. If I go with air I need to make sure I have great airflow, since ambient temperatures where my PC is can sometimes be upwards of 75-80F with A/C running.

PC Power & Cooling T12W 1200W PSU
PCP&C has always done well for me in the past, though they are not cheap. Based on reviews the GTX 280 is power hungry, and most of the SLI certified PSUs are 1200W (the T12W is certified for GTX 280 in 2-way and 3-way SLI.) I can probably get away with 1000W, but having extra is better than not enough. I also liked the Silverstone, Corsair, and Tagan PSU's in that watt range.

eVGA nForce 790i Ultra SLI Motherboard
I think the 790i is pretty much what I need to make sure I have full 1600FSB and PCIe 2.x support with nVidia SLI. However I see a ton of folks with 780i and 750i FTW boards who have pretty nice rigs, so maybe its not such a big deal? It's been recommended I might wait for the 790i Ultra FTW (though there is no ETA on that), or look at the ASUS Striker II Extreme (or 790i Ultra Black Pearl if I go water) too. I'm not too worried about brands if the boards are working well... I've heard a lot of people having problems with the nForce 700 series motherboards, so that makes me a bit nervous, but I need them for SLI so I'm pretty much stuck there.

Intel QX9770 3.2GHz Quad Core CPU
The GX9770 is very expensive, but it should be able to OC to 3.6 easily, maybe 4.0 with air if I get the right cooler, and 4.5+ if I go water. And if I don't OC at all, 3.2GHz still isn't bad. I considered the E8400 like I did for my wife's gaming pc, but I feel quad core is more useful long term, especially since I do more than just gaming and multicore-aware games are just starting to arrive.

OCZ Vendetta 2 120mm CPU Cooler
I was originally looking at the Xigmatek HDT-S1283 (w/ACK-I7751) but the OCZ Vendetta 2 supposedly fits better on the eVGA 790i. I also looked at several others that were rated better coolers than the OCZ, but I wasn't sure how well they'd fit. I like the Sunbeam Core-Contact Freezer, Thermalright Ultra 120 & Extreme, CPNS9700 LED, and Tuniq Tower 120 too, though all seem pretty loud too.

Corsair 4GB (2x2GB) XMS DHX-IN DDR3 1600 SDRAM (7-7-7-20)
The Corsair DDR3 XMS RAM reviewed well (and is great for overclocking.) Of course, I'd be happy to save money and get DDR2 800 CAS4 RAM (and OC to 1066+) but it doesn't appear to work in the 790i, so I'd have to drop to the 780i or something else for that. Crucial is also looking really strong in the 790i, so I may end up going with that instead, but I haven't heard much good about OCZ or G.SKILL DDR3 on the 790i.

eVGA GTX 280 FTW Edition Video Card (x2)
These are already on their way. Bought them early since I knew they were going to sell out fast. I probably should have waited on the 4870 to release, but I'm more nVidia focused.

WD VelociRaptor 300GB 10K RPM SATA HDD
I may get two of these for RAID 0, but for now I'm probably going to stick with 1. Especially since the nForce 790i raid controller isn't that great, so I'd end up paying for a 3Ware card.

Pioneer Blu-Ray DVD-ROM & DVD+/-R Burner SATA
I may get the LG Blu-Ray burner instead, since they are great media for backup purposes, but I also want to be able to watch Blu-Ray DVD's.

Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit
No brainer.

Arctic Cooling MX-2 TIM
Doing better than Arctic Silver 5, which I'd normally use.

For the most part I'm pretty confident that the system above will work, assuming my 790i doesn't lock up, and I can get all my OC setttings working right, but I may be making poor choices, or spending too much on parts I don't need.

If water cooling is the better choice, I'd love to know what I should be looking at picking up. I know Thermaltake makes pre-installed bare bones cases with watercooling (like on the SwordM) but I've heard its better to buy the parts separately, since the kits are lowest common denominator. If I get water I'll probably get the eVGA GTX 280 waterblocks too.

FYI, I'm driving a Dell 3008FPW 30" monitor, so I really want SLI for the fill rate so I can run 2560x1600 native with high settings in games like Crysis and AoC and still get decent FPS.

Anyway that's about everything. Thanks in advance for any advice or assistance you can provide!

-D
June 21, 2008 5:00:04 AM

My only recommendation is to drop the Kill-A-Watt meter, as seeing the power consumption of those two 280 GTXs will give you a huge eco-guilt-trip...

Ignorance is bliss, my friend :) 

Other than that, the build looks great; I certainly wouldn't mind to be in your position.
June 21, 2008 5:04:04 AM

Looks Good Mate! Awesome System! the only thing i would change is the Case to a Antec 900,its a very nice and Strong and Big Case it fits my 9800GTX KO with about a inch and a half to spare, and the Air flow is Awesome, and if noise is a Con" its not there thhis case is Extremely Quiet! other then that Looks Sweet!
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June 21, 2008 5:13:30 AM

angry_ducky said:
My only recommendation is to drop the Kill-A-Watt meter, as seeing the power consumption of those two 280 GTXs will give you a huge eco-guilt-trip...

Ignorance is bliss, my friend :) 

Other than that, the build looks great; I certainly wouldn't mind to be in your position.
LOL! Yeah, that is true... I just want to know how much power this beast will actually pull. :) 
Zerk said:
Looks Good Mate! Awesome System! the only thing i would change is the Case to a Antec 900,its a very nice and Strong and Big Case it fits my 9800GTX KO with about a inch and a half to spare, and the Air flow is Awesome, and if noise is a Con" its not there thhis case is Extremely Quiet! other then that Looks Sweet!
I looked at the Antec 900 as well as 1200, and it looked like of the two, the 1200 was a better choice, since it was full tower and more fans. Plus if I want to add water cooling later, there is plenty of room for that. Though, all of the cases I listed seemed like they'd be good at dual roles if I wanted to upgrade to water cooling later.

Thanks!
June 22, 2008 2:30:53 AM

Do you think I can really get away with air cooling, or is it really worth the investment for water cooling in a rig like this? Obviously, going with air is much cheaper... I'm just not sure I'll be able to dissipate enough heat with the QX9770 and two GTX 280's. On air, if I don't OC I suspect I'll probably be ok, as long as my case has decent airflow (which they all should), but its still going to be pretty warm in there. :) 

I wish there was a way to measure airflow on these cases!
June 22, 2008 2:35:59 AM

Well.. I would not go 790i. Your setup is going to kick ass my friend, but the 790i is LOADED with problems. Now, nVidia's Intel chipsets are not that good to start with, but 790i is far by the worst. It is not a good overclocked, have data corruption problems with OCed and more. Stay away. Plus DDR3 is a waste.

I would go 780i and DDR2-800 instead. Q9450 is fine- getting it to 3.6 is not that hard. Buying an Extreme CPU even if you have the money is a waste. They are no better. You will not be getting 4.5 on water in all likelyhood.




June 22, 2008 3:02:12 AM

for the case you may want to check out the antec 1200. Its on newegg, but its a little hard to find, so here's the link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129043
If its good air cooling you're looking for, that case is hard to beat! Its got 5 120mm fans and one 200mm fan. Its rather pricey, but if your getting 2 gtx 280's, i doubt cost is too much of a problem. Good luck with your build! I'm going to be building a system with sli gtx 260's on a 780i mobo with a q9450. If you want, to see my complete specs check out this toms forum link where i posted them: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/252579-31-final-questions-medium-high-spec-build (i mean totally complete specs, from mobo, down to the HSF mounting brackets.... With the possible exception of the power supply, ill bet that a system with the same specs as yours could run sli gtx 280's beautifully. The total cost of my system is approx. $3000 (including shipping, all peripherals except speakers, and tax) When looking at my specs, note that i've changed my psu to a CORSAIR CMPSU-1000HX 1000W ATX12V 2.2 / EPS12V 2.91 Power Supply. NOTE: this psu may not work with the gtx 280 since the 280 requires one 6 pin and one 8 pin. I don't know if this would be a good psu for you, but the rest of the system i designed would probably work nicely for you.....
June 22, 2008 3:44:59 AM

shadowduck said:
Well.. I would not go 790i. Your setup is going to kick ass my friend, but the 790i is LOADED with problems. Now, nVidia's Intel chipsets are not that good to start with, but 790i is far by the worst. It is not a good overclocked, have data corruption problems with OCed and more. Stay away. Plus DDR3 is a waste.

I would go 780i and DDR2-800 instead. Q9450 is fine- getting it to 3.6 is not that hard. Buying an Extreme CPU even if you have the money is a waste. They are no better. You will not be getting 4.5 on water in all likelyhood.
The main reason I haven't ordered this beast yet is because I'm still debating on the case, motherboard, and cooling.

I've heard a lot of bad things about the 790i, but it also seems like its still the best choice right now... I'd lose support for 1600FSB, enhanced power savings, and native PCIe 2.0 with the 780i or anything older, plus apparently the 790i handles SLI better than the rest. Of course if I do switch that out, I read that the 750i FTW is the most stable/OC'able of the NF7 series motherboards, so I was also looking at that, but I don't know how it compares very well. Is there a particular 780i MB that is best suited for SLI?

Either way I'm more than happy to drop the DDR3, its overpriced and doesn't give me any real benefits right now. When the Nehalem comes out the DDR3 will probably be a win, but I don't know.

As for the processor, my understanding is the extreme CPU's have unlocked multipliers, which makes them easier to OC. I considered the QX9650 and Q9550, though both of those are 1333MHz FSB (which make the 780i less concerning), plus the Q9550 is 95W vs 130W+ on the QX chips, which would help with OCing as well. However I don't know if dropping down to 2.83GHz is worth while for me. If I were going to do that, I might as well get an E8400 which I can clock to 3.6 without breaking a sweat, and plays most games pretty well. Not sure I'd be able to get the Q9450 or Q9550 to 3.6 with the heat that I will have to clear from the case with the two GTX280's unless I go water cooling anyway.

Then again, if I'm looking to get a MB without PCIe 2.0 or 1600FSB and drop down to a QX9650, I might as well get the Skulltrail, and go dual CPU... I heard those perform great in SLI as well, but I don't know anyone who's done it with the GTX280's. I would save $500 on the QX9770, but end up spending $300 more for the MB + another $1000 for the 2nd CPU... which I'm not sure is worth it.

Please let me know if any of my logic is flawed. :) 

Thanks!
June 22, 2008 3:51:07 AM

jednx01 said:
for the case you may want to check out the antec 1200. Its on newegg, but its a little hard to find, so here's the link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129043
If its good air cooling you're looking for, that case is hard to beat! Its got 5 120mm fans and one 200mm fan. Its rather pricey, but if your getting 2 gtx 280's, i doubt cost is too much of a problem. Good luck with your build! I'm going to be building a system with sli gtx 260's on a 780i mobo with a q9450. If you want, to see my complete specs check out this toms forum link where i posted them: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/252579-31-final-questions-medium-high-spec-build (i mean totally complete specs, from mobo, down to the HSF mounting brackets.... With the possible exception of the power supply, ill bet that a system with the same specs as yours could run sli gtx 280's beautifully. The total cost of my system is approx. $3000 (including shipping, all peripherals except speakers, and tax) When looking at my specs, note that i've changed my psu to a CORSAIR CMPSU-1000HX 1000W ATX12V 2.2 / EPS12V 2.91 Power Supply. NOTE: this psu may not work with the gtx 280 since the 280 requires one 6 pin and one 8 pin. I don't know if this would be a good psu for you, but the rest of the system i designed would probably work nicely for you.....
Actually, the Antec 1200 is one of the alternates for the case I posted in the list above... along with the Silverstone SST-TJ07 (or 09) and the CoolerMaster Cosmos S. Some of the design features of the SwordM are really amazing, but I will probably be better off with a cheaper case with better airflow. I'd like to be able to compare all those cases to see which one has the best airflow, but that isn't an easy proposition... and again depends on whether or not I go water or air... so I'm probably going to get a case that has support for water, even if I don't end up using it.

Corsair makes some decent PSU's... I don't know if they do them themselves, since they look a lot like Seasonic, which used to be my #2 after PC Power & Cooling, but I got a 650HX for my wife's system and its been working flawlessly. Got her system (specs in the first post) running a 3.6GHz without issue for more than 24 hours now, and still running pretty cool.

Thanks!
June 22, 2008 7:54:21 AM

After talking to folks on here and a few other message boards, I'm considering making a few changes to the build.

1. Since I am going to stick with air cooling for now, I want a case that can support water later if I want to go that way. After discussing it, I think I'm going with the Cosmos S, its got the right size and all the benefits of the other cases.
2. I've decided to swap the PC Power & Cooling T12W with the Silverstone DA1200. Both nVidia certified for 2/3-way SLI and rated well, and the modular rails on the DA1200 will be helpful.
3. I'm not sure the 780i is more stable than the 790i, but I am thinking of moving to the 780i vs the 790i to hopefully get a bit more stability (at the loss of some SLI and OC headroom.) Drops me to 1333MHz FSB but lets me pick up DDR2 RAM!
4. I dropped the QX9770 and considered the Q9450/Q9550, but feel those are just too slow, so I'm settling for the QX9650 so I still get a 3.0GHz core speed and multiplier based overclocking, and it runs at 1333FSB.

If I make all those changes, overall its going to shave $1500 off the cost of the rig as well, which is great, if it still runs like a monster!

Revised build is as follows...

http://secure.newegg.com/WishList/PublicWishDetail.aspx?WishListNumber=11982027

  • COOLER MASTER "Cosmos S" Black Aluminum ATX Full Tower Computer Case
  • SILVERSTONE DA1200 1200W ATX 12V 2.3 & EPS 12V Power Supply
  • EVGA nForce 780i SLI ATX Intel Motherboard
  • Intel QX9650 Yorkfield 3.0GHz LGA 775 130W Quad-Core Processor
  • Sunbeam CR-CCTF 120mm "Core Contact Freezer" CPU Cooler
  • CORSAIR DOMINATOR 4GB (2x2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 (PC2 8500) SDRAM
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 280 FTW Edition 1GB 512-bit GDDR3 PCIe 2.0 x16 <x2>
  • Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB 10000 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive
  • LG Super Multi Blu-ray Disc Burner & HD DVD-ROM Drive Black SATA
  • Microsoft Windows Vista 64-Bit Ultimate for System Builders DVD
  • ARCTIC COOLING MX-2 Thermal Compound
  • Dell 3008WFP 30" LCD Monitor (2560x1600)

    I'm going to spend some more time researching the 780i, and debating on the QX9770, and will probably order this stuff on Monday. Please feel free to chime in if you have any opinion on those changes.

    Thanks for all the help!
    June 22, 2008 9:31:21 AM

    From what Ive head, the 790i's were MUCh better then 780i's??? Where are all these problems I cant find any??


    780i had overclocking problems with quads/45nm cant remember which but QX9650 meets both of those anyway. And runs MUCH hotter, its just 680i with a chip botled on for pci-e 2.0


    Id definitely choose a 790i ultra over a 780i.. DDR3 isnt that expensive anymore either...
    June 22, 2008 9:29:51 PM

    Hatman said:
    From what Ive head, the 790i's were MUCh better then 780i's??? Where are all these problems I cant find any??


    780i had overclocking problems with quads/45nm cant remember which but QX9650 meets both of those anyway. And runs MUCH hotter, its just 680i with a chip botled on for pci-e 2.0


    Id definitely choose a 790i ultra over a 780i.. DDR3 isnt that expensive anymore either...
    I've been reading about a lot of problems on the 790i on other 790i specific forums. Of course, there is always going to be more people complaining than saying good things, since thats part of human nature. Which is why I'm trying to get opinions from several places. Interestingly enough, of the people who did manage to get their 790 working, they say its much better, but most folks who have 780's say that is better, or the 750i FTW, but there are problems with all the NF 700 series boards. I'm not particularly worried about DDR2 vs DDR3 other than it being something of a waste, given the fact that most systems can't really take advantage of the additional DDR3 bandwidth yet.

    At this point, if I can't make a good determination on the board, my only other option is going with Skulltrail, which is going push my costs back up again, since I'll need to get another CPU and heatsync, and I'm not sure if it is any better overall. I heard its a lot more stable, but not PCIe 2.0 and doesn't have the OC'ability of the nForce 790.

    Thanks!
    June 22, 2008 10:24:00 PM

    Well, from things ive read such as OC'ing attempts etc etc...

    Id pick 780i < 750i < 790i

    Simply because 780i is useless for overclocking to anything decent with a 45nm quad.

    Skulltrail is just, worthless lmao.


    Aside from DDR3 bandwidth the extra speed really can help. Im sure you would notice a difference.
    June 23, 2008 12:11:04 AM

    My 2 cents

    Im not sure about the gt280 model your getting, but some of the fans run loud on max, 60+ dba, if that bothers you go with water, if this doesnt apply, all the power to you.
    Also I saw somewhere that sli'ing 280's gets bottlenecked by cpu, for benchmarks anyways, research your cpu needs carefully ;) 

    That's my 2 cents
    June 23, 2008 12:39:50 AM

    the associate said:
    My 2 cents

    Im not sure about the gt280 model your getting, but some of the fans run loud on max, 60+ dba, if that bothers you go with water, if this doesnt apply, all the power to you.
    Also I saw somewhere that sli'ing 280's gets bottlenecked by cpu, for benchmarks anyways, research your cpu needs carefully ;) 

    That's my 2 cents
    I've got two of the GTX280 FTW Edition cards on the way, so I'm sure the fans will be factory set fairly high. I'm going to stick with air to start with and see how that goes. If its too hot or loud, I'll then start looking at what I need to do to add water cooling. I'm adding a few extra case fans to the system anyway, so doubt this rig is going to be anywhere near as quiet as my current one, which I normally can't even hear.

    I'm looking for maximum performance, so given the additional feedback, its looking less and less like the 780i is the way to go, and I wasn't really interested in the Skulltrail anyway. I'm probably going to have to get the 790i and work through the pain and cross my fingers that I can get a stable system. After that I can work on OC'ing or what not.

    I'm not sure if I can do much OC anyway, the fastest DDR3 RAM I can find is PC3-1600, and the best that will usually do is 1800MHz or so from what I've seen... which limits me to a 3.6GHz OC or so, unless I want to run at less than a 1:1 FSB:MEM ratio, which isn't necessarily ideal for max performance (though I'm not sure how much it will impact it.) Luckily that is an easy OC (x9 mult vs x8 stock) and doesn't even need a boost over the stock 1.25v vcore.
    !