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3-monitor system: SLI vs. the GTX690

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November 16, 2012 6:33:25 PM

Hey guys,

I recently upgraded my aging Pentium E5200 / 2x HD 4830 rig to Windows 8. I use three monitors -- a widescreen for my primary and for gaming, a dumpy old 4:3 LCD for my secondary, and occasionally our HDTV as a tertiary when we want to kick back and watch Game of Thrones or whatever.

Unfortunately (and yes, I should have checked this before I upgraded), it looks like AMD does not and will not support my poor old 4830s in Windows 8. I have always been frustrated with my inability to have Crossfire enabled and make use of my third monitor simultaneously (it being plugged in on the secondary video card), but without an updated CCC I can't even toggle CrossFire on and off to begin with, or fix the Overscan settings for the HDTV, etc., etc. It's looking to me like I can't really resolve this problem without rolling back to Windows 7 (which, given that I have already moved all my data into a Windows 8 Storage Space, seems like an especially unattractive task) or getting myself a new rig.

So basically what I'm looking at now is retiring the old girl to work as a media server and pdf console in some other part of the house and getting myself a new rig. :bounce: 

Now, my first thought when putting this thing together is gee, I wonder if I can avoid having to deal with the hassle of constantly flipping Crossfire (or SLI, I assume) on and off whenever I want to make use of my third monitor. Newegg tells me that there are only five cards available that house three DVI ports right on them. Four of them are variations on the GTX 690, a card which I'm becoming increasingly infatuated with, and the other one is a Sparkle GT 640, which my girlfriend is in favor of because it has the word "Sparkle" in it. (It is not in serious consideration.)

That being said, if somebody here can tell me that modern Crossfire or SLI can be enabled while simultaneously making use of all available video ports on the cards, I would be happy to just grab a couple HD 7850's or something and call it a day. (How do people get away with these six-monitor setups and whatever, anyway?) If not, then I'm going to be putting together my first rig based around a top-of-the-line video card, and I don't even know where to start. Do I need to be looking at exotic case cooling? What kind of hardware bottlenecks should I be watching out for? Can I just plug it into a recent System Builder Marathon configuration and call it a day? In a crazy universe where I'm dropping $1,000 on a video card, I would probably be willing to spend in the neighborhood of $2,500 on the whole system. Is that realistic?

lol halp

Approximate Purchase Date: This weekend, if possible
Budget Range: $1000-$2400 before rebates, after shipping
System Usage from Most to Least Important: Gaming, Movies, Internet
Are you buying a monitor: No
Do you need to buy OS: Yes, will be buying a new OEM Windows 8 Pro
Preferred Website(s) for Parts: Must be newegg.com
Location: North Bay Area, California, USA
Parts Preferences: None
Overclocking: I Am Not Afraid
SLI or Crossfire: Preferably not, but can be convinced otherwise
Your Monitor Resolution: 2x 1920x1080, 1x 1280x1024
Additional Comments: 90% of my activity on this computer will be World of Warcraft, Crusader Kings II, and 720p/1080p mkv's.
And Most Importantly, Why Are You Upgrading: See above
November 16, 2012 7:11:34 PM

I had all the issues you were having in catalyst but AMD fixed them with a very recent update for me. If you were going to get a GTX 690, but wanted triple monitor setups, I would recommend dual GTX 680's as they will offer better performance (full memory specs, etc). You can use multiple outputs on multiple cards for a multi monitor setup with Radeon cards, so 7870's in a crossfire would no be bad either. For movies, and programs, the cards will handle most of the work, but for what actually goes on in programs and for games, you will need to pair a good CPU with that combo. Since your planning on spending a lot I would either say go with an i7 3770K or an AMD FX-8320 (overclocks the same as a 8350 so save the extra 50 bucks) and overclock them, you should be fine. As for cooling, just make sure your case has good airflow, an example would be my case; I have a 140mm fan and a 120mm fan drawing air into the caseup and across (will reach the graphics and cpu well) as well as a rear 120mm exhaust, and a 120mm and140 mm drawing air out the top and pulling air to the CPU. Just make sure you have good airflow like that and a case with some meshing to allow good air (BUT MAKE SURE THERE ARE DUST FILTERS) like the CM690II or the HAF 932, or anything with a mesh at the front, they don't have to be expensive like the HAF 932.
November 16, 2012 8:35:11 PM

I would be concerned with dual GTX 680's or HD 7870's that much of that power would be wasted -- as I understand it the games I focus on (WoW, CK2, Civ 5, etc.) are more CPU-intensive than anything else, and I'm talking about a maximum resolution of 1920x1080. Would a pair of GTX680s actually constitute a notable performance upgrade over a pair of much-cheaper video cards at that resolution?

If not, and if it's true that the recent (Eyefinity-compatible?) cards can utilize all video ports even when in SLI/CrossFire, I'm happy to cut that video card budget in half and redistribute that money on a fancier processor (Sandy Bridge-E?) or a that-much-bigger SSD.

Does that make sense?
Related resources
November 16, 2012 10:17:44 PM

Okay, time for a sample configuration. I did end up going with the 7870's because I figured even if it's wasting some power now, the technology will catch up in a couple years and the system will still be looking pretty sharp. Plus, who knows, this monitor could explode (or mysteriously fall off the desk, or get an Xbox controller thrown through it) and I might end up needing a newer, bigger one.

Processor: Intel Core i7-3820 Sandy Bridge-E 3.6GHz ($299.99)
CPU Cooling: Thermaltake Frio ($63.99)
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-X79-UP4 ($259.99)
System Drive: ADATA Premier Pro SP900 256GB SATA III SSD ($184.99)
Storage Drive: Seagate Barracuda 3TB 7200 RPM HDD ($149.99)
Memory: 16GB (4 x 4GB) G.SKILL Ripjaws X 240-Pin DDR3 2133 ($99.98)
Video: 2x XFX Double D Radeon HD 7870 Ghz Edition 2GB ($499.98)
Power: CORSAIR HX 850W 80 PLUS GOLD Certified ($174.99)
Case: COOLER MASTER HAF X RC-942-KKN1 ($179.99)
Optical: ASUS Blu-ray Burner ($79.99)
Other stuff: Windows 8 Professional ($139.99), Tube of Arctic Silver 5 ($9.99), 2x each Far Cry 3 and MoH Warfighter ($0.00), Taxes ($155.43), Shipping ($23.28)

GRAND TOTAL: $2,322.57 (96.8% of budget)

I plan to do some modest overclocking of the processor and video cards but nothing too extreme. Any thoughts? Obvious mistakes?
November 16, 2012 10:38:51 PM

You could go with a i7 3770k and save some $$ on the mobo and put your savings into a pair of HD 7970's or a pair of GTX 670's.
November 16, 2012 11:52:53 PM

Maybe you should get a smaller SSD to save some money. Also invest in a better cooler for your CPU if you do more over clocking.
a b C Monitor
November 17, 2012 12:31:32 AM

Caileth said:
I would be concerned with dual GTX 680's or HD 7870's that much of that power would be wasted -- as I understand it the games I focus on (WoW, CK2, Civ 5, etc.) are more CPU-intensive than anything else, and I'm talking about a maximum resolution of 1920x1080.

Hi Caileth - I think you may be overbuilding a lot for a gaming, movies, internet machine. Socket 2011 isn't needed for your needs. Crossfire/SLI isn't needed either. Yes you have three monitors but you are only gaming on one 1920x1080 monitor.

Since you are willing to spend the dough and are not averse to overclocking, why not throw together a system using a single radeon 7970 and an i5-3570k with a good cooler? The 3570k will do great for games at stock for a few years and then you can OC it when it starts to show its age. The 7970 will own your 1920x1080 monitor and is capable of outputting to three monitors at once (with an active displayport adapter). In the future you can choose to add another or sell it (it'll have good resale value since it's popular).
a b B Homebuilt system
November 17, 2012 12:54:12 AM

A pair of 680s would not give a significant gain over a 690, the underclocking on the 690 cores is very minimal. If you want insane performance in the absolute simplest format, then the 690 will give that to you in a very elegant package, but you will pay a hefty premium for it.

However, it sounds like your workload is actually not very demanding, and you would likely be fine with a single high-end card driving all three screens. You can just grab an HDMI or Display Port to DVI adapter for the third connection.

Similarly, a Sandy Bridge E or an i7 would be overkill and you wouldn't see any appreciable performance increase over an i5 unless you decided to take up serious video editing / drafting / rendering as a hobby. Even a 'CPU Intensive' game like WoW won't be noticeably improved. To get an idea, take a look at these benchmarks:
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/core-i7-3970x-sandy...

Keep in mind that the i7-3970X is Intel's brand new flagship $1000 Sandy Bridge E, and gives nearly identical framerates in WoW to the $230 i5 3570k.

A 'modest' overclock is also pretty simple to achieve these days, and could easily be handled by a ~$30 HSF like the CM Hyper 212 Evo.

Here's what I'd suggest for you:
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($219.99 @ Newegg)
CPU Cooler: Xigmatek GAIA SD1283 56.3 CFM CPU Cooler ($19.99 @ Newegg)
Motherboard: ASRock Z77 Extreme4 ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($127.98 @ Newegg)
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1866 Memory ($59.99 @ Newegg)
Storage: Samsung 830 Series 256GB 2.5" Solid State Disk ($199.99 @ Newegg)
Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition 3GB Video Card ($429.99 @ Newegg)
Case: Corsair 600T (Black) ATX Mid Tower Case ($139.99 @ Newegg)
Power Supply: SeaSonic 850W 80 PLUS Silver Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($139.64 @ Newegg)
Optical Drive: Asus BW-12B1ST/BLK/G/AS Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer ($64.98 @ Newegg)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8 Professional (OEM) (64-bit) ($139.99 @ Newegg)
Other: XFX HDMI to DVI Adapter ($12.98)
Other: Seagate Barracuda 3TB HDD ($149.99)
Total: $1687.50
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2012-11-16 21:46 EST-0500)

This would still give you a ton of headroom to add a second GPU in crossfire later on, if you decided that one card just isn't cutting the mustard. You could also swap the case back to the CM HAF X if you prefer that design, there are plenty of valid case options. I also went with the Xigmatek Gaia cooler because it is basically $2 right now instead of the usual $20 thanks to a combo deal with the CPU, but you could swap that for the CM Hyper 212 EVO as well if you like.

It's also worth noting that Newegg is running their 'free RAM' promo again and giving away a quality G.skill 8GB kit with certain Z77 motherboards, so you could go that route and save a little more money. 8GB of RAM should be plenty for your current needs, but you could add another 8GB kit either now or later for futureproofing if desired while still taking advantage of the free memory deal.

This still leaves a ton of room in your budget, which you could use to replace that dumpy old secondary monitor and then just pocket the rest. :) 
November 17, 2012 2:03:47 AM

Thanks guys! That's what I needed to hear. I'll go with the single HD 7970 and the i5-3570K and see what happens.
!