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Last week, Nvidia called to let us know that Sandy Bridge-E really allowed three-way SLI to shine in games like Battlefield 3. It showed performance results up to 20% higher than Intel’s prior-generation platform, but it didn’t say whether it used the campaign or a multi-player map for testing. I really like the idea of benchmarking a 64-player rush match, yeah. But I just can’t accept that the results are reliable. I even reached out to Johan Andersson at DICE for guidance on testing, and he admitted there aren’t any good deterministic sequences to profile.
So, I fell back to the same campaign sequence used in Battlefield 3 Performance: 30+ Graphics Cards, Benchmarked, hoping that it was at least graphics-bound enough at Ultra settings to show off what three-way SLI can do.
It turns out that this sequence does demonstrate scaling at all three resolutions. A trio of GeForce GTX 580s yields great performance from 1680x1050 to 2560x1600. It just doesn’t shine significantly brighter on Core i7-3960X.
So, here’s my interpretation of Nvidia’s findings. It’s not that Core i7-3960X allows three-way SLI to stretch its legs in any particularly unique way. In a purely graphics-bound scenario, it scales almost as well on a $300ish Core i7-2600K or a $1000 Core i7-3960X. However, I suspect Nvidia did its benchmarking in a multi-player map, where processor performance is more influential. Less-powerful CPUs become bottlenecks with so much graphics muscle behind them, inhibiting scaling.
If anything, this serves as a reminder why gamers shouldn’t skimp on a processor and load up on GPUs. In a title like Battlefield 3, there are environments that tax graphics (the campaign) and others that exact a more demanding load on the CPU (multi-player). Balancing the two is critical. So, if you’re willing to splurge on three-way SLI, be prepared to also spend generously on a complementary platform. Today, Sandy Bridge-E, by virtue of its per-clock performance and six-core configuration, is unquestionably the best you can present to a trio of potent GTX 580s.