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Test System And Benchmarks

AMD CrossFire Vs. Nvidia SLI Scaling Analysis
By

Our charts list the graphics cards based on their retail prices, from the most expensive configuration on the top to the cheapest on the bottom. Our testing involves a number of graphics cards from many manufacturers, so we are setting all of the clock speeds to reference levels to keep things on an even playing field.

There is one testing configuration that we have to simulate: two Radeon HD 5850 cards in CrossFire. We only received a single Radeon HD 5850 in time for testing, so we’re pairing the card with a Radeon HD 5870. AMD has confirmed that the superior card will be crippled when these models are paired in CrossFire, resulting in Radeon HD 5850-class specifications, using 1440 of its 1600 stream processors and 72 of its 80 texture units.

We've set the clocks of both cards to Radeon HD 5850 reference speeds; the resulting performance should be exactly the same as two of these cards in CrossFire. The results show the performance exactly where we would expect a Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire configuration to be relative to the Radeon HD 5830 and Radeon HD 5870.


Test System
CPU

Intel Core i7-920 (Nehalem), 2.67 GHz, QPI-4200, 8 MB Cache
Overclocked to 3.61 GHz @ 172 MHz BCLK

Motherboard

Gigabyte X58A-UD3R
Intel X58, BIOS version FA

Networking
Onboard Gigabit LAN controller
Memory

Mushkin PC3-10700H
  3x 2048 MB, DDR3-1376, CL 10-10-10-25-1T

Graphics

Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 Reference
1536 MB GDDR5
Zotac GeForce GTX 480 AMP! Edition
1536 MB GDDR5
HIS HD 5870 iCooler V Turbo X
Radeon HD 5870, 1 GB GDDR5
Gigabyte GV-R587SO-1GD
Radeon HD 5870, 1 GB GDDR5
MSI GeForce GTX 470
1280 MB GDDR5
Gigabyte GV-N470SO-13I
GeForce GTX 470, 1280 MB GDDR5
Gigabyte GV-R585OC-1GD
Radeon HD 5850, 1 GB GDDR5
AMD Radeon HD 5830 Reference
1 GB GDDR5
2x Gigabyte GV-N460OC-1GI
GeForce GTX 460, 1 GB GDDR5

(all clock rates have been set to reference specifications for the purpose of benchmarking)

Hard Drive

Western Digital Caviar WD50 00AAJS-00YFA,
500 GB, 7200 RPM, 8 MB cache, SATA 3.0Gb/s

Power

Thermaltake Toughpower 1200 W
1200 W, ATX 12V 2.2, EPS 12v 2.91

Software and Drivers
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
DirectX versionDirectX 11
Graphics Drivers

AMD Catalyst 10.7 Beta, Nvidia GeForce Driver 258.96 WHQL

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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    Anonymous , October 18, 2010 8:43 AM
    lol wow, if you are still playing that game, then blizzard has you by the balls.
  • 14 Hide
    gordo_46 , October 18, 2010 7:05 AM
    Quote:
    BUT.. i would have preferred 2-3 way SLI with GTX460's.


    gtx 460 can only do 2 way sli
  • 13 Hide
    super_tycoon , October 18, 2010 9:47 AM
    angel1980Nice article. I've made some charts, based on the data in this article, that reflect SLI and CrossFireX scalings.

    first, i'd like to thank angel1980^^ for doing what tom's should have done... seeing as how scaling itself was implied to be the thing tested from the article title.

    Annoyance aside, I also crunched the numbers, but was left a dilemma as to whom to declare the winner of the multi-gpu scaling. In the end, I wanted similar performance because higher performance = more bandwidth that must be managed and I wanted the same amount of vram. This conveniently leaves the gtx 460 and two amd cards on either side. (But makes my whole analysis somewhat pointless since there's so little data)

    Pushing on, using my awesome-o math skills, I derived the following results:

    Using the 1080p res, the GTX 460 1GB had scaling values of 1.590 and 1.473, avg, min, respectively. The 5830 and 5850 averaged had values of 1.572 and 1.488.

    Using the big 2560x1600 resolution, the GTX 460 1GB had values of 1.768 (!!) and 1.414. The lower 58 had 1.454 and 1.216.

    My conclusions? (Completely biased)

    At what I think most gamers play at and are comfortable and familiar with, 1080p, AMD's greatest and Nvidia's greatest (the GTX 460 did scale better than the 470 and 480 consistently) architectures scale equally well. However, looking at the 2560x1600 res, we see that Nvidia takes a huge lead... which I suspect indicates Nvidia's SLI tech is better at handling large amounts of data while AMD's is probably a little quicker. (Just a hunch really, you hopefully noticed that this is completely biased, I am an AMD fan) (But the scaling on the 460 was very impressive, hence !!)

    I am not surprised at all, it was oft muttered that SLI was superior to AMD's CF. However, what I found surprising is how little that really mattered. The games that favored architectures still favored the representative scaling technology. Simply, look at piggy bank and adjust your reality accordingly. AND, I haven't seen any numbers, but I know AMD released a catalyst update to boost SC2 CF performance, so feel confident in pretending AMD's numbers are truly a smidgen higher.

    My shameless endorsement of AMD's overall tech though is simple; in a multi-card situation, it uses a whole lot less power and won't inspire you to break out eggs and bacon. And I must confess I barely sleep thinking of what golden deity AMD will let me waste my money on in just a few days.....

    TL;DR Scaling still sucks. At lower resolutions, it's pretty much the same unless you get cards with extra ram, then I don't know, but perf++ regardless. At high bandwidth things, like high res or high performance, sniff, Nvidia takes the cake.

    Last bit to holto243:
    holto243Just a quick question... in the 2560x1680 chart, how can the gtx 480 have a minimum higher than the average?

    Those numbers are relative to the performance of the pretty weak 5830. It simply means the GTX 480 is simply better (ignoring raw power) at handling min framerates in the games tested.
Other Comments
  • 1 Hide
    joytech22 , October 18, 2010 6:23 AM
    Now i can safely say that i think i made the right choice :) 
    (GTX470 SLI)
  • 5 Hide
    jrharbort , October 18, 2010 6:28 AM
    Nvidia wins this war thanks to the larger standard framebuffer. ATI needs to pick up in this area a bit, as 1GB framebuffers have been around for a while now. Looking foward to another article based on the next gen cards a few months from now. Should be interesting. =)

    Good job to both ATI and Nvidia on this generation.
  • 14 Hide
    gordo_46 , October 18, 2010 7:05 AM
    Quote:
    BUT.. i would have preferred 2-3 way SLI with GTX460's.


    gtx 460 can only do 2 way sli
  • 4 Hide
    gkay09 , October 18, 2010 7:12 AM
    The SLI scaling is one place where Nvidia wins almost all the time, but ATI has improved a lot though, it still need to work harder if they want to have a complete win over Nvidia...
  • -4 Hide
    joytech22 , October 18, 2010 7:16 AM
    gordo_46gtx 460 can only do 2 way sli


    Aww damn that's right..
  • -5 Hide
    gordo_46 , October 18, 2010 7:20 AM
    yeah it a shame that it can only do 2 way sli. We would get 3 way gtx 470 sli level performance at amd radeon power consumption
  • 8 Hide
    Anonymous , October 18, 2010 7:22 AM
    Nice article. I've made some charts, based on the data in this article, that reflect SLI and CrossFireX scalings. Nvidia's victory is clear cut at 2560 x 1600.

    1920x1200
    http://www.imagebam.com/image/741eca102680169

    2560x1600
    http://www.imagebam.com/image/0295fe102680172

    Also, when it comes to GPU discussions, the comment sections of Tom's and Fudzilla are swarmed by fanboys of 1 certain team. (Can you tell which? It's already obvious here, but much more so at Fudzilla.) Competition is good. Don't downrank comments just because they favor the "other" team.
  • -5 Hide
    Anonymous , October 18, 2010 7:25 AM
    Yet another reason AMD would be happy to never have board of theirs allow SLI
  • 9 Hide
    cangelini , October 18, 2010 7:55 AM
    Twoboxer12 million people with WoW subscriptions, new expansion due 12/7/10, lot's of vid cards being bought for that purpose . . . I know its not easy, the format may have to be different, but can you guys consider including WoW in the benching runs?


    I'd like to hear some discussion on the best way to reliably test WoW, actually.
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , October 18, 2010 8:26 AM
    Just a quick question... in the 2560x1680 chart, how can the gtx 480 have a minimum higher than the average?
  • 3 Hide
    joytech22 , October 18, 2010 8:33 AM
    holto243Just a quick question... in the 2560x1680 chart, how can the gtx 480 have a minimum higher than the average?


    Divide by zero O.o
  • 14 Hide
    Anonymous , October 18, 2010 8:43 AM
    lol wow, if you are still playing that game, then blizzard has you by the balls.
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 18, 2010 9:20 AM
    :D  tom's hardware also said that rampage II extreme was better than gigabyte x58-ud5.. And I also ask you... how many of you have monitors that support 2560*1680 resolution :) . Try to be objective!
  • 13 Hide
    super_tycoon , October 18, 2010 9:47 AM
    angel1980Nice article. I've made some charts, based on the data in this article, that reflect SLI and CrossFireX scalings.

    first, i'd like to thank angel1980^^ for doing what tom's should have done... seeing as how scaling itself was implied to be the thing tested from the article title.

    Annoyance aside, I also crunched the numbers, but was left a dilemma as to whom to declare the winner of the multi-gpu scaling. In the end, I wanted similar performance because higher performance = more bandwidth that must be managed and I wanted the same amount of vram. This conveniently leaves the gtx 460 and two amd cards on either side. (But makes my whole analysis somewhat pointless since there's so little data)

    Pushing on, using my awesome-o math skills, I derived the following results:

    Using the 1080p res, the GTX 460 1GB had scaling values of 1.590 and 1.473, avg, min, respectively. The 5830 and 5850 averaged had values of 1.572 and 1.488.

    Using the big 2560x1600 resolution, the GTX 460 1GB had values of 1.768 (!!) and 1.414. The lower 58 had 1.454 and 1.216.

    My conclusions? (Completely biased)

    At what I think most gamers play at and are comfortable and familiar with, 1080p, AMD's greatest and Nvidia's greatest (the GTX 460 did scale better than the 470 and 480 consistently) architectures scale equally well. However, looking at the 2560x1600 res, we see that Nvidia takes a huge lead... which I suspect indicates Nvidia's SLI tech is better at handling large amounts of data while AMD's is probably a little quicker. (Just a hunch really, you hopefully noticed that this is completely biased, I am an AMD fan) (But the scaling on the 460 was very impressive, hence !!)

    I am not surprised at all, it was oft muttered that SLI was superior to AMD's CF. However, what I found surprising is how little that really mattered. The games that favored architectures still favored the representative scaling technology. Simply, look at piggy bank and adjust your reality accordingly. AND, I haven't seen any numbers, but I know AMD released a catalyst update to boost SC2 CF performance, so feel confident in pretending AMD's numbers are truly a smidgen higher.

    My shameless endorsement of AMD's overall tech though is simple; in a multi-card situation, it uses a whole lot less power and won't inspire you to break out eggs and bacon. And I must confess I barely sleep thinking of what golden deity AMD will let me waste my money on in just a few days.....

    TL;DR Scaling still sucks. At lower resolutions, it's pretty much the same unless you get cards with extra ram, then I don't know, but perf++ regardless. At high bandwidth things, like high res or high performance, sniff, Nvidia takes the cake.

    Last bit to holto243:
    holto243Just a quick question... in the 2560x1680 chart, how can the gtx 480 have a minimum higher than the average?

    Those numbers are relative to the performance of the pretty weak 5830. It simply means the GTX 480 is simply better (ignoring raw power) at handling min framerates in the games tested.
  • -4 Hide
    bin1127 , October 18, 2010 10:12 AM
    Can they make a cheaper SLI/Crossfire edition card that has no ram acting only as a supplemental for the main one? or sell them in pairs so one has 2 gb and the other none since that's how the pairing works.
  • 0 Hide
    feeddagoat , October 18, 2010 10:16 AM
    Any way to rebench the games where ATI stuttered in the opening seconds, just to get an idea of what their actual min frames are? Would it also be possible to bench using surround/eyefinity? after all, those who get and SLI/crossfire solution will most likely want to do that.
  • 7 Hide
    hari_41 , October 18, 2010 10:22 AM
    both companies doing well
  • 1 Hide
    ares1214 , October 18, 2010 10:39 AM
    Nvidia did well, but thats to be expected, whats more impressive is how much better ATi has gotten! They use to be mediocre with this, and i was really hoping they would overome it with HD6OOO, but it looks like they dont have to improve much.
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