We selected a 3-way GTX 260 Core 216 graphics solution for our $2,500 PC with hopes of greater gaming performance, particularly in Crysis, at a lower price. Let’s take a quick look at the overall gaming performance difference before considering value.
Crysis performance was improved, but at a cost in other games. The win is far more significant than the losses when one considers that Crysis is the only game that actually needed the additional performance simply to be playable at the targeted 1920x1200 pixel resolution. Still, the average of all games must be used for determining value.
GTX 280 graphics cards were far more expensive when we chose our components over a month ago. Currently, the overclocked GTX 260 Core 216 model we used costs $260 per card, which is far from the cheapest current model. We had overclocked our GTX 280 samples by the same amount, and the closest-matching card from the same manufacturer currently costs $400. What was previously a savings of around $100 has thus dropped to only $20. Let’s see how much this shrinks the value difference.
Though the 3-way SLI configuration does have slightly better value, it’s hard to imagine that anyone today would choose a motherboard specifically to support it. What appeared to be a value coup only five weeks ago has become nothing more than a footnote, thanks to falling prices on Nvidia’s current top model as the company prepares to launch its “next big thing.”
To answer the question posed at the beginning of this piece, no. Three of a kind doesn't always beat a pair. Five weeks ago, three GeForce GTX 260 Core 216s would have saved you $100 over the price of two GTX 280s. But today, in light of the cards Nvidia is expected to launch at this year's CES, the difference is nearly a wash.