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Value In SLI? GTX 260 Core 216 Vs. GTX 280

Value In SLI? GTX 260 Core 216 Vs. GTX 280
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Everyone has his or her own ideas about what value and performance mean, some buyers choosing to bolster a low-end system with high-end graphics while others might inadvertently cripple performance platforms with mid-priced parts. Our most recent System Builder Marathon attempted to balance CPU and graphics performance within strict budget limits, but our most controversial build surprised everyone with its 3-way SLI set of moderately-priced performance graphics cards.

Of course, opinions run strong in our comments section. And while we appreciate the feedback and will use it to guide future System Builder Marathon configurations, we did notice a contingent that protested 3-way SLI as “excessive” for our $2,500 budget, suggesting that a pair of Radeon HD 4870 X2s might have been a better option. The primary argument was one of multi-card performance scaling, where the third card provides the least benefit.

While this first half of the argument is certainly worthy of debate, suggesting that two HD 4870 X2’s would be a better choice ignores the fact that two RV770 GPUs comprise each Radeon HD 4870 X2 card. That is to say, one cannot effectively argue against the “poor scaling” of three graphics processors excessive while simultaneously arguing in favor of four.

Tom’s Hardware is no stranger to controversy and its editors need to be prepared to defend their decisions. Knowing that selecting 3-way SLI with GeForce GTX 260 graphics cards would be far more controversial than two GTX 280 cards, we armed ourselves with two GTX 280 units in preparation of today’s SBM addendum. Let's get to the bottom of how these high-horsepower configuration stack up against each other.

Display 67 Comments.
  • 5 Hide
    The_Blood_Raven , January 5, 2009 9:44 AM
    ....so 2 GTX 280s generally out perform 3 GTX 260s and you count it as a win because its best in Crysis? Also 2 4870 X2s perform a decent amount above 2 GTX 280s and the extra funds could have been relocated. While I did not mind the last build I do see their point. You have 2 options, you focus on gaming performance even though a $2000+ system should do more, or you focus on a balanced system but at the detriment to gaming. Neither option is truly wrong so its up to the builder and their expectations. I think the builders of that system chose what they wanted to focus on and thats it.

    I thought that the only problem was that one of the builds performed less than the last one at the same price point. But then again I am used to the comments section of such articles being full of whinners and idiots so its not much of a surprise...
  • -8 Hide
    jaragon13 , January 5, 2009 10:17 AM
    How about GTX 260 in SLI versus GTX 260 core 216 in SLI,versus a single GTX 280? lol,that'd be single sided.
  • 2 Hide
    kelfen , January 5, 2009 10:21 AM
    interesting to see two be at par with 3! and maybe compare them to 4870x2 to throw into the mix
  • 1 Hide
    ginbong46 , January 5, 2009 11:05 AM
    I would choose 280 SLI over 260 TRI SLI anyday even if it was cheaper than the 280 SLI. 1 less card to deal with and less chance for driver problems.

    285 SLI is looking interesting
  • 8 Hide
    Onus , January 5, 2009 11:09 AM
    I think this reinforces the idea that if you're thinking of SLI, don't, unless you're getting all the cards now. If you're getting just one card now and waiting until you can afford the next one(s), your money might be better spent on just waiting for the best of the next generation.
  • 8 Hide
    toosober , January 5, 2009 11:27 AM
    I agree with others, it would benefit the community if a single and pair of 4870x2s were used in this review as well.
    This was a good review, it pointed out to us that buying 3 260s is not so beneficial, Crysis is a great game, but it is not the deciding factor for the purchase of my next video card.
  • 8 Hide
    Pei-chen , January 5, 2009 11:49 AM
    2 really hot girls or 3 above average girls....LOL.

    If I really want SLI I would choose as fewer cards as possible. The driver mess and inefficient scaling makes no sense to get more than two cards. GTX 295 > GTX 280 x2 > GTX 260 x3 > 9800GT x4.
  • 5 Hide
    Pei-chen , January 5, 2009 12:06 PM
    The_Blood_Raven....Also 2 4870 X2s perform a decent amount above 2 GTX 280s and the extra funds could have been relocated....

    A 4870 X2 costs around $500. A GTX 280 $330. $500 x 2 = $1000 > $330 x 2 = $660 so what extra funds are you talking about?
  • 3 Hide
    PrangeWay , January 5, 2009 12:44 PM
    I sortof dislike how much people depend on Crysis as a benchmark. Despite it's awesome gameplay and graphics, there has NEVER, EVER, been a more poorly optimized game. It seems a crap shoot on what sortof performance even high end graphics card will put out when using it...

    Better to notice the fact the 280x2 consistently beats the 260x3 except in the one game that sets the standards for erratic performance results.
  • -1 Hide
    akandy , January 5, 2009 12:53 PM
    Well I would just like to add..... VALUE SHMALUE!! SPEND SPEND SPEND!!! As long as I have enough money left over to make some katsup soup and play all my games on full rez I'm happy.
  • 5 Hide
    Uhlmann , January 5, 2009 1:00 PM
    I think this article adresses the criticism from the 2500$ build perfectly. The arguments against trip SLI were all adressed, and even people contradicting themselves got answers that make sense.

    People are always gonna critisize choices made in these articles, and make assumptions grabbed out of thin air without any form of proof or facts to back up their statements, imo this article and the 2500$ build made some really interesting and compelling points and pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of both.

    Of course I would love to see a 2 x 260 SLI vs. 3 x 260 SLI to see how much that last card really gives, since that's what we are really talking about how much a third GPU really stacks with the others. But since THG already has the GPU charts (http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/graphics-cards,1.html) which I assume/hope is getting a updated very soon based on a Core I7 machine, all these speculations will basically be answered by this.

    This article is about a 2500$ build and what solution is best for this, and as seen in this article the best decision when going for playable framerates is trip SLI core 216 260's, not dual 280's which only boost your already enormous frame rates on other games.
  • -6 Hide
    zodiacfml , January 5, 2009 1:29 PM
    yawwnnn.. calm before the storm. (phenom II)
  • 7 Hide
    Vixe , January 5, 2009 1:49 PM
    it is a great review and all, and I completely agree with the conclusion, but I would've liked to see all the cards in this review, SLI or not. For example, 1 x GTX 280 vs 1 x GTX 260 vs 2 GTX 280 vs 2 x GTX 260 vs 3 x GTX 260 vs 2 x HD4870x2 etc ... In this way we would figure out all the high end GPU's benchmark in one, instead of stitching them all together. Sigh .. now we wait for the next review..
  • 1 Hide
    roofus , January 5, 2009 2:29 PM
    Vixeit is a great review and all, and I completely agree with the conclusion, but I would've liked to see all the cards in this review, SLI or not. For example, 1 x GTX 280 vs 1 x GTX 260 vs 2 GTX 280 vs 2 x GTX 260 vs 3 x GTX 260 vs 2 x HD4870x2 etc ... In this way we would figure out all the high end GPU's benchmark in one, instead of stitching them all together. Sigh .. now we wait for the next review..


    That would be interesting. I know the scaling improved with the i7 for SLI but the comparison Vixe is talking about would be very telling.
  • 0 Hide
    hannibal , January 5, 2009 2:34 PM
    PrangeWayI sortof dislike how much people depend on Crysis as a benchmark. Despite it's awesome gameplay and graphics, there has NEVER, EVER, been a more poorly optimized game. It seems a crap shoot on what sortof performance even high end graphics card will put out when using it...Better to notice the fact the 280x2 consistently beats the 260x3 except in the one game that sets the standards for erratic performance results.


    Well. It's one of those few well done games that actually benefit from multible GPU's and multible CPU's. I have a high hope from the Futuremark Games Studios Shattered Horison http://www.shatteredhorizon.com/ because they have allso known how to utilice multible cores...
    And yoeh you are right that Crysis is not so good game, but as I mentioned, it is one of those few that scale with multicores guite well, so I think that that is the main reason why it reamains as one of the standard test games. I hope that in the future there will be much more games that can really use all that power that you have in your computer (read scale well). It does not make a good or bad, but tells asomething about the programing.
  • 6 Hide
    TechDicky , January 5, 2009 2:47 PM
    I really dont have a dog in this fight... but to get the best comparison of cost/performance of 2-way vs 3-way SLI/Crossfire, I don't think the review should have been with 2 ea 4870 X2 or 2 ea GTX 280s... If you really want to see how the performance scales based on nothing but how many cards are used in an SLI configuration, it should be done with 2 ea and 3 ea of the exact same card.

    I know, I know... that doesnt give you a good idea of the performance you can expect for the same dollar spent on a 2-way vs a 3-way. And I understand that the point of this article was to deal with that question posed by the readers and thier comments. Based on that I say...

    You should be comparing one of two different scenarios...

    1) Performance level per dollar spent. i.e. Spend the exact same (or as close as possible) amount on a 2-way and a 3-way SLI or Crossfire setup. that give you the most performance for your purchase and compare them. For this comparison it does not make any difference if the cards have 2 GPUs or 1 GPU. It is about the performance you can squeeze out of 2 Cards vs 3 Cards... not out of 2 GPUs vs 3 GPUs.

    2) Cost/Performance difference in 2-way vs 3-way SLI. This may sound like the same thing but it is not. This does not compare the best 2-way you can buy for the same amount as a 3-way. This is taking 3 identical cards. Test performance with all three cards. Test performance with only two cards... and if you really want to do the world a favor, test it with only one card as well. What do you get? A scale that show the amount of performance increase as it scales in proportion to the cost of each card.

    Just my $.02,
    TechDicky
  • 0 Hide
    Shadowfax2009 , January 5, 2009 2:48 PM
    A software redesign for your charts will be very helpfull. Instead of having separate charts for CPU, Grafix and Motherboard what enthusiasts like to see is the perfromance of various combinations. It could be easily done with first field letting us choose cpu, second Grafix,third Motherboard and fourth Benchmark. It becomes a huge task, but sections could be added part by part and ultimately it wold make a great place to virtually build and test a system.
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , January 5, 2009 2:55 PM
    The_Blood_Raven....so 2 GTX 280s generally out perform 3 GTX 260s and you count it as a win because its best in Crysis?


    Which win matters in game play? You could have 100 games that play at 90FPS on a cheaper setup or 100FPS on the more expensive one, and the difference would be inconsequential since both of them play smoothly. Same goes for comparing RTS games, which don't need to be perfectly smooth, and FPS games, were any lag gets you fragged. It's always the FPS games that fall below 40FPS that take precidence.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , January 5, 2009 3:13 PM
    "Same goes for comparing RTS games, which don't need to be perfectly smooth"

    That kind of comment shows people that don't take RTS seriously... having a stutter of 0.1 second is enough to break havoc on any carefully planned strategy during an RTS game.

    Any "good" RTS player will need to execute between 5 to 10 actions per second (300-600 APM) during the key moments of high. And a stutter of 0.1 or 0.2 seconds those conditions means a dead army. Meaning Frames should NEVER EVER drop below 30 FPS, the same applies to First person Shooters.


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