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.