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Which Card Is The Better Buy?

The GeForce GTX 480 Update: 3-Way SLI, 3D Vision, And Noise
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Time for a little performance index. We’re going to use 2560x1600 without anti-aliasing enabled here, since the Radeon HD 5870s specifically have issues in Crysis and Metro 2033 at that resolution. The following chart includes the scores for each card in our six tested games.

Now, the average frame rate across the six games at 2560x1600 without AA:

Next up, the cost for a pair of GeForce GTX 480s and Radeon HD 5870s. These were collected from Newegg on April 29th, 2010. Each GeForce GTX 480 was priced at $509, while each Radeon HD 5870 was priced at $399. So, we know the GeForce GTX 480s are expensive, but they’re also faster.

And our final piece of data: dollars per average frame per second. Because SLI is so much more effective than CrossFire, two GeForce GTX 480s in SLI end up costing less per FPS than a pair of Radeon HD 5870s in CrossFire, on average.

Now, this doesn’t tell the whole tale, of course. First, it only applies to dual-card configurations. It’s the impressive scaling of SLI that turns the tide. If you’re looking at one GeForce GTX 480 against a Radeon HD 5870, AMD delivers better value ($8.60/average FPS versus the GeForce GTX 480’s $10.18/average FPS).

Remember also that this represents a snapshot in time: the lowest prices on two cards, tested across six games, and indexed using one resolution. More performance data means more clarity, and there’s almost no limit to the depth you can go. Nevertheless, it’s fairly amazing that these multi-card configurations fall as close to each other as they do. That's why I've included these charts. The "value" comparison isn't the blowout I was expecting, dealing with $500+ cards.

When it comes to high-performance gaming, choosing between a pair of GeForce GTX 480s or Radeon HD 5870s might not be as easy as you previously thought, if you’re taking dollars over average performance into account.

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Top Comments
  • 27 Hide
    lunyone , May 3, 2010 7:24 AM
    Did I miss something, but there is NO mention of the power consumption of the 3 x 480's??
  • 23 Hide
    cangelini , May 3, 2010 6:48 AM
    lashtonand why not check it against the 5890, the 480GTX is nvidia fastest card, put it against ATI Fastest Card


    A pair of 5870s is actually going to be faster. Should I swing a second 5970, though, I do think a pair of 5970s vs. the three GTX 480s would be a good comparison!
  • 19 Hide
    cangelini , May 3, 2010 8:44 AM
    simple_inhibitioni wonder if nvidia strong armed toms into agreeing not to show tri-sli power consumption in exchange for the third card (of the available "tens of thousands" /endsarcasm)


    Once again, it's like, mentioned in the story :-P
Other Comments
  • 11 Hide
    anonymous x , May 3, 2010 6:18 AM
    Why don't you overclock that cpu higher? Only 3.3 Ghz? The 3rd GTX 480 looks like it's being bottlenecked. You can see the scaling is excellent at high resolutions with AA (from 1 to 2 to 3 cards), but at lower resolutions without AA there's no gain.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , May 3, 2010 6:45 AM
    There's a good chance that more CPU would def. help at the lower resolutions--one of the reasons I chose 2560 for the comparisons at the end ;-) For one reason or another, wasn't having much luck getting the retail i7-930/Eclipse Plus combo to overclock very well.
  • 23 Hide
    cangelini , May 3, 2010 6:48 AM
    lashtonand why not check it against the 5890, the 480GTX is nvidia fastest card, put it against ATI Fastest Card


    A pair of 5870s is actually going to be faster. Should I swing a second 5970, though, I do think a pair of 5970s vs. the three GTX 480s would be a good comparison!
  • 27 Hide
    lunyone , May 3, 2010 7:24 AM
    Did I miss something, but there is NO mention of the power consumption of the 3 x 480's??
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , May 3, 2010 7:30 AM
    I have no clue where you people are getting this "5890" Statement from... They have the 5870, and then the next step up is the 5970... Is that what you're trying to say?
  • 8 Hide
    cangelini , May 3, 2010 7:50 AM
    stuk1intI have no clue where you people are getting this "5890" Statement from... They have the 5870, and then the next step up is the 5970... Is that what you're trying to say?


    Bleh, it's late and it has been a long weekend. Edited :) 
  • 4 Hide
    SpadeM , May 3, 2010 7:57 AM
    Quad fire with 5850 would have been nice (thinking back to a builder marathon with quad fire) to see if ati's quad cards made any improovement over last years ones. Also i agree with lunyone, I for one would have been interested to see the numbers on load for the 3 nvidia cards with the 800W gold power supply (and maybe a comment from you cris about what power supply u think is best for the job. Either go lower wattage but a high efficiency psu or higher wattage but lower efficiency)

    Anyways, it was a informative article, looking forward to a full 512 sp card from nvidia and the second revision to the fermi core.
  • 4 Hide
    JeanLuc , May 3, 2010 8:08 AM
    stuk1intI have no clue where you people are getting this "5890" Statement from... They have the 5870, and then the next step up is the 5970... Is that what you're trying to say?


    The only place where the "5890" exists is in ATI's folder under 'What to do if Fermi is good".

    And yes where is the tri-sli power consumption numbers, there's no mention of it's omittance in the analysis.
  • 4 Hide
    cangelini , May 3, 2010 8:16 AM
    JeanLucThe only place where the "5890" exists is in ATI's folder under 'What to do if Fermi is good".And yes where is the tri-sli power consumption numbers, there's no mention of it's omittance in the analysis.


    Actually, addressed in a couple of different places ;-) As mentioned in the test setup section, the 3-way SLI numbers crested 900W under load. But because this was above the Enermax unit's max. continuous power rating, this almost certainly isn't a very efficient measurement. Not that it matters--the noise of three cards was so loud that it's simply not a realistic combination using the Eclipse Plus board.
  • 15 Hide
    rajangel , May 3, 2010 8:19 AM
    Who wants to pay $10 for 1 fps?

    I'm going to stick with my old 9600 SLI config that I spent $100 dollars on a few years back.
  • -8 Hide
    nebun , May 3, 2010 8:37 AM
    lashtonand why not check it against the 5890, the 480GTX is nvidia fastest card, put it against ATI Fastest Card


    dummy...the 5970 is a dual gpu card, that's why it was not compared. as far as since gpu cards go nvidia is the fastest one out ther.
  • -5 Hide
    simple_inhibition , May 3, 2010 8:44 AM
    i wonder if nvidia strong armed toms into agreeing not to show tri-sli power consumption in exchange for the third card (of the available "tens of thousands" /endsarcasm)
  • 15 Hide
    sinsear , May 3, 2010 8:44 AM
    lunyoneDid I miss something, but there is NO mention of the power consumption of the 3 x 480's??

    He wasn't able to upload the results before the power outage caused by the setup.
  • 19 Hide
    cangelini , May 3, 2010 8:44 AM
    simple_inhibitioni wonder if nvidia strong armed toms into agreeing not to show tri-sli power consumption in exchange for the third card (of the available "tens of thousands" /endsarcasm)


    Once again, it's like, mentioned in the story :-P
  • -6 Hide
    falchard , May 3, 2010 9:47 AM
    What couldn't get your hands on a 3rd HD5870? Also ATI makes Crossfire bridges long enough. I got 2 with my MSI K9A2 Platinum, and another one with my MSI HD5870.

    I do wonder about how the results are presented. Its obviously given in a method that favors nVidia. The only results chosen to be highlighted are the only results that show AMD in a poor position. I think to present these findings to consumers is rather misleading and more information should be furnished so consumers can make a proper decision on a product.

    Right now the most common resolution is 1680x1050. 1920x1200 is becoming more popular as well. At these resolutions even considering a single GTX480 as having a performance advantage is questionable compared to an HD5870. The HD5870 also scales better in those scenario. Yet the basis of your conclusion of consistent SLI scaling comes from the least favorable scenario for the HD5870 on resolutions that are uncommon. I don't think its a mystery why a lower memory card would perform worse doing a post processing effect at a large resolution. However, there is more to a graphics card then memory and its evident the difference in architecture choices at common resolutions.
  • 8 Hide
    micr0be , May 3, 2010 10:01 AM
    always great articles from u chris, hoping u might take on the 5970 and 2x5970 soon.
  • 3 Hide
    barmaley , May 3, 2010 10:16 AM
    So, I'm wondering how much of overclocking potential these GTX 480 cards have. Yep, they are running hot as it is. But, what if you throw liquid cooling on that 2X SLI setup to keep the temps at 35C highest. How far would they go then?
  • 6 Hide
    h83 , May 3, 2010 10:28 AM

    For those who are brave enough to peak at the power consumption of 3 480s running at the same time:...

    http://www.guru3d.com/article/geforce-gtx-480-3way-sli-review/26

    P.S. this isn´t for the ones with a weak heart...
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