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Conclusion

The GeForce GTX 480 Update: 3-Way SLI, 3D Vision, And Noise
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Where’d That Third GTX 480 Go?

Perhaps you noticed that all of the performance numbers included a third GeForce GTX 480, but our power, noise, and temperature tests lacked those results. Consider 3-way SLI with a GeForce GTX 480 an academic exercise for now. I was frankly amazed that three cards packed two slots away from each other ran as stably as they did. I didn’t have a single reliability- or performance-oriented issue with a trio of the cards. I believe Nvidia’s Drew Henry when he says GF100 is designed to weather high temps.

But in order to get enough airflow through the card and out its rear-facing exhaust, it has to spin those Delta blowers incredibly fast—fast enough to generate the sort of noise I can guarantee you don’t want to hear. You’d want an ATX motherboard with a space between each x16 slot in order to make 3-way a potentially-quieter solution. A board like EVGA’s X58 Classified 4-Way SLI might work, so long as you have a chassis able to accommodate the third GTX 480 hanging off the board’s seventh x16 slot. Even then, you’d be looking at specialized SLI ribbons able to span the platform’s expansion slots.

Waiting To Unleash Potential

Our purpose here was to revisit the noise and heat issues first encountered in our GeForce GTX 480 review. But as I began building a complete system using Cooler Master’s HAF 932 chassis and MSI’s Eclipse Plus motherboard, I decided to revisit SLI. MSI stepped up at zero hour with a third card, allowing us to garner results in a 3-way SLI setup, too.

So long as you space GeForce GTX 480 cards out with at least one vacant slot between them, noise is far less an issue in a well-ventilated case than it was on my open-air test bench.

There’s really no way to get around the GeForce GTX 480s running hot, though. Nvidia says these things were designed to withstand high temps, and our idle measurements show exactly how much hotter GF100 runs than Cypress XT, even inside a chassis.

The biggest surprise for me, even after a brief benchmarking stint in the GeForce GTX 480 review, was the comparison of SLI scaling performance to CrossFire scaling. The boost attributable to SLI is so significant that it actually alters the “value” of buying SLI or CrossFire. You pay more for a pair of GTX 480s, yes, but the corresponding performance increase results in lower cost/average performance than the Radeons.

But Nvidia has a lot of work to do yet. First and foremost, it really needs to address supply. My value analysis is based on an MSI card that was in stock on Newegg for $509. If you get impatient and buy boards from Zipzoomfly at $579, then you’ve completely nuked the value equation.

Also, we’re still waiting on 3D Vision Surround—one of the headline features of GeForce GTX 480 at launch time—to emerge. Admittedly, that’ll be a wicked expensive feature to enable at home. Two cards, three 120 Hz displays, and a GeForce 3D Vision kit. Ouch. But AMD has its own financially-staggering capability in Eyefinity 6, so I’m not going to dismiss Nvidia’s value-add based on what it costs.

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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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