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The GeForce GTX 480 Update: 3-Way SLI, 3D Vision, And Noise

The GeForce GTX 480 Update: 3-Way SLI, 3D Vision, And Noise
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We reviewed Nvidia's GeForce GTX 480 one month ago. We're back today with three GTX 480s and two Radeon HD 5870s for SLI/CrossFire scaling analysis, case and motherboard recommendations to help you minimize noise, and an update on availability/pricing.

As I write this, it’s a beautiful Southern California Sunday afternoon. We’re deep into April and it’s already 80 degrees outside. I’m holding off on firing up the air conditioning for as long as possible, because that’s when power bills shoot up from $100 to $400.

The absolute last thing I need right now is a pair of GeForce GTX 480s (or any other high-end graphics cards, for that matter) pumping heat into the lab. Nevertheless, here I am, setting up a tower system with a Core i7-930 processor overclocked to 3.33 GHz, 6GB of Crucial memory, a 160GB Intel SSD, and…yeah, two GeForce GTX 480s (actually, I’m dropping three 480s into the machine, but for reasons I’ll explain in more depth, you probably don't want to try this at home quite yet).

Why are revisiting these cards a month after they first debuted?

When I first got my hands on the GeForce GTX 480 and 470, the boards were about six days from being officially unveiled by Nvidia. Getting the requisite results for my launch coverage meant setting up a sweat shop of benchmarking madness, owned and operated by yours truly. I used open-air racks and kept the numbers pouring in. I measured power and heat, determining that, damn, these things suck down quite a bit of juice and will readily fry your finger if you brush up against exposed metal. Moreover, I used Gigabyte’s X58A-UD5 motherboard, which doesn’t space its x16 PCIe links properly, forcing anyone using SLI to choose back-to-back x16 slots or a x16/x8 combo with room to breathe.

That’s not the way Nvidia recommends testing, though. The company suggests using one of a few different cases for the best acoustic experience, and a number of motherboards for the best balance between circulation and performance in SLI. So, with the help of Cooler Master and MSI, I built a machine that looks a lot like what I’d personally recommend to someone sinking serious cash into a gaming system.

At the same time, I thought it'd be prudent to revisit availability and 3D Vision Surround, the former of which is still dismally spotty, and the latter of which is still conspicuously missing in action.

Finally, I figured it’d be a great time to expound on my performance results. At launch, I was limited to just a couple charts worth of SLI testing on a motherboard that was only giving me one x16 link and one x8 connection. Without question, I wanted x16/x16 numbers, a larger sample of games, and even some 3-way numbers, if possible. MSI was kind enough to step up with a third GeForce GTX 480, yielding one-, two-, and three-card configurations, to which we’re able to compare scores from one and two Radeon HD 5870s. At the end of this menagerie, you’ll know whether SLIed GeForce GTX 480s or CrossFired Radeon HD 5870s get your more performance for your dollar.

I don’t mean to be too titillating of a tease here, but this one doesn’t end the way you think it does.

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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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