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

Test Settings

We began today’s 3-way GTX 260 Core 216 versus 2-way GTX 280 comparison with our $2,500 System Builder Marathon machine, substituting two EVGA part number 01G-P3-1280-AR graphics cards for the 2-way test.

For a price-per-performance 3-way versus 2-way shootout, the only challenge this configuration faced was that the GeForce GTX 260 graphics cards came from EVGA pre-overclocked by 8.68% for the GPU core and 5.4% for the memory. To make the comparison fair, we overclocked the GTX 280 cards by the same amount, resulting in a 654 MHz GPU core and 2338 MHz GDDR3 data rate. The new clock speed is comparable to EVGA's part number 01G-P3-1284-AR.

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Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i7 920 (2.66 GHz, 8.0 MB Cache)
Overclocked to 4.00 GHz (BCLK 200)
CPU CoolerVigor Monsoon III LT
2x 2000 RPM 120 mm Fans (Stock)
MotherboardEVGA X58 3X SLI (P/N: 132-BL-E758-A)
Intel X58/ICH10R Chipset, LGA-1366
RAM3.0 GB Super Talent DDR3-1333 CAS 8
Overclocked to DDR3-1600 CL 9-8-8-16
3-Way SLI Graphics3x EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 S.E.
626 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2106
2-Way SLI Graphics2x EVGA GeForce GTX 280 (Overclocked)
654 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2338
Hard Drives3x Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ RAID 5
1.0 TB, 7,200 RPM, 32 MB Cache
SoundIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking
CaseCooler Master Stacker 830 Evolution (Black)
PowerSilverstone OP1000 Evolution
ATX12V v2.2. EPS12V, 1000 W, 80 A +12 V Rail
OpticalLG GGC-H20LK 6X Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM, 16X DVD±R
Additional Fans2x Scythe S-FLEX SFF21F 120 mm 1,600 RPM
OSMicrosoft Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit SP1
GraphicsNVidia GeForce 180.48
ChipsetIntel INF

Some of our graphics benchmarks have been handicapped by CPU rather than GPU limitations, so we left our $2,500 PC’s overclock in place to shift this limitation by the greatest amount possible to the graphics cards.

We also repeated the full benchmark suite from our System Builder Marathon, including encoding and productivity benchmarks, to check for any additional CPU overhead that might have been caused by using three graphics cards in the GTX 260 Core 216 configuration.

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Benchmarks and Settings
3D Games
CrysisVersion: 1.2.1, Video Quality: Very High Details, Demo: CPU-Benchmark + Tom’s Hardware Tool
Supreme CommanderVersion: 1.5.3599, Video Quality: Highest Settings, Demo : WallaceTX_006_006, Benchmark: Fraps 2.9.4 - Build 7037
Forged Alliance
Unreal Tournament 3Version: 1.2, Sound and DirectX10, Texture Details: 5, Level Details: 5, Demo: vCTF-Reflection_bot, Time: 12/60
World in ConflictVersion:, Video Quality: Very High details, Demo: Game-Benchmark
Audio Encoding
iTunesVersion:, Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 min, Default format AAC
Lame MP3Version: 3.98 Beta 3 (05-22-2007), Audio CD ""Terminator II" SE, 53 min, wave to MP3, 160 Kb/s
Video Encoding
TMPEG 4.5Version:, Import File: Terminator 2 SE DVD (5 Minutes), Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX 6.8.3Encoding mode: Insane Quality, Enhanced Multi-threading, Enabled using SSE4, Quarter-pixel search
XviD 1.1.3Display encoding status=off
Mainconcept Reference 1.5.1MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kbp/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS), Profile: Tom’s Hardware Settings for Qct-Core
Reference H.264 Plugin Pro 1.5.1
Autodesk 3D Studio Max 9Version: 9.0, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Adobe Photoshop CS 3Version: 10.0x20070321, Filtering from a 69 MB TIF-Photo, Benchmark: Tomshardware-Benchmark V1.0.0.4, Filters: Crosshatch, Glass, Sumi-e, Accented Edges, Angled Strokes, Sprayed Strokes
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus 8Version: 8.0.134, Virus base: 270.4.5/1533, Benchmark: Scan 334 MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
Winrar 3.80Version 3.70 BETA 8, WinZIP Commandline Version 2.3, Compression= Best, Dictionary= 4,096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Winzip 11Version 11.2, Compression=Best, Benchmark: THG-Workload (139 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.02, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: 1.00, System, Memory, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks, Windows Media Player
SiSoftware Sandra XII SP2Version 2008.5.14.24, CPU Test=CPU Arithmetic/MultiMedia, Memory Test=Bandwidth Benchmark
Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • The_Blood_Raven 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...
  • jaragon13
    How about GTX 260 in SLI versus GTX 260 core 216 in SLI,versus a single GTX 280? lol,that'd be single sided.
  • kelfen
    interesting to see two be at par with 3! and maybe compare them to 4870x2 to throw into the mix
  • ginbong46
    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
  • Onus
    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.
  • toosober
    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.
  • Pei-chen
    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.
  • Pei-chen
    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?
  • PrangeWay
    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.
  • akandy
    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.