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

Does Three Of A Kind Really Beat A High Pair?

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.

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.