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.