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

Conclusion

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.

  • anonymous x
    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.
    Reply
  • lashton
    and why not check it against the 5890, the 480GTX is nvidia fastest card, put it against ATI Fastest Card
    Reply
  • cangelini
    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.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    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!
    Reply
  • cruiseoveride
    Crappy ATi drivers.
    Reply
  • lunyone
    Did I miss something, but there is NO mention of the power consumption of the 3 x 480's??
    Reply
  • 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?
    Reply
  • cangelini
    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 :)
    Reply
  • SpadeM
    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.
    Reply
  • JeanLuc
    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.
    Reply