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

Introduction

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.

  • 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