The Fastest 3D Cards Go Head-To-Head

SLI With GeForce GTX 280 Superclocked

In SLI testing, our boards only generate a noise level of 49.4 dB(A), while a single GTX 280 reaches 54.7 dB(A).

If you thought the GeForce GTX 280 would suffer the same temperature problems in SLI as the GTX 260 in SLI mode, then you’d be mistaken. However, the powerful two-card solution encounters other problems. For instance, maximum power consumption is 540 watts, but both overclocked cards should fallen between 640 and 710 watts with the test system. The lower power consumption in SLI mode means that the temperature and noise level is lower than for a single card.

Thermal throttling of the graphics chip (as seen on the GTX 260) is not the reason why the GTX 280 in SLI only hits 85 degrees. A defect is also not likely, as the frame rates are slightly higher than the level of the Geforce GTX 260 in SLI. And both GTX 280 cards function normally when they’re running on their own. The loss of performance can only be explained by the lack of CPU horsepower to help facilitate scaling, which can be clearly seen from our overclocking results.

Although both GTX models are overclocked from the factory, the overall evaluation shows a loss of performance. If you average all the games of the benchmark suite, the overclocked GTX 280 in SLI saw a drop in performance of 1.1%, whereas the single card has a 5.8% increase. In Mass Effect (UT3 Engine), the single card at 1920x1200 pixels—with anti-aliasing—achieved an increase in frame rate of around 16%. In SLI mode, it decreased 0.8%.

Here are some highlights: World in Conflict at 1920x1200 pixels with 4xAA achieved 32.8 fps on a single card. With GTX 280 in SLI it hit 45.6 fps (the MSI overclock produced 44.2 fps). Mass Effect at 1920x1200 pixels with 8xAA and a single card reached 60.6 fps, and with the GTX 280 in SLI hit 74.6 fps (the MSI overclock was at 74.0 fps).

As you can see, SLI adds an acceptable level of additional power at the right resolutions, but without the platform to back that configuration up, you’ll actually sacrifice performance. If you look at the individual benchmarks, the worst values come from low resolutions and badly optimized games, which react negatively to SLI if they react at all. An important factor is now also the CPU—with more power, higher frame rates should be possible, and MSI’s factory overclocking should also provide additional gains. But without a powerful processor it is better to stick to a single card for 3D games, as the GTX 280 in SLI requires a little more in the way of system performance.

In 2D mode, the power consumption is 203 watts, while in 3D mode the pair draws 540 watts (from the wall). The GTX 260 in SLI drew 610 watts. According to the manufacturer’s specifications, both 3D cards should lie between 640 and 710 watts with the test system. If you wish to operate the overclocked GTX 280 in SLI mode, you will need a branded power supply with between 530 and 570 watts and 44 to 48 A on the 12 volt rail for a standard system. If the entire system reaches the top value of 710 watts (from the wall) a branded power supply with between 600 and 650 watts on that rail should be sufficient.

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    Top Comments
  • elbert
    Version AMD Catalyst 8.6? Why not just say i'm using ATI drivers with little to no optimizations for the 4800's. This is why the CF benchmarks tanked.
  • wahdangun
    WTF, hd4850 SHOULD be a lot faster than 9600 GT and 8800 GT even tough they have 1Gig of ram
  • mjam
    No 4870X2 and 1920 X 1200 max resolution tested. How about finishing the good start of an article with the rest of it...
  • Other Comments
  • San Pedro
    Looks like the results for SLI and Crossfire were switched with the single card results. . .
  • Duncan NZ
    Not a bad article, really comprehensive.
    My one complaint? Why use that CPU when you know that the test cards are going to max it out? Why not a quad core OC'ed to 4GHz? It'd give far more meaning to the SLI results. We don't want results that we can duplicate at home, we want results that show what these cards can do. Its a GPU card comparason, not a complain about not having a powerful enough CPU story.

    Oh? And please get a native english speaker to give it the once over for spelling and grammar errors, although this one had far less then many articles posted lately.
  • elbert
    No 4870x2 in CF so its the worlds top end Nvidia vs ATI mid to low end.
  • Lightnix
    It'd be a good article if you'd used a powerful enough CPU and up to date Radeon drivers (considering we're now up to 8.8 now), I mean are those even the 'hotfix' 8.6's or just the vanilla drivers?
  • elbert
    Version AMD Catalyst 8.6? Why not just say i'm using ATI drivers with little to no optimizations for the 4800's. This is why the CF benchmarks tanked.
  • Anonymous
    at 1280, all of the highend cards were CPU limited. at that resolution, you need a 3.2-3.4 c2d to feed a 3870... this article had so much potential, and yet... so much work, so much testing, fast for nothing, because most of the results are very cpu limited (except 1920@AA).
  • wahdangun
    WTF, hd4850 SHOULD be a lot faster than 9600 GT and 8800 GT even tough they have 1Gig of ram
  • mjam
    No 4870X2 and 1920 X 1200 max resolution tested. How about finishing the good start of an article with the rest of it...
  • Anonymous
    I agree, the 4870 X2 should have been in there and should have used the updated drivers. Good article but I think you fell short on finishing it.
  • Anonymous
    @pulasky - Rage much? It's called driver issues you dumbass. Some games are more optimised for multicard setups than others, and even then some favour SLi to Crossfire. And if you actually READ the article rather than let your shrinken libido get the better of you, you'll find that Crossfire does indeed work in CoD4.

    Remember, the more you know.
  • buzzlightbeer
    isnt forceware 177.41 out for gt200 series? so they are using a recent driver for the nvidia cards yet not for the ATI yes would have to agree with wahdangun the 4850 is alot faster then the 9600gt and the 8800gt i have 2 friends with both cards with q6600s one at 3.2 (9600gt) and the other at 3.0 (4850) and the 4850 machine destroys the other one even with a lower clocked cpu
    but yes the article was off to a great start, maybe throw some vantage in there as well?
  • chesterman
    agree with the others. u guys should use a more recent driver for ati/amd cards, use a more game-effective cpu and REALLY should have put the 4870x2 on the fight
  • masterwhitman
    elbertVersion AMD Catalyst 8.6? Why not just say i'm using ATI drivers with little to no optimizations for the 4800's. This is why the CF benchmarks tanked.

    Precisely; several other websites tested with 8.7 and 8.8 long before this article was published. Why couldn't you? Look at the 8.6 release notes; it doesn't even mention the HD4000 series cards as supported devices.

    Brilliant guys.
  • Anonymous
    and why use vista when noone that considers itself a gamer(even casual) touches with a ten-foot pole.
    This is another reason why the results are tanked, in XP you get 15% more performance compared to these values
  • roynaldi
    NVISION comes around and IRONicallY, a 36 page article is produced that is magically in favor of, whats that, NVIDIA!!!

    After having the Mythbusters appear, you would think this would be the most comprehensive, "scientific," factual, and update article meeting Tom's usual standards.... I didn't finish reading this.
  • xrodney
    Using old drivers with no optimalisation at all fo newest card whitch was released months ago seems too strange to me. Also temperature results for 48xx are quite oposite reality, at least when compare to 8.8 catalyst.
    (82 temperature in 2D 69 in 3D with no fanfix)
  • jitpublisher
    Pretty good, finally. Wish you would have have used an overclocked Quad so the newer GPU's could show their full potentianl, and you really should have used the latest drivers, but I give this article 2 thumbs up. Lot of good information in here.
  • Haiku214
    Well the main reason why they don't have the 4870x2 and the latest drivers is simply because they made this article a couple of weeks ago. If you could just imagine how long and tedious it is to produce all these data and results. It's just sad that after finally finishing the article, a lot of new stuff has already happened(new drivers and the x2).
  • jameskangster
    First I want to say that the article itself is not bad at all.
    Also, I can understand why TH didn't have time to use 8.8 since it was released publicly on August 20, 2008 (Although ATI would have gladly released a beta version to TH for testing purposes).

    However, AMD publicly released stable Catalyst 8.7(internal version 8.512) on July 21, 2008. That's more than a month ago. It has numerous improvements (for example, CF performance increase, improved stability and performance under Vista). To be honest, most of the improvements range from 4% to 15%. (In CF case, up to 1.7 X scaling)

    TH has rarely been unfair and/or inaccurate and they always owned up to their mistakes before, and I trust them to re-test ATI products with at least 8.7 if not 8.8 to continue to uphold their values and integrity.
  • outlw6669
    So, to start off with, this article is much better than many of the other recent reviews. I feel you put some thought into it and for the most part it is good. I found the comparative performance charts at the end interesting. Have you thought of changing the GPU charts in a similar fashion?

    Now on to my criticism.

    I can understand how you want to keep the results homogeneous with previous results but if you already know that a stock QX6800 will bottleneck the system, be proactive in fixing it. At the very least you should have done a small segment of the review showing the newer cards with a quad core overclocked to 4.0Ghz.

    Also, if you have ever read any of the older Toms articles, you would know that you can still minimise the bottleneck from a slow GPU bye raising the resolution. Perhaps you should test the fastest cards at the highest resolutions?

    I can also understand why you did not use the latest nVidia drivers. It takes time to create a review of this scale and the GF8/9 series drivers have been stable for some time. As the GT 200 series brings no new features to the table, they would needed little optimisation for their newer cards allowing the slightly dated drivers to perform nicely.

    What I can not understand is why you would use ATI's 8.6 drivers??
    The 8.7 drivers have been out for more than a month bringing quite a few fixes/optimisations with it. I understand it probably took more than 9 days to complete all of these benchmarks (today is the 29th, the 8.8 drivers were officially released on the 20th) but you should have called ATI and asked for their latest drivers. The 8.8 drivers were leaked at least a week before the official release which means, if you could nurture a relationship with the people you review, they could/probably would have provided them to you. There is still no excuse I can see for testing with the old 8.6 drivers. Seriously, it does not even have official support for the 48X0 cards...

    From the title of the article,"The Fastest 3D Cards Go Head-To-Head", I would have assumed that you would have been testing the Fastest 3D cards? What happened to your 4870x2? As you have already attempted to review it, we know you have your hands on one. How can you claim to review the "Fastest 3D Cards" and still leave out the fastest card?

    In summation, I liked many things from this article. The layout was nice and a little more technical than we have been seeing as of late. I enjoyed the comparison charts at the end and I think you should adopt a similar method for the CPU and GPU charts. I would have thought this was an excellent and well thought out article if it had not been for the glaring and obvious deficiencies in reason. I give you credit for stepping Toms in the right direction. With a little more unbiased comparison, critical thinking and common sense I could come to see reviews such as this in a very positive light.