Results: Two- And Three-Way SLI Performance
All of our single-card game testing took place on a Windows 8-based test bed. Unfortunately, a number of the three- and four-way SLI tests we ran on GeForce GTX Titan and 690 exhibited lower-than-expected results or crashes. So, we transitioned back to the Geek Box machine supplied for Tuesday’s story, which was already running Windows 7 on a couple of striped SSDs. We’re working with Nvidia to figure out why Windows 8 wasn’t cooperative.
From one to two to three GeForce GTX Titan cards, Battlefield 3 scales nicely. Meanwhile, it’s clear that two GeForce GTX 690s in four-way SLI struggle, dipping to minimum frame rates as low as 5 FPS.
That’s not a one-time occurrence, either. On multiple occasions, Fraps records frame rates that drop under 20. Although the GeForce GTX 690s do well on average, spiking up above 100 FPS even, more consistent performance delivered by two Titan cards yields smoother game play.
Scaling from one to three GeForce GTX Titans isn’t as clean under Borderlands 2. But the jump to two GK110-based boards is enough to average in excess of 100 FPS. Moreover, two Titans enable a higher minimum frame rate than two GeForce GTX 690s employing four GK104 GPUs.
The Quad-SLI solution doesn’t swing as far up and down in this game as it did under Battlefield 3. However, a quartet of GK104s working cooperatively still appears less consistent than two GeForce GTX Titan boards in two-way SLI.
There doesn’t seem to be a reason to drop $3,000 on a trio of Titans. If you’re prepared to part ways with $2,000, though, a pair makes more sense than GTX 690s.
Far Cry 3
Two GeForce GTX Titans are almost as fast as a pair of GeForce GTX 690s in Quad-SLI on average. But they also achieve a better minimum frame rate. Beyond what the numbers indicate, though, playing this game on four GK104s just feels choppy, as it did on a single GeForce GTX 690 at 2560x1600 and up. Far Cry 3 is a perfect example of why someone interested in a multi-card config should prefer a couple of big, powerful GPUs over four smaller chips spread across two GeForce GTX 690s.
Just look at the even performance of two Titans compared to a pair of GeForce GTX 690s.
Three-way SLI isn't quite as consistent, nor does it yield the substantial jump you see from one card to two. But as a means of kissing 70 FPS, on average, in a very demanding game, a trio of GeForce GTX Titan cards goes unmatched.
Hitman: Absolution scales reasonably well from one card to two. However, the difference between two or three GK110s and four GK104s is very small in this game's standalone benchmark. We ran our results past Nvidia to confirm what we considered to be suspect findings. Company representatives acknowledged they aren't seeing any scaling from the built-in test, though they do observe higher numbers within the actual game.
The overlapping lines clearly indicate a bottleneck of some sort. It's improbable that the 4.6 GHz hexa-core machine we used for testing limits performance, and given the fact that Nvidia says scaling looks correct in the game itself, we'd be inclined to suspect an issue with the benchmark sequence.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim started its life severely platform-limited, so we're surprised to see it scaling reasonably well from one to two GeForce GTX Titans. The third GK110-based board is superfluous, though we know there are other titles far more graphics-bound than this one.
The four GK104s you find on a pair of GeForce GTX 690s get outperformed by two Titans. So, again, it's easy for us to point out that Nvidia's latest is best suited to multi-GPU configurations, just as it is ideal in high-performance mini-ITX enclosures.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
The jump from one GeForce GTX Titan to two yields a modest speed-up in World of Warcraft. However, this is another title not necessarily known for its demanding game engine, so platform-oriented bottlenecks are likely getting in the way of better scaling.
As with Hitman, it'd appear that there is no difference between two and three GK110s, or four GK104s.