More Single Card Dual GPU Madness: NVIDIA's Flagship 9800 GX2by Derek Wilson on March 18, 2008 9:00 AM EST
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For quite a while now, the 8800 GTX and 8800 Ultra have been the fastest single GPU cards around. In spite of the fact that we haven't seen any faster single GPU solution introduced, it is only recently that the rest of the lineup has become compelling on either the NVIDIA or AMD front. Aiming high is a good thing for those who can afford it, but until the technology makes its way into cheaper products most of us won't see the benefit.
It costs quite a bit of money to develop and produce single GPU solutions of ever increasing die size and complexity. It's a problem of engineering rather than science: yes faster hardware could be built, but it doesn't matter how fast your product is if people who are interested can't afford it. There are trade offs and diminishing returns to consider when designing hardware, and production cost and market value always have something to say about what type of performance a company will be able to target with a given product.
NVIDIA's G80 is a huge chip. Yes, they owned the market for a long time with it, but its cost to build was high and it was an expensive part for end users to own as well. AMD finally pulled out a wild card with the 3870 X2, and rather than putting their money into a large high cost chip, they combined two GPUs onto one board for their high end offering. Sure, NVIDIA had a single board dual GPU product a couple years back (the 7950 GX2) - and ATI tried that as well back in the Rage MAXX days - but we haven't seen a similar solution from their DX10 lineup until today.
With G9x coming in as a glorified die shrink to G80, NVIDIA took the opportunity to move away from huge die size and shift to the cheaper option of combining two GPUs on a single board for its highest end part. It is less expensive to make use of two chips, even if their combined size is larger than a monolithic one because yields are so much better. NVIDIA is able to get more chips per wafer and a higher percentage of those will be good compared to a large design.
Of course, in spite of a cheaper to produce solution, the increased performance of this solution over previous high end has earned the 9800 GX2 a pretty heft price premium. At a retail price of at least $600 US, these bad boys will not be making their way into everyone's systems. There is always a price for having the best of the best.
As we mentioned, NVIDIA has done single card dual GPU in the past. But this board is different from both the 7950 GX2 and it's current competitor, the 3870 X2. Let's take a look at the board and see just what the differences are.