Sometimes it’s the little quirks in life that sneak up on you and change the way you look at the world. The past couple weeks have done that in testing all this new high end gear. Sure, we’ve had our problems testing bleeding edge stuff before, but in putting all of this from CrossFireX through 9800 GX2 Quad SLI to the test, we’ve gotten ourselves lost in some other dimension of existence. It’s the only explanation really. Like Holmes would have said … whatever remains, however improbable … But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Skulltrail (the D5400XS Intel board we’re using that runs both CrossFire and SLI) rivals Frankenstein’s monster. From the 2x LGA775 sockets, FB-DIMMs, and NVIDIA nForce 100 PCIe chips, it’s not for the feint of heart. We’ve been determined to test on a single platform to compare CrossFire and SLI and trying to work out some kinks has given us a little trouble. AMD and NVIDIA and Intel have all worked with us to try and make things go more smoothly (thanks everyone), but there are still some things that we just can’t explain going on.

After loads of nearly useless testing and many conversations with different people, we set out on a trail of mystical discovery that has unlocked secrets of the universe here-to-fore untold. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first we’ve got to stop and take a look at what we are covering today.

Quad SLI. NVIDIA would like us to tell you it’s the new hotness. Certainly, without even opening a page of this review you should all know that this is the top of the top of the line and nothing is faster right now. But we do need to answer a few key questions about this $1200 setup: how does it scale from two GPUs to four, how does scaling compare to CrossFireX, and what kind of performance and value does this solution actually offer.

Honestly, we also have to acknowledge from our previous review of the 9800 GX2 that a single card is enough to run almost any game at maximum settings … that is, with the glaring exception of Crysis. Can Quad SLI change that? From what we saw in our CrossFireX testing from AMD, we would have thought not. However, NVIDIA has managed to get Crysis to scale across all four GPUs despite the interframe dependencies that make it so difficult. Is it enough to run Crysis at a decent resolution with all the eye candy turned on?

Let’s find out …

The Setup and The Test
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  • iceveiled - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    I understand crysis is a good game to test the muscle power of video cards, but if anybody out there hasn't played the game yet and wants the best setup for it, please don't spend $1200 in video cards. I've played through half life 2 numerous times, call of duty 4 numerous times, and crysis only once. Once you get over the wow factor of the graphics, it's not that amazing of an experience.... Reply
  • mark3450 - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    In this and the last article on the 9800GX2 the following benchmarking data on Crysis @2560x1600 has shown up in a chart.

    9800GX2 - 8.9FPS
    8800Ultra - 16.3FPS
    8800GT - 12.3FPS

    Now I look at this and I say the FPS scaling you get by adding a second card is generally around 50% to 60% in the best case scenario. If we assume that, then 2x 8800Ultra would be getting around 25FPS, which is getting into playable range especially with the motion blur that Crysis uses. Obviously this is assuming decent scaling, but this data just screams give it a try.

    On a slightly realated note, I also see that the same Crysis chart shows that two cards scale roughly linearly with resolution up to to 2560x1600 (8800GT and 8800Ultra) while the others show a sharp drop at 2560x1600 (9800GX2, all AMD cards). This makes me ask the question what's different about these two groups of cards. One common feature I note is that the cards that scale linearly are all using PCIe 2.0, while the ones that have a sharp drop off @2560x1600 are using PCIe 1.x (the 9800GX2 is externally PCIe 2.0, but internally the two cards are connected via PCIe 1.x). Mabey it has nothing to do with the type of PCIe connection, but it certainly correlates.

    Basically all this makes me think that for gaming at 2560x1600 I'm likely to be better off with two 8800Ultra's (or even 8800 GTX's) than I am with one or even two 9800GX2's (and since I and a lot of people interested gaming on high end rigs at 2560x1600 likely have a 8800GTX/Ultra already it would be far cheaper as well). This is of course all speculation since there are no reported benchmarks for 8800GTX/Ultra in SLI mode in these comparisons, which is why I like to request them. :)

    -Mark
    Reply
  • mark3450 - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    Turns out hardocp has a review up at

    http://enthusiast.hardocp.com/article.html?art=MTQ...">http://enthusiast.hardocp.com/article.html?art=MTQ...
    (can't insert a proper link for some reason)

    that compares 2x 9800GX2 with 2x 8800GTX's. The short summary is 2x 8800GTX's are better than 2x 9800GX2 at hi-res gaming. The 9800GX2's often have higher average frame rates than the 8800GTX's, but the 8800GTX's have much more consistent frame rates (the 9800GX2's often had there frame rates crash to unacceptable levels for short periods of time, whereas the 8800GTX were playable throughout).

    Essentially it looks like I am better off getting a second 8800GTX rather than 1 or 2 9800GX2's for gaming at 2560x1600, and it's way cheaper to boot.

    I will still wait till next week to see how the 9800GTX performs, but given the leaked info on it and recent history of anemic releases by NVIDIA I'm not holding out much hope for the 9800GTX.

    -Mrk
    Reply
  • zshift - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    in the second paragraph you noted the skulltrail as having 2x lga775 sockets, but i'm pretty sure it has lga771 sockets only. if i'm mistaken, i apologize, if i'm right, please correct the error so other less knowledgeable readers don't receive false information. Reply
  • Tilmitt - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    You guys shouldn't be using Skulltrail to benchmark games. It's not a gaming platform. Most games run slower on it than a single socket quad core systems due to the FB DIMMs. It provides a sub-optimal environment for both SLI and crossfire which negates any value that it might have for levelling the playing field there. I think the author is letting his personal desire to use the Skulltrail system get in the way of doing a proper review. The fact of the matter is that Skulltrail is slow for games and doesn't reflect how the vast majority of people would run their SLI and crossfire setups.

    As to the multi-GPUness, I think you'd have to be mad to buy them given the price and horrendous scaling. As always, the generation cards will mostly outperform a multi-GPU systems at less cost, less power consumption and more consistent performance across all games.
    Reply
  • tynopik - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    faint of heart, not feint ;) Reply
  • cactusjack - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    This is my point. The testers here had "some problems" and these guys are very experienced and tecnically savy. They also have access to alot of PSU's ram etc etc to try if things dont work right. If it were a car or a television it would be sent back as what it is, a failure, and a lemon. Why do we accept it with PC parts.? Reply
  • Inkjammer - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    Case in point, I have the 9800 GX2:
    * I can not run multiple monitors with SLI enabled. So I have to swap between my 24" monitor and my Wacom Cintiq 21". When I change over, the drivers won't auto-detect the resolution, and uses resolutions and hertz the Wacom doesn't support, and I get an "out of signal" error. I have to disable SLI to use my $2,500 art tablet as a secondary monitor.
    * I'm a graphic designer, and I can't take screenshots anymore without them coming out garbled like this:
    http://www.inkjammer.com/broken_screencaps.jpg">http://www.inkjammer.com/broken_screencaps.jpg

    I could find workarounds, get a screen cap program or just disable SLI, but this is all basic functionality gone bad.

    There are a LOT of little problems that could impede testing without being visible. The fact that SLI breaks basic functions like multi-monitor setups and screen capture in Vista is puzzling. These drivers feel like betas lacking basic functionality. If I even try Crysis with 8X FSAA my entire system crashes.
    Reply
  • dare2savefreedom - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    Did you report this to nvidia:

    http://www.nvidia.com/object/vistaqualityassurance...">http://www.nvidia.com/object/vistaqualityassurance...

    Reply
  • Inkjammer - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    I adopted from an 8800 GTX to a 9800 GX2, and I'm really frustrated with the drivers - there are a lot of issues with them running it in "SLI". There card has a lot of raw performance, but seeing it doubled up with two cards...

    Costs aside, it really seems like anything beyond 2 GPUs at this point and time is rather useless. The technology is there, but the drivers are still too immature and the rest of the tech it requires to be useful hasn't caught up to speed.
    Reply

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