The Setup and The Test

We did have some issues again with this one. If you’ve already got one 9800 GX2 with the driver installed, uninstall the driver, reboot, power down, plug in the second card, boot, reboot, then install the driver. Trust me, it will save you a headache. It seems NVIDIA and AMD still need some time to sort out Vista and multi-GPU when adding a card or removing a card. We didn’t have the same problems we did with CrossFireX, but the potential is there to cause some frustration.

We also ran into a huge (in our opinion) bug that was very difficult to track down. The first two things we do when our graphics driver is installed is to disable vsync and disable image scaling to fit panel size. We run with no scaling at centered timings. This affords us the ability to see things at the same DPI across the board and it also gives us the ability to tell what resolution we are running by looking at the screen. This saves us a lot of trouble when things inevitably get mucked up for one reason or another. I also tend toward the obsessive / compulsive and if I can’t see it, I need to set the res like four times just to be sure.

In any case, 2x 9800 GX2 cards in Quad SLI will not run any games at less than panel resolution if scaling is disabled. You run the game and get a black screen. If you change resoluion in the game to something lower than panel res you get a black screen. Well, to be fair, it’s not just a black screen. It’s a hard lock. This needs to be fixed. It happens on both Skulltrail and 780i, so it’s not an isolated issue.

Also, NVIDIA decided to install a link to a trial version of Portal on the user's desktop when their driver is installed. I suppose a link to the site is better than bundling Earthsim, but not even asking if their customer wants more clutter on their desktop before putting it there is terribly inappropriate. I don’t care about bundling a trial, but please ask before you put something on my desktop.

The test system we used is the same as the one from the 9800 GX2 review, as are the driver revisions.

Test Setup
CPU 2x Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775 @ 3.20GHz
Motherboard Intel D5400XS (Skulltrail)
Video Cards ATI Radeon HD 3870 x2
ATI Radeon HD 3870
NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT 512MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GX2
Video Drivers Catalyst 8.3
ForceWare 174.53
Hard Drive Seagate 7200.9 120GB 8MB 7200RPM
RAM 2xMicron 2GB FB-DIMM DDR2-8800
Operating System Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit SP1

Thanks goes out to EVGA for supplying the two 9800 GX2 units for this review.

As for power consumption, here’s what we’ve got from these beasts.

Idle Power

Load Power

Index Overall Performance Scaling with 4 GPUs
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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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