Final Words

I've never felt totally comfortable with single-card multi-GPU solutions. While AMD reached new levels of seamless integration with the Radeon HD 3870 X2, there was always the concern that the performance of your X2 would either be chart topping or merely midrange depending on how good AMD's driver team was that month. The same is true for NVIDIA GPUs, most games we test have working SLI profiles but there's always the concern that one won't. It's not such a big deal for us benchmarking, but it is a big deal if you've just plopped down a few hundred dollars and expect top performance across the board.

Perhaps I'm being too paranoid, but the CrossFire Sideport issue highlighted an important, um, issue for me. I keep getting the impression that multi-GPU is great for marketing but not particularly important when it comes to actually investing R&D dollars into design. With every generation, especially from AMD, I expect to see a much more seamless use of multiple GPUs, but instead we're given the same old solution - we rely on software profiles to ensure that multiple GPUs work well in a system rather than having a hardware solution where two GPUs truly appear, behave and act as one to the software. Maybe it's not in the consumer's best interest for the people making the GPUs to be the same people making the chipsets, it's too easy to try and use multi-GPU setups to sell more chipsets when the focus should really be on making multiple GPUs more attractive across the board, and just...work. But I digress.

The Radeon HD 4870 X2 is good, it continues to be the world's fastest single card solution, provided that you're running a game with CrossFire support. AMD's CF support has been quite good in our testing, scaling well in all but Assassin's Creed. Of course, that one is a doubly bitter pill for AMD when combined with the removal of DX10.1 support in the latest patch (which we did test with here). That has nothing to do with CrossFire support of course, but the lack of scaling and the fact that 4xAA has the potential to be free on AMD hardware but isn't really doesn't stack up well in that test.

In addition to being the fastest single card solution, the 4870 X2 in CrossFire is also the fastest 2 card solution at 2560x1600 in every test we ran but one (once again, Assassin's Creed). It is very important to note that 4-way CrossFire was not the fastest solution at lower than 2560x1600 in as many cases. This is generally because there is more overhead associated with 4-way CrossFire which can become the major bottle neck in performance at lower resolution. It isn't that the 4870 X2 in CrossFire is unplayable at lower resolutions, it's just a waste of money.

We do have yet to test 3-way SLI with the newest generation of NVIDIA hardware, and the 3-way GTX 260 may indeed give 2x 4870 X2 cards a run for their money. We also have no doubt that a 3x GTX 280 solution is going to be the highest performing option available (though we lament the fact that anyone would waste so much money on so much unnecessary (at this point in time) power).

For now, AMD and NVIDIA have really put it all in on this generation of hardware. AMD may not have the fastest single GPU, but they have done a good job of really shaking up NVIDIA's initial strategy and forcing them to adapt their pricing to keep up. Right now, the consumer can't go wrong with a current generation solution for less than $300 in either the GTX 260 or the HD 4870. These cards compete really well with each other and gamers will really have to pay attention to which titles they desire greater performance in before they buy.

The GTX 280 is much more reasonable at $450, but you are still paying a premium for the fastest single GPU solution available. In spite of the fact that the price is 150+% of the GTX 260 and the 4870, you just don't get that return in performance. It is faster than the GTX 260, and most of the time it is faster than the 4870 (though there are times when AMD's $300 part outperforms NVIDIA's $450 part). The bottom line is that if you want performance at a level above the $300 price point in this generation, you're going to get less performance per dollar.

When you start pushing up over $450 and into multi-GPU solutions, you do have to be prepared for even more diminished returns on your investment, and the 4870 X2 is no exception. Though it scales well in most cases and leads the pack in terms of single card performance when it scales, there is no gaurantee that scaling will be there, let alone good, in every game you want to play. AMD is putting a lot into this, and you can expect us to keep pushing them to get performance impovements as near to linear as possible with multi-GPU solutions. But until we have shared framebuffers and real cooperation on rendering frames from a multi-GPU solution we just aren't going to see the kind of robust, consistent results most people will expect when spending over $550+ on graphics hardware.

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  • ajbird - Friday, September 12, 2008 - link

    I am not sure I agree with this

    "Along with such a title comes a general requirement: if you're dropping over $500 on a graphics card on a somewhat regular basis, you had better have a good monitor - one of many 30" displays comes to mind. Without a monitor that can handle 2560x1600, especially with 2x 4870 X2 cards in CrossFire, all that hard earned money spent on graphics hardware is just wasted."

    I have just built a new rig and will not be building anything else for a long time to come. I want something that will play new games now at 1680x1050 with all the eye candy switched on and will still be able to play games in 3 years time at a decent level of IQ. I paid £330 for this card and think it was worth every penny.

    I have always splashed out on top end cards (i build a new pc about overy 3-4 years) and have aways been happy with their life span.
    Reply
  • 4g63 - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    Cars and cards are two completely different things. I think that the guy [author] was just humoring you with the comment about energy costs. Why is this even an issue. If you want to burn a few hundred extra watts on your gaming rig there is no logical reason not to. If you want to help this place with energy support nuke power. Nuke power is clean, safe, plentiful and reliable. Oil prices have soared because of skeptics who have bought into a unsubstantiated construct of social panic. One guy was basically drawing conclusions between the amount of kilowatt hours on his power meter [due to the use of a gaming rig!] to a conglomeration of natural phenomena. Come on. Think for Yourself and Research the Truth if you are going to preach about how we should give up our right to play games as fast and as clearly as we possibly can! God Bless Capitalism. Reply
  • Zak - Thursday, August 21, 2008 - link

    I'd like to see 9800GX2 scores too for comparison. I have been quite disappointed with it: sudden performance dropoff above 1680x1050 due to low bandwidth and only 512MB of memory, I guess, and extremely hot. I'm thinking about getting this new AMD/ATI card as the GeForce 200 series is a joke.

    Z.
    Reply
  • X1REME - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    I used to look 2 this site 2 C what is good 2 buy & what not 2 buy. last time I purchased the ASUS P5B Deluxe/WiFi-AP AiLifestyle Series - motherboard recommended by this site. I have looked at many reviews but have not come across one 2 this date, which recommends somfin from AMD, I don't know why, maybe they just have not made anything good enough or maybe every1 expects more from AMD (and that's a good thing). so if som1 can show me personally a review that favours AMD outright as with Intel and nVidia all the time would be a start. Reply
  • StormEffect - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    Through the past couple of years I've become more and more of an AMD/ATI fanboy, even though I've tried to stop. Yet I bought a Macbook Pro (By Apple, with Intel and Nvidia parts). All of my desktops are primarily Intel and Nvidia.

    But somehow the underdog status has me totally charmed, and this new 4000 series has added to the affection I have for AMD/ATI. I even recently built a new desktop with a 780G chipset and an 8750 tricore Phenom (no GPU except the integrated HD3200, which rocks).

    I REALLY <3 AMD/ATI right now. So I am QUITE surprised that everyone here seems so adamant that there is some serious bias in this article. It states the facts, this card is as fast as it gets, but it isn't perfect. So what's wrong with that? When you are at the top you deserve to be looked at critically.

    Is everyone just oversensitive at this point? I believe in being nice to others, but does the writer of this review have to drool over this card to validate it? I LOVE AMD/ATI. If there is bias here I'd be freaking out and getting out the picket signs, but I have reread it and I STILL don't see where you are all coming from.

    When they reviewed the GTX280 they used words with possibly unkind connotations to describe the massive core, does that make them Nvidia haters too?

    I don't see it, will someone point it out to me?
    Reply
  • Mr Roboto - Saturday, August 16, 2008 - link

    I generally agree with what you're saying except the stopgap garbage 9800GX2 card was not looked at nearly as critical when it was reviewed and the card was at it's EOL after only 3 months from the release date. Also Nvidia did not add anything new to that card when compared to the 7950GX2 from 3 years ago. Why does the already obsolete 9800GX2 get a pass?

    It's right on the money to state "Hey lets get it going from a hardware level with these single slot dual GPU cards" instead of relying on software profiles that waste money by having to have a dedicated team of programmers working on it to get any significant improvement in performance. Not just the time and money aspect but like Anand said it's not going to last and was supposed to be a temporary thing that has now been the only way either side has shown any progress. But Nvidia is doing the same thing. The bias is noticeable but I have gotten used to it in the last few years since ATI has been out of the game. Nvidia's aggressive "marketing" if you want to call it that, has corrupted nearly all of the major online hardware publications point of views IMO. AMD is definitely the underdog but with a different sort of negative twist.
    Reply
  • far327 - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    http://phoenix.craigslist.org/evl/sys/790600009.ht...">http://phoenix.craigslist.org/evl/sys/790600009.ht...

    Don't miss out on a steal.
    Reply
  • far327 - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    I'm sorry boys & girls, but this is where my maturity and passion for gaming collide... It is just getting to damned excessive to be able to play a PC game at an HD resolution. I think my PC gaming days are done until Nvidia & AMD decide to work on better cooling methods and lower power consumption. Doesn't anyone here realize the world is in the middle of an energy crisis that is causing food and energy prices to soar??? Video cards today are like muscle cards from the 70's. I am running a E8400 with two 8800 GT Akimbo 1024mb in Sli off a 550watt PSU. I refuse to invest into a market that is more or less careless towards the environment. Waiting on green solutions!!! Reply
  • Ezareth - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    That is fine with us. The rest of us who can think for ourselves will continue to advance while you revert back to the stone age. "Green" is a marketing ploy, much like "Organic" food, and Global Warming etc. If we need more electricity you and your kind need to give up your opposition to nuclear power. We have enough uranium in the US to power all of our electricity needs for the next few centuries.

    Not everyone buys into that but computers and graphics cards will continue to consume more and more electricity until some technology breakthrough comes through that doesn't involve the use of transistors(like IBM spintronics research).

    If you are so concerned about being "green" go live in the woods somewhere, and let the rest of us enjoy our advanced lifestyles.
    Reply
  • far327 - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    It must be nice to completely ignore reality. I suppose you think $5.00 per gallon of gas is just fine too? Nuclear power can't fix that bro. Nor can nuclear power fix that flood that hit the Mississippi or California's massive wild fires, or Katrina. The recent surge in China's economy has allowed 1.8 billion people to drive automobiles. Think that might have a slight effect on our atmosphere? The population of the USA increases by 400,000 yearly. Think of all the consumption done by each person every single day! And our population continues to increase. The difference between you and I is that when you look at outside, you see a tree. When I look outside I see a forest. The world is bigger than your computer screen. Reply

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