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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  • random2 - Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - link

    I didn't really notice much in the line of bias, however I'm beginning to wonder if this card didn't quite meet their expectations....or maybe after years of running similar types of benchmarks on video cards (which are all basically the same), and having to spend countless hours trying to jam a review together in time for deadlines, isn't quite as much fun as it used to be. We on the other hand can hardly keep our bodily fluids in place when we hear there is a new card review almost ready for release. Now I'm not sure just who the crazy ones are here...Is it Anand and Derek for wasting years of there lives trying to appease us unappeasables, or is it us, because even at my advanced age, I get a woody just thinking about a dual GPU ATI card....Mmmmm....Maybe I should talk to someone about this...
    Anyhow, thank you Anand and Derek for your efforts and more late nights no doubt.
    What I really find interesting is the bit of backlash we are starting to see against Nvidia. Not that I am a fanboy of anything...ok I've looked at a few girls...but When I think of Nvidias pricing strategies over the years while competition was in the realm of little to none from ATI, I cannot help but feel much the same as a choir boy in the preachers shower stall being asked to bend over and grab that soap. I know, no one says I have to, but if I want to play the latest games and become the lead singer it might help.
    I like hardware.....I like it functional, fast, reliable and affordable. Till now Nvidia has been kind of sticking it to us so to speak. Providing only the basics at more reasonable pricing and forcing us people of average incomes to sell drugs or our bodies in order to afford their high end products.
    Thank you AMD/ATI for saving me from a life on the street, for giving me the opportunity to turn away from a life of corruption, evil and self loathing. Never again will I feel the degradation and the compromising of my moral values in the search of higher frame rates. Bless you...
    Down with Nvidia! which I am now sure have become a key player in the evil axis...somewhere...or is that axis of evil?
    I wonder if I have time to stop into NCIX tomorrow before therapy?

    Denny Crane
    Reply
  • DarthAgitated - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    I am bothered by the fact that the test system specs are not shown which seems rather silly.

    I am even bothered more however by the ridiculous reactions to the article.

    Please look over the previous reviews with regards to the 4850 and 4870. Stating that both cards are the best cards at their price points. Or even the 9800GTX review where they praise the 4850 over the 9800GTX.

    Also take into account that the GX260 and 280 reviews happen when ATI had no new product out there and here was this brand new architecture being released.

    In this review he points out that the Nvidia price drop is due to AMD’s influence. As they did in the 4850 and 4870 review.. “You can either look at it as AMD giving you a bargain or NVIDIA charging too much, either way it's healthy competition in the graphics industry once again (after far too long of a hiatus).”

    So please stop with your “this site is pro-“whatever doesn’t fit with what I like” bullshit. Try actually reading the articles instead of doing what most people on the internet do and skim through everything. Here you have a very fast video card, which is shown to win in a bunch of benchmarks. And when he points out the issues with crossfire and SLI implementation and support for game titles, he is speaking a valid truth. And like the majority of x2 cards, it’s hard to get excited over something that can be achieved by simply plugging in a second video card.

    Please grasp the concept of this card being a niche product, a product that is not reaching its full potential if your not pushing a 30” lcd (or an hdtv I suppose) and 800+ watt power supply and playing specific games that are properly supported by the crossfire drivers and you happen to have $559.00 (OMG you didn’t automatically account for shipping and my local sales tax when posting that!!!) dollars burning a hole in your wallet.

    If you want your pro-whatever review then do a search on website that contains the name of the company you want to win and find their review and enjoy a, what I’m sure is a unbiased “this is fastest evarrr!” review.

    I for one appreciate this site and fact that it contains well thought out and technical articles on some new stuff like new cpu or gpu architecture. But don’t expect them to go off on a product that’s an updated version of an existing product that contains two other existing products and offers nothing new.

    Please put up the test system specs though please.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Zaitsev - Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - link

    I couldn't agree more, DarthAgitated. In the article, I thought credit was given when it was deserved and nothing more. Someone's panties did seem to be mildly bunched over the Sideport issue, however. ;) Reply
  • DRSoul - Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - link

    What's happening?? This article is not up to the usual Anandtech standard. I am writing this because I have over the past 4 - 5 years never read such a sober review on this site on such a high performing card. Might just be that they are getting so much new stuff that its becoming boring... Reply
  • AnnoyedGrunt - Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - link

    I thought the review was very good. I didn't detect bias, just a good mixture of praise for the performance but concern that the CrossFire support could not always be counted on.

    In general the feeling (at least on Anantech) towards SLI and CF solutions at this time seems to be similar to the original Single Core Hyper Threaded Intel Chips. Sometime, Hyper Threading helped and sometimes it didn't. It wasn't until true dual core processors arrived (along with multi-threaded software) that the dual CPU's really became good competition for higher clocked single core CPU's.

    I agree with the concern that both SLI and CF solutions are not ready for "prime-time" and are instead best for the early-adopters and enthusiasts that like to tinker and don't mind getting frequent driver updates and browsing forums for optimal driver configurations.

    I liked that the article provided some factual commentary regarding the tradeoffs between single and multi-GPU setups.

    Aside from that, I didn't notice a discussion regarding fan noise. Did I miss it somewhere, or is it not included in the article?

    -D'oh!
    Reply
  • steveyballme - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    I installed one of these things on "Pauline".

    I'm doing well over 180 FPS! WOW!
    Reply
  • ZootyGray - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    I can be very sensitive to some strange things sometimes.

    While reading this, I had to stop. I was sensing great rage. That's pretty dark. And it was taking over me! Like evil something. I don't read reviews to have experiences like that.

    Anyone else get a feeling like that? Maybe just me.

    I met a guy once who was about 8 months clean from crak coc. He was full of rage. I had to stop talking to him too. It was like he wasn't even there. This just reminded me of that. Which makes no sense and the whole thing was pretty insane. But I wonder why I sense such anger in a hardware review that's supposedly unbiased. I always thought I would enjoy such work - must be stressful. Passing stress to an audience is not right either.

    I don't know much about why; but my feelings don't lie. Anyone else get a sense of pain or anger? Maybe I got this from a different source. Maybe I am getting stressed from all the flame games. Maybe time to just let this go. Time to move on.
    Reply
  • anonymous x - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    i don't see any bias in this article- you can clearly see the performance benchmark scores, hardly any improvement over the other cards. Reply
  • Dark Legion - Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - link

    If you don't see any bias in the article, you clearly only looked at the pretty pictures and not the actual writing.

    Also, why not include the test setup? For all we know, there could have been another limiting factor, especially since we saw very little gains from having a pair of 4870 X2's at such a high resolution. I remember back when the GX2 was coming out and you reviewed it, you used an Intel Skulltrail board because you could use both Crossfire and SLI in it, and you weren't limited by anything else. THAT is unbiased, and you can truly compare the cards that you're reviewing. Now you review the best performing competing card, and you don't even tell us what setup you used. Oh, and you don't even include the GX2, which is Nvidia's best performing card, and also happens to be a multi-GPU single card solution (which takes up as much energy as the 4870 X2, so don't only put AMD down for that). Did it not stack up well enough compared to this card for you? This review was horrible. I have come to expect this from DT (*cough cough Jason *cough cough), but not so much from Anand.
    Reply
  • glynor - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    I find it very interesting that the one solitary example of a game that doesn't scale well on the 4870 X2 is Assassin's Creed with the patch. Also, I didn't see a detailed explanation of what settings and setup were used to test the different games (were these custom timedemos? FRAPS? built-in benches?).

    Either way... It is interesting to say the least. Assassin's Creed posted numbers well under the GTX 280 in the Anandtech results. However, if you look at Tech Report's numbers which were generated using the pre-patch (DirectX 10.1 supporting) version of the game from before they took Nvidia money, the picture is dramatically different. Instead of losing to the GTX 280 (not to mention the GTX 260 SLI), the 4870 X2 easily bests the GTX 280 SLI (x2) setup in both average FPS and in Median Low FPS.

    Just seems awful fishy to me. Overall this is good information. I'm particularly interested in the info on Sideport being disabled, as I'm not seeing similar information reflected in other reviews out there. I'm sure this is simply a case of Anand asking the right questions of the right people, but it'd be nice to see some independent confirmation.

    Overall, it seems to me that this review does seem to have a slight (not over the top, but slight) anti-dual-GPU bias. It feels like more stock is put in the "failing" shown by Assassin's Creed, which is dubious at best, and no other evidence is shown to back this up. Surely, any dual GPU product may suffer optimization problems with new games, but wouldn't this apply to SLI equally (if not more -- most results I've seen show Crossfire scaling better than SLI more often than not)? I guess I just feel that the conclusions are being drawn based on results "not in evidence".

    Discounting the outlier and contradicted Assassin's Creed results, I fail to see how the GTX 280 is in the same league at all as the new ATI dual-GPU card.
    Reply

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