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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    The games tested impact the results. As someone who has been running CrossFire HD 3870 for the past year or so (well, maybe more like 9 months?), plus someone who ran X1900/X1950 CrossFire before that, I can attest to the fact that CF support for new games is terrible. Basically, you get support in all major titles, but it's usually about two months after a game comes out. I've taken to not rushing to purchase new games, but that's okay since I'm busy of late.

    As for Assassin's Creed, the lack of performance with 4870X2 is odd and indicates perhaps a remaining driver issue for the new architecture. The game is definitely demanding of your CPU, but it should be running much faster. Maybe forcing on 4xAA (the game doesn't support 4xAA above 1680x1050) made the results worse than you would normally expect.

    Personally, I am very cautious about recommending dual-GPU configurations for gamers - they're much better for benchmarks. Or at least, I would only recommend them for gamers that don't immediately buy the latest games and want top performance. GRID required updated drivers for CF, as did Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, and pretty much every game I recall purchasing in the last two years.
    Reply
  • xsilver - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    Is anyone still waiting for ATI to get off their butts and fix/enhance their avivo encoder?

    Its incredibly fast but having the ability to encode high quality videos would be nice.
    If ATI are not willing to develop it why dont they just open up the source code so that others can develop it?
    Reply
  • TheJian - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    For one, I haven't seen a 4870X2 for less than $600-650 and they don't exist now. Don't expect these to go for $550 for a while. You should print what they are being SOLD for at the time of the article.

    GTX260 pricing (check newegg) is off also. You can get one for $245 and it's an OC Edition (MSI)! They have quite a few at $269 retail. So where the heck do you get $300? Again quit printing suggested retail prices (or whatever they are) and PRINT ACTUAL PRICING! In the case of your GXT260 SLI price that would drop it $110 and they are both overclocked!

    GTX280 isn't $450. Newegg has them for $399 if you want the cheapest, and most are $410-429. Do you guys even check the pricing before putting up your stories? You do this every time.

    You state this for AMD "At the same time, AMD's literally hot GPUs have seen their prices fall; the Radeon HD 4870 is now a $270 - $280 GPU, slightly down from $299 and the Radeon HD 4850 is a $170 - $180 card. These are very slight changes in price, but at least they are in the right direction."

    But you conveniently leave out that Nvidia's cards don't run $450 (GTX280 your price) or $299 (GTX260 your price). These are FAR from reality. A suggested retail doesn't matter. What matters is WHAT I WILL PAY if I buy it today! These prices haven't changed in about a week so you've had plenty of time to faq check before printing. Also the 4870 is $250/259 if you want the cheapest at newegg. So you even got the ATI pricing wrong. Newegg has some 4870X2's listed at $559+ but they won't be that by the time their auto-price-upping machine gets done with them (still higher than the $550 you state...which won't happen for a month or more likely). They'll hit $600 next week before one even sells...LOL. You need to fix the prcing in the article to reflect REALITY.
    Reply
  • Ezareth - Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - link

    I just bought a Sapphire 4870X2 from Newegg for $559 an hour ago so the pricing is correct. Obviously on launch day they are going to be sold out as people like me have been waiting for them for months now...the same was true of the 280GTXs as well. It will take a couple weeks before they become readily available and then the price will start coming down eventually to around $500.00. Reply
  • Aberforth - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    I am studying business models of different tech companies - from the core architectures to marketing, it helps me to understand how these products actually sell, basically the crux of the tech industry.

    We've seen GTX 280, which was priced at $650 when it was released, but even after months of research NV comes up with a GPU that is just too large and bloated- redesign is what they actually do. Yet, it gets a good review and market hype. When you look at some of the early 260 reviews, they actually say "it's reasonably priced".

    So these self proclaimed geeks write articles based on comparison- which is a childish thing to do. You cannot compare one design with another nor you can judge it's merits only looking at the performance factor. There cannot be one single outcome of a review, there are different types of customers with different requirements. So at the end of the review if someone favors either AMD or NV are biased. A unbiased review cannot contain suggestive material that hampers the customer's decision but instead it should contain information on how it affects customers with different requirements.
    Reply
  • ZootyGray - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    Thanx for that - good post.

    I have been thinking similar thoughts; but my ability to say it as you have done, was clouded by my own reaction of disgust at this shit-on-a-stick socalled report.

    This site is seriously biased against AMD.

    I used to think it was thorough testing - but issues found here, are not reported elsewhere, and are simply not experienced by users that post to forums. I expect config issues with new releases - but this site uses any excuse.

    Anandtech BIAS is out of the bag.

    I thought I was the only one seeing this; but I am glad to see general rejection of bullshit by many others.

    Very unprofessional that we have no idea what 486-box you used to skew these results - YOUR RESULTS DON'T MATCH OTHER SITES - and they aren't shuffling dx9 and dx10 to fudge it all.

    If you have to change the game midstream,
    u r cheating.

    .
    Reply
  • GmTrix - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    I'm surprised that the 9800 GX2 wasn't included in the benchmarks...
    Seeing that the 4870 X2 is ATI's most powerful single card solution and as this article states the 9800 GX2 is still Nvidias's most powerful single card solution. Not to mention they are very similarly priced and they are both dual GPU cards...
    Reply
  • Mr Roboto - Thursday, August 14, 2008 - link

    The 9800GX2 would get smoked in higher resolutions with it's much lower bandwidth and smaller frame buffer. Anything above 1600x1200 especially with AA and the GX2 would choke. That's where the 4870x2 really shines is above those resolutions. That's why. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    I was wondering the same thing: why leave out nvidia's dual core card? I know that it is not as powerful as the 4870 GX2, but it is nvidia's most powerful single card solution. And, the pricing seems to make it a fairly competitive option. It is selling for less than $300, which positions it well against the 4870 single core card as well as the GTX 280.

    It's not a big deal, but it has struck me as odd that this card hasn't been included in recent video card reviews. I know that not every available card can be rounded up for benchmarking; however, I think this is one that many consumers would be interested in knowing about, especially if they are thinking of spending around $300 on a video card.
    Reply
  • techguy2k5 - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    Mr. Anand Lal Shimpi:

    you have a writer working for you that has a bias towards a particular IHV. How do I know this? Because he makes it apparent in EVERY piece he writes. Derek Wilson, the constant pot-shots against ATi are pathetic. You are incapable of keeping your bias out of your articles, and therefore should not be writing. I will not read another Derek Wilson article again. In fact, I will not read another Anandtech article until something is done about this matter.

    I'm not the only person aware of Mr. Wilson's bias, all of my tech enthusiast friends are aware and feel the same way. It is sad what has become of Anandtech in recent years. It used to be easy to trust Anandtech and take your writers' word on any issue, but no more. Derek Wilson is dragging this site's name through the mud.

    Dismayed,
    -techguy
    Reply

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