MultiGPU Update: Finding the True Halo with 4-wayby Derek Wilson on February 28, 2009 11:45 PM EST
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This marks the final planned installment of our multiGPU exploration. We may (or may not) publish a follow up that looks into CPU scaling across all these parts. What we believe we'll find is that the single GPU solutions will not be anywhere near as significantly impacted as multiGPU solutions which more often hit CPU and other system limitations. We aren't guaranteeing that we'll be publishing the CPU scaling article because we still have some testing to run and this editor is soon to be the father of a second child. We will be working on completing our testing, and whether or not we are able to round this series out with a CPU scaling follow up, we will definitely be exploring CPU scaling further in future articles.
It is important that we remember, for now, that much of the diminishing return on what 3 and 4 GPU systems can deliver comes in the form of system limited performance. With single GPU systems, we expect that there is a wide range of CPUs we can select that will deliver nearly the same performance. Putting less money into the CPU than the GPU makes a lot of sense for gamers who don't need the CPU power for other tasks. But does the same hold for multiGPU systems? Maybe and maybe not. We do know that with the highest powered CPU we can buy we certainly have a good number of system limited situations.
One of the things that people who invest in the highest end multiGPU systems get is more longevity. Gamers with 3-way GTX 285 hardware will be able to go quite a while without upgrading. Of course, this has to be balanced with advancements in technology. Will 3x GTX 285 still be worth it after we have DX11 hardware and games and there are better graphics options for newer models? Additionally, gamers who want and employ this type of solution are highly likely to upgrade as often as possible to the highest end hardware possible, so the longevity issue might not be as relevant as it is with more affordable multiGPU solutions.
On the plus side, if gamers who must have the bleeding edge buy the highest end equipment they only need to make a significant investment the first time. Imagine a gamer bought 3x GTX 285 parts when they came out in January. Within a year we expect new models to come out that will be able to best the GTX 285 in performance, but the GTX 285 hardware will still be worth a significant amount. These used cards can be sold and the profits can be reinvested in new graphics hardware. This isn't as easy or useful with lower end graphics cards as you don't get the same return on your investment.
I'm not saying you'll make money or break even this way, but if you aggregate the cost over the long term, you'll be spending less on average per purchase than if you just make one high end purchase and then run it until it's worthless before you buy again. Whether or not you'll spend more or less on the whole would require further analysis though.
Now, we advocate value quite a bit on our site. People who want the absolute highest end can easily look at the graphs and simply know what they want. We don't really see much "value" in these high end parts beyond being as fast as possible. It's cheaper to buy efficient lower end hardware that gets hugely playable performance in all the games we tested. A good high end 2-way solution can go a long way while the diminishing returns of 3 and especially 4-way systems make the cost of the slightly higher performance is more than we can recommend in good conscience. But there's a market for it, so we'll take a look at it.
For the majority of our readers, though, this article will reinforce the fact that, while the highest possible end might be nice to dream about, it's really tough to justify the cost, especially when most people are on some sort of budget. So let's get a glimpse of that dream.