NVIDIA is in a difficult position. On one front it has the chipset division of AMD, fighting hard to make its own chipsets the platform of choice for AMD processors. On the other front it has Intel, the enemy of its enemy, and a very dangerous partner itself. Intel hasn't been very quiet about its plans for dominating the GPU market, but that isn't for another couple of years, until then, Intel will gladly allow NVIDIA to make chipsets for its processors.

As a company, NVIDIA needs to be able to maintain relevancy in the market. In the worst case scenario, AMD and Intel would each make their own chipsets and graphics cards, leaving NVIDIA with nothing to do. The reality is that NVIDIA still has the best graphics cards on the market and neither AMD or Intel is anywhere close to taking the crown yet. The chipset business is more likely in imminent danger, but NVIDIA does have one trick up its sleeve: SLI.

NVIDIA has some very desirable graphics cards, and it has a tremendous brand in those three letters. Of course, SLI only works on NVIDIA chipsets, thus it's no surprise to see NVIDIA trying to add even more value to the SLI proposition.

The GPU manufacturers, in the past two years, started to run into the same sort of thermal walls that Intel did during the Pentium 4 days. Future GPU designs will be more focused on power consumption and performance per watt, and while that won't kill the very high end graphics market, it will undoubtedly change it. If you'll notice, the first two G92 based products NVIDIA launched were both targeted at the mid range and lower high end segments, there were no 8800 GTX/Ultra replacements in the cards.

It may end up being that the way NVIDIA pushes the envelope isn't by introducing single, very powerful GPUs, but rather by SLI-ing lesser GPUs together. That brings us to today's topic: 3-way SLI.

If you can't tell by the name, 3-way SLI is like conventional 2-card SLI but with three cards.

The requirements for 3-way SLI are simple: you need an NVIDIA 680i or 780i motherboard, and you need three 8800 GTX or 8800 Ultra cards. SLI support continues to be the biggest reason to purchase an NVIDIA based motherboard, thus it's no surprise to see 3-way SLI not work on any competitor chipsets. With three cards you need two SLI connectors per card, meaning that all of the recently released G92 based boards won't cut it.

The graphics card limitations are quite possibly the most shocking, because the 8800 GTX and Ultra are still based on the old G80 GPU, which is significantly hotter than the new 65nm G92 that is used in the 8800 GT and GTS 512. NVIDIA unfortunately only outfitted those new G92 cards with a single SLI connector, so 3-way SLI was out of the question from the start and plus, NVIDIA needed some reason to continue to sell the 8800 GTX and Ultra.

Power supply and cooling requirements are also pretty stringent, NVIDIA lists the minimum power supply requirements as:

And a list of 3-way SLI certified power supplies follows:

We actually used an OCZ 1000W unit without any problems (including two 4-pin molex to 6-pin PCIe power connectors to feed the third card), but we'd recommend sticking to NVIDIA's list if you want to be safe.

The three cards are connected using a new SLI bridge card that ships with all 780i motherboards:

If you don't have this card you can jerry rig a bridge using regular SLI flex cables in the following configuration:

Quad SLI Redux?
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  • paydirt - Friday, February 15, 2008 - link

    Physics belong on the GPU, Crysis put them on the CPU. (search: AGEIA Crysis)

    This is partly why framerates stink in Crysis, because it is bogging down a processor that isn't designed to properly handle physics.
    Reply
  • LtUh8meDoncha - Monday, January 07, 2008 - link

    So yeah. On the first page of these comments OrooOroo hit the nail on the head. If you bought 2 Ultras buying a third one (even at the end of its lifecycle) isn't going to bother you. It's like upgrading the twin turbos on a ferrari. No you don't need to but it would be cool if you did! There will always be honda drivers that look at you like your crazy but you're not buying it for them (although if you did I bet thier opinion on 3-way SLI would change).

    The article sounds like it was written by someone who knew they would have to return the product and go back to there 22"WS and single 8800GT setup. I love how he/she just brushed off the Bioshock results because they didn't support your arguement and then made some half-baked excuse about how cpu speed had something to do with it and removed it from "how many games benefit from 3xSli" off topic test. Stick to your benches. Thats all you have. If you say one part of your test is faulty why should I believe any of the others are working?

    Keep it simple. Just the facts. I bought 3-Way because simply put it IS faster(ugh... I already had 2xSLI GTX and I got the third on ebay for like $380 if that makes anyone on a budget feel any better). If you have to justify the cost you have no business even buying 1 Ultra much less 2 or even thinking (or talking) about the next gen top end because you're not going to buy that either. What your going to do is try to make excuses why no one should buy the card you can't afford until a year later when they come out with something thats in your price range and is almost as fast (eghehm.. 8800GT). You'd do better saving your money for some off brand 17" rims or really nice spinner hubcaps.
    Reply
  • borisof007 - Thursday, January 03, 2008 - link

    No XBox or any console game will do well on PC platform (Assuming it was made for the console first), so shutup about it.

    Now, regarding the video cards, Tri SLI is a waste of money, end of discussion. We've beaten this horse for 5 pages now, we can all agree on this.

    Moving on, to differentiate between Nvidia and ATI is actually very easy.

    If you want high end performance, no matter the cost, go Nvidia dual SLI. If you want high end performance with cost in mind, but still want solid bang for your buck, go with ATI's 3850/3870 lineup in Crossfire. The 790 FX chipset is very nice and the 3850's offer dominating performance in its category and for its cost.

    Done.
    Reply
  • borisof007 - Thursday, January 03, 2008 - link

    No XBox or any console game will do well on PC platform (Assuming it was made for the console first), so shutup about it.

    Now, regarding the video cards, Tri SLI is a waste of money, end of discussion. We've beaten this horse for 5 pages now, we can all agree on this.

    Moving on, to differentiate between Nvidia and ATI is actually very easy.

    If you want high end performance, no matter the cost, go Nvidia dual SLI. If you want high end performance with cost in mind, but still want solid bang for your buck, go with ATI's 3850/3870 lineup in Crossfire. The 790 FX chipset is very nice and the 3850's offer dominating performance in its category and for its cost.

    Done.
    Reply
  • borisof007 - Thursday, January 03, 2008 - link

    No XBox or any console game will do well on PC platform (Assuming it was made for the console first), so shutup about it.

    Now, regarding the video cards, Tri SLI is a waste of money, end of discussion. We've beaten this horse for 5 pages now, we can all agree on this.

    Moving on, to differentiate between Nvidia and ATI is actually very easy.

    If you want high end performance, no matter the cost, go Nvidia dual SLI. If you want high end performance with cost in mind, but still want solid bang for your buck, go with ATI's 3850/3870 lineup in Crossfire. The 790 FX chipset is very nice and the 3850's offer dominating performance in its category and for its cost.

    Done.
    Reply
  • LaZr - Thursday, December 27, 2007 - link

    Why bua a nvidia when it dosent run 3dmark 2008

    http://r800.blogspot.com/2007/12/3dmark-vantage-br...">http://r800.blogspot.com/2007/12/3dmark-vantage-br...

    Lack of dx 10.1

    DiggIt that fanboys!!!!!
    Reply
  • falc0ne - Monday, December 24, 2007 - link

    the graphics brought are probably the best around these days but this WON'T SIMPLY JUSTIFY THE AMOUNT OF HARDWARE CONSUMED!
    C'mon guys..get real!
    In my view this path with multiple video cards....is one way wrong street...Multiple GPU on a single board YES! - that would be another story here
    Why Doom3 or H2 didn't require SLI or CF to work when they appeared?!
    So, CRYTEK thaks but...no thanks! It's not reasonable at all to pay double(to get a SLI config) to play a SINGLE GAME- which in my view is a better looking version of Far Cry - poor story/scenario also - poor idea...You are the one man, one hero, left in the North Pole with a tooth brush in underwear to survive after which you are transfered to an island to fight Rambo style - Me vs ALL- "bring it on you maggots, I'm gonna teach you all...!"
    Well this is the funny side of it- if you try to entertain yourself(yes games supposed to be entertaining, just not anymore) you won't be able to...cause you'll be preoccupied by surrounding enemies suit's battery and ammo depletion..weapons and ammo are scarce,and enemies die rather like in Hitman(very hard), you have to empty 3 clips to get 3 guys...wow so much fun..
    sorry for the somewhat off topic...

    Reply
  • Pneumothorax - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    In the closing comments the author is basically complaining about the stagnation of the GPU market. Nvidia with it's 1+ billion dollar cash should develop multi-core GPU dies instead of the same tried and tru $$$ approach of releasing year after year of >$500 video cards. Also notice since ATI is playing 2nd distant fiddle at the high end Nvidia has REALLY slowed down on their improvements. We're looking at a long dark ages in PC gaming until we get a viable competitor to Nvidia. Intel's delay on the 45nm mainstream chip release due to the Phenom failure is another sign we're heading back to >$900+ (remember those dreary P3/early P4 days, until Athlon's started cleaning Intel's clock) mainstream chips with stagnation on the cpu end also. Reply
  • ViperV990 - Wednesday, December 19, 2007 - link

    I'm curious if it is possible to run three 8800GT's, each hooked up to its own monitor (say 20' UXGA LCD), for a nice triple-monitor setup. No SLI whatsoever. If this works as well as the Triplehead-2-Go from Matrox on the software side, I'd very much be interested in getting it. Reply
  • araczynski - Wednesday, December 19, 2007 - link

    sadly, i think these kinds of things are what's rapidly getting rid of the 'fun' in staying in the pc gaming scene. i've been playing pc games since about 86 or so (so much longer than many these days, and yet not as long as many others), but only in the last few years have i been getting 'tired' of all the 'improvements' that hardware companies seem to come up with on a montly basis. not to mention the developers who keep giving them reasons to want to come up with new junk.

    i finally jumped into the console gaming world, have all 3 consoles, and quite frankly it feels much more relaxing these days to play a console game and know that it'll just 'work'.

    there seems to be less and less incentive to waste time with pc gaming every day. as soon as they get real mmo's going on the consoles the pc gaming scene will just fade away finally i think. and i'll be the first to say 'good riddance'.

    anyway, just venting. ignore me.
    Reply

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