What resolutions do you need to be running?

If you're willing to spend over $1,500 on graphics cards alone, we're going to assume that you've already got a 30" display at your disposal. But in the off chance that you don't, will you see any benefit from having this much GPU power? We took a closer look at three of our benchmarks to find out.

Bioshock, the best 3-way SLI scaler we've seen today, paints a very clear picture. The 3-way 8800 Ultra setup is CPU bound until we hit 2560 x 1600, while the normal 2 card setup doesn't even come close to being CPU limited, even at 1680 x 1050.

What this tells us is that as long as the game is stressful enough, you'll see a benefit to a 3-way SLI setup even at low resolutions, just not as much as you would at higher resolutions. Pretty simple, right?

Unreal Tournament 3 shows absolutely no benefit to adding a third card, and even shows a slight performance decrease at 1680 x 1050. It isn't until 2560 x 1600 that we see any performance difference at all between the two and three card setups.

With Crysis we didn't adjust resolution, instead we varied the image quality settings: medium, high and very high. Just as with varying resolution, adjusting image quality settings increases the impact of 3-way SLI. Unfortunately where 3-way makes its biggest impact (very high quality), we're at an unplayable setting for much of the game.

What sort of a CPU do you need for this thing?

We've already established that at higher resolutions 3-way SLI can truly shine, but how ridiculous of a CPU do you need to run at those high detail settings?

The theory is that the better a game scales from 2 to 3 GPUs, the more GPU bound and less CPU bound it is. The worse a game scales, there's greater the chance that it's CPU bound (although there are many more reasons for poor scaling from 2 to 3 GPUs).

Clock speed Bioshock Oblivion Crysis
3.33GHz 103.8 49.0 43.2
2.66GHz 101.7 48.3 37.3
2.00GHz 90.9 47.3 30.9

 

In Bioshock, the difference in performance at 2.66GHz and 3.33GHz is negligible, but once we drop the clock speed to 2.0GHz you start to see performance drop off. What this tells us is that even at mid-2GHz clock speeds, even a 3-way 8800 Ultra setup is GPU bound in Bioshock. And even at 2.0GHz, the 3-way setup is far from fully CPU bound as performance is still better than the two card system with a 3.33GHz CPU.

Similarly, Oblivion isn't CPU bound at all. Even at 2.0GHz, we don't see a significant drop in performance.

Crysis does actually benefit from faster CPUs at our 1920 x 1200 high quality settings. Surprisingly enough, there's even a difference between our 3.33GHz and 2.66GHz setups. We suspect that the difference would disappear at higher resolutions/quality settings, but the ability to maintain a smooth frame rate would also disappear. It looks like the hardware to run Crysis smoothly at all conditions has yet to be released.

We feel kind of silly even entertaining this question, but yes, if you want to build a system with three 8800 Ultras, you don't need to spend $1000 on a CPU. You can get by with a 2.66GHz chip just fine.

Wanna 3-way? Power Consumption
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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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