SLI Performance Throwdown: GTX 280 SLI vs. 9800 GX2 Quad SLI

We had two GeForce GTX 280s on hand and a plethora of SLI bridges, so we of course had to run them in SLI. Now remember that a single GTX 280 uses more power than a GeForce 9800 GX2, and thus two of them is going to use a lot of power. It was so much power in fact that our OCZ EliteXStream 1000W power supply wasn't enough. While the SLI system would boot and get into Windows, we couldn't actually complete any benchmarks. All of the power supplies on the GTX 280 SLI certified list are at least 1200W units. We didn't have any on hand so we had to rig up a second system with a separate power supply and used the second PSU to power the extra GTX 280 card. A 3-way SLI setup using GTX 280s may end up requiring a power supply that can draw more power than most household circuits can provide.

Although a single GeForce GTX 280 loses to a GeForce 9800 GX2 in most cases, scaling from two to four GPUs is never as good as scaling from one to two. Thus forcing the question: are a pair of GTX 280s in SLI faster than a 9800 GX2 Quad SLI setup?

Let's look at the performance improvements from one to two cards across our games:

GTX 280 SLI (Improvement from 1 to 2 cards) 9800 GX2 SLI
(Improvement from 1 to 2 cards)
Crysis 50.1% 30.3%
Call of Duty 4 62.8% 64.0%
Assassin's Creed 38.9% 12.7%
The Witcher 54.9% 36.2%
Bioshock 68.4% 63.7%
Oblivion 72.3% -35.7%

Crysis, Assassin's Creed, The Witcher and Oblivion are all situations where performance either doesn't scale as well or drops when going from one to two GX2s, giving NVIDIA a reason to offer two GTX 280s over a clumsy Quad SLI setup.


Thanks to poor Quad SLI scaling, the GX2 SLI and the GTX 280 SLI perform the same, despite the GTX 280 being noticeably slower than the 9800 GX2 in single-card mode.

Call of Duty 4

When it does scale well however, the GX2 SLI outperforms the GTX 280 SLI setup just as you'd expect.

Assassin's Creed

The Witcher



Sometimes you run into serious issues with triple and quad SLI where performance is actually reduced; Oblivion at 2560 x 1600 is one of those situations and the result is the GTX 280 SLI gives you a better overall experience.

While we'd have trouble recommending a single GTX 280 over a single 9800 GX2, a pair of GTX 280s will probably give you a more hassle-free, and consistent experience than a pair of 9800 GX2s.

Overclocked: EVGA GeForce GTX 280 FTW Finally: GPU Video Encode & Folding@Home
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  • elchanan - Monday, June 30, 2008 - link

    VERY eye-opening discussion on TMT. Thank you for it.
    I've been trying to understand how GPUs can be competitive for scientific applications which require lots of inter-process communication, and "local" memory, and this appears to be an elegant solution for both.

    I can identify the weak points of it being hard to program for, as well as requiring many parallel threads to make it practical.

    But are there other weak points?
    Is there some memory-usage profile, or inter-process data bandwidth, where the trick doesn't work?
    Perhaps some other algorithm characteristic which GPUs can't address well?

  • Think - Friday, June 20, 2008 - link

    This card is a junk bond when taking into consideration cost/perfomance/power consumption.

    Reminds me of a 1976 Cadillac with a 7.7litre v8 with only 210 horsepower/3600 rpm.

    It's a PIG.
  • Margalus - Tuesday, June 24, 2008 - link

    this shows how many people don't run a dual monitor setup. I would snatch up one of these 260/280's over the gx2's anyday, gladly!!

    The performance may not be quite as good as an sli setup, but it will be much better than a single card which is what a lot of us are stuck with since you CANNOT run a dual monitor setup with sli!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • iamgud - Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - link

    "I can has vertex data"


    These look fine, but need to be moved to 55nm. By the time I save up for one they will .
  • calyth - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    Well what the heck are they doing with 1.4B transistors, which is becoming the largest die that TMSC has been producing so far?
    The larger the core, the more likely that an blemish would take out the core. As far as I know, didn't Phenom (4 cores on die) suffered low-yield problems?
  • gochichi - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    You know, when you consider the price and you look at the benchmarks, you start looking for features and NVIDIA just doesn't have the features going on at all.

    COD4 -- Ran perfect at 1920x1200 with last gen stuff (the HD3870 and 8800GT(S))so now the benchmarks have to be for outrageous resolutions that a handful of monitors can handle (and those customers already bought SLI or XFIRE, or GTX2 etc.)

    Crysis is a pig of a game, but it's not that great (it is a good technical preview though, I admit), and I don't think even these new cards really satisfy this system hog... so maybe this is a win, but I doubt too many people care... if you had an 8800GT or whatever, you're already played this game "well enough" on medium settings and are plenty tired of it. Though we'll surely fire it up in the future once our video cards "happen to be able to run it on high" very few people are going to go out of their way $500+ for this silly title.

    In any case, then you look at ATI, and they have the HDMI audio, the DX 10.1 support and all they have to do at this point is A) Get a good price out the door, B) Make a good profit (make them cheap, which these NVIDIA are expensive to make, no doubt) and C) handily beat the 8800GTS and many of us are going to be sold.

    These cards are what I would call a next gen preview. Some overheated prototypes of things to come. I doubt AMD will be as fast, and in fact I hope they aren't just as long as they keep the power consumption in check, the price, and the value (HDMI, DX10.1, etc).

    Today's release reminded me that NVIDIA is the underdog, they are the company that released the FX series (desperate technology, like these are). ATI has been around well before 3DFX made 3d-accelerators. They were down for a bit, and we all said it was over for ATI but this desperate release from NVIDIA makes me think that ATI is going to be quite tought to beat.

  • Brazofuerte - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    Can I go somewhere to find the exact settings used for these benchmarks? I appreciate the tech side of the write up but when it comes to determining whether I want one of these for my gaming machine (I ordered mine at midnight), I find HardOCP's numbers much more useful.
  • woofermazing - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    AMD/ATI isn't going to abandon the high end like your article implies. Their plan is to make a really good mid range chip, and ductape to cores together ala the X2's. Nvidia goes from the high-end down, ATI from the mid-end up. From the look of it, ATI might have the right idea, atleast this time around. I seriously doubt we'll see a two core version of this monster anytime soon.
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    they are abandoning the high end single GPU ...

    we did state that they are planning on competing in the high end space with multiGPU cards, but that there are drawbacks to that.

    we'll certainly have another article coming out sometime soon that looks a little more closely at AMD's strategy.
  • KeypoX - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    i dont like it, not impressed either :(. Hopefully my 8800gt last for a while, far past this crap atleast

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