This article was exciting to do for two reasons; the first was of course the fact that we were going to just see how powerful two of the fastest graphics cards on the market would perform when put together. This in total gave us four GPUs to play with across two cards and what this results in is a bucket load of power.
The second reason was that I would finally get a chance to take SLI for a spin on the newly built testbed. It's really been ages since I've had the ability to test SLI on my main testbed. It was great that the X58 closed that gap where we no longer need one motherboard for Crossfire and another for SLI.
We were fortunate enough to receive a GTX 295 sample from both GIGABYTE and Gainward, so with two cards in hand and a motherboard that supported SLI, we wanted to see some Quad SLI goodness, if not just for our readers.
The GTX 295 is impressive, but Quad SLI can really show a card and drivers' faults, so let's get straight into our test system and the results.
Test System Setup and 3DMark Vantage
Test System Setup
Processor(s): Intel i7 920 @ 3.8GHz (190MHz x 20)
Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P (Supplied by Noctua)
Motherboard(s): GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Memory: 3 X 2GB OCZ Technology PC-12800 DDR-3 8-8-8-24 (OCZ3G1600LV6GK)
Hard Disk(s): Western Digital 300GB Velicorapter (Supplied by Western Digital)
Operating System: Windows Vista SP1 64-Bit
Drivers: Forceware 181.20
So, you've probably become accustomd to our testbed by now, so we won't go into too much detail. And since we have already looked at the cards, we know the clocks and other information.
As you can see above, all four GPUs have been enabled and we're using the 181.20 driver which proved itself to be the best when it came to our single card testing. We didn't test under XP due to the driver we have used not currently having an XP version available.
The cards were left at stock speeds, so with everything said and done let's get stuck into the performance side of things to see how two of these bad boys go.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
Buy It Here
3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.
3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
It doesn't come as any real surprise that Vantage sees some massive gains from the quad SLI setup. What we have here are the fastest Vantage scores we've seen in our labs to date, overtaking the Tri SLI efforts of the GTX 280 which offered us scores of P20534 and X12709 on a QX9650 @ 4GHz setup.
Benchmarks - PT Boats: Knights of the Sea
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea
Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Developer Homepage: http://en.akella.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.pt-boats.net/
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a naval action simulator that places gamers in charge of a mosquito fleet of the Allied Forces, Russia or Germany during the height of World War II.
Using the latest Direct X 10 technology PT Boards - Knights of the Sea manages to apply a lot of stress to the components of today which in turn gives us quite an intensive benchmark.
While we get a bit of movement in PT Boats, there isn't anything to write home about with no real difference between the two setups being seen.
Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10
Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
CINEBENCH actually slows the quad SLI setup coming in a bit slower. Again, nothing too unusual as CINEBENCH isn't able to make use of the extra GPUs.
Benchmarks - World in Conflict
World in Conflict
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.massive.se
Product Homepage: http://www.worldinconflict.com
World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10) and the Xbox 360.
The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.
At the lower resolutions the setup doesn't provide us with anything exciting, with performance being a little lower. But at 2560 x 1600 we can see a nice jump in performance which equates to almost 20%.
Benchmarks - Crysis Warhead
Version and / or Patch Used: unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Airfield
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com
Product Homepage: http://crysiswarhead.ea.com/
Buy It Here
Crysis Warhead updates and refines the gameplay of the original game through a sidestory plot involving Psycho, one of previous protagonist Nomad's allies. The game is a parallel story that follows Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes, a character from the original Crysis, as he faces his own trials and challenges on the other side of the island during the time period of the first game.
It also showcases a new, enhanced and optimized version of CryEngine 2 using full DX10 extensions and is the first game developed by Crytek's Budapest studio.
Under Warhead we again see that at the lower resolution performance is a bit all over the place. At the lowest the quad SLI setup is actually slower, but at 2560 x 1600 we have some impressive gains with performance in the minimum department being almost 40% faster.
Benchmarks - Far Cry 2
Far Cry 2
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.farcry2.com/
Buy It Here
The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.
We continue to see quad SLI only really yield gains at 2560 x 1600. Again, though, we see an impressive jump in performance when compared to the single card setup.
Benchmarks - S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5.07
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.gsc-game.com/
Product Homepage: http://cs.stalker-game.com/en/
Buy It Here
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, is the stand-alone prequel for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, a first-person shooter computer game by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World. The game consists of a roughly 50/50 mix of new areas and old, remodeled areas from the previous game. The X-ray graphics engine has been updated to version 1.5 and includes DirectX 10 support (later patch 1.5.06 included DirectX 10.1). Additionally, the AI received an overhaul to accommodate the new faction wars feature.
We continue to see Clear Sky do very little for NVIDIA with small gains being seen; clearly nothing to get excited about, though.
Benchmarks - Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead
Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.valvesoftware.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.l4d.com/
Buy It Here
Left 4 Dead uses the latest version of Valve's Source engine, with improvements such as multi-core processor support and physics-based animation to more realistically portray hair and clothing, and to improve physics interaction with enemies when shot or shoved in different body parts. Animation was also improved to allow characters to lean realistically when moving in curved paths.
Rendering and artificial intelligence were scaled up to allow for greater number of enemies who can navigate the world in better ways, such as climbing, jumping or breaking obstacles. Lighting has been enhanced with new self-shadowing normal mapping and advanced shadow rendering that is important to convey information about the environment and player actions.
Left 4 Dead is the only game that is impacted negatively at all resolutions with the quad SLI setup.
Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF
High Quality AA and AF
Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.
Far Cry 2
We again see under these intensive settings the quad SLI configuration get's a serious performance boost with a minimum of over 70 FPS at these intensive settings.
World In Conflict
WIC performance is also up, but only slightly in the minimum department while the average sees a greater jump.
Left 4 Dead
We again see under Left 4 Dead a negative impact on performance when running quad SLI.
Power Consumption Tests
Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).
There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.
The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD ROM or many cooling fans.
So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.
It doesn't come as any real surprise that the GTX 295 in quad SLI sucks a good chunk more power. In all seriousness, though, the levels are pretty reasonable with the idle wattage being extremely good considering the amount of power on hand.
Quad SLI was really less of a disaster than I thought it would be, considering just how early in the game it is. Vantage scores are simply jaw dropping; we don't doubt for a second that come a few hours after the NDA lifting that the world records in 3DMark Vantage would have been broken.
It also doesn't come as a surprise that games that don't take advantage of SLI (like PT Boats) don't see a boost in performance. It's a bit disappointing to see the source based Left 4 Dead get impacted negatively in a quad SLI configuration, but this game has been quite important for NVIDIA so we don't doubt that they're going to fix this issue.
We weren't going to see gains of 100%; it just simply never happens. We do, however, see some good gains around the 40% mark at the highest resolution. What this performance increase will let you do is start to turn AA and AF on at 2560 x 1600 under these newly released intensive games like Far Cry 2.
Quad SLI isn't for everyone, purely from a cost perspective, but unless you have a monitor that is out putting 2560 x 1600 it really is a complete waste of money with this resolution seeing the best gains.
Considering Full HD is considered as 1920 x 1080 and HD gaming is something that the big two have been pushing lately, this setup could really be marketed as "Gaming beyond Full HD" with it making 2560 x 1600 gaming not only playable, but pleasurable.
Quad SLI isn't perfect and it probably never will be, but we love it so much and accept it into our lives with open arms. If you've got the money to afford it and the monitor that can take advantage of it, you won't be disappointed.