Unlike the GTX 295, we can install three of the GTX 285 cards into a compatible system and what you essentially end up with is three cores. And while this is less cores than a Quad-SLI GTX 295 setup which only offers two cards but a grand total of four GPUs, the performance on a GTX 285 is superior to a single core on the GTX 295.
With the help of Inno3D, ASUS and GIGABYTE, today we'll be having a look at how a Tri-SLI setup performs and what kind of performance improvements we get as we slot in not only a second card, but a third.
Looking over at Newegg, you can pick up the ASUS ENGTX285 for $399.99 at the moment, with the other two being similarly priced. Obviously times this by three to end up with your Tri-SLI setup.
Since we've looked at two of the three cards already, with the ASUS scheduled for a better look sometime next week, we won't go into any detail on the particular brands of cards we're looking at today.
With everything said and done, let's have a look at the test system and a closer look at the GPU-Z information we have on hand to make sure everything is working. Then there's only one thing to do and that's to benchmark the cards through our real world and synthetic games and applications.
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
Looking at the screenshot below, the most important bit of information that we can pull out is the fact that all three GPUs are enabled as per the line at the bottom of the screen shot.
Above you can also see that we're using the stock clocks on the cards. Today we'll simply be looking at the performance of adding the extra cards across our Vista benchmarks. With everything said and done, let's get stuck into the benchmarks and see if Tri-SLI is working a bit better than how it's been in the past.
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 across the board we see good gains with the GTX 285 SLI setups. Adding a third card into the mix gives us a good boost in performance under the intensive Extreme preset.
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.
Under PT Boats we can see adding a second card into the mix yields a performance increase at 2560 x 1600. While Tri-SLI gives us no extra performance, it's good to see it doesn't go backwards.
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).
Each time we add another card into the mix we can begin to see performance drop back slightly; CINEBENCH doesn't make use of the multi card setups.
Benchmarks - World in Conflict
World in Conflict
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
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 resolution we see the numbers jump around a bit. But as we get up to the higher ones like 2560 x 1600, we can see that adding the extra card manages to yield some decent performance gains.
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.
Across the board we see that adding more cards into the Crysis mix gives us a good boost in performance. We can see in Tri-SLI that Warhead actually becomes playable with a 34 FPS minimum at 2560 x 1600.
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.
Far Cry 2 sees some series gains when adding a second and third card, especially at the highest resolution. We go from a minimum of 35 FPS with one card all the way up to almost 91 FPS at 2560 x 1600 with a third card.
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.
Across the board Clear Sky sees gains, but as usual we don't see any serious performance under this game.
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.
Under Left 4 Dead we can see that we hit a bit of a brick wall around the 100 - 110 FPS mark when moving to SLI and Tri-SLI.
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
Under Far Cry 2 with AA on we continue to see some serious performance improvements with the Tri-SLI setup.
World In Conflict
Adding a second card under WIC moves us well away from that 30 FPS minimum we like to see. A third card yields a small increase, but nothing to get too excited about.
Left 4 Dead
Under the most intensive settings in Left 4 Dead we can see that adding a second card yields a good performance increase, while a third offers only a small one.
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 surprise that the more graphics cards we add, the more power is needed. A Tri-SLI setup us tipping almost 700 Watt at load, while a SLI one is just over 500 Watt. The idle wattage also jumps up as we add another card into the mix.
NVIDIAs SLI technology has come a long way; with modern day games it isn't plagued with the same issues that we saw only months ago. Does this mean that Tri-SLI is the best option? - No, not really. But SLI is a great option and manages to offer some serious power.
Two things have made SLI good today, though; one is that the drivers have become better and better with every release. NVIDIA deserve a good pat on the back for that. The other is thanks to Intel who has implemented SLI into the X58 chipset. It was good to see that NVIDIA learnt to swallow its pride and realize that the best thing for them and their technology was to let Intel implement SLI into their chipsets.
But while there's some serious performance on offer here, there still continues to be a huge list of cons to a setup like this. Price is one of the biggest and the other thing is that unless your CPU is clocked high, be it by overclocking or buying a top of the line i7, you're just not going to get the performance that you should be getting out of the setup.
Then there is of course the heat that comes out the back of your case which is simply huge and in a small area you're really going to be feeling it. We also have some serious power getting sucked up, meaning a decent power supply is a must.
Sure, the list of cons are big, but if you look at the pros such as performance, more performance and then a little bit more performance again, it's not hard to accept a Tri-SLI setup with open arms; because as mentioned, it offers great performance.
As a quick reminder, the ASUS EN285GTX sells for $399.99 at Newegg.
This is a good, stable and very fast setup that's going to cost a small fortune. The thing is, though, if you have the money, want the power and just love gaming, you're not going to be disappointed!
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