NVIDIA GeForce 3-Way SLI and Radeon Tri-Fire Review

We've seen what a Radeon HD 6990 can do when paired with a Radeon HD 6970 for "Tri-Fire" performance. Now it is time to find out what three NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 video cards in 3-Way SLI game like in comparison. We will look at A2A performance comparisons and discuss which setup offers the best gameplay experience.


Apples-to-Apples Gameplay Performance

All of the testing below was done in an apples-to-apples configuration using the exact same in-game settings, resolution and AA. We are using three Dell 2408WFP displays for NV Surround and AMD Eyefinity. Uniquely, when setting up 3-Way SLI NV Surround you must plug each display individually into each video card. With AMD Eyefinity, we can plug all three displays in one video card, no matter how many video cards we have. However, with NV Surround when using three video cards each display must be plugged into each video card, so one display per card.

After this, enabling NV Surround was a cinch and we experienced no problems running NV Surround and 3-Way SLI in gaming. We turned on the SLI Indicators and took note that it said "SLI x3" was enabled in each game we tested.

Dragon Age II

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Starting off with Dragon Age II we made sure DX11 was enabled, as well as the high resolution textures and all other in-game settings. We turned on every feature at its highest value, except for AA, we left that disabled.

When we evaluated two GeForce GTX 580's the performance at these settings was dismal to say the least. The performance at barely 20 FPS average was nowhere near playable at this level. Whereas, the AMD Radeon HD 6990/6970 CrossFireX setup allowed us to play very well at these settings with 37.2 FPS average.

Adding in another GTX 580 for 3-Way SLI brought the performance up by 62% compare to just two video cards! This tremendous improvement in performance helped bring the average framerate with 3 GTX 580's to slightly above 30 FPS. Unfortunately for GTX 580 3-Way SLI the AMD "Tri-Fire" setup is still 18% faster.

Highest Playable Settings - In terms of highest playable settings, i.e. what we could actually set settings to in order to enjoy the game, we found we could maximize them on the AMD Tri-Fire setup. With 3-Way SLI we could not, this level of performance wasn't playable, and had its jerky moments. We had to disable SSAO in order to bring performance up to a level that was playable. So, the AMD Tri-Fire config allows us to play at maximum in-game settings, and with the 3-Way SLI config had to have SSAO disabled.

F1 2010

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For F1 2010 we were able to turn on 4X AA at 5760x1200 to try and push this game. We could not use 8X MSAA as a comparison because the GTX 580 3-Way SLI configuration ran into the VRAM wall at 8X CSAA and 8X MSAA.

With GeForce GTX 580 2-Way SLI we experienced smooth and playable framerates and averaged around 44 FPS. When we added in another GTX 580 for 3-Way SLI we only gained a performance improvement of 10%. This is not the kind of performance improvement we should expect, we should be getting more. We think we are actually running into possible CPU bottlenecks with three of these video cards here. Unfortunately, we cannot push the game to higher AA settings like 8X MSAA or 16X AA because the NVIDIA GTX 580 video cards have hit their VRAM wall at anything higher than 4X AA.

Highest Playable Settings - Unfortunately, because of the VRAM limits, we are left with 4X AA at 5760x1200 being the highest playable settings for both 3-Way SLI and 2-Way SLI. Adding in another GTX 580 will do nothing for you in this game, it will in no way improve the gameplay experience. The AMD Tri-Fire configuration, for comparison, is able to run at 8X MSAA at 5760x1200 for a better gameplay experience.

Metro 2033

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For Metro 2033 we have set the game to "Very High" quality at 5760x1200 with Analytical AA. Two GeForce GTX 580 video cards pull an average framerate around 40 FPS. Adding in a third GTX 580 for 3-Way SLI certainly helps performance. There was a noticeable 30% performance improvement with 3-Way SLI over 2-Way SLI. This performance improvement helped bring the performance to the exact same level as AMD Tri-Fire. Finally 3-GPU performance is equaling 3-GPU performance. However, keep in mind the price difference that 3-Way SLI costs around $500 more, for the same performance.

Highest Playable Settings - In terms of the gameplay experience, AMD still wins in this game. We were able to enable 4X MSAA with the AMD Radeon HD 6990/6970 CrossFireX configuration. Therefore, the highest playable settings were 5760x1200 4X AA/16X AF and highest in-game settings with AMD Tri-Fire. On the other hand, we could not enable 4X MSAA with 3-Way SLI, we ran into that pesky VRAM wall, so its highest playable was 5760x1200 NoAA/16X AF highest in-game settings.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

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For Battlefield: Bad Company 2 we used 4X AA at 5760x1200 for this comparison. We encountered a driver bug with the NVIDIA video cards that made it so that at 8X MSAA the HBAO and shadowing in the game were broken and ceased to be enabled. However, the features worked fine at 4X MSAA and 16X CSAA. Therefore, we couldn't test properly at 8X MSAA so we used 4X MSAA. This driver bug has been a known issue for a while now when running in multiple-displays.

With GeForce GTX 580 2-Way SLI we averaged around 58 FPS. By adding in a third GTX 580 for 3-Way SLI we gained a small 11% in performance. Just like F1 2010 we think we are running into a CPU limited situation with this powerful setup. That 11% improvement though was enough to bring performance close to the AMD Tri-Fire performance.

Highest Playable Settings - Once again, we ran into VRAM limits trying to push GTX 580 3-Way SLI to the highest possible playable settings. We tried 16xQ CSAA and 32X CSAA and neither were playable at this resolution due to those limitations. We did find 16X CSAA to perform very well, which is exactly what 2-Way GTX 580 SLI is playable at as well. We also tried to enable 2X TR SSAA, but as we played through the game there were many pauses and some choppiness as we played. On the other hand, AMD Tri-Fire was playable at 24X CFAA at 5760x1200.

Crysis: Warhead

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Crysis: Warhead is a good game to test shader performance, and this game can be very demanding at these resolutions, there is no CPU binding here. Two GeForce GTX 580 video cards in 2-Way SLI provided around 30 FPS average framerate at 5760x1200 with No AA and all Enthusiast settings. Adding in a third GTX 580 provided a 23% performance improvement. This was enough to bring the level of performance to just on par with AMD Tri-Fire.

Highest Playable Settings - With GTX 580 3-Way SLI we were able to play at 5760x1200 with No AA and all Enthusiast settings. We were not able to have 2X AA enabled however, once again the VRAM limitation hit us. However, with AMD Tri-Fire we had no problems enabling 2X AA at these settings, providing a better gameplay experience.