NVIDIA 3-Way SLI and AMD Tri-Fire Redux

We have re-tested performance between GTX 580 3-Way SLI and Radeon HD 6990+6970 Tri-Fire with a brand new Sandy Bridge 4.8GHz system. Our readers wanted to know if the CPU speed would improve performance and open up the potential of this triple-GPU performance beasts. To put it succinctly, they were right. The results completely turn the tables upside down and then some.


Today we are bringing you a unique performance evaluation that has evolved out of a recent article we published.

On April 28th, 2011 we published an evaluation that compared NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 3-Way SLI and AMD Radeon HD 6990+6970 Tri-Fire performance. In that evaluation all of the evidence we gathered pointed toward the Tri-Fire solution being the better value and delivering the absolute best performance, outclassing the more expensive GTX 580 3-Way SLI configuration. After publication, we received feedback that perhaps 3-Way SLI was not getting its fair shake at gaming performance due to our then current system configuration limiting its ability. While we did not think that scaling the CPU clock would actually flip-flop our real world gaming results, we thought our readers had made some really good points with us and we wanted to retest to see what validity we could find in their questions. Over the last 8 years or so, real world gameplay testing has taught us a lot things and it was about to teach us a few more things about multi-GPU setups, which honestly, we do not spend a lot of time with unless we just happen to have a lot of time open in our schedules. But let it be said, and we are eating some crow here, you knew more about it than we did, and we are glad we listened to you.

We have been using an Intel X58 chipset motherboard with an Intel Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.6GHz. This system has worked great for us for a long while now, but more than dual-GPU performance may benefit from a faster system. The time has come for us to upgrade our video card testing rig for super high-end video card reviews. We are now using the absolute latest motherboard and most powerful CPU in order to find out if a faster CPU really does affect 3-Way SLI and Tri-Fire performance. It is time for use to "upgrade" from our X58 "flagship" system.

Test Setup

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Just not any new P67 chipset motherboard would do however due to the limited PCIe lanes available. We have done lots of articles on the limitations of PCIe lanes and how it pertains to gaming, and when using these huge resolution multi-display panels, we start to see performance throttling as we lose PCIe lanes. Our new test system uses an ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution motherboard based on the P67 chipset. Here is what ASUS has to say.

Designed for true power users, the P8P67 WS Revolution uses a built-in NF200 controller that enhances bandwidth availability between the board and the four graphics card expansion slots. This is ideal for NVIDIA GeForce SLI™ and AMD CrossFireX™, as the new motherboard can easily handle 2-Way SLI in dual PCI Express X16, while 3-Way SLI works in dual PCI Express X8 and one X16 link. This translates into a 26.4% performance increase compared to regular P67 motherboards with similar SLI configurations, as measured by 3DMark06. For CrossFireX, the P8P67 WS Revolution supports up to quad GPUs builds in PCI Express X8 links, unlike standard motherboards, which lack the bandwidth to do so.

Our CPU is an Intel Core i7-2600K overclocked to 4.8GHz. We have 2 x 4GB of Corsair Vengeance™ RAM (CMZ4GX3M2A2000C10) installed running at its stock timings. This new system will now be our platform of choice for all multi-GPU evaluations going forward.

This re-test today is going to use the same video card setup and driver setup we used in our original NVIDIA GeForce 3-Way SLI and Radeon Tri-Fire Review and directly compare that system's performance to this new system. We will then see how GTX 580 3-Way SLI directly compares to Radeon HD 6990+6970 Tri-Fire.

Same Drivers

In order to make sure we can make direct comparisons with our original evaluation we have to use the same video card drivers, even though there are newer ones available. We therefore used ForceWare 270.51 Beta just as we used in our original evaluation. We also used the Catalyst 11.4 Preview driver and the same CAP version we used in our original evaluation. This means we can make comparisons between articles and graph out the performance differences for you.


We will start on the next page showing you the performance differences the new Intel i7-2600K system has over the original Intel i7-920 with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 3-Way SLI video card setup. The page following that will then show you the performance differences the new Intel i7-2600K system has over the original Intel i7-920 with the AMD Radeon HD 6990+6970 Tri-Fire video card setup.

Then the next page will show you the same apples-to-apples testing we used in our original article to compare the NVIDIA and AMD setups both on the new system. Finally, the next page we have a few apples-to-apples tests run at 2560x1600 to see how things shape up on a single display and lower resolution.

The big thing to keep in mind while you are reading this new evaluation is that pricing has not changed much. There are some slight differences, and the gap has closed a little, but NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 3-Way SLI is still going to be around $400-500 more expensive than the AMD Radeon HD 6990+6970 Tri-Fire combination we are comparing it to. This is also the high-end of pricing, as you could equip a three card HD 6970 for about $75 cheaper than a 6990+6970, further separating it from GTX 580 3-Way SLI. Yes, we know you want to see 3x6970, but it has just not worked out that way.