NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 SLI 4K Video Card Review

If you thought one GeForce GTX 980 was a great gaming solution, wait till you see what GeForce GTX 980 SLI can do for gaming at 4K. We look at performance, efficiency, and even a little 1440p SLI goodness. However, some of the results may not be what you would exactly expect.

Introduction

It has already been over a month since NVIDIA launched its next generation GPU architecture known as Maxwell. Time flies when you're having fun, and it has been a lot of fun gaming with the GeForce GTX 980.

Over the course of this past month we have brought you several Maxwell specific evaluations. We evaluated and introduced the GeForce GTX 980. We evaluated a custom retail factory overclocked GeForce GTX 970 and overclocked it to insane levels. We also explored GeForce GTX 980 Overclocking in an in-depth evaluation and found that Maxwell doesn't disappoint when it comes to overclocking.

Today we take another unique look at NVIDIA Maxwell, focusing again on the GeForce GTX 980 as the primary target. However, we aren't just looking at one GTX 980, this time we are looking at two GeForce GTX 980 video cards. We are happy to bring to you today our initial evaluation of GeForce GTX 980 SLI. If you thought one was fast, just wait till you see what two can do for gaming performance.

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Our Goals

In order to find the true potential that 2-Way GeForce GTX 980 SLI can bring to gaming we are going to focus this initial review on 4K performance at 3840x2160 resolution. 4K needs the power of SLI to be successful at getting the most out of the gameplay experience.

At this stage of the game, multi-GPU is required to achieve the best gameplay experience at 4K. A single video card just cannot cut it yet for gaming at high settings at 4K. We haven't got the point yet where a single GPU is powerful enough to maximize games at 4K. One day we will get there, but until that GPU the only way to maximize games at 4K is NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFire.

We will also show you comparisons between a single GeForce GTX 980 and adding a second card so you can see what the performance efficiency is by adding a second card. Some games do better than others, and you will particularly want to pay attention to Watch Dogs. Some of the results may be surprising.

Consider this the first part of a series of evaluations we have planned over the course of time revolving around multi-GPU configurations. There are more configurations we want to test such as NV Surround, GTX 970 SLI, and overclocking both GPUs in SLI for even more performance. We may even delve into the topic of breaking the 120Hz barrier for gamers with higher refresh rate displays. The only way to achieve that kind of performance consistently will be with NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFire.

We've also included a brand new game in this review today, Alien: Isolation. You don't want to miss the performance we get in this game.


NVIDIA SLI

Technologically, there haven't really been any updates or changes to how SLI works with Maxwell. You are still required to use a bridge connector atop the video card. In fact, NVIDIA has gone and fancied themselves up by offering some premium SLI bridges that add a bit of flare to your PC.

We did not have any issue setting up SLI with two reference GeForce GTX 980 video cards. We plugged the cards in, installed a bridge connector, installed our driver, and easily enabled SLI.

AMD XDMA

Do keep this in mind, while NVIDIA has not made changes to how SLI works, AMD certainly improved its CrossFire implementation with the release of Radeon R9 290 and 290X. AMD uses a new hardware technology built into the video cards, dubbed XDMA. It is basically a hardware DMA engine to facilitate communication and protocol. You no longer need a bridge connector atop the video cards.

In all of our CrossFire testing with AMD Radeon R9 290X we have noted exceptional CrossFire efficiency of both GPUs. AMD has improved efficiency with this new technology beyond the previous implementation of CrossFire. We have raved about how well CrossFire performs, and how smooth it is now with the new Frame Pacing technology. Gone are the days of stuttery CrossFire gaming. This efficiency is something to keep in mind as you look at the results in some of the games today between the video cards. You might find these very surprising, and unexpected.