3-Way SLI Is Here In A Big Way - TRi-SLi and 8800GTX Action

Article Index
3-Way SLI Is Here In A Big Way
TRi-SLi and 8800GTX Action
TRi-SLI System Build and Testing
Real Gameplay Tri-SLI Testing

It's In The Cards:

nVidia currently says that 3-Way SLI is supported on the 680i SLI platform as the 780i SLI platform is not yet available.  However, to achieve 2.8x performance compared to a single card, you're going to need 16x PCIe lanes on each card, and the fancy 3-Way SLI bridge which we've been told will retail for $80 alone.  This system is obviously not for the weak of heart, and will be pointless unless you plan on running at 2560x1600 resolutions for most games.  When gaming less than 1920x1200, regular two card SLI is adequate for every game we tested - except Crysis.

Rack of Cards
Rack of Cards

 

We had a pair of 8800GTX graphics cards on hand, thanks to MemoryExpress and even managed to secure a good 780i SLI motherboard and the triple SLI connector, but we were one card short to make this happen.  We put out a plea to some of our forum members, and Astrofox answered and brought over his new eVGA 8800GTX.  All of these cards were clocked at default speeds and we used the latest Motherboard drivers (9.46) for Vista 64-bit as well as the latest Graphics drives (169.25).  To power them, we had to break out our Ultra Power Partner PSU to run the eVGA card while the Zalman Heatpipe Cooled 850W unit handled the rest of the system.  We used a Kill-a-Watt to measure system power consumption and this peaked at 743W and sustained 700W during testing.  The Zalman PSU probably could have handled things, but we wanted to have a stable system as we were overclocking our Q6600 from 2.4GHz to 3.0GHz as well.

3 Way SLI Bridge
3 Way SLI Bridge

Once we installed all the cards and dropped on the 3-Way SLI bridge, we installed the latest drives and after another reboot we were able to see that 3-Way SLI was available as a choice in the nVidia Control Panel.

3-Way Available
3-Way Available

 

Seeing that option available made me smile.  If it works half as well as nVidia claims, it should be pretty sweet.  Here's what they say about it.

 

Extreme gaming just got a whole lot better. NVIDIA® Corporation has extended its SLI™ technology, which enables the use of multiple graphics processing units (GPUs) on a single computer, allowing up to three GeForce® graphics cards to be used in a single machine. Now hot, new, graphics-intensive titles, such as Call of Duty 4, Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and Unreal Tournament 3, can be played at the highest resolution possible, with all the graphics settings cranked to the max, and antialiasing applied for the first time.

NVIDIA’s new 3-way SLI delivers up to a 2.8x performance increase over a single GPU system, giving high-end gamers 60 frames per second at resolutions as high as 2560x1600 and with 8x antialiasing. 3-way SLI technology means you no longer have to dial back the image quality settings on the newest PC games. For example, gamers with 3-way SLI can play Crysis at high resolutions such as 1920x1200 with all the advanced DirectX 10 effects such as motion blur, ambient occlusion, and soft shadows turned on.

"The new crop of PC games offers stunning visuals. And for truly immersive game play with all the eye candy you need to play on a PC with a lot of graphics horse power," said Ujesh Desai, general manager of GeForce desktop GPUs at NVIDIA. "3-way SLI produces stunning visuals, pristine image quality, and a truly awesome gaming experience."The heart of a 3-way SLI system is an NVIDIA nForce® 680 SLI MCP motherboard and three GeForce 8800 GTX or GeForce 8800 Ultra graphics cards. With 3-way SLI, gamers can harness the power of 384 stream processors, a 110+ gigatexel per second texture fill rate, and over two gigabytes of graphics memory for no-compromise gaming performance.

3-way SLI gives gamers the flexibility to scale their graphics processing power with one, two, or three GeForce GPUs, depending on their desired price and system configuration. 3-way SLI systems are available from leading gaming PC system builders and the components needed to build your own 3-way SLI system are available from leading retailers.

 

One of our initial concerns for this platform was heat.  These cards are in very close proximity to each other and this could cause overheating after extended periods of gaming if you have a poorly ventilated case.  Our platform sat on a HighSpeed PC Tech Station, compliments of Xoxide and ambient room temperature remained around 21C.  Inside a case, temperatures can easily exceed 40C if it is poorly ventilated and often rise over 30C in a case with good airflow.  Keep that in mind as you check out the temperatures below.

GPU Temps
GPU Temps

The above screenshot shows card temperatures according to the older nVidia monitoring tool which doesn't seem to work really well on the new 780i board.  Our fan was going faster than 4RPM.  I do believe that these temperatures are fairly accurate though and were taken after setting up the system, and after some lite testing.  If you put these cards inside a case and you could easily see your graphics cards temperatures approach 90C or higher.

 

 

One of nVidia's claims to fame with this "new" platform is the ESA (Enthusiast System Architecture) monitoring.  We downloaded the application and ran it for kicks.  While it can be handy, it is clunky, has poor graphics design and is a waste of a 50MB download in my opinion.  A simple program like RivaTuner and CPU-Z can tell you pretty much the same thing and not slow down windows to 20FPS.  This software runs full-screen and has adjustable transparency.  We darkened it up so you couldn't see all the crap we have on our desktop.

ESA Software
ESA Software

 

On the next page, we'll show you the system build, offer up some specs and then jump into testing.