Single page Print

Some scenarios worth considering
Now that we've reviewed the host of DX11 graphics cards currently available, we can look at some intriguing potential comparisons between single- and multi-card setups. We'll start with the most obvious one, perhaps, between dual GeForce GTX 460 cards and a single GTX 480. These two solutions are priced very similarly, since a single GTX 460 768MB is about $200, a single GTX 460 1GB runs about $235, and a GTX 480 will set you back at least $450. We'll want to watch the capabilities, performance, power draw, and noise levels of these competing alternatives in the following pages.

Similarly, AMD's Radeon HD 5870 will have to work hard to outdo a pair of Radeon HD 5770 or 5830 cards. The Juniper GPU in the 5770 is, in most respects, just a sawed-in-half version of the Cypress chip in the 5870, so the 5770 CrossFireX pair ought to perform comparably to a 5870. Dual 5830s, based on a cut-down Cypress, should be even faster.

The 5770 is selling for about $150 right now, so an unusual option opens up to us: a triple-team of 5770s in a three-way CrossFireX config. For only ~$450, they won't run you much more than a 5870, and since each card only requires a single six-pin PCIe power connector, they won't tax your PSU like most triple-CrossFire setups would. Yeah, they're going to chew up six expansion slots, but many high-end boards have nearly everything else integrated these days. Our test system's X58 motherboard is PCIe-rich enough to support a three-way CrossFireX config reasonably well. The primary slot retains all 16 PCIe Gen2 lanes, while the second and third slots each get eight PCIe Gen2 lanes. That ought to be enough bandwidth, but keep in mind that your run-of-the-mill P55 motherboard—or, indeed, anything based on a Lynnfield processor with integrated PCI Express—will only have 16 full-speed PCIe Gen2 lanes in total.

Of course, there's plenty of potential for additional comparisons here. A triple-5770 array might be the perfect foil for a GeForce GTX 480, for example, and if two GTX 460s work out well, they could give the Radeon HD 5870 more than it can handle. We'll try to keep an eye on some of the key match-ups we've identified above, but the scope of our test results makes many more comparisons possible, up to very expensive dual-card configs.

Test notes
Beyond the higher-than-stock clocks on the cards we've already mentioned, our Asus ENGTX260 TOP SP216 card's core and shader clocks are 650 and 1400MHz, respectively, and its memory speed is 2300 MT/s. The GTX 260 displayed uncommon range during its lifespan, adding an additional SP cluster and getting de facto higher clock speeds on shipping products over time. The Asus card we've included represents the GTX 260's highest point, near the end of its run.

Similarly, the Radeon HD 4870 we've tested is the later version with 1GB of memory.

Many of our performance tests are scripted and repeatable, but for a couple of games, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Metro 2033, we used the FRAPS utility to record frame rates while playing a 60-second sequence from the game. Although capturing frame rates while playing isn't precisely repeatable, we tried to make each run as similar as possible to all of the others. We raised our sample size, testing each FRAPS sequence five times per video card, in order to counteract any variability. We've included second-by-second frame rate results from FRAPS for those games, and in that case, you're seeing the results from a single, representative pass through the test sequence.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and we've reported the median result.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Core i7-965 Extreme 3.2GHz
Motherboard Gigabyte EX58-UD5
North bridge X58 IOH
South bridge ICH10R
Memory size 12GB (6 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Dominator CMD12GX3M6A1600C8
DDR3 SDRAM
at 1600MHz
Memory timings 8-8-8-24 2T
Chipset drivers INF update 9.1.1.1025
Rapid Storage Technology 9.6.0.1014
Audio Integrated ICH10R/ALC889A
with Realtek R2.49 drivers
Graphics Radeon HD 4870 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Gigabyte Radeon HD 5770 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Gigabyte Radeon HD 5770 1GB + Radeon HD 5770 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers &  6/23/10 application profiles 
Gigabyte Radeon HD 5770 1GB + Radeon HD 5770 1GB +
Radeon HD 5770 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers &  6/23/10 application profiles 
XFX Radeon HD 5830 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
XFX  Radeon HD 5830 1GB + Radeon HD 5830 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers &  6/23/10 application profiles 
Radeon HD 5850 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Dual Radeon HD 5850 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers &  6/23/10 application profiles 
Asus Radeon HD 5870 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Asus Radeon HD 5870 1GB + Radeon HD 5870 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers &  6/23/10 application profiles 
Radeon HD 5970 2GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers &  6/23/10 application profiles 
Asus ENGTX260 TOP SP216 GeForce GTX 260 896MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
GeForce GTX 460 768MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Dual GeForce GTX 460 768MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
MSI  N460GTX Cyclone GeForce GTX 460 1GB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
MSI  N460GTX Cyclone GeForce GTX 460 1GB + Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 465 1GB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Dual Zotac GeForce GTX 465 1GB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
GeForce GTX 470 1280MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Asus ENGTX470 GeForce GTX 470 1280MB + GeForce GTX 470 1280MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 480 AMP! 1536MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Dual GeForce GTX 480 1536MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Hard drive WD Caviar SE16 320GB SATA
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 Watt
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
DirectX runtime update June 2010

Thanks to Intel, Corsair, Gigabyte, and PC Power & Cooling for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. AMD, Nvidia, XFX, Asus, Sapphire, Zotac, and Gigabyte supplied the graphics cards for testing, as well.

Unless otherwise specified, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following test applications:

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.