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GTX 480 2x SLI vs. 5970+5870 trifire impressions

jbh545

Member
Jun 10, 2008
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Well I received my pair of Galaxy GTX 480 and stayed up all night playing with them, so I'll give you all some initial impressions. I didn't bench them much because that's boring, instead I checked out a variety of games to see if they improved on the problems I had with the trifire setup. For the most part they did and come recommended for those gaming at 2560x1600. All games were maxed. I used the trifire overclocked to 875/1200 and the SLI varied between stock speeds and 790/2000. Also, I only play with vsynch on.

Far Cry 2- At 4x AA stock SLI lost by about 10%, so with an equivalent OC it would have been the same. At 8x AA stock SLI beat OC trifire pretty solidly. More importantly though, the trifire setup would choke at 8X AA, dipping below 10fps at two points whereas the SLI minimum was 55fps.

Modern Warfare 1/2 - The SLI cleared up a microstutter problem I had on the trifire. Also, trifire had abnormally low fps in unusual locations, the most notable being the first room from the first level of MW1 where you get your guns. For some reason that place always choked up the trifire, persisting through multiple driver revisions, but it runs fine on the SLI. I have no idea what the averages are and didn't test extensively since these games have no excuse for dipping below 60fps on either setup. The hitches on trifire definitely frustrated me when I originally played through MW2.

Bad Company 2 - both setups have a hard time getting AA working. Once in a blue moon I'll get it enabled properly. The SLI setup suffered far less from smoke/explosions in multiplayer which is what I was hoping, but the trifire runs the game very well outside of that and overall the experience is similar. SLI doesn't have the flickering line problem which I hear ATI is correcting.

Dawn of War 2 - this is massive domination for SLI, although when I played through it on the trifire it was on 9.12 drivers so maybe it works better now. But at the time, trifire was completely unplayable at 2560x1600 4xaa. The benchmark would choke into single digits. In fact, even at 0xaa some of the levels were really choppy at 2560 so I had to play this game at 1920. The minimum fps for SLI was 40 in the benchmark at 2560x1600 4xaa. The max was lower but overall the SLI is night and day better.

GTA IV - pure 480 domination here. To keep the game at 60fps while playing the trifire had to be set at 25 view dist, 50 detail dist, medium shadows. Go any higher and the game would choke when I turned around even though the GPUs were only at 70% utilization. Also, if I remember correctly this game only uses two GPUs even in trifire so that skews the results. Anyways, I played trifire on the 1.04 patch, and the game updated itself to 1.06 on steam against my will when I went to test the 480s. The 1.06 improves shadows a lot but also hurts performance because medium shadows look as good as high on 1.04. But anyways, with the SLI I was able to max everything, even shadow options that were turned off for trifire. Every single little shadow setting, all the view distance. And it always stayed 30fps with vsynch on, sometimes going to 45 or 60. That would have been single digits on trifire. Also, the SLI setup can keep a constant 60fps at much higher settings than trifire.

Hawx- For the most part trifire was fine at 2560x1600 with 2xAA or AA off, but there are a couple of levels that it really sucked on with massive stuttering. The SLI did not get rid of all the stuttering, but got rid of the vast majority.

Just Cause 2- Both setups really kick ass for this game. The SLI has far less hitching and it also lets you turn on CUDA water, but it also seemed to dip from 60fps to 45fps a bit more than the trifire. When the trifire got bogged down though, it got bogged down badly. This was the only game where I missed the somewhat higher average FPS that trifire should theoretically be able to provide. It's hard to call an advantage one way or another since there were things I liked about both and both do very well.


Overall my impressions matched up with these mostly:

http://www.evga.com/forums/tm.aspx?&m=303237&mpage=1

I am more positive on the 480s than him though since I play at 2560 which benefits them more and I also play with vsynch on so the maximum fps is not important to me.

Power usage was fine. For gaming the trifire + my 30 inch monitor would use 3 or 4 bars out of 5 on my 980 watt APC Smart UPS. The SLI also used 3 or 4 bars but was at 4 bars a lot more frequently.

Noise is also fine. I'd say the two setups were equally noisy. But the difference is that all that noise was keeping the trifire at 73-78c, whereas the sli gets up to 90c. My cards seem to game and idle hotter than what I've seen a lot of people reporting. Right now they're idling at 65/68c with the fan at 47%. But one thing I'll note is that you can't compare fan speeds between Fermi/5xxx series because at 47% these fans are really quiet whereas the 5xxx fans are loud at 47%.

The drivers are very good. These launch drivers are already at least as good as the 10.3 that ATI has out, although there's also a ATI beta that supposed to be a nice improvement. That is HUGE. I had a 5970 on launch and the drivers were terrible, with multigpu broken on a lot of games, AA problems, vsynch rarely being able to be forced on, etc, etc. It was a disaster and the ATI drivers are just now getting to be competent. I was worried about having to suffer through a similar period with Nvidia but that doesn't seem to be the case. Hopefully Nvidia has the requisite performance and scaling boosts but nothing is broken like it was on ATI with the initial drivers.

Overall I think the 480 SLI is a great setup for 2560 but may have less utility for those playing at 1920. I paid $910 after cashback for the two cards and I prefer the play experience to the trifire, which costs more. But I've also got to look at opportunity cost. I'm sort of tempted to put the 480s on ebay since they're selling higher than I expected. And keep in mind that a lot of games I tested were those that annoyed me on trifire so that can skew the tone a bit.
 

RussianSensation

Elite Member
Sep 5, 2003
19,458
744
126
GTX480 SLI is an awesome setup for 8AA 2560x1600. GTX480 seems to be more efficient with enabling 8AA than ATI from what I've read (correct me if I am wrong). But even in the last generation, GTX275/285 pulled away from 4890 in 2560x1600.

Ya ATI fans are louder at lower rpms than NV fans.
 

HendrixFan

Diamond Member
Oct 18, 2001
4,648
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Do you think the choking at higher resolutions and AA from the trifire is from a shortage of RAM?
 

jbh545

Member
Jun 10, 2008
45
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0
Do you think the choking at higher resolutions and AA from the trifire is from a shortage of RAM?
Yes and no. Like FC2 at 2560 8xAA uses a bit over 1200mb of memory according to the afterburner beta for the GTX 480. So it's clear that lack of memory causes the worst of it. But there's still some stuttering even in situations where there shouldn't be a lack of memory. Overall the 480s seem to chew through smoke and explosions better.

If it was possible to make a good 2GB setup with ATI it would be worth considering, but their 2GB cards aren't competitive. A 5870 2GB is the same price as a GTX480 and the 480 is the better card (heat and power aside). If it was $400 for a 2GB 5870 then it would be a tough choice, or $700 for a 4GB 5970. The 1.5 on the 480 is plenty for 2560, you'd only need to go from 1.5 to 2 if you were gonna do eyefinity.
 

SlowSpyder

Lifer
Jan 12, 2005
17,305
998
126
When you got your AMD set up, did you go right to tri-fire or did you use the the 5870 or 5970 first than add the other card? The reason I ask is because I think using more than two GPU's from either AMD or Nvidia is still a pretty hit or miss adventure. I have a feeling there is a lot of overhead in coordinating three GPU's to render your frames.

If I had a 30" monitor, I think I'd be looking at the 850MHz 4GB specialty 5970's. I have a feeling that 1GB per GPU is a limitation at 2560x1600 w/8XAA.

OP I'm kind of like you. I like reading the numbers but really I like reading these types of reviews better... just your general impression. When I went from a 4870 512MB to my current 5870 I didn't bench anything. I just wanted to be able to tell the games I use run better and I can use higher setting if I choose, which I can (I went from AoC at DX9 2xAA to DX10 4xAA with better performance overall). Anyway, enjoy your GTX480's, it sounds like they are a good match for your set up. I'd love to stick another 5870 in this rig, but the wife would kill me... :)
 

Sylvanas

Diamond Member
Jan 20, 2004
3,752
0
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Sweet setup- enjoy. This matches up with a few recent reviews whereby Nvidia are getting significantly better minimums than ATI in CF with certain setups. I can understand the microstutter with 3 cards, that would be terrible and it would probably be similar with Nvidia 3way SLI- it's still there with 2 cards but Vsync + Triple buffering will help reduce it.
 

Baasha

Golden Member
Jan 4, 2010
1,991
18
81
Wait, what do you mean trifire with HD5970 + HD5870? Is that two 5970s and one 5870?

And, no offense, but how the hell can two GTX 480s perform better than 5970s in Crossfire? That just seems absolute BS. The latter has 2 MORE GPUs and is just a beast of a card.

Anyway, THREE GTX480s vs TWO 5970s seems like a better comparison.

Not knocking you, but it just seems strange that you are saying the performance of those two setups is comparable.
 

arkcom

Golden Member
Mar 25, 2003
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76
Wait, what do you mean trifire with HD5970 + HD5870? Is that two 5970s and one 5870?

And, no offense, but how the hell can two GTX 480s perform better than 5970s in Crossfire? That just seems absolute BS. The latter has 2 MORE GPUs and is just a beast of a card.

Anyway, THREE GTX480s vs TWO 5970s seems like a better comparison.

Not knocking you, but it just seems strange that you are saying the performance of those two setups is comparable.
1 hd5970 + 1 hd5870 = trifire
 

Tempered81

Diamond Member
Jan 29, 2007
6,374
0
76
Good read, thanks for your review. I agree the Catalyst is a much larger headache than the Nvidia Control Panel. Nice review on the 30" AA gaming experience. I would also expect the NV drivers to be more efficient at smoke & explosions - after all their driver development team is a bit more savvy than ati. Nice note on the temperatures. How does noise compare between 5870/480 in 1) automatic fan settings and 2) 100% fan settings?

I find it strange that you choose to sell the 480's after stating to prefer the 480 sli experience over the 5970+5870. Does that mean you're keeping the 5870's? Why wouldn't you just keep the 480SLI if it's better in most gaming experiences?
 

jbh545

Member
Jun 10, 2008
45
0
0
When you got your AMD set up, did you go right to tri-fire or did you use the the 5870 or 5970 first than add the other card? The reason I ask is because I think using more than two GPU's from either AMD or Nvidia is still a pretty hit or miss adventure. I have a feeling there is a lot of overhead in coordinating three GPU's to render your frames.

If I had a 30" monitor, I think I'd be looking at the 850MHz 4GB specialty 5970's. I have a feeling that 1GB per GPU is a limitation at 2560x1600 w/8XAA.
I had the 5970 first then added a 5870 because I wanted moar powar. I'd also consider a 4GB 5970 but I don't think it will be fairly priced, and it's also only going to have the same raw power as a normal 5970 which was a bit less than I wanted. I'd also have to buy an overpriced 2gb 5870 to go with it. I think ATI's gouging on its cards at this point. Normally this long after launch you can get them below MSRP and with good rebates. Yeah, it's all supply and demand but people buying 5XXX cards now are facing a much sharper depreciation curve than those who got them when they came out.


Nice note on the temperatures. How does noise compare between 5870/480 in 1) automatic fan settings and 2) 100% fan settings?

I find it strange that you choose to sell the 480's after stating to prefer the 480 sli experience over the 5970+5870. Does that mean you're keeping the 5870's? Why wouldn't you just keep the 480SLI if it's better in most gaming experiences?
The noise is all about what temps you want to keep cards at since you can run 5xxx cards at 75c with loud fans or 85c with quiet fans. I don't know much about the 5870 since I never used it by itself but the 5970 has a beast of a fan on it. At 100% I couldn't tell much difference. They're both too loud to play without headphones, but I have the Audio-Technica ATH AD700 headphones which are open (less sound blocking) and neither bothers me. An auto fan comparison is irrelevant. Auto works fine to cool the 480s, but auto on the 5970 will let it go right up to 99c and then it throttles to 550mhz, totally unacceptable for overclocking.

I never said I was going to sell the 480s, just that I was tempted. I'm not rich so I tend to sell my hardware when ebay prices go out of whack. Lets me keep an extravagant setup without losing too much to depreciation from year to year.
 

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