Summary: What happens when you take two 1GB GeForce 9800 GX2 cards and combine them together? Quad SLI! See how the combined shading horsepower of two 9800 GX2 cards compares to 3-Way SLI and more in this article!
The only graphics setup we tested that was faster than the GeForce 9800 GX2 were a pair of GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB cards running in SLI. The GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB runs at slightly higher speeds than the 9800 GX2 – 670MHz core/1625MHz stream processors versus the 9800 GX2’s 600MHz core/1500MHz shaders – which accounts for the GTS’ superior showing in our benchmarks. We concluded by saying that the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB SLI setup was a better value thanks to aggressive street prices for the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB SLI and NVIDIA’s $600+ MSRP for the GeForce 9800 GX2. After all, why spend more money on the GeForce 9800 GX2 when GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB cards can be found for half the price?
The answer to that question varies; if you don’t currently own an SLI motherboard, running a pair of GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB cards in SLI mode isn’t an option for you. For the über high-end gamer that craves the absolute highest performance and will pay anything to obtain it, the GeForce 9800 GX2 supports one unique feature that puts it in a class of its own: Quad SLI.
The theory behind Quad SLI is the same as conventional 2-Way SLI. By combining two GeForce 9800 GX2 cards together, performance improves dramatically. Performance won’t magically double (due to a host of factors such as driver overhead, game engine limitations/optimization and the speed of your CPU), but performance improvements of 50% or more are possible under some conditions. The actual performance boost you’ll see from Quad SLI will vary based on the game being tested and the settings used. Obviously the harder you push the graphics card, the higher the benefit you should see from running Quad SLI versus a single GeForce 9800 GX2. This means gaming at resolutions of 1920x1200 or higher (with Crysis being the obvious exception), with the AA/AF and game settings cranked all the way up.
If you recall NVIDIA’s previous Quad SLI card, the GeForce 7950 GX2, you’ll no doubt remember the issues NVIDIA encountered getting all four GPUs in Quad to scale properly. Because of limitations in DX9 Windows XP, 7950 GX2 Quad SLI cards couldn’t run 4-Way AFR in D3D titles, instead they had to rely on AFR of SFR or 2-Way SLI modes. Fortunately this issue has been resolved in Windows Vista, allowing them to finally render up to four frames simultaneously with the 9800 GX2 cards running Quad.
Powering a GeForce 9800 GX2 Quad SLI system
With a single GeForce 9800 GX2 card consuming nearly 200W of power at peak load, powering two cards is obviously going to require a pretty beefy power supply. NVIDIA’s recommended guidelines for the GeForce 9800 GX2 call for an 850W power supply at the minimum, while a 1-kilowatt (1,000W) PSU is recommended. The PSU must also have two 6-pin and two 8-pin PCIe power connectors. Unfortunately there’s no getting around this requirement. NVIDIA will provide a full list of certified components on slizone.com.
Fortunately the GeForce 9800 GX2 supports NVIDIA’s HybridPower technology, allowing both GeForce 9800 GX2 cards to power completely down during 2D operations, so once HybridPower-compatible motherboards are available, that idle power consumption figure should drop substantially.
Testing the 9800 GX2
To test the performance of the GeForce 9800 GX2 Quad, EVGA sent over a pair of their e-GeForce 9800 GX2 cards. These boards are based entirely on NVIDIA’s reference design, following NVIDIA’s specs to the letter. For now at least, NVIDIA is locking down all their board partners for the 9800 GX2, so there will be no differentiation among the various 9800 GX2 cards on the market, they’re all basically identical to one another.
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6770
EVGA nForce 790i Ultra SLI motherboard
2GB Crucial Ballistix 2.0GHz DDR3
GeForce 8800 GTX
GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB
GeForce 8800 Ultra
GeForce 8800 GT 512MB
GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Company of Heroes 1.71
Crysis High – Direct3D
Generally most games ran around 8-13% faster in our testing than the 3-Way GeForce 8800 Ultra platform with the GeForce 9800 GX2 cards running in Quad SLI.
So is Quad SLI worth it? We feel that’s a question that is going to depend on economics. Obviously when it comes to value, you’ll get more bang for your buck going with a more conventional 2-Way SLI setup like a pair of GeForce 8800 GTs or GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB cards. Two of these cards are cheaper than one GeForce 9800 GX2 alone! Much like a Ferrari Enzo or Lamborghini Reventón, picking up a pair of 9800 GX2 cards will never be considered a value option for the enthusiast. That’s what NVIDIA’s cheaper GeForce cards are for.
The GeForce 9800 GX2 is intended for the enthusiast who wants to get that extra boost in performance at 1920x1200 or 2560x1600. It doesn’t blow away the GeForce 8800 Ultra 3-Way SLI setup in performance, but it is an incremental improvement over the Ultras. When you consider that when 3-Way was made available last year, GeForce 8800 GTX cards were selling for $400 and 8800 Ultras for $500+, you can actually make an argument that the price of entry has actually come down, making 9800 GX2 Quad more affordable than 3-Way SLI was just four months ago. NVIDIA would also argue that spending the $1,200 on a pair of GeForce 9800 GX2 cards will give you better game performance than shelling out that cash for a Core 2 Extreme QX9650 CPU. Of course, we’ve been highlighting this for years now, just click through the 1600x1200 results in any one of our CPU reviews from the past several years.
Because of its stratospheric price, the GeForce 9800 GX2 and Quad SLI aren’t going to be high volume products that become an overnight sensation among gamers looking to upgrade. Again, in light of high-performing cards like the 9600 GT and 8800 GT, the GeForce 9800 GX2 just isn’t practical.
But that doesn’t mean gamers still won’t lust after the GX2…
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|