Our Summary and Conclusion
The Maingear system we tested here today, based on NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra 3-Way SLI technology, showed significant performance gains that scaled relative to its additional graphics processing resources, in specific test setups and gaming usage models. Under test conditions with virtually all game engines we tested thus far, running 3-Way SLI at 1920X1200 or lower resolutions with less anything less than 4X AA, offered little or no performance gain. It was at 1920X1200 or 2560X1600 resolution with either 4X, 8X AA enabled that we reported a performance increase of around 40% with 3-Way SLI versus a standard two cards SLI setup. We would also offer that once we have access to the forth-coming patch for Crysis from Crytek and Electronic Arts, that we could very well see sizeable gains there also. Conversely, the power consumption of this system exceeded anything we've seen here in the test lab to date by a wide margin, topping out in excess of 800 Watts under full load.
So, what's the moral of our little 3-Way SLI story that we've layed out for you today? Do you need 3-Way SLI? Well, that depends on your perspective. There's no question that a 3-Way SLI setup will benefit end users with 30" LCDs that want to run at their monitor's native resolution with a high level of image quality processing turned on as well. At the end of the day, we were rather impressed that the NVIDIA 3-WAY SLI solution scaled as well as it did at these extreme high resolutions and IQ settings.
However, you'll also need significant financial resources to bring a system build of this sort together. With even the least expensive GeForce 8800 Ultra on the market running at around $659 and the lowest cost GeForce 8800 GTX at $510, you're looking at $1500 - $2000 in graphics cards alone. Then there are power consumption, heat output and possibly noise considerations to keep in mind with an over-the-top ultra-high-end gaming machine like this. To put it succinctly, only those hell-bent on an extreme PC gaming experience need apply to the new NVIDIA 3-WAY SLI architecture. There's no question, three GeForce 8800 Ultra cards running in tandem are easily the fastest 3D graphics gaming engine available at the moment. It does come at a steep cost on more than one level.
We're actually more encouraged to see the technology working in general so well currently, with good performance scaling. We're also intrigued at the thought of multi-GPU rendering (more than two GPUs) for mid-range cards, multi-GPU single board designs or NVIDIA's next generation G92-based product that is due out in the next few months. With improved power profiles and smaller, more optimized and cost efficient manufacturing technologies at work, the solution could become even more compelling.
For now, 3-Way SLI with GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra cards feels more like a dreamer's system, with all practicality thrown to the wind, not to mention zero concern for the "inconvenient truth" of excessive power consumption. But then again, if you simply must have that the ultimate PC gaming experience, at high resolutions, on enormous 30-inch LCDs, you probably don't much care about these things. In that case, 3-Way SLI certainly can deliver the goods.