Review Index:

NVIDIA 3-Way SLI Technology Review - 8800 Ultra x 3!

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

Test System: Digital Storm in the House

As you might expect with the platform requirements as high as they are, NVIDIA was much more willing to send out complete systems for review rather than just a few cards in hopes that we had the rest of the items just laying around.  We DID have all the other components required to build an NVIDIA-recommend system for 3-Way SLI but NVIDIA still had a system integrator toss a box our way just in case. 

Digital Storm was tapped to provide us with a 3-Way SLI testing system and the machine they sent over is an absolutely gorgeous piece of computing power. Including a water cooled and overclocked Intel QX9650 processor, 2GB of Corsair DDR2 memory, an EVGA 680i motherboard and three EVGA 8800 Ultra graphics cards this computer would make just about any gamer excited enough to wet their proverbial pantaloons. 

We’ll be doing a full review of this system in its entirety next week, you can be sure of that, but for our 3-Way SLI performance testing today we yanked those GPUs out and installed them in our own GPU test bed that had slightly different components.  Our NVIDIA GPU test bed includes the same EVGA 680i SLI motherboard with three physical PCIe x16 slots and 2GB of Corsair memory but uses a dual-core Intel QX6800 processor running at 2.93 GHz.  To see if that quad-core CPU makes a difference for 3-Way SLI as NVIDIA hopes it does, we’ll be comparing the entire Digital Storm system to our own testbed in the system review next week. 

Our testing suite for this review is exactly the same as in recent GPU reviews – we are using the same hardware, same Vista x64 OS and same gaming titles.  Some of them will scale well and some of them probably will not but we wanted to take a look at 3-Way SLI from the gamers’ perspective; and gamers play a large variety of games.  Some of the titles we played with matched up with NVIDIA’s recommended games but not all of them did so we’ll see how it turns out as we go through our results. 

The results will show three different configurations of our 3-Way SLI system: one with three 8800 Ultras, another with two 8800 Ultras in the standard dual-card SLI configuration and finally another with just a single Ultra card.  This will allow us to see how the SLI performance scales from one to two to three cards and three times as much money.  Also, in most cases you’ll see the new 8800 GTS 512MB card thrown in there for a fourth data point and to add real-world, real-money comparison into the mix.

You’ll see that we have three sets of graphs in this review: one tested at 1600x1200, one at either 1920x1200 or 2048x1536 (depending on previous GPU test results) and one at 2560x1600.  The 25x16 tests will only include the 8800 Ultra cards as we didn’t test other GPUs at this level as most wouldn’t live up to the stress.  The only exception will be in Crysis – getting that at 2560x1600 just isn’t happening quite yet.

Testing Methodology

Graphics card testing has
become the most hotly debated issue in the hardware enthusiast
community recently.  Because of that, testing graphics cards has become
a much more complicated process than it once was.  Before you might
have been able to rely on the output of a few synthetic, automatic
benchmarks to make your video card purchase, that is just no longer the
case.  Video cards now cost up to $500 and we want to make sure that we
are giving the reader as much information as we can to aid you in your
purchasing decision.  We know we can't run every game or find every bug
and error, but we try to do what we can to aid you, our reader, and the
community as a whole.

With that in mind, all the
benchmarks that you will see in this review are from games that we
bought off the shelves just like you.  Of these games, there are two
different styles of benchmarks that need to be described.

The first is the
"timedemo-style" of benchmark.  Many of you may be familiar with this
style from games like Quake III; a "demo" is recorded in the game and a
set number of frames are saved in a file for playback.  When playing
back the demo, the game engine then renders the frames as quickly as
possible, which is why you will often see the "timedemo-style" of
benchmarks playing back the game much more quickly than you would ever
play the game.  In our benchmarks, the FarCry tests were done in this
matter: we recorded four custom demos and then played them back on each
card at each different resolution and quality setting.  Why does this
matter?  Because in these tests where timedemos are used, the line
graphs that show the frame rate at each second, each card may not end at the same time precisely
because one card is able to play it back faster than the other -- less
time passes and thus the FRAPs application gets slightly fewer frame
rates to plot.  However, the peaks and valleys and overall performance
of each card is still maintained and we can make a judged comparison of
the frame rates and performance.

The second type of benchmark
you'll see in this article are manual run throughs of a portion of a
game.  This is where we sit at the game with a mouse in one hand, a
keyboard under the other, and play the game to get a benchmark score. 
This benchmark method makes the graphs and data easy to read, but adds
another level of difficulty to the reviewer -- making the manual run
throughs repeatable and accurate.  I think we've accomplished this by
choosing a section of each game that provides us with a clear cut path.
We take three readings of each card and setting, average the scores,
and present those to you.  While this means the benchmarks are not
exact to the most minute detail, they are damn close and practicing
with this method for many days has made it clear to me that while this
method is time consuming, it is definitely a viable option for games
without timedemo support.

The second graph is a bar
graph that tells you the average framerate, the maximum framerate, and
the minimum framerate.  The minimum and average are important numbers
here as we want the minimum to be high enough to not affect our gaming
experience.  While it will be the decision of each individual gamer
what is the lowest they will allow, comparing the Min FPS to the line
graph and seeing how often this minimum occurs, should give you a good
idea of what your gaming experience will be like with this game, and
that video card on that resolution.

Our tests are completely based around the second type of benchmark method mentioned above -- the manual run through.

System Setup and Comparisons


Test System Setup


Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 - Review


EVGA nForce 680i Motherboard - Review


Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C4

Hard Drive

Western Digital Raptor 150 GB - Review

Sound Card

Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Value

Video Card

EVGA GeForce 8800 Ultra x 3

BFG GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB

Video Drivers

NVIDIA Forceware 169.18 Beta

Power Supply PC Power and Cooling 1000 watt

DirectX Version


/ DX9c

Operating System

Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

  • Bioshock
  • Company of Heroes
  • Call of Duty 4

  • Call of Juarez
  • Lost Planet
  • World in Conflict
  • Unreal Tournament 3
  • Crysis
  • 3DMark06

April 18, 2011 | 06:50 PM - Posted by Danny (not verified)

hi i would just like to clarify that a 3-way SLI supported GPU is better that just a SLI supported GPU. Please email me the answer

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