SLI = Cheap Upgrades

BCampbell

Staff Member
Registered
It's that time again... I've been thinking of putting together a new system. Since it's been a while, I've had to do some research on the new tech that's out there, and SLI owns me.

For those who don't know, SLI lets you run two video cards simultaneously, which share video processing duties (they either render alternate frames or split the rendering of each frame). The only catch is that you have to have a motherboard that supports SLI and you have to have two video cards based on the same chipset that also support it. Only certain nVidia cards can run SLI right now so the options are a little limited.

One way to take advanatge of SLI is to get more bang for your buck from two cheaper video cards. The 6600GT, a solid card that's starting to show a little age, is around $100. Two of them running SLI will outperform the $250 6800GT.

Of course, then you're stuck buying two more video cards once you want more power.

Another option is to use SLI as a cheap way to keep your video hardware current. With SLI, if you buy one decent video card at the outset, you can toss another one in as the system ages to more than double the video performance. For example, the "vanilla" GeForce 6800 is more than capable of handling any game currently on the market. Right now you can get one for about $150. If you put one of these into an SLI system, two or three years down the road when you need to upgrade you can just buy another one instead of having to buy a newer card and replacing your old one -- and by that time, the prices will have dropped, so you can keep your machine current for $100 or less.

Needless to say, I'm going SLI with my next system. What's even better is that since the technology has been on the market for almost two years now, you don't have to pay early adopter costs; Socket 939 (Athlon 64/FX/X2) motherboards that support SLI start around $80.
 

ImagoX

PC Editor
Registered
Jun 23, 2005
1,177
0
0
53
Columbus, Ohio
www.freakygamer.com
One day soon (probably before Xmas), we'll look back at SLI and chuckle, like we do now when we look at "3D Daughterboards" (remember those?)- a stop-gap technology fix. I've already seen a few cards with 2 GPUs right on one board. But you make a GREAT point about adding a second video card if you already have a decent video board and upgrading to a (not so expensive) mobo- excellent point!

As an aside... have you seen that new ALienware PC with * QUAD SLI * ???? I saw the beast at E3- their custom cooling solution vendor had a booth with one on display... Of course, we were playing around one night at the Expo, configuring options, and realized that we could, if we really went all-out, spend like $8 Grand on the thing... ((swallows tongue))

Hmmmm.... maybe I''ll ask Alienware if they'd send one for review... (( evil grin))...
 

mlvassallo

New Member
Registered
Apr 12, 2006
181
0
0
37
Austin, Tx
Imago, I just about that same rant on Digg.com and another game website and people just down modded me or told me I was full of it- Its true, SLI is stop gap technology.
 

ImagoX

PC Editor
Registered
Jun 23, 2005
1,177
0
0
53
Columbus, Ohio
www.freakygamer.com
Of course it is... Why buy two video cards and bridge them when you can use a SINGLE card with multiple GPUs? After all, you don't see PCs being made with dual-motherboards, each with it's own CPU (although I'd bet that some marketing guy somewhere tried to sell that idea- 2X mobos = 2X the profit, after all). We saw this same thing with 3D graphics in the mid-90s... I remember buying my first 3DFX card- it was a Daugherboard unit that plugged into the mobo BESIDE my existing 2D card, and functioned by using a cross-over cable to plug my 2D card into the 3D card... Windows ran on the 2D card and games ran on the 3D card. :cookiemon
 

ImagoX

PC Editor
Registered
Jun 23, 2005
1,177
0
0
53
Columbus, Ohio
www.freakygamer.com
Pleeeeeze... I didn't waste my time with that console port crap. It was Wing Commander: Prophesy, actually, but yeah... The first time I saw dynamic lighting and particle effect explosions, I practically wet myself... then I fired up Quake III with the 3D card and gave my soul to the Dark One forevermore... :cookiemon
 

BCampbell

Staff Member
Registered
I think you're right, and it's unfortunate. I see SLI as a great budget option, for the reason I outlined above. Just to put it in perspective, remember that two GeForce 6600GT's slightly outperform a 6800GT. For our purposes, let's just say each of these provides equal graphics power, since the difference is slight and will probably vary depending on application.

If you traveled back in time one year and were building a PC, the 6600GT would have cost you around $150 while the 6800GT would be at least $300. Sure, you could have bought the 6800GT and been set for the forseeable future (it's still more card than anyone needs right now, and will probably continue to be sufficient for gaming for at least two more years). Alternately, you could have spent $150 on the 6600GT, which was at the time still a great card, and a year later -- because you want Oblivion to look better, say -- decide to add a little juice. Today, the same 6600GT costs $100, so for $250 you got the equivalent of a $300 card -- and you spread that cost over the span of a year, making it even more affordable.

For budget-mided PC gamers like myself, this is huge. I did some more price comparing today and found GeForce 7600 cards with rebates that bring them to $90 (these are 12-pipe cards!). 6800XT cards are $80! I wouldn't recommend plugging two of either of these in as a video solution because they're not quite futureproof, but if you did you'd have a sub-$200 setup that would blow the doors off of anything in the $250 range.

I would call SLI an experiment more than a stopgap. Yes, dual core GPU's are on the horison. But it'll be years before they're the standard, and SLi will be around in the meantime. I've also heard that ATI is developing their own version of SLI-like dual GPU technology, and I don't think they'd keep with it if it was just going to be phased out in a year or two.
 

mlvassallo

New Member
Registered
Apr 12, 2006
181
0
0
37
Austin, Tx
ImagoX said:
Pleeeeeze... I didn't waste my time with that console port crap. It was Wing Commander: Prophesy, actually, but yeah... The first time I saw dynamic lighting and particle effect explosions, I practically wet myself... then I fired up Quake III with the 3D card and gave my soul to the Dark One forevermore... :cookiemon


Rogue Squadron was the game that 3DFX pimped over and over- i remember all benchmarks being done on Rogue Squadron for some reason.


I loved that game on my N64 :p
 

Huddy

New Member
Registered
Jun 23, 2005
194
0
0
47
The Boiler Room
I think I've pointed this out before, but I too hope SLI goes the wayside. Not only is it not convenient, but you have to remember that even though two cheaper cards might out framerate a newer card, you're also skimping out on updated features, like the latest shader versions etc. Buying one newer card at least keeps you up to pace with all the latest in lighting, physics and shader modelings, but going with two outdated cards isn't going to show those new hot effects.
Food for thought indeed.

My thoughts? Buy a decent, mid range new card, and a physics PCI card instead.
 

ImagoX

PC Editor
Registered
Jun 23, 2005
1,177
0
0
53
Columbus, Ohio
www.freakygamer.com
Well, that is a solution, as far as pure performance goes, however I personally LOVE the idea of initially spending, say, $200 for a mid-range video card when I first build a PC, and then upgrading it 1-2 years down the road with a second one for like $60 or less, then SLI-ing them together. After a few years, even if your PC is "high mid-range" (as I usually build), after 2 years or so, I'm looking for a way to squeeze out an extra 10-15 FPS out of newly-release titles most of the time, and this seems like a good way to do that without breaking my bank.

Of course, the fact that it DOES make sense and keeps me from needing to purchase a $300-$500 upgrade is likely what will kill it in the end- remember that manufacturers already make such a small profit on even high-end cards that anything that drives people to purchase more old stuff will hurt their bottom line. As long as SLI is thought to be a 'Leet High-End' thing, they love it, but once people start cluing into the fact that you don't NEED to scrap that GeForce 6800 in favor of some new $300 card, and instead can just buy a secind one for less than $60, well then the wheels are gonna come off the wagon, mark my words.