The Pricing Argument
While we have already gone into some detail about the pricing advantages of the AMD platform on previous pages it bears diving into further.  As configured in our testing setup today, the pair of GTX 480 cards in SLI mode to support NVIDIA Surround technology will run you about $469/each or $938 for a pair.  That is a really steep price considering you can get triple-display gaming for as little as $150 with some mid-range AMD graphics cards on the market today.

NVIDIA is not limiting us to Surround gaming on GTX 480s though and we will be showing you numbers from the GeForce GTX 470s in SLI sometime tomorrow.  As mentioned on the hardware configurations page you can also revert back into the world of the GT200 to get NVIDIA Surround working but finding those cards at our favorite e-tail establishments is nearly impossible. 

That really leaves the GF100-based GTX 400-series cards as your best option going forward.  Let’s look at a table the compares the prices of the configurations we tested today in addition to the GTX 470s we’ll have for you tomorrow.

NVIDIA Surround and 3D Vision Surround Revealed - Graphics Cards  1

Above you can see we have included the $100 price for an active DisplayPort to DVI adapter that is going to be required for users if you are not using native DisplayPort monitors.  There are still very few of those adapters on the market and we couldn’t find any on the low-end (sub $230) 24-in 1080p panels available. 

The table clearly shows that the AMD Radeon HD 5870 single graphics card is the lowest cost way to get into the world of multi-monitor gaming.  It is quite a bit cheaper than the GTX 480s but only $120-130 less than the pair of GTX 470 cards; and not to ruin the surprise but the GTX 470s look very favorable when compared to the HD 5870 when it comes to overall gaming performance.

The CrossFire configuration of the HD 5870s is still lower priced than the pair of GTX 480s but when you take that $100 adapter into consideration the difference is only $60!  As you saw in our performance section of this review in pretty much every case the GTX 480s in an SLI configuration blow the CrossFire HD 5870s out of the water!  Maybe even more appealing: the GTX 470s running in SLI are comparable in performance to the 5870s in CrossFire and they cost $260 LESS!!

The HD 5970 is a nice choice though for AMD fans as it offers nearly the same performance as the CrossFire HD 5870s but it only takes up one graphics card slot on your motherboard and would thus be more easily upgraded with a third GPU or even another HD 5970.  You get those advantages AND the benefit of the HD 5970 running about $80 lower in price.

NVIDIA Surround and 3D Vision Surround Revealed - Graphics Cards  2

This table kind of sums up what I was saying above.  To read it, simply look at the left hand column: the GTX 470 SLI has a $360 edge on the GTX 480 SLI (thus the green box) but is $89 more than the single Radeon HD 5870 (thus the red box).  You can also see that the GTX 480 SLI setup is $60 more (red box) than the HD 5870 CrossFire rig – a difference that I think is overwhelmed by the performance delta seen between the two options. 

This table does NOT take into account the performance data on the previous pages or any other outstanding features of the AMD/NVIDIA cards but it can give you a good idea of how the pricing structure fits today.

To me then, though you can definitely get much cheaper multi-monitor setups for your gaming system if you are comfortable with the detriments in resolution and/or image quality settings they will entail, the NVIDIA SLI-based Surround systems make a solid case for themselves in the arena of price versus performance when we look at the benchmarks. 

There are other costs associated with a multi-monitor gaming rig though.  Like….the displays.  A key promotional point of the NVIDIA Surround technology today is with 3D Vision; hence why NVIDIA only wanted us to focus on the GTX 480 cards for this review.  And while I was impressed with the effect you can get with gaming in 3D with a surround monitor setup what is the cost differential there?

NVIDIA Surround and 3D Vision Surround Revealed - Graphics Cards  3

In my quick look while writing this review, a decent 1920×1080 24-in display will run you $209 each (Acer model, from Newegg) for a total of only $627 for the trio.  Add to that the cost of your GTX 480 graphics cards ($938) and you are looking at a total graphics investment of $1565.  That’s a lot of money but what about if you want to try out the 3D Vision setup instead?  Those monitors are going to run you $369 each (Acer model, from Newegg) for a total of $1107 and if you add in the price of the graphics cards ($938) and of course the 3D Vision kit with glasses and transmitter ($199) you are up to a grand total of $2244.  That is a difference of $679 for a 3D gaming effect that, while cool, you have likely never seen in person.   Tough decision to make for sure.

If you go with GTX 470s rather than GTX 480s, the difference in configuration prices remains $679 but the overall cost of a 2D-only setup drops from the $1500 above down to just over $1200.  That is still a lot of money but with a good $350+ price drop NVIDIA Surround starts to look more reasonable. 

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