Closing ThoughtsPower, Heat, Noise
As I mentioned in my GTX 480/470 SLI review from last week, while there is no denying NVIDIA has a disadvantage in terms of overall power consumption, heat generation and noise levels, much of that difference seems to be overblown thanks to reviewers like myself using open test bed. By utilizing a high quality chassis and setting up just standard cooling practices the fans on the GTX 400-series cards can be much quieter. If you really are concerned by the power consumption and possible noise related to it then you will definitely give AMD the edge there but if you are mostly agnostic then I would let pricing and performance decide for you.
It might seem unfair to just say NVIDIA’s solution is faster as it goes nearly without saying that a pair of GeForce GTX 480s in SLI would be faster than a single AMD Radeon HD 5870, a pair of HD 5870s and even the single HD 5970. The GTX 480s also happen to be the most expensive configuration tested, so that also makes sense. But in terms of gaming at 5760×1080 with a set of three 24-in panels, the NVIDIA GTX 480s provided the best overall gaming experience in 2D mode by enabling us to run at higher resolutions and/or higher image quality settings at the same frame rates as the HD 5870s or HD 5970. And considering that the HD 5870s in CrossFire were only $60 less in total cost than the GTX 480s, that is a notable fact.
In the games we tested, the GTX 480s were able to handle just about everything we could throw at them even at this super high resolution. We weren’t the only ones to think that graphics cards like the Radeon HD 5800-series and the GeForce GTX 400-series were way more powerful than a user on a single 1080p display need but now we are finally seeing a valid reason to have all of the pixel processing power! That fact that we could run games like Left 4 Dead 2 at 5760×1080 with all the IQ settings turned up and with 4xAA still blows us away; even if NVIDIA wasn’t the first to bring it to us.
NVIDIA Surround has “features” like the not requiring the use of a DisplayPort connection like AMD’s Eyefinity offerings but that is offset by the requirement of a second graphics card to get the job done at all. The obvious differentiating feature here for NVIDIA is the inclusion of 3D Vision Surround that gives the user a completely unrivaled gaming experience you can’t find anywhere else when coupled with 120 Hz 3D-ready displays and NVIDIA 3D Vision glasses.
This feature adds a lot of realism and interest to a lot of different titles but it also unfortunately adds a lot of cost. It is hard to ask a gamer to spend an EXTRA $650+ for three 3D displays and 3D glasses when most of them have never seen the effect in person in order to gauge their own interest. I do tend to think that gamers with enough cash for an NVIDIA Surround configuration would jump to the 3D Vision price level if they had a chance to get hands on; unfortunately unless you make it to an NVIDIA’s sponsored LAN event or another trade show you are likely not to have that opportunity.
We always knew marking 3D Vision was going to be a problem for NVIDIA even if it was a killer gaming technology but now they have three times the complication.
I won’t go into much more detail here since we spent an entire page on the pricing debate (just one page back!) but I will reiterate my thoughts that while NVIDIA’s Surround functionality is definitely the most expensive to start with as it requires an SLI system with at least two GPUs, it has an significant advantage in performance per dollar once you break the $400 mark that the HD 5870 occupies. If you can jump to $618 for a graphics card solution then the GTX 470s will be better for you than a single HD 5870, that much we can say already. But, if you know your GPU selection is limited to something $300 or less then AMD will have the ONLY options for you with the rest of the HD 5800 and 5700-series.
I have spent a lot of time with both AMD Eyefinity and NVIDIA Surround and I can honestly say that both have distinct advantages and drawbacks. AMD still wins out on the overall cost debate for me as the ability to run three monitors on cards under $100, even if you have no intention of doing any gaming across them, is a great feature. And if you would like to try three-display gaming but you don’t want to shell out tons of money (maybe you just happen to have three displays already for the task) then you can start with something like the HD 5850 ($289) and give it a go.
If you are willing to spend a bit more then the NVIDIA SLI-based multi-monitor gaming looks much more impressive as it wins the price/performance battles once we get over the $400-500 mark. Requiring a pair of cards to do three displays is a negative but the performance boost you get because of that is a great side effect that gives NVIDIA the perceived performance lead. 3D Vision is also an advantage though one I am afraid few users will be able to take advantage of due to the high prices of the hardware required for it. I really fall for 3D Vision every time I use it but I have the advantage of having hardware sent to me for evaluation; the rest of the world isn’t as lucky.
NVIDIA’s initial foray into multi-display gaming with NVIDIA Surround and 3D Vision Surround seems to be a great counter to AMD’s initial release of the technology for gamers’ use back in September of 2009. NVIDIA is finally nearing parity with AMD’s 5000-series of graphics cards with DX11 support multi-monitor gaming though they are nine months behind. Better late than never as the saying goes and maybe AMD has created a market that NVIDIA can swing in and take over…? We still aren’t sure that will be the case but NVIDIA Surround is definitely a differentiating and compelling option for the PC gamer and enthusiast.
UPDATE: If you are interested in seeing the final results with the GTX 470 graphics cards rather than the GTX 480s, and the better price/performance balance they provide, check out my updated article after reading this more detailed review of the technology.
Immediately below is the video version of our review on NVIDIA’s Surround and 3D Vision Surround technologies. I highly recommend you give it a look!