There are no clear leaders at 1280x1024 but, judging by the bottom speeds, the GeForce GTX 280 SLI tandem is better while the single GeForce GTX 280 is worse than the others. Anyway, the frame rate never sinks below 47fps even with the slowest card while the average speed is higher than 60fps.
The single GeForce GTX 280 loses its ground at the higher resolution. It is obviously the slowest of the top-performance solutions, having only one GPU with 240 shader processors. Interestingly, the ATI Radeon HD 4870 3-way CrossFireX subsystem has a somewhat lower bottom speed than the single Radeon HD 4870 X2. It must be due to the overhead for synchronization of the three GPUs. At the same time, the third GPU does not provide any advantage in terms of average speed at 1680x1050 on our testbed (with today’s fastest Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition processor).
The Radeon HD 4870 X2 has to slow down at the resolution of 1920x1200, even though its average frame rate doesn’t drop dramatically. Every graphics subsystem can still provide a comfortable speed. The single GeForce GTX 280 is out of play at 2560x1600, however. Its bottom speed is below critical level. The ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 is quite fast at the highest resolution, but it is the top-end multi-GPU solutions that are contending to be the fastest. ATI’s solution wins by a small margin: you won’t even be able to perceive the difference between the Radeon HD 4870 3-way CrossFireX and GeForce GTX 280 SLI with a naked eye. Nvidia’s solution is better in terms of noise, temperature and power consumption, requiring up to 360 watts of power whereas ATI’s 3-way solution has a peak power draw of almost 400 watts. The new GeForce GTX 295 looks even better from this aspect since it is close to the GeForce GTX 280 SLI tandem in speed but lacks the latter’s drawbacks.
It is easy to recommend in this category. If you care about your acoustic comfort and do not play at resolutions higher than 1920x1200, you are going to be satisfied with the GeForce GTX 280. But if you’ve got a 30-inch monitor, you may want to consider buying a Radeon HD 4870 X2 or GeForce GTX 295. The multi-GPU solutions built out of multiple graphics cards are not worth the trouble of assembling them. They are expensive, unwieldy, uneconomical and very hot, and don’t even make up for these deficiencies with much higher performance in comparison with the Radeon HD 4870 X2 or GeForce GTX 295. They may only be of some help if you want to use a higher level of antialiasing than the classic 4x MSAA.