Supported by the entire graphics card range, from cheap $59 products to luxurious $800 ones, multi-GPU technologies have only been really popular when applied to top-end solutions. It is easy to explain. Many people who buy premium-class solutions do not actually care about the price. They can just as easily buy two or even three advanced graphics cards to get highest performance possible in particular games. It is this user category that ensures a stable market niche for ATI CrossFire and Nvidia SLI systems. As we learned in our recent test session, these systems can indeed provide unprecedented performance in many applications notwithstanding some drawbacks.
It’s different with mainstream graphics cards costing up to $200-250 and accounting for a large share of 3D graphics hardware sales. All of them can work in dual-processor subsystems, this feature being touted by ATI and Nvidia as a means to increase your graphics subsystem’s performance at low cost. This is true, yet our tests have showed that purchasing a single card from a higher category is often a preferable alternative as it ensures similar or higher performance without any compatibility issues typical of multi-GPU systems. Unfortunately, ATI users do not have this opportunity today: AMD’s high-end graphics solution, ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2, is already a dual-processor tandem, carrying two RV670 chips on a single PCB.
Nvidia, on the contrary, offers a number of rather advanced single-chip graphics cards, but the company doesn’t stop to promote its multi-GPU technology on the mass market. The recently released GeForce 9600 GT supports 2-way SLI, being able to work in pair with another such card. Based on the G94 core, this card belongs to the $169-189 category where it is competitive against the Radeon HD 3850 and 3870. Although endowed with only 64 ALUs, it feels all right in modern games, often being about as fast as the more expensive GeForce 8800 GT 512MB.
Considering the price and performance of the GeForce 9600 GT, we are going to see if there is a reason to build a SLI tandem out of two such cards. Will this configuration be a good alternative to Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB and GeForce 9800 GTX and to the Radeon HD 3870 X2? As usual, we’ll also consider such aspects as noise, power consumption, and ease-of-use.
We’ll perform our tests using the Gigabyte GV-NX96T512H-B card which is a precise copy of Nvidia’s reference sample.