Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI Review

The arrival of a new mainstream Nvidia core, GF114, posed a very interesting question: how well will this product perform in SLI mode? Since we‘ve got a pair of graphics cards like that on our hands, we decided to check it out.

by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
02/07/2011 | 04:23 AM

Announced on the 25th of January, Nvidia’s new mainstream graphics processor GF114 became the heart of one of the company’s most winning products ever. Priced at $250, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti proved to be faster than the comparably priced Radeon HD 6870 and often as good as the more expensive Radeon HD 6950 in our tests. It is just a perfect mainstream card, like the Radeon HD 4850 used to be in 2008, for example.

 

Today, we’ve got another story to tell you, though. AMD have been busy preparing its two-headed monster. Codenamed “Antilles”, the Radeon HD 6990 is going to dominate in the premium market sector, replacing the good old Radeon HD 5970 which itself should be given credit for having held the title of the world’s fastest graphics card up to this day. Nvidia don’t seem to be in a hurry to do anything about AMD’s supremacy in this field. As you know, they have never rolled out dual-chip products with two GF100 or GF104 processors. Of course, Nvidia’s single-chip GeForce GTX 580 is capable of meeting the demands of the overwhelming majority of users, yet the lack of a new dual-chip product isn’t good for the company’s image.

Our tests of a GeForce GTX 570 SLI configuration showed its performance to be high enough for a successor to the GeForce GTX 295 if it were implemented as a single card. However, the engineers are going to have a lot of difficulties to overcome when they get to design it. Particularly, they will have to wire two 320-bit memory buses (or even two 384-bit buses if Nvidia is that ambitious) and yet leave enough space to install as many as 24 chips of GDDR5 memory.

A dual-PCB sandwich, like the first version of the GeForce GTX 295, might be a solution, but a very costly one.

Now what if we take two GF114 cores for a perspective GeForce GTS 590?

From a purely theoretical standpoint, the technical specifications of such a tandem would be good whereas the card design would be simpler with two 256-bit memory buses. Considering the lower power consumption of the GF114, a dual-GF114 card would also be more economical than a dual-GF110 one and could be equipped with a simpler cooler. Moreover, its texture-mapping performance would be higher thanks to the higher frequency potential of the GF114 chip.

A dual-GF114 solution seems to be competitive to the Radeon HD 5970 but the Radeon HD 6990 is going to utilize two Cayman cores. If the latter are used in their full configuration and at the same frequencies as in the Radeon HD 6970 card, the dual-GF114 card wouldn’t be so appealing. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a second Radeon HD 6970 to compare the two configurations directly.

But we do have two GeForce GTX 560 Ti cards, so we are going to benchmark this pair in SLI mode to see if it is any better than a Radeon HD 5970 or a single GeForce GTX 580.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate the gaming performance of Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI in contemporary games using the following universal testbed:

We used the following ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers:

The ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

Below is the list of games and test applications we used during this test session:

First-Person 3D Shooters

Third-Person 3D Shooters

RPG

Simulators

Strategies

Semi-synthetic and synthetic benchmarks

We selected the highest possible level of detail in each game. If the application supported tessellation, we enabled it for the test session.

For settings adjustment, we used standard tools provided by the game itself from the gaming menu. The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We ran our tests in the following resolutions: 1600x900, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600. Unless stated otherwise, everywhere, where it was possible we added MSAA 4x antialiasing to the standard anisotropic filtering 16x. We enabled antialiasing from the game’s menu. If this was not possible, we forced them using the appropriate driver settings of ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers.

Besides GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI tandem, we also tested the following single- and dual-GPU graphics cards:

Performance was measured with the games’ own tools and the original demos were recorded if possible. We measured not only the average speed, but also the minimum speed of the cards where possible. In individual cases we used Fraps utility version 3.2.7 to measure the cards minimal performance. In case no built-in benchmarking tools were available, we also used Fraps in manual mode. In the latter case we ran the test three times and took the average of the three minimal performance readings for the charts.

Performance in First-Person 3D Shooters

Aliens vs. Predator

The SLI configuration built out of two GeForce GTX 560 Ti cards boasts a scalability of 80-90% in this test. It is 17% ahead of the Radeon HD 5970 at 2560x1600 but cannot make that resolution playable due to the low bottom speed which is a mere 2 fps higher than that of the GeForce GTX 580.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Well, it becomes clear that Nvidia’s next dual-chip graphics card won’t be based on GF114 chips because the SLI tandem isn’t much faster than the Radeon HD 5970. It won’t beat the upcoming Radeon HD 6990. In this test, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI enjoys an advantage of 18% over the AMD flagship at 1920x1080 and less than 7% at the other resolutions.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Multi-GPU configurations still depend too much on software optimizations. Here, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI refuses to work at resolutions up to 1920x1080 but then offers a 43% performance boost over the single such card at 2560x1600. It didn’t overtake the Radeon HD 5970, though.

Crysis Warhead

In our earlier tests a GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem was unsuccessful in making this game playable with all possible comfort at the highest settings. Of course, the less advanced SLI configuration with two GeForce GTX 560 Ti cards cannot do that, either. It is even slower than the Radeon HD 5970 at 1600x900 and a mere 7% ahead of the latter at 1920x1080. That’s not enough to claim unrivalled superiority.

Metro 2033

This game is tested with tessellation turned on.

The SLI configuration is ahead of the Radeon HD 5970 by 20% at 1600x900, by 15% at 1920x1080, and by a mere 5% at 2560x1600. That won’t be enough to compete with the upcoming Radeon HD 6990 considering the latter’s specifications. We guess Nvidia’s future flagship will carry two GF110 chips on board, probably in their full configuration with 512 stream processors active in each chip. The tested SLI tandem shows high scalability, though. It is about 70-75%. On the other hand, we can only recommend it for a two-step upgrade. If you want such performance right now, you should prefer the single GeForce GTX 580 which is free from the compatibility issues typical of multi-GPU configurations.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

We turn tessellation on in this game.

This game suggests that a dual-GF114 card wouldn’t be a viable solution. The SLI configuration works well but is always inferior to the single GeForce GTX 580, the gap varying from 7 to 10% depending on the resolution. Considering the comparable cost of the two solutions and the problems typical of SLI configurations, we don’t see any reason to prefer the GeForce GTX 560 Ti pair.

Performance in Third-Person 3D Shooters

Just Cause 2

It’s like in the previous test except that the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI goes ahead of the GeForce GTX 580 at 2560x1600. But the gap is only 12% and the bottom speeds of the two solutions are the same. The Radeon HD 5970 is always ahead of the SLI configuration in this game.

Lost Planet 2

The tested SLI configuration is quite fast, but its advantage of 5 to 18% over the GeForce GTX 580 is not as large as to justify its price. The latter card copes just as well with this game and doesn’t need two expansion slots or any special software optimizations to show its best speed. In fact, users with Full-HD monitors (or even those who play at 1920x1200) will be quite satisfied even with a single GeForce GTX 560 Ti here. Owners of larger monitors can hardly be interested in the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI configuration, either. We guess they would prefer a dual-GF110 card instead.

Performance in RPGs

Fallout: New Vegas

You don’t need premium-class graphics solutions to play Fallout: New Vegas. A single GeForce GTX 560 Ti is more than enough except for panoramic modes like 5760x1080. As a matter of fact, you need at least two cards in SLI mode to connect three monitors simultaneously with Nvidia solutions. The future GeForce GTX 590 will also support that “out of the box” whereas AMD’s products have long been able to output content to three and more monitors simultaneously.

Mass Effect 2

We enforced full-screen antialiasing using the method described in our special Mass Effect 2 review.

SLI technology shows fantastic scalability in this game, the SLI tandem being over 100% faster than the single GeForce GTX 560 Ti. However, this performance boost is not really necessary for playing the game unless you want to enable a high-resolution panoramic mode. A single GeForce GTX 560 Ti makes the game playable at a resolution of 2560x1600 whereas the GeForce GTX 580 offers even more speed.

Performance in Simulators

F1 2010

The SLI tandem is roughly equal to the Radeon HD 5970 in this game, the AMD solution enjoying a small lead in two out of the three tested resolutions. Comparing the results to those of the GeForce GTX 580, we want to prefer the single top-end card again as it is much easier to use.

Performance in Strategies

BattleForge

The excellent average frame rate of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI in BattleForge cannot change our opinion about it because the single GeForce GTX 580 offers a higher bottom speed. At a resolution of 2560x1600 the SLI configuration cannot maintain a playable frame rate whereas the GeForce GTX 580 can do that and costs about the same money.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

Our last gaming test shows that the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI configuration has high potential, yet it is not as high as to make a dual-GF114 card an indisputable leader. The Radeon HD 5970 is always a little faster, so the future GeForce GTX 590 will have to be something better, e.g. a pair of GeForce GTX 580s on a single PCB and with reduced clock rates to keep the resulting product’s heat dissipation within reasonable limits.

Performance in Synthetic and Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

We minimize the CPU’s influence by using the Extreme profile (1920x1200, 4x FSAA and anisotropic filtering). We also publish the results of the individual tests across all resolutions.

The SLI tandem has no problems with synthetic benchmarks. It beats the GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 5970 but 3DMark is only good for measuring your overclocking success. We’ve seen in the real games that the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI is not that brilliant in practice.

The individual tests agree with us. The SLI tandem is only 13% ahead of the Radeon HD 5970 at 1920x1080 in the first test. That’s far from impressive. The second test is no better: the SLI configuration is a mere 4-5% ahead of the dual-processor AMD solution at 2560x1600.

Futuremark 3DMark11

We use the Extreme profile here. As opposed to 3DMark Vantage, this profile uses a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels.

The newer version of 3DMark produces more realistic results. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI tandem takes its top place deservedly, but is only 10% ahead of the Radeon HD 5970.

Final Fantasy XIV Official Benchmark

This benchmark can only run at 1280x720 and 1920x1080.

The pair of GeForce GTX 560 Ti cards wins at 1920x1080, but is only 11% ahead of the single Radeon HD 6970. We have no doubt that the Radeon HD 6990 is going to outperform that SLI configuration easily.

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 Preview Benchmark

This benchmark makes wide use of tessellation to render the surface of the earth. The number of polygons per one frame can be as high as 1.5 million!

This test doesn’t show us anything new. The SLI configuration doesn’t scale up well here. It is only at 2560x1600 that its speed is 63% higher than the single card’s. Otherwise, the performance growth is no better than 36%. Building a SLI configuration out of two GeForce GTX 560 Ti doesn’t seem to be worthwhile. It’s easier to buy a single GeForce GTX 580 instead.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

We use Normal tessellation in this test.

The GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI finally shows its best. The tandem is about 40% ahead of the GeForce GTX 580 and 52-56% ahead of the Radeon HD 5970 through all the resolutions. Anyway, this test cannot save the day. We really doubt that this SLI configuration will ever be implemented as a single-PCB product.

Conclusion

We didn’t actually expect any wonders from the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI configuration, especially after our tests of a GeForce GTX 570 SLI setup, but its results are quite disappointing anyway.

The tested SLI tandem is overall faster than the Radeon HD 5970 but this didn’t make any difference in any of the games. Moreover, the Radeon HD 5970 is an old product whereas a dual-chip Radeon HD 6900 series solution wouldn’t leave any chance to the hypothetic GeForce GTX 590 with two GF114 chips. We guess Nvidia’s future flagship card will be based on two GF110 cores, probably in the full configuration, like on the GeForce GTX 580, but with reduced clock rates to keep the card’s heat dissipation within reasonable limits.

The GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI tandem is not an improvement over a single GeForce GTX 580, either, just as you can see in the summary diagrams.

At the resolution of 1600x900 pixels the SLI tandem is an average 14% faster than Nvidia’s single-chip flagship and AMD’s dual-chip solution. This advantage is hardly worth the trouble of building and running a SLI configuration. It’s better to invest the same money into a single GeForce GTX 580 and enjoy as much comfort in every game, without any SLI-related incompatibilities.

At the most popular resolution the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI has an average advantage of 20% over its opponents, its average scalability increasing from 50 to 62%. However, this doesn’t make any difference in terms of playability in any of the games. Moreover, the SLI tandem has a bottom speed of 30 fps in BattleForge whereas the single such card delivers 35 fps and the GeForce GTX 580, 45 fps. We didn’t see any performance breakthroughs even in the synthetic Unigine Heaven where the SLI tandem had the highest bottom speed among the tested solutions.

At the highest resolution the SLI configuration is comparable to the GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem we tested earlier in scalability. Its performance increases by an average 70% over that of the single card. The maximum performance boost is as high as 105%. Its advantage over the GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 5970 remains the same at 19-21%, though. Compared to that, the GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem enjoyed an advantage of 42-43% over those cards. Thus, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI delivers comfortable performance where the single GeForce GTX 580 can do the same and even fails in BattleForge and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat.

So, a dual-GF114 graphics card wouldn’t be competitive as a flagship solution. It might be fast but only about as fast as an ordinary single-chip GeForce GTX 580. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti SLI tandem doesn’t have the hardware resources necessary to beat the upcoming Radeon HD 6990. It might be interesting for enthusiasts as a two-step upgrade, but if you have the whole sum of money to spend, you should instead prefer the GeForce GTX 580. And if you’ve got a Radeon HD 5970, you can rest assured that your graphics card remains unrivalled until the next generation of dual-chip products from AMD and Nvidia.