ATI CrossFire Versus NVIDIA SLI

I have recently gotten an overwhelming amount of e-mail from readers since I posted my launch day review on the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 video cards asking why I didn't compare a pair of GeForce GTS 450 video cards in SLI to a couple of ATI Radeon HD 5770 video cards running in CrossFire.  The answer to this question is simple: time constraints. I benchmarked the cards for that article and then headed to the airport for the Intel Developer Forum where I finished up writing the article and then posted it while flying somewhere over Nevada at 40,000 feet above the ground. Now that I am back from attending both IDF and GTC 2010 I am back in the trenches and have had the time to do the quick and dirty CrossFire versus SLI performance scaling article that you are reading here today.

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I will be using reference cards provided to us by both ATI and NVIDIA for testing.  A reference clocked GeForce GTS 450 1GB video card runs about $129.99 online, so a set of these cards will cost you about $260 out the door for an SLI configuration. The ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB video card can be found for $139.99 online, which makes $280 for a CrossFire multi-GPU setup.  Both multi-GPU solutions are within $20 of each other and are clearly the enemies if there was ever such a thing for video cards.

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I loaded up ATI Catalyst 10.9 drivers for the ATI Radeon HD 5770 CrossFire setup and then installed the latest ATI CrossFireX application profiles to ensure we had the absolute latest set of profiles installed on our PC. I then did the same on the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 SLI setup with Forceware 260.63 drivers and made sure we installed the latest SLI Profiles.

Since I have already done in-depth reviews on the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 and ATI Radeon HD 5770, I'll let you go back and reference those if you need a background refresher of the cards' clock speeds or architecture. Let's take a look at the test system and go straight to the benchmarks!

The Test System

All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit with all the latest updates installed. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. The Kingston HyperX T1 DDR3 memory modules were run in triple-channel mode at 1866MHz with 8-8-8-24 1T timings. The ATI Radeon HD 5000 series cards were all tested using CATALYST 10.9 drivers and the NVIDIA GeForce cards all used Forceware 260.63 drivers. The ASUS P6X58D-E motherboard was run using BIOS 0303 with the processor running stock settings and Turbo enabled.

Windows 7 Drivers Used:
Intel Chipset Inf Update Program V9.1.1.1025
Realtek Audio Driver V6.0.1.6037 for Windows 64bit Windows 7.(WHQL)
Marvell Yukon Gigabit Ethernet Driver V11.10.5.3 for 32/64bit Windows 7.(WHQL)
Marvell 9128 SATA 6Gbps Controller Driver V1.0.0.1036 for 32/64bit Windows 7.

 

The Test System

Here is the Intel LGA 1366 Test platform:

Intel Test Platform

 

Component

 

Brand/Model

 

Live Pricing

 

 Processor

Intel Core i7-970

 

 Motherboard

ASUS P6X58D-E

 

Memory

6GB Kingston DDR3 1866MHz

 

 Video Card

 

 See Below

 

 Hard Drive

 

 Crucial C300 256GB SSD

 

 Cooling

 

 Titan Finrar

 

 Power Supply

Corsair HX850W

 

 Chassis

 

 None (Open Bench)

 

 Operating System

 

 Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit

Video Cards Tested:

NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 1GB Reference Cards in SLI:

ASUS GeForce GTS 450 1GB GPU-Z

ATI Radeon HD 5770 Reference Cards in CrossFire:

ATI Radeon HD 5770 CrossFire GPU-Z

Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs Predator D3D11 Benchmark v1.03

Aliens vs Predator D3D11 Benchmark v1.03 is a standalone benchmark test based upon Rebellion's 2010 inter-species shooter Aliens vs. Predator. The test shows xenomorph-tastic scenes using heavy tessellation among other DX11 features.

Aliens vs Predator D3D11 Benchmark v1.03

We cranked up all the image quality settings in the benchmark to the highest level possible, so we were running 4x AA and 16x AF with SSAO enabled at both 1920x1200 and 1280x1024 on all the video cards.

Aliens Vs. Predator Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: The ATI Radeon HD 5770 comes out on top at a resolution of 1920x1200, but at 1280x1024 the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 SLI setup managed to pull ahead from behind thanks to great SLI scaling!

Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum is an action-adventure stealth video game based on DC Comics' Batman for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows. It was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Eidos Interactive in conjunction with Warner Bros.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

For our testing we set everything as high as it would go, except for Physx and NVIDIA Multi Sample Anti-Aliasing.

Batman: Arkham Asylum Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: The results in Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY edition were close as both cards scaled well over 90% from a single card arrangement to a multi-GPU setup. The ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card was ahead in overall performance in both single and dual-card configurations.

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 is a sandbox style action video game currently under development by Swedish developer Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive, published by Square Enix. It is the sequel to the 2006 video game, Just Cause. 

Just Cause 2 Game Settings

Just Cause 2 employs a new version of the Avalanche Engine, Avalanche Engine 2.0, which is an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause.  The game will be set on the other side of the world, compared to Just Cause, which is on the fictional tropical island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Rico Rodriguez will return as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former boss, Tom Sheldon.


Just Cause 2 Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: Just Cause 2 is very tough on video cards and we also found that scaling wasn't that great on this game title, either.  The ATI Radeon HD 5770 does better than the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 here when it comes to FPS, but when it comes to SLI and CrossFire scaling the NVIDIA cards scaled at 80% versus the 73% seen on the ATI cards.

Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror, and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in the Ukraine. The game is played from the perspective of a character named Artyom. The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Moscow, mostly inside the metro station where the player's character was raised (he was born before the war, in an unharmed city), but occasionally the player has to go above ground on certain missions and scavenge for valuables.

Metro 2033 Settings

Another extremely demanding game, settings were left at High quality, with AA and AF at lowest values- AAA and AF 4x, respectively, for each DirectX 9, 10 & 11 APIs. Advanced DirectX 11 settings were left at default. The section of Metro 2033 tested was the Prologue with fraps polling from when you are climbing up the ladder until opening the door to exit the metro station. This section includes many features found throughout the game including four creatures which attack you before you exit the building, dense particles, ammo in cabinets, a few computer controlled sections and of course Miller, your first companion.

AXLE Radeon HD 5670 1GB Test Results: Metro 2033 @DX9

Benchmark Results: Metro 2033 was hands down the least scaling benchmark that we used in testing.  When installing another Radeon HD 5770 into the test system and running CrossFire we only saw a 42% jump in performance.  Adding another GeForce GTS 450 for SLI wasn't much better, though, as we only saw a 61% performance improvement with the second card. Overall, the GeForce GTS 450 does better in this game title in both single and multi-GPU configurations.

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

Stalker Call of Pripyat DX11 Performance Benchmark

The events of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat unfold shortly after the end of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl following the ending in which Strelok destroys the C-Consciousness. Having discovered the open path to the Zone's center, the government decides to stage a large-scale operation to take control of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat utilizes the XRAY 1.6 Engine, allowing advanced modern graphical features through the use of DirectX 11 to be fully integrated; one outstanding feature being the inclusion of real-time GPU tessellation. Regions and maps feature photo realistic scenes of the region it is made to represent. There is also extensive support for older versions of DirectX, meaning that Call of Pripyat is also compatible with older DirectX 8, 9, 10 and 10.1 graphics cards.

Stalker Call of Pripyat DX11 Performance Benchmark

The game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CoP has no internal benchmarking tools built into the game engine, but they do have a standalone benchmark available that we used for our testing purposes. The screen capture above shows the main window of the benchmark with our settings. Notice we are running Enhanced Full Dynamic Lighting "DX11" as our renderer.

Stalker Call of Pripyat Advanced Image Quality Settings

Under the advanced settings we enabled tessellation and 4x MSAA. We didn't enable ambient occlusion as we wanted to use these test settings for mainstream cards down the road and these settings should be tough enough to stress any and all DX11 enabled video cards.

Stalker Call of Pripyat Advanced Image Quality Settings

Benchmark Results: With just a single card the performance gap at 1920x1200 is minor, but the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 cards in SLI scale nearly 15% better than ATI CrossFire.  This widens the performance gap between the cards when run in a multi-GPU gaming PC!

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty DX11 Performance Benchmark

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is a military science fiction real-time strategy video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. A sequel to the award-winning 1998 video game StarCraft, the game was released worldwide on July 27, 2010. It is split into three installments: the base game with the subtitle Wings of Liberty, and two upcoming expansion packs, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty has had a successful launch, selling three million copies worldwide in less than a month.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Settings

The game StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty has no internal benchmarking tools built into the game engine, so we recorded a scene and played it back at normal speed and measured performance with FRAPS. The screen capture above shows the system settings that we were using for StarCraft II. Notice we are running the graphics quality and textures set to Ultra and maxed out everything in the menu. We did not manually enable AA in the drivers though, as we wanted to keep testing simple and consistent to the choices offered in the games settings menus.

Stalker Call of Pripyat Advanced Image Quality Settings

Benchmark Results: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is a very popular game today and, as you can see, both the Radeon HD 5770 and GeForce GTS 450 can easily run the title with cranked up in-game image quality settings.  By adding a second card for SLI or CrossFire the game's FPS was well above 100FPS on average. NVIDIA was faster when it came to a single card and scaled 18% better in SLI than the ATI solution did in CrossFire.  Seeing the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 SLI setup scale at 90% over a single GTS 450 is what we want to see when you add a second card to your system!

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware. 3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

3DMark Vantage

The Extreme settings were used for testing, so a resolution of 1920x1200 was used.

3DMark Vantage Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: ATI has always done great on 3DMark Vantage and was able to take the lead in both single and multi-GPU setups even though the SLI configuration scaled 5% better.

Unigine 'Heaven' DX11

Unigine DirectX 11 benchmark Heaven

The 'Heaven' benchmark that uses the Unigine easily shows off the full potential of DirectX 11 graphics cards. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging, experience of exploring the intricate world is within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extent and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming. The distinguishing feature of the benchmark is a hardware tessellation that is a scalable technology aimed for automatic subdivision of polygons into smaller and finer pieces so that developers can gain a more detailed look of their games almost free of charge in terms of performance. Thanks to this procedure, the elaboration of the rendered image finally approaches the boundary of veridical visual perception: the virtual reality transcends conjured by your hand.

DirectX 11 benchmark Unigine engine

We ran the Heaven v2.1 benchmark that just recently out with VSync turned disabled, but with 8x AA and 16x AF enabled to check out system performance. We ran the benchmark at 1920x1200 and 1280x1024 to see how the benchmark ran at some different monitor resolutions. It should be noted that we ran the new extreme tessellation mode on this benchmark.  These are the toughest settings that you can run on this benchmark, so it should really put the hurt on any graphics card.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Benchmark Results: NVIDIA always talks about how their cards do better with extreme tessellation and, as you can see, that holds true here in Heaven 2.1.  NVIDIA also gets amazing scaling here in this benchmark as you are looking at a 97% boost in performance by adding a second card.  AMD didn't do badly with scaling, but adding a second Radeon HD 5770 only got us an 83% boost in performance at 1920x1200.

FurMark 1.8.2

FurMark 1.8.2

FurMark is a very intensive OpenGL benchmark that uses fur rendering algorithms to measure the performance of the graphics card. Fur rendering is especially adapted to overheat the GPU and that's why FurMark is also a perfect stability and stress test tool (also called GPU burner) for the graphics card.

FurMark 1.8.2

The benchmark was rendered in full screen mode with no AA enabled on both video cards.

Furmark Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: Furmark is a benchmark that neither AMD nor NVIDIA want us to use, but we use it anyway since they tell us not to run it.  This site wouldn't be called Legit Reviews if we drank all the Kool-Aid that these companies tell us on a daily basis. Even though neither company wants us to run this benchmark we saw some of the best scaling of any of the nine tests that we have run so far! NVIDIA scaled 97% on SLI and ATI wasn't too far behind at 95% on CrossFire at a resolution of 1920x1200!

Power Consumption

For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Kill-A-Watt power meter. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers we measured the peak wattage used by the system while running the OpenGL benchmark FurMark 1.8.2 at 1920x1200 resolution.

Total System Power Consumption Results

Power Consumption Results: When it comes to power consumption the ATI Radeon HD 5770 CrossFire configuration uses slightly less power but, as you can see, the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 SLI setup doesn't use that much more. We are talking about just 5 Watts higher at full load and 2 Watts higher at idle. We'll consider this one a draw.

Temperature Testing

Since video card temperatures and the heat generated by next-generation cards have become an area of concern among enthusiasts and gamers, we want to take a closer look at how the SLI and CrossFire setups do at idle and under a full load. We fired up FurMark and ran the stability at 640x480, which was enough to put both of the GPUs at 100% load in order to get the highest load temperature possible. This application also charts the temperature results so you can see how the temperature rises and levels off, which is very nice.

NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 SLI:

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NVIDIA SLI Results: The NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 SLI setup idles at 34C on the outside card that is getting the fresh air and then 38C on the inside card that is sucking in some of the warm air off the card sitting behind it. At full load for 10 minutes running the extreme burn-in test in FurMark 1.8.2 we found that the outside card got up to 71C while the inside card went up to 77C due to the lack of fresh air.  As you can also see from the chart above the inside card cools down much slower than the outside card.

ATI Radeon HD 5770 CrossFire:

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ATI CrossFire Results: At idle the inside Radeon HD 5770 video card was observed at 47C with the outside card reading 42C according to GPU-Z. At full load ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics appears to be sucking in most of its fresh air from the end of the video card, and as a result both the inside and outside graphics cards were observed at 89C, as you can see above. This is about 13C hotter than the hottest card in the NVIDIA GeForce GTS SLI setup.

The winner of the temperature test is clearly NVIDIA with much lower idle and load temperatures. Since both systems consume roughly the same amount of power we can conclude that the NVIDIA GPU cooler is dissipating the heat better than the ATI solution.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

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So, you might not have known it when you read this article, but this will likely be the very last ATI versus NVIDIA article ever written here at Legit Reviews. When the first Radeon HD 6xxx parts are announced next month they will be going by the name AMD and not ATI. So, in this final battle between current generation ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards which came out on top? Well, if you look at the final FPS or score at a resolution of 1920x1200 the ATI Radeon HD 5770 comes out leading in five benchmarks versus four for the GeForce GTS 450.  You also have to factor in the ATI Radeon HD 5770 uses slightly less power, but runs hotter than the NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450. After all the testing you can see that the performance between these two cards is pretty darn close, but remember the purpose of this article was to look at SLI versus CrossFire and that means how well performance scales when another card is added to your system.

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For this I took the performance results at 1920x1200 once again and found out how well performance scaled when going from one card to a two card multi-GPU setup. I then averaged all the scores for NVIDIA SLI and ATI CrossFire and found that of the nine games and benchmarks that we tested the NVIDIA SLI configuration had better scaling efficiency than ATI CrossFire by roughly ten percent. The NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 SLI setup scaled up on average 88.92% better than a single GeForce GTS 450 video card. The ATI Radeon HD 5770 CrossFire setup was no slouch, though, and scaled on average 78.41% better than a single Radeon HD 5770.

Therefore, I am comfortable saying that NVIDIA SLI does scale better than ATI CrossFire because out of the nine tests we ran, never once did the CrossFire solution scale better than NVIDIA SLI! Both AMD and NVIDIA multi-GPU configurations were found to be easy to setup and use though, so if you are on the fence about adding a second card to your system for improved performance you can expect to see very good performance improvements across a wide variety of game titles. I hope you enjoyed this article as it was fun to benchmark a topic that often doesn't get as much attention as you would expect due to time constraints. If you have any questions or comments be sure to leave them in the forum!

Legit Bottom Line: NVIDIA SLI and ATI CrossFire have been in a scaling battle for years, but on this day NVIDIA SLI has better scaling performance.