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NVIDIA GTX TITAN vs. SLI & Crossfire

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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When we first reviewed NVIDIA’s new GTX TITAN, there was one notable absence from our comparisons: SLI and Crossfire. After countless requests and no small amount of retesting due to an aggressive driver release schedule from AMD and NVIDIA, this review will finally see high end multi card solutions against NVIDIA’s spectacularly expensive GTX TITAN.

Most gamers’ interest in this area focuses on getting the best solution for their money. Now that may sound like an oxymoron considering the $1000 needed to get a single TITAN into your system, but even elitists want to know which setup will give them the best gaming experience. Whether or not that means spending a grand is immaterial when striving for performance above all else. This also re-sparks the age old battle between a single powerful card versus two less expensive models.

On paper the TITAN faces an uphill battle in its quest for superiority. Not only is it currently one of the most expensive cards on the market (NVIDIA’s GTX 690 and AMD’s HD 7990 share this top-tier as well) but availability has been spotty at best and its performance isn’t quite up to the level of similarly priced alternatives. However, since the TITAN doesn’t have to rely upon in-game multi card profiles, it does have a distinct advantage in terms of overall consistency.


As our readers have made abundantly clear, there are a number of dual GPU options which can be seen as less expensive alternatives to TITAN. For example, two reference GTX 680s can be found for $920 while a pair of GTX 670 cards are currently available for $740, shaving $80 and $260 respectively from the TITAN’s $1000 price .

On AMD’s side of the fence, two HD 7970 GHz Editions routinely go for $940 (if they can be found at all due to the popularity of AMD’s new Never Settle gaming bundle) and the HD 7950 Boost Edition comes in at a mere $625 for a Crossfire setup. Every one of these could play the crasher in NVIDIA’s latest coming-out party so we’ve included them in this article.

Ultimately, the GTX TITAN costs a whole lot more than many of today’s most popular dual card setups, be they NVIDIA or AMD based. But does it actually bring any value to the table when compared directly against some of today’s most expensive setups?
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,861
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Montreal
Testing Methodologies Explained

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 3930K @ 4.5GHz
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB @ 1866MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
Cooling: Corsair H80
SSD: 2x Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T / 3x Acer 235Hz
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Test System

Processor: Intel 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 314.14 Beta
AMD 13.2 Beta 7



*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings


The Methodology of Frame Time Testing, Distilled


How do you benchmark an onscreen experience? That question has plagued graphics card evaluations for years. While framerates give an accurate measurement of raw performance , there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which a basic frames per second measurement by FRAPS or a similar application just can’t show. A good example of this is how “stuttering” can occur but may not be picked up by typical min/max/average benchmarking.

Before we go on, a basic explanation of FRAPS’ frames per second benchmarking method is important. FRAPS determines FPS rates by simply logging and averaging out how many frames are rendered within a single second. The average framerate measurement is taken by dividing the total number of rendered frames by the length of the benchmark being run. For example, if a 60 second sequence is used and the GPU renders 4,000 frames over the course of that time, the average result will be 66.67FPS. The minimum and maximum values meanwhile are simply two data points representing single second intervals which took the longest and shortest amount of time to render. Combining these values together gives an accurate, albeit very narrow snapshot of graphics subsystem performance and it isn’t quite representative of what you’ll actually see on the screen.

FRAPS also has the capability to log average framerates for each second of a benchmark sequence, resulting in the “FPS over time” graphs we have begun to use. It does this by simply logging the reported framerate result once per second. However, in real world applications, a single second is actually a long period of time, meaning the human eye can pick up on onscreen deviations much quicker than this method can actually report them. So what can actually happens within each second of time? A whole lot since each second of gameplay time can consist of dozens or even hundreds (if your graphics card is fast enough) of frames. This brings us to frame time testing.

Frame times simply represent the length of time (in milliseconds) it takes the graphics card to render each individual frame. Measuring the interval between frames allows for a detailed millisecond by millisecond evaluation of frame times rather than averaging things out over a full second. The larger the amount of time, the longer each frame takes to render. This detailed reporting just isn’t possible with standard benchmark methods.

While frame times are an interesting metric to cover, it’s important to put them into a more straightforward context as well. In its frametime analysis, FRAPS reports a timestamp (again in milliseconds) for each rendered frame in the sequence in which it was rendered. For example, Frame 20 occurred at 19ms and Frame 21 at 30ms of the benchmark run. Subtracting Frame 20 from Frame 21 allows us to determine how much time it took to render Frame 21. This method would be repeated over and over again to show frame time consistency.

In order to put a meaningful spin on frame times ,we can equate them directly to framerates. A constant 60 frames across a single second would lead to an individual frame time of 1/60th of a second or about 17 milliseconds, 33ms equals 30 FPS, 50ms is about 20FPS and so on. Contrary to framerate evaluation results, in this case higher frame times are actually worse since they would represent a longer interim “waiting” period between each frame.

With the milliseconds to frames per second conversion in mind, the “magical” maximum number we’re looking for is 40ms or 25FPS. If too much time spent above that point, performance suffers and the in game experience will begin to degrade.

Consistency is a major factor here as well. Too much variation in adjacent frames could induce stutter or slowdowns. For example, spiking up and down from 13ms (75 FPS) to 40ms (25 FPS) several times over the course of a second would lead to an experience which is anything but fluid. However, even though deviations between slightly lower frame times (say 10ms and 30ms) wouldn’t be as noticeable, some sensitive individuals may still pick up a slight amount of stuttering. As such, the less variation the better the experience.

Since the entire point of this exercise is to determine how much the frame time varies within each second, we will see literally thousands of data points being represented. So expect some truly epic charts.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,861
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3DMark, Fire Strike (DX11)

3DMark, Fire Strike (DX11)


The newest entry into the 3DMark franchise is by far the most intensive but it is also the first to be geared towards multiple platforms. In this test, we focused on the "High End PC" side of the spectrum with the Fire Strike sequence in both Standard and Extreme modes. While 3DMark doesn't necessarily represent actual in-game performance, it does give a repeatable metric for comparison purposes.



In this first test, we see the GTX TITAN getting thoroughly manhandled by some dual card solutions but that was to be expected considering the raw power of SLI and Crossfire with high end products. On the other hand, it hangs tough against the GTX 670 SLI setup.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Assassin’s Creed III (DX11)

Assassin’s Creed III (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/RvFXKwDCpBI?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The third iteration of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is the first to make extensive use of DX11 graphics technology. In this benchmark sequence, we proceed through a run-through of the Boston area which features plenty of NPCs, distant views and high levels of detail.

2560x1600




5760x1080



Assassin’s Creed III provides some interesting contrasts between the different solutions. The TITAN doesn’t quite meet the average performance of SLI but its all-important minimum framerates are extremely impressive. SLI also bumps into some odd CPU limitations when operating in Surround which meant both the GTX 670 and GTX 680 performed at identical levels.

AMD’s Crossfire doesn’t perform all that well here with poor framerates at 2560 and a fail at 5760. This failure was due to a bug that limited display output to a single monitor. Supposedly AMD is actively working on this issue.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Crysis 3 (DX11)

Crysis 3 (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/zENXVbmroNo?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Simply put, Crysis 3 is one of the best looking PC games of all time and it demands a heavy system investment before even trying to enable higher detail settings. Our benchmark sequence for this one replicates a typical gameplay condition within the New York dome and consists of a run-through interspersed with a few explosions for good measure Due to the hefty system resource needs of this game, post-process FXAA was used in the place of MSAA.

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5760x1080



The results we saw in Assassin’s Creed III repeat themselves here to a certain extent with the TITAN posting respectable framerates, particularly when comparing minimums. However, once again, the TITAN is thoroughly overmatched by the HD 7970 GHz Crossfire and GTX 680 SLI setups. Against the HD 7950 Boost and GTX 670 SLI it does much better.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Dirt: Showdown (DX11)

Dirt: Showdown (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/IFeuOhk14h0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Among racing games, Dirt: Showdown is somewhat unique since it deals with demolition-derby type racing where the player is actually rewarded for wrecking other cars. It is also one of the many titles which falls under the Gaming Evolved umbrella so the development team has worked hard with AMD to implement DX11 features. In this case, we set up a custom 1-lap circuit using the in-game benchmark tool within the Nevada level.


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5760x1080



For the time being, NVIDIA’s GPUs simply lack optimizations for Dirt: Showdown. As a result, the AMD cards run away with this game.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Far Cry 3 (DX11)

Far Cry 3 (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mGvwWHzn6qY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

One of the best looking games in recent memory, Far Cry 3 has the capability to bring even the fastest systems to their knees. Its use of nearly the entire repertoire of DX11’s tricks may come at a high cost but with the proper GPU, the visuals will be absolutely stunning.

To benchmark Far Cry 3, we used a typical run-through which includes several in-game environments such as a jungle, in-vehicle and in-town areas.


2560x1600




5760x1080



Far Cry 3 doesn’t really seem to favor either NVIDIA or AMD, but the TITAN is nonetheless able to nearly match the performance of the HD 7950 Boost Crossfire configuration. That’s actually quite impressive considering its single-core design, but from a value perspective AMD still has an edge.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Location
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Hitman Absolution (DX11)

Hitman Absolution (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/8UXx0gbkUl0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Hitman is arguably one of the most popular FPS (first person “sneaking”) franchises around and this time around Agent 47 goes rogue so mayhem soon follows. Our benchmark sequence is taken from the beginning of the Terminus level which is one of the most graphically-intensive areas of the entire game. It features an environment virtually bathed in rain and puddles making for numerous reflections and complicated lighting effects.


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5760x1080



Much like AMD’s struggles with Assassin’s Creed III, NVIDIA’s SLI has some major problems with framerates in the latest Hitman title. In addition, using Surround on this game causes some major problems, making the game completely unplayable as the display output data causes conflicts and doubles onscreen images.

Ironically, the TITAN is the ONLY solution available that delivers consistent performance in this Gaming Evolved sponsored game. Its minimum framerates are among the best, and when used in a multi monitor system its framerates over time don’t feature the large dips of AMD’s Crossfire.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Max Payne 3 (DX11)

Max Payne 3 (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/ZdiYTGHhG-k?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

When Rockstar released Max Payne 3, it quickly became known as a resource hog and that isn’t surprising considering its top-shelf graphics quality. This benchmark sequence is taken from Chapter 2, Scene 14 and includes a run-through of a rooftop level featuring expansive views. Due to its random nature, combat is kept to a minimum so as to not overly impact the final result.


2560x1600




5760x1080



Max Payne 3 may not be the newest game around but each dual card setup’s performance lands exactly where it should. This means NVIDIA’s TITAN its at the rear, but at 5760x1080 its minimum framerates are quite noteworthy since they remain close to those posted by the GTX 670 SLI and HD 7950 Boost Crossfire.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
TITAN vs. Crossfire Frame Time Testing (2560x1600)

TITAN vs. Crossfire Frame Time Testing (2560x1600)


Please note that our complete frame time testing methodology can be found HERE. For the purposes of this section, any frame time above 40ms (ie: 25FPS or below) should be considered too slow to maintain a fluid in-game experience.








Back in the original GTX TITAN review, we mentioned that AMD’s HD 7970GHz Edition exhibited a horrendous amount of stutter and adding another card certainly doesn’t help this situation. The only two titles where the Crossfire setups provide a relatively smooth gameplay experience are Dirt: Showdown and Max Payne 3.

In every other situation Crossfire is completely dominated by NVIDIA’s TITAN, which exhibits incredibly docile frame time results. This just goes to show that raw framerates really don’t mean all that much when it comes to fluid onscreen frame delivery.
 
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