Upping the Ante

In this post, I explained the reasons for my initial decision to go down the ATi route for graphics.  Since then, new evidence has come to light, which has swung my thinking in the other direction.
  • This review shows the relative performance of 2 Radeon HD 5970's in Quadfire vs 3 GeForce GTX 480's in Tri-SLI.  While not decisive, nVidia has an advantage at max settings, with AA enabled, plus more room for optimisation with their brand new drivers and the possibility of scaling to a 4th GPU for either PhysX or Quad-SLI.  (Assuming that they can get their Quad-SLI scaling sorted out!)
  • This news item, shows a dual CPU motherboard from EVGA with SATA 6Gb, USB 3.0, and 2 NF200 chipsets, for 72 lanes of PCIe goodness!  That will support 4 graphics cards at a full 16x speed!  Being based on the EVGA Classified 4-Way SLI, the EVGA board will be more overclocker-friendly the the ASUS P6T7 WS Supercomputer board, which seems aimed more at professionals than enthusiasts.
It seems that motherboards are on the verge of a technology refresh.  Setting aside SATA 6Gb and USB 3.0; the dual CPU option offers a far better upgrade path.  I'm willing to bet that the price premium on the dual-GPU board will be worth it.

In a year or two, 2 cheap, mid-range CPU's will likely keep my frame rates comparable to whatever n-core top-of-the line monster chip Intel is offering at the time - just as 2 Core i7-930 chips offer more CPU power for less money than a single Core i7-980X does today.  Sure, some applications and games don't take advantage of multiple cores at the moment - but that's changing.  DirectX 11 is multi-threaded, so games that use it will be, too.  Both nVidia and ATi have gone multi-threaded with their drivers.  Multiple cores is the brave new world of high-end 3D graphics.

With this in mind, it strikes me that I might be best advised not to invest too heavily in that area just yet.
  • I can save £130 in phase 1 by going with an ASUS Rampage II GENE. That should perform exactly the same as any other board on the market, up until the point that I want to add a 3rd graphics card - by which time it might be time to think about upgrading to a next-generation motherboard, with dual CPU and Quad-SLI support -  I even get Creative SupremeFX audio thrown in!
  • I can save another £100 by choosing the GTX 480 over the Radeon HD 5970, which gets me a faster GPU and more headroom for expansion.
Unfortunately, this change of direction means my previous decision on case needs revisiting.  If the EVGA dual-processor motherboard is the same odd size as the Classified 4-Way SLI, then it won't fit most cases, due to the 10 expansion slots required for a quad-GPU config.  The few cases that will fit the EVGA board all look like they belong on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, but the Lian-Li PC-P80 is the least offensive of them, with good air cooling, while supporting water cooling and a massive 390mm graphics card length.  Once I replace the fans with LED-less ones, it should be acceptable.

Revised build roadmap and phase 1 parts list to come soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment