Computer games today demand real power from your computer processor, your memory, your hard drives and most especially the video card. The video card contributes most to the performance of a video game since one of its main functions is to process graphical data and transmit it to an output device such as the computer monitor. The stronger your video card is, the faster and better-looking your games will be. For hardcore gamers, PC video games should run at insanely high video resolutions (1920 x 1200 or 2560 x 1600) with very high quality settings and excellent playable speeds (above 60 frames per second).
A single ultra high-end video card may be able to do this but to achieve this feat, what we really need is to have a dual video card setup. Back in the late 90s, two 3Dfx Voodoo IIs can be used together to run games faster. They called it SLI or Scan-Line Interleave. What it does is it uses two video cards to alternately display lines on the screen thus making it faster since two GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit) are helping each other out in processing the output. I almost bought another Canopus Pure 3D II video card back then but the cost is just too much for my budget.
Today, NVIDIA has a similar technology named SLI (Scalable Link Interface) and ATI has the CrossFireX Technology. However, is it recommended or reasonable to have such a set up for your computer?
First and foremost, the cost is really great. SLI/CrossFireX-ready video cards are somewhere in the mid-range to the high-end market. If you’re thinking, “So, I only have to buy 2 video cards. No problem!” I suggest you think again. Aside from buying 2 video cards, your computer system must be able to handle the setup.
You will need a high-end motherboard that supports dual video cards. Based from local prices that I’ve seen in shops around Manila, motherboards that support SLI and CrossFireX average around 7,500 pesos or about $165. More expensive board can reach up to $240. That’s not all. Your power supply must be able to provide enough power for 2 video cards to run simultaneously. I recommend that you buy a branded and true-rated 700-watt power supply or above. Branded power supplies at that wattage could cost you another $150 or so. And as you increase wattage your electric bill will most likely follow suit.
Based from experience, video cards produce the most heat among the other computer parts. Having 2 video cards will generate very high temperatures inside your case especially if you play 3D intensive video games really often. You will need to invest in a cooling system for your PC. You’ll need bigger and more efficient fans and if you plan to use more extreme cooling, opt for a very expensive water cooling system.
If you’re planning to buy 2 low-end video cards and combine them, you’re probably better off buying a single high-end card. For example, a 512MB Nvidia 9500GT costs around 2,700 pesos (around $60) so that’s around $120 for two of them. At that price, you can buy a single 1GB Nvidia GTS 250 video card. I’d choose the single and more recent video card since it most likely will support newer technologies. That way, I won’t have to worry if I play newer games with state-of-the-art graphics.
So is it really recommended to use 2 video cards for Nvidia’s SLI and ATI’s CrossFireX? If you’re budget conscious, I suggest you turn back now. You’ll probably be spending at least triple the price of a mid-range computer if you plan to do this set up. Even if you have the money, think first. Do you really need it? I’d probably recommend this set up only if you really are a gamer who hunger for extreme graphics quality.
If you have a huge monitor, around 40-inch and up, you’ll definitely want to play at a very high resolution. As for me, I like this setup since I’ll probably gain around 50% increase in performance but to pay a lot more for that, it’s not viable at all for me. Oh, did I mention you can combine 4 video cards at once? Now that’s extreme video gaming.
Wikipedia – Scan-Line Interleave