The End of an Era…

SLI has been a fixture at ComplaintsHQ since, well, if we’re being technical about it, since the acronym had a different definition. The first SLI link at ComplaintsHQ was a Scan Line Interleave between two 3DFX 12MB (yes, MB) Voodoo 2 cards! But the first SLI setup of the actual Scalable Link Interface variety here at HQ was between a pair of 768MB 8800 GTX cards. During the Fermi and Maxwell era, amid the heady days of 3D Vision surround, there were even a few tri-SLI setups featured in these pages!

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And in this case, that end occurs, ironically, right as Nvidia has gone and actually updated SLI (quite significantly) with the new NVLink interface. So why would a stalwart SLI house bid farewell right when things are (potentially) getting good again?

Well, it’s a matter of numbers really. And in this case, the main one being a somewhat unexpected bottleneck, refresh rate. With a quite lovely LG 4K 60Hz free sync (which Nvidia finally sort of grudgingly kind of supports), what really matters is sustaining 60Hz. And to be clear, at maximum details, 1080Ti SLI doesn’t do that consistently. Where it falls short, it is because SLI support has fallen short. Enter, the RTX2080Ti

Disgustingly priced at nearly double the 1080Ti (seriously… note photographic evidence above), the RTX delivers about 30% more perf. Which sucks. And is very very bad bang for the buck. But cost aside, let’s look at the numbers again.

Where Pascal SLI rocks it’s full glory, it’s significantly faster than a single Turing. But it’s also significantly higher than 60fps. Higher enough that it’s a wash. A given game running at 90fps minimum and 130fps maximum isn’t yielding benefit on a 60Hz panel vs a solution delivering 60fps minimum and 100fps maximum. Now consider those scenarios where SLI support just isn’t there and Pascals best can’t crawl out of the 40s… In these cases, the single card gains of Turing (again, on the order of 30%) means the potential for an actual 60fps. On net, this means that despite being slower overall, a single RTX2080Ti is a more consistent 60fps 4K max card than 1080Ti SLI. Now of course if you have a higher refresh panel (144Hz 4K is coming), then all bets are off. Of course in this case, 2080Ti SLI might be where you’d want to be.

So the performance win in the 60Hz 4K category is really in the RTX court. What about efficiency? In terms of power, noise and temperature, it’s very very hard for SLI to beat a single card:

  • RTX Power (W @ idle/load): 85/450
  • RTX Temp (deg @ idle/load): 32/81
  • RTX Noise (dB @ idle/load): 40/49
  • GTX Power (W @ idle/load): 115/675
  • GTX Temp (deg @ idle/load): 32/83
  • GTX Noise (dB @ idle/load): 40/51

The killer here is power under load. 50% higher power from the Pascal cards translates to a lot more heat dissipating into the room. If the perf benefit is either absent or being left on the table, this is wasted heat.

So overall the RTX loses on price, but wins on efficiency. Performance can be a toss up, but single card is always stable and at 60Hz even where SLI brings the gains they’re bottlenecked by the monitor. The only exception is higher minimums, but the RTX comes closer to maintaining a vsync 60Hz than 1080Ti SLI does more of the time.

Ok, on to the unboxing! Numbers wise we’ve only been taking Founders Edition, but this round we decided that it was time for a custom cooling package and went with the STRIX because Aura LED:

Pretty run of the mill packaging. Some black foam, a matte black cardboard CD sizes manual cover and… that’s it. Hey, what do you expect for $1300?

Lifting off the foam tray we see a (massive) card and…. An anti-static strap with an Asus ROG logo. And that’s it. Literally. So not only are prices through the roof, but you get no cables, no dongles, hell, no stickers even!

Before moving on, a size compare to the old 1080Ti FE is really warranted here. The “2.7 slot” form factor is mental!

Some quick case surgery and SLI is gone. Our love affair with the 570X continues. Just a pleasure to work in. Look how empty it looks without SLI!

Farewell old friend SLI! It has been a long and wild journey. Sometimes pure frustration, sometimes pure magic:

installation was painless. The card is huge and unwieldy, but then again so is the case, and these days everything is plastic cladded with guides to bring you in and lock components into place so it’s hard to screw it up. Noteworthy is the GPU now consumes 2 8pins for power rather than a 6 and an 8, but the cables are all 6/8 anyway so no effort here. On first fire up what jumps out immediately is MOAR LED!

That’s it for now! Next up will be some healthy complaining about the Asus Aura software (which has some, let’s say, rough edges) and benchmarks! Spoiler alert… Perf is close (generally better), but overall more consistent/smooth, cooler and quieter, as predicted! Stay tuned!