Up For Debate - Is SLI/Crossfire Gaming Worth The Cost?

Written by Jacques Waugh on Sat, Apr 9, 2016 4:00 PM

It’s becoming a fairly common practice for high end gaming PCs to employ more than one graphics card to run those especially juicy games on the highest settings possible. The SLI and Crossfire technologies support up to four GPUs in one PC - and who wouldn’t want four times the graphics processing power?

Unfortunately, as with most things in life, it doesn’t end up as simple as just that. With each graphics card added, you gain diminishing returns on the power eked out of each card. So the question becomes about the cost of two cards versus the amount of performance gained from it.

If we take the NVIDIA GTX 980 ti 6gb as an example, you’d be looking at over £1100 for a pair of the cards. The amount of improvement you'll be looking at when running at 1080p is less than 50% increase in performance, but let’s be honest, if you’re using a multiple GPU setup then you’re looking to run at a much higher resolution than 1080p, at which point the performance of multiple GPUs begins to increase exponentially.

Another thing to consider is that not every game supports multiple GPUs. Gears of War Ultimate Edition and Quantum Break are just two examples where your money will literally be going to waste. For a game as resource intensive as Quantum Break, it does boggle the mind a bit that they wouldn’t cater for the highest end specs of PC gaming right out of the box.

So far AMD has the edge over NVIDIA in performance increase on the R9 Fury X CrossFire versus the GTX 980 ti SLI, and with the promise of DirectX 12 offering even further performance gains on AMD hardware, it seems AMD has the edge over its competitor.

If you are a believer in the multiple graphics card way of life, then it’s definitely important to consider which card you’ll be using. There’s no point slotting two GTX 960s together for £330 when you can get a GTX 970 for just over £270. Less power consumption and less cost for better performance? An absolute no brainer.

What do you guys think? Are multiple GPUs worth the cost despite the diminishing returns on performance or is every ounce of extra performance worth the money?

Are multiple GPUs worth the price?

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10:58 Apr-11-2016

Its worth only on best gpus 980 Ti Titan X

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02:01 Apr-11-2016

The large majority of the time a single high-powered GPU is going to be better than a SLI/Crossfire setup. No need to worry about whether or not the game has support or issues for multi-GPU, no need for an overly large power supply, and when it comes time to actually upgrade it's going to cost quite a lot less...

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02:05 Apr-11-2016

Having said that, if at some point we have a system that allows SLI or Crossfire to be used with GPU's that aren't the same series or number. For example, if I wanted to SLI now I would need another GTX 770, which would only produce a limited return in the long run. If, however, I were able to toss in a GTX 9xx series card then it wouldn't be a bad idea at all. Then I only need replace the 770 later down the line with, presumably, something in the 10xx or higher series.

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04:39 Apr-11-2016

Well it wouldn't be SLI, but you could get something like a GTX 980 & use the 770 as a dedicated PhysX card on games that have PhysX effects. I have heard that it has a significant effect on Batman AK. I have done the same on a couple other games that didn't have SLI support, but did have PhysX. It worked wonders for me.

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00:56 Apr-22-2016

I already knew about that, some games allowing you to use a dedicated GPU for PhysX processing, but I'd assume a lot of processing power was being wasted just running PhysX and nothing else.


If, however, the secondary GPU could be used to handle more of the extra effects it might be a lot more valuable an option. Things like particle effects, godrays, tessellation, etc...


That way the primary GPU could be free to handle the primary image rendering.

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08:25 Apr-11-2016

For crossfire you can do it with a R9 200 series and a R9 300 series and a good example is the R9 390 that can cross fire with a R9 290.


Also if you were to look at this chart you can see for crossfire it was like implemented that way for a long time now.

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01:08 Apr-11-2016

went from gtx 570 to r9 270x, then 270x xfire. from there i went to r9 290 and then 290 xfire. i upgraded again to fury x and now my current setup.


i think my choice is obvious. ive seen a 290 and 270x xfire go back and forth in performance. going to a single fury x felt like a downgrade for games that took advantage of xfire and even some games that didnt (looking at you fallout 4). now for the most part i have single and dual gpu capable games covered.

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00:33 Apr-11-2016

i just think its for splitting up your budget

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19:05 Apr-10-2016

SLI/CF are getting better.
For Ex- Liquid VR provides almost 100% scaling mostly for VR.
Games that are not SLI/CF ready are surely gonna make it hard for you to beat the best single GPU you could have got for that money.
380 4 GB CF comes close to gtx Titan X in most of games (not Nvidia biased, not without CF supports) and cost way less..
I will any day pick two r9 390/x over a Fury X or 980 Ti or Titan X as of now.

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12:55 Apr-10-2016

I used to have two 760 in SLI before what I have now. While it was a big performance upgrade compared to what it did cost, it wasn't really worth it. To many problems, I would not recomand it. Sadly.

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13:04 Apr-10-2016

Sad for you... SLI has been very good to me for the past 3 years

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13:12 Apr-10-2016

While it most of the times worked, I don't think it was worth it since it did not work ALL the times. Wich I prefer things I pay money for to do.

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14:14 Apr-10-2016

thats why you must to think twice before you getting stuff for someone like me i can play 1 game about 2 3 years and if scales good its worth but this is just my opinion but dx 12 games to come there is more hope sli cf is going to be even better which you can allready see great scaling in games

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08:48 Apr-10-2016

I do not like sli or crossfire. you need good drivers and big psu for it. also some games not work good on sli or crossfire. a single gpu is always better than sli or crossfire. like gtx 980 is better than gtx 590 sli,gtx 680 sli and gtx 770 sli due to better technology and less power.


so it is good to buy a better technology gpu then making old gpu sli or crossfire

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09:12 Apr-10-2016

but what about gtx 980 sli.
Is it still better than a single gtx 980


Where is your god now xD

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11:38 Apr-10-2016

You have not owned an SLI setup in the last 5 years or so, have you..?

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19:19 Apr-10-2016

For most setups with you are only doing like a 2 card SLI only you would need at least 550-650 watt really and the only reason why people tend to get 800-1000 watt is because they add in more crap in their systems and they are doing 3-4 way SLI and as you can see here it doesn't cost much for a 650 watt PSU.

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18:55 Apr-11-2016

Very true! Most people THINK they need a beast of a PSU for a SLI setup, but the reality is that nearly everyone here has a PSU that they could easily use with an extra card slapped in with no problems, AKA: excess power.

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07:44 Apr-10-2016

I personally think people should SLI/CrossFire if A). They want to play at a higher resolution than 1080p or B). When you start noticing that your GPU isn't keeping up with modern games or task, by that time the GPU will be cheaper and more affordable.

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13:21 Apr-10-2016

Agreed! :D this is what I did with my current setup. I had a gtx960 in my rig, and wanted a little extra oomph, so got a second gtx960 on sale for literally 50% less than the original one. Worked out to a good, in my opinion, cost:performance ratio.

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17:39 Apr-10-2016

Awesome!

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18:56 Apr-11-2016

I'm still on 1080p, but my refresh rate is 110Hz and I want the extra frames without compromising the Ultra settings. So your point A is a bit moot.

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07:20 Apr-10-2016

My honest opinion is that for SLI it is worth it if you're a budget gamer and you bought a GTX 950/960 which then after would give a little bit more of a performance.


Good example is SLI GTX 950's comes close to the performance of the GTX 970 which has been shown here and i know a lot of you might say why not just get a 970 but not a lot of people can afford a 970 and in time could have something that could preform well.

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06:24 Apr-10-2016

I can't comment on Xfire but 970 SLI was possibly the smartest purchase I've made so far, similar price to a 980 TI, outperforms a 980 TI and released long before the 980 TI.


Highly recommended for gamers that want to enjoy excessively high FPS on 144HZ monitors :D

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11:39 Apr-10-2016

I was going to quote you as the poster-child for SLI here on GD :)

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12:57 Apr-10-2016

That's a nice rig.

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05:44 Apr-10-2016

I prefer single stronger GPU, i think SLI or crossfire is really good at high resolutions and who has high refresh rate monitors.

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03:21 Apr-10-2016

I've had three Qnix 2710 for about two years. Most graphic card OEMs have gone to only having one DVI port. Gigabyte still has two Dual-link DVI ports and run cooler than most. Have to have two in SLI for three DVI ports. Check my specs

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18:58 Apr-11-2016

Why not run via HDMI and an adapter then? I was running an older DVI monitor off my laptop's HDMI port via an adapter.

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01:37 Apr-10-2016

well, it depends, economically and if you are using headphones and not speakers, I would say no (which I do this, so no). But there are cases where it does, early in my build I was rocking a pair of Firepro V5800's I was using in Crossfire, each one would run so hot (and loud to not run hot) on its own, but in crossfire, I could drop fan speed, this was limited gaming, mostly CAD at the time too

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01:40 Apr-10-2016

The FirePro's are a unique story, for CAD, it was cheaper to buy them than buy one new card that could match just one of them in performance. Pretty much, new parts to new parts, it makes sense to me to buy one card than 2 except on the very high end and/or to cut noise. Also me being me, one card means if you want to keep your system small and say upgrade the motherboard, that will be cheaper

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01:28 Apr-10-2016

If you are just gaming on a single monitor, i'd say SLI is not worth it.

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01:41 Apr-10-2016

Depends on the person's video card. A 4GB 960 will do very well at 1080p, but two 4GB 960 in SLI will max out anything at 1080p, & with great frame rates. SLI is especially helpful for people that have high refresh rate monitors, and already have a cheaper GPU. A second cheap GPU is a lot easier on the wallet than a very expensive replacement. ;)

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08:36 Apr-10-2016

cant agree on gtx 9604gb in sli cant max anything on 1080pt 4gb is only gimic that 128bit bus is nowhere near to utulize all 4gb of vram so its pointles getting 4gb version most benchmarks shows only 1-3fps gain even on higher res over 2gb version

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11:41 Apr-10-2016

You do, however, pretty much double the bandwidth because each card now only does half the frames and has time to keep up :)
And yes, 960 SLI CAN max games pretty well at 1080p

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13:08 Apr-10-2016

Adding the second card increases the bandwidth enough to effectively use the 4GB.

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11:42 Apr-10-2016

I'm using a single screen at 110Hz. SLI not worth it? My framerates tell a different story...

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00:22 Apr-10-2016

Honestly...no.


It's a lot more work and it can be more expensive and not be so different in performance.


An example, 970 SLI would not be much than a 980 Ti, which you can pick up for $550.

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11:50 Apr-10-2016

Lol GTX 970 alone costs $550 where I am

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23:38 Apr-09-2016

Hey guys, a question. Do I need to upgrade my cpu? I see most of the rec for future games are i7. This worries me as I want to keep my system from bottleneck.

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23:50 Apr-09-2016

Nope, you're fine buddy.

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00:09 Apr-10-2016

Depends on the game you are playing. More & more games are starting to use more virtual cores efficiently. In open world games, or RTS games with a lot of AI units on screen it makes a bigger difference

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00:14 Apr-10-2016

I see. So.. For a long run what would you recommend? I'm thinking skylake. But I don't know much about CPU

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01:09 Apr-10-2016

Depends on if you want to buy a whole new mother board & the newer DDR4 RAM. If not then I would suggest sticking to Haswell. I doubt that Haswell will become obsolete anytime soon. At this time I think an i7-4790K would be the way to go if you don't want to replace everything.

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00:24 Apr-10-2016

Not really, official sysem requirements really can't be taken(having not equal listings between AMD and Intel, AMD and Nvidia is just one of the flaws) seriously anymore, actual benchmark can though.


If you no longer get the FPS you desire and your CPU is at 100% while your GPU isn't at 95-109% it's might be time to upgrade, otherwise no

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01:04 Apr-10-2016

Yes that is absolutely correct Mark.

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06:19 Apr-10-2016

For your res It's enough for 60fps. you can upgrade in 17/mid 17.

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08:51 Apr-10-2016

yes I think you should buy core i7.


try to buy corei7 5960X.it will work for 3-4 years with out any problems.it can run 3-4 years games on medium to high settings.

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23:09 Apr-09-2016

No

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23:05 Apr-09-2016

It is a curious question, isn't it? As example, Crossfire as the issue is listed at 50/50 rate under AMD driver "Known Issues" part. A minority issue, possibly, but it persists.


The coming of VR should help out with viability.


For the poll itself - upgrading your single GPU is just too reliable of an option, GPU's increase in speed at a fair pace every 2-3 generations (as in from 660 to 960 as example)

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22:56 Apr-09-2016

The only time I do a xfire/sli setup it's because I find a second gpu at a really low price. This will only happen like after 1-2 gen later so maybe when the gtx 10xx or gtx 11xx will be out I might be looking to it unless the perf of the new gen worth it

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22:53 Apr-09-2016

People are going to freak out after Split Screen Render SLI becomes a thing with it's perfect 100% scaling, & they will really freak out once Pascal launches because it's NV-Link connection allows up to 8 GPUs to be paired together instead of the current limit of 4. :D

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22:56 Apr-09-2016

Hell yeah!

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23:10 Apr-09-2016

nv link is for now still far away from use normal consumers sli cf is going to be even better imrpoved with dx 12

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00:03 Apr-10-2016

I wouldn't call November far away. Also Split Screen Render is the solution that Dx12 brings, but it can also be done with Vulkan. So people in the future will not necessarily be held hostage to Windows 10 & Dx12.

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11:45 Apr-10-2016

I wouldn't be so convinced by SFR because the amount of detail can vary greatly between different parts of the screen, in which case the timing of the frames still needs to conform to the slower frame slice. Maybe this is going to be less stuttery than AFR in SOME cases (where stuttering does happen) but I am just not convinced because AFR just seems like a more stable approach.

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13:13 Apr-10-2016

NV-Link is what will help SFR tremendously. Pascal cards will sync & so will their memory pool with NV-Link making SFR the way to go.

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13:21 Apr-10-2016

We both know that it's in Nvidia's best interest to provide the PCIe flavours of each card for the vast masses that won't want to butcher their entire system for a new GPU as well as NV-Link being marketed more towards enterprise users (I'm still interested to see just how many mobo makers will provide that for the consumer market).

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18:27 Apr-10-2016

Their high end cards will feature both connections. This has been confirmed a long time ago. PCIe for communication with the traditional CPU & MoBo, and NV-Link to replace the current SLI cable. NV-Link offers a much higher bandwidth in both directions at once. It also unifies the memory of all the GPUs making it easier to implement SFR. I have done a lot of research on this. NV-Link will be a game changer for multi GPU setups.

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01:15 Apr-11-2016

you know that nv link isnt for home pcs, right?

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04:41 Apr-11-2016

It will be for the flagship cards launching in November like the next Titan & 1080ti or whatever they will call them.

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23:50 Apr-09-2016

how is scaling now? only like 60%? pretty awful if that's the case. only two things are making current sli/crossfire somewhat viable. overpriced high end gpus (diminishing power per dollar). and its the only option if you want more power than a 980ti/titan x.

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00:03 Apr-10-2016

Most games get around 80% scaling now on Alternating Frame. Some games get over 90% scaling. Out of over 200 games that I own only 4 or 5 don't play well with SLI. People need to get their heads out of the ancient past & live in the present where developers actually know how to code for SLI, & the GPU drivers compliment them well.

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01:03 Apr-10-2016

I'd like to see benchmarks just out of interest. GD has 970 sli at only 50%+ better than a single 970. awful but still faster and cheaper than a 980 ti.
Would nvidia/amd ever let sli/crossfire technology get really good? Thatd threaten the usefulness of high end gpus.

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01:13 Apr-10-2016

It already is good. I have no idea what issues the person posting 50% on 970 SLI is having, but I can assure you that only 50% is not normal. Even 60% isn't normal. 70+% is normal, & I would say that over half of the newer games out there (since 2012) get 80+%. The best I have seen is Witcher 3 & I get about 95% when playing it.

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01:25 Apr-10-2016

I meant if you just use GD's tool that compares GPUs, 50%+ is what it shows. 70% as normal is pretty impressive then! It's too late now, but when I build a brand new PC like 7-8yrs from now (fingers crossed it lasts that long), ill look at multi gpu setup. It will be 100% across the board then!!

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01:29 Apr-10-2016

By then 100% scaling will be the norm for almost all games. :D

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01:35 Apr-10-2016

Also I would like to add that there are still good reasons to get a higher end card. For instance the 980ti has 6GB of VRAM which a person will really want & need for higher resolutions. 970 SLI can out perform a 980ti, but will still be limited on what resolutions will play well due to the 3.5GB VRAM. What SLI is good for is higher frame rates at the nominal resolution that the available VRAM can handle. Especially helpful for people with 144Hz monitors.

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02:51 Apr-10-2016

Well there was a rumor that VRAM in SLI would stack with DX12 :)

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03:10 Apr-10-2016

VRAM is supposed to stack when developers start coding their games to use Split Screen Render SLI which is also supposed to bring true 100% scaling. This should be able to be done on the new Vulkan API as well, but it is totally dependent on the game developers to make it happen. Also there will be some driver support needed as well, but mainly in Dx12. With Vulkan a lot of the things drivers have been responsible for are going to be in the developers' control unlike in Dx12.

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03:15 Apr-10-2016

Dx12 is not the God send that Microsoft & their fanboys want everyone to believe. Vulkan has the potential to give developers more control over optimization than what they have with any version of DirectX. That is why I have been adamantly begging developers to make the switch to Vulkan. With Vulkan the GPU drivers will not be as important as they are with DirectX which means we gamers will not be at the mercy of the GPU driver teams like we have been for decades.

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11:50 Apr-10-2016

I'm just gonna budge in here to refer people to Roley - he's got a 970 SLI setup he's extremely happy with. And my 980M SLI 8GB are no slouches either, playing games like The Witcher 3 at Ultra settings at -90-100fps avg on my 110Hz laptop display :)
Scaling is usually around double for me as well. I remember when SLI was off with my old 780M card I was getting -30fps and then SLI on I was getting a 60. Literally. That's great scaling!
People also forget that for perfect scaling the voltages, clocks and VBIOS need to be the SAME, which is usually NOT the case! If it is - you get near-perfect scaling :)

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00:06 Apr-11-2016

Yeah mine are matched up for the most part perfectly & SLI has been great for me.

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01:18 Apr-11-2016

the 50% ratings comes from including the power consumption. if that was removed and the rating was just straight up performance, comparison ratings would change a lot.

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