Triple Monitor Gaming on a Funds

With the shipping of the industry's first 28nm GPUs from AMD and Nvidia in 2012, we enjoyed the bitter ritual of one-upmanship as the titans scrambled to make their money. After a year of staggered releases, price drops, exclusive offers and driver updates, the dust finally settled so far last November that we were able to carry out a generation comparison between the Radeon HD 7000 and the GeForce GTX 600 series.

Given the pricing and performance at the time, AMD's HD 7850 was the best option for $ 150 to $ 200, while Nvidia's GTX 660 Ti was the best option for $ 250 to $ 300. Those who parted ways with $ 400 and up were best off with the HD 7970 as it was on par with the GTX 680 in terms of performance but was almost $ 100 cheaper – a stark contrast to our original results if you want to revisit the test of the GTX 680.

Given that next-gen cards are months away, we didn't expect more GPU reviews until Q2 2013. However, we found that there was a void in our coverage of the current generation: triple monitor games. In fact, it's been almost two years since we pitted the HD 6990 and GTX 590 against each other to see how they can handle the stress of playing games at resolutions up to 7680 x 1600.

Representation of the triple monitor resolution:
Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Crysis, Civilization V, Dragon Age 2 and Mafia 2 …

We're going to mess things up a little this time. Instead of using each camp's ultra-expensive dual GPU card (or the new $ 999 Titan), we'll see how cheaper Crossfire and SLI setups can handle triple-monitor games than today's Single -GPU flagships.

On AMD's side, we'll be testing a pair of HD 7850s (~ $ 360) and an HD 7970 (~ $ 430), while Nvidia's corner will see two GTX 660 Tis (~ $ 580) and the venerable GTX 680 (~ $ 470) will be.

We also have a pair of the new HIS Radeon HD 7850 iPower IceQ Turbo graphics cards, the first 7850 with 4GB of memory. The additional memory buffer is designed to help with high resolutions and when using a high level of anti-aliasing. Hence, it's also interesting to see if the 4GB cards can justify their ~ 50% premium over the standard 2GB models when gaming in resolutions like 5760×1080.

Test setup and system specifications

We tested with three Dell 3008WFP 30-inch LCD monitors that support a native resolution of 2560 x 1600. Once the monitors were connected to the graphics cards, creating a group configuration was easy. Both AMD and Nvidia drivers automatically added additional resolutions like 7680 x 1600, 5760 x 1200, and 5040 x 1050 (our tests were only performed on 5760 x 1200 and 5040 x 1050).

  • Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition (3.30 GHz)
  • x4 2 GB G.Skill DDR3-1600 (CAS 8-8-8-20)
  • Asrock X79 Extreme11 (Intel X79)
  • OCZ ZX series (1250 W)
  • Crucial m4 512 GB (SATA 6 Gbit / s)
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 680 (2 GB)
  • Gigabyte Radeon HD 7970 (3 GB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7850 iPower IceQ Turbo (4 GB) Crossfire
  • AMD Radeon HD 7850 (2 GB) Crossfire
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 660 Ti Phantom (2 GB) SLI
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti (2 GB) SLI

On the software side, we used Windows 7 64-bit and graphics card drivers Nvidia Forceware 313.96 and AMD Catalyst 13.2.

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