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Review: Intel Core i7/X58 and NVIDIA SLI: the way it's meant to be played?

by Parm Mann on 11 November 2008, 15:42

Tags: Core i7, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA)

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qap45

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System setup and notes

Hardware

System Intel Core 2, 3-way NVIDIA SLI Cost Intel Core i7, 3-way NVIDIA SLI Cost
CPU Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 LGA775 (3.2GHz, 12MB L2 cache, quad-core) £917 Intel Core i7 965 EE LGA1366 (3.2GHz, 1MB L2 cache, quad-core + HT) £750*
GPU 3 x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 (3x) £334 3 x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 (3x) £334
Graphics driver ForceWare 180.43   ForceWare 180.43  
Motherboard EVGA CK-132 NF79 (nForce 790i Ultra SLI) £241 MSI Eclipse (X58+ICH10R) £300*
Motherboard BIOS P06   v1.0  
Motherboard software nForce 15.17   9.1.0.1007  
Memory 4GB (2x2GB) Corsair XMS3 DMX DDR3-1333 £119 6GB (3x2GB) Corsair DOMINATOR DDR3-1600 £250*
Memory timings and speed 9-9-9-24 1T @ 1,333MHz   9-9-9-24 1T @ 1,337MHz  
PSU AKASA PS120FG ExtremePower 1,200W £161 AKASA PS120FG ExtremePower 1,200W £161
Monitor Dell 30in 3007WFP - 2,560x1,600 £915 Dell 30in 3007WFP - 2,560x1,600 £915
Hard-disk drive Seagate 500GB - 32MB cache - SATAII (ST3500320AS) £47 Seagate 500GB - 32MB cache - SATAII (ST3500320AS) £47
Operating system Windows Vista Business SP1, 64-bit £106 Windows Vista Business SP1, 64-bit £106
 
Approximate system cost
£3,508
Approximate system cost
£3,531

* Estimated price. All other prices taken from Scan.co.uk or Dabs.com.


Software

3D Benchmarks 3DMark Vantage b1.0.2 - default performance test
Company Of Heroes: Opposing Fronts v2.301: DX10 - ultra quality
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5 (demo_00010.dem, map Valley): OpenGL - vhq
Call Of Duty 4 v1.7.568 custom HEX benchmark: DX10 - highest quality
Far Cry 2

Notes

On our Intel Core 2 test system, two of the NVIDIA GTX 280 GPUs were running in PCI-E 2.0 x16 and one of them was running in PCI-E 1.0 x16.

To compare, the same GPUs were configured on our Intel Core i7 system with two running in PCI-E 2.0 x16 and one of them running in PCI-E 2.0 x4. NVIDIA states that tri-way SLI can be configured as x16, x8, x8 on X58 motherboards, but we found no such configuration options in the default MSI Eclipse BIOS.

Readers should also note that Intel Turbo Mode was disabled on the X58 BIOS, the Core i7 965 EE processor therefore ran at its default speed of 3.2GHz. For the GPUs, Hardware PhysX was enabled through the NVIDIA Forceware control panel.

As shown in our approximate system cost, these are high-end solutions that'll strike fear into the heart of budget-conscious consumers. However, it should be noted that our approximate cost incorporates the majority of our testing kit - including a 30in Dell monitor. The home user may find a 1,920x1,200 monitor to be better suited, and with that and other minor hardware changes, either of the above systems could be configured for somewhat less than £3,000.

But why cut corners? NVIDIA is adamant that the Core i7/X58 combination has the added power to best utilise a ultra-high-end three-way SLI system and make for an enthusiast's wet dream, so let's see some numbers.