Value and ConclusionA single GeForce GTX Titan costs $1000. You do the math on what 2-way and 3-way configurations cost - not to mention the need for at least an Intel Core i7 "Sandy Bridge-E" platform that won't bottleneck three graphics cards.
At our recent meeting with NVIDIA, where news of GeForce GTX Titan launch was broken to us, we knew the card was going to be a rare commodity, and not every publication will have cards to review. What surprised us was NVIDIA's keenness to have us test 3-way SLI performance, for which we feel both flattered and grateful.
Since the GTX Titan and GTX 690 are priced the same, we began this review by stating that the very fact that you can combine more than two GeForce GTX Titan graphics cards in SLI configurations absolves the need for a single GTX Titan to outperform a single GTX 690. It has always been a case of diminishing returns when you combine over two GPUs in SLI or CrossFire. The GTX 690 may have stunned us with its near-perfect scaling over a single GTX 680, but it, much to the benefit of the GTX Titan, loses out big time in Quad SLI (2 cards, 4 GPUs). Not only is a 2-way SLI setup of GTX Titans faster than GTX 690 Quad SLI, but it also leaves room for you to expand to 3-way and 4-way configurations. To be fair to GTX 690 Quad SLI, there do exist games, such as Battlefield 3, that make use of the four GPUs effectively. If you happen to regularly play these games, you're probably better off with GTX 690 Quad SLI. However, the bottom line is that if you have $1000 to spend on a single graphics card, the GTX 690 could be a slightly better buy, but if you have $2000, a pair of GTX Titans should be your first choice, hands down.
GTX Titan 3-way SLI is a completely different beast. Sure, it ends up being the fastest setup in our review, but at "great" cost. Performance up-scaling between 2-way and 3-way SLI is close to non-existent in certain games in which scaling between single and 2-way SLI looks just fine. On average, you only get a 12 percent performance increase for spending an additional $1000. Then again, there are a few games that show signs of truly benefitting from the contraption, so NVIDIA looks to be onto something; it just needs to work on tweaking its SLI profiles a little more.
Looking at other contenders for a moment, you'll find that you simply don't need a GTX 680 2-way SLI when you can just buy a GTX 690 that runs quieter and saves an expansion slot because the price-performance ratio of a 3-way GTX 680 configuration is bad. AMD's HD 7970 GHz Edition CrossFire setup has its moments, but flunks far too many tests due to poor multi-GPU driver optimizations by AMD.
You probably won't need three GTX Titans to max your games out at 2560x1600, as two cards handle the task just fine. It's only with triple-monitor 5760x1080 setups where the 3-way SLI setup gives you a performance cushion that ensures frame-rates don't drop below a playable threshold. The reason NVIDIA had the audacity to price the GTX Titan at $1000 is because you can combine up to four of them (which you can't with the GTX 690) and end up with the fastest pixel-crunching machines. A 2-card GTX Titan should have you set for a long time. The 3-way setup, however, didn't impress us as much, but it holds a lot of promise if coupled with the right SLI profiles.