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Closing: A Killer Combination?
The GeForce GTX 460 is without a doubt our favorite mid-range graphics card right now. However if you stick two of them together they become our favorite high-end combination, especially in terms of value.
In the dozen games that we tested the GeForce GTX 460 SLI graphics cards were on average 16% faster than the GeForce GTX 480. This is a big deal not just because the GeForce GTX 480 is the fastest single GPU graphics card you can buy, but because you will likely end up paying less for the GTX 460 duo.
There are more advantages favoring the GeForce GTX 460 SLI configuration over a single GeForce GTX 480. While the SLI cards use 5% more power under full load, they also consume 37% less power at idle, a critical figure. It's bad enough that system consumption can reach over 400 watts when gaming, but to have them never drop below 200 watts can get a little ridiculous, especially for those that keep their system on 24/7.
Another major advantage to using a pair of GeForce GTX 460 SLI graphics cards is heat. Especially at idle, using a GeForce GTX 480, it will never drop below 60 degrees whereas most GeForce GTX 460 cards idle at half that.
Against the ATI competition, the GTX 460 SLI cards fare well, too. Starting with the popular Radeon HD 5870, the GTX 460 SLI setup admittedly costs 15% more but the GeForce combination can provide a whopping 43% better performance on average. The GeForce GTX 460 SLI cards were also able to compete against the dual-GPU monster that the Radeon HD 5970 is. The $700 Radeon was a mere 4% faster... not much more needs to be said about that.
Those willing to overclock will be rewarded with plenty more performance as well. Our mild overclock provided an additional 14% performance which was enough to put the GeForce GTX 460 SLI graphics cards on par with two Radeon HD 5870 using Crossfire, and in some cases even beat them.
Outstanding product: Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 SLI graphics cards (1GB)
While we have tested exclusively with the 1GB version of the GeForce GTX 460, a combination that will cost at least $450, there is also the option of going for the 768MB version which will reduce the price tag to just $400. It's a valid alternative and we doubt the 1GB cards can cover the ~13% pricing gap, but as we look into future game releases we recommend you opt for the 1GB offerings.
In short, the GeForce GTX 460 SLI configuration has redefined the high-end graphics card market, likely until a next-generation part becomes available some time in the near future.