SLI Scaling, Dual GTX 960s Does It Make Sense?

Those considering a pair of GeForce GTX 960 graphics cards will be fairly impressed with initial SLI scaling, though there were instances where we only saw a 50-60% improvement, so there is still some work to be done.

In Crysis 3, which is relatively old now yet still considered a benchmark for PC graphics we saw a 62% jump. The only game to see weaker scaling performance than Crysis 3 was the much newer Thief, which saw a mere 50% boost in performance from adding a second GTX 960.

Still, of the eight games we tested five of them saw scaling of ~80% or greater. On average a performance boost of 76% was seen across the eight games and this was enough to see the GTX 960 SLI configuration beat the GTX 970 by a 13% margin, while falling short of the GTX 980 by just 3%.

Compared to the Radeon R9 290, the GTX 960 SLI cards were 21% faster and 8% faster than the R9 290X. However, next to the R9 280X Crossfire setup, the GTX 960 SLI cards were 13% slower, so that is a disappointing result. In fact of the eight games we tested, the GTX 960 SLI cards were slower than the Crossfire cards by 20% or more in six of them. Reducing the blow for Nvidia were wins in Metro Redux and Tomb Raider.

Although the GTX 960 SLI cards were on average 13% slower, they also consumed almost 30% less power. That's a reasonable savings, especially when we are talking about the difference between 270 and 380 watts. The GTX 960 SLI cards also ran much cooler and quieter, thanks in part to Gigabyte's excellent WindForce coolers as well as the GTX 960's low TDP rating.

At $200 each, a GTX 960 SLI setup is priced similarly to the old GTX 460 SLI configuration we have such fond memories off, but is the newcomer a wise investment?

At 21% more expensive than a single GTX 970, they were just 13% faster, and while better optimised drivers might improve scaling a bit, the best you could hope for is the same performance per dollar ratio as the GTX 970. That in itself makes the investment questionable.

As good as the GTX 960 SLI setup looks next to the expensive GTX 980 flagship, dual R9 280X cards are the biggest hurdle. Although they are more expensive at $220 each, the R9 280X Crossfire cards were faster. Nvidia's pair might cost 9% less but it's also 13% slower and while that might not seem like much, keep in mind the R9 280X isn't a new product at over a year old now, so not a lot of progress has been made here.

Overall, going SLI with the GTX 960 doesn't seem like the smartest decision. Most gamers would be better off with a single GTX 970 while those looking to spend just $200 have no better option than a lone GTX 960, though it's only marginally better than the R9 285 in sheer performance.