In the mid-2000s, gamers generally considered a high-end Intel CPU with at least 16GB of RAM and four high-end GPUs when talking about the ultimate gaming machine. These cards work under Nvidia SLI or AMD CrossFire technology.
Yet nearly 20 years later, we don’t talk about that kind of raw power anymore. Instead, it’s expensive GPUs, cryptocurrency, and 4K displays.
So what happened? Are multi-GPU setups still worth it for gamers? Let’s take a look at their pros and cons and see if it’s still worth it.
The Benefits of Multi-GPU Gaming Systems
A GPU is specifically designed to process tons of graphics data. So if you are a gamer, you want a decent video card in your gaming setup to deliver high quality graphics. However, from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s, game development exceeded hardware capability, which meant that even high-end cards struggled to deliver high-FPS 4K games.
This is why many gamers have built computers with two or more GPUs. Here are two key benefits that multi-GPU computers unlock.
Better resolution, higher frame rates
By installing two or more GPUs, your computer can distribute the workload between the video cards. This system allows your PC to process more data, allowing you to have greater resolution while maintaining high frame rates.
For example, high FPS 4K games require at least a 3060 Ti or 2080 Super. However, in a video posted to YouTube, DudeRandom84 was able to run Grand Theft Auto V on ultra settings in 4K. That was in 2017, about a year before Nvidia launched its RTX GPUs.
DudeRandom84 used two Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti GPUs linked via SLI and powered by an overclocked Intel Core i7-7700K.
You have a spare GPU
Another advantage offered by multiple GPUs is the availability of a backup card. If one of your video cards ever fails, you can still play games on the other while you wait for the damaged GPU to be repaired or replaced.
Additionally, multi-GPU setups are much more useful in professional use. If you’re a researcher, video editor, or any other application that requires massive computing power, multiple GPUs will run your job much faster than relying on a single card.
Disadvantages of Multi-GPU PCs
While having multiple video cards does offer a power boost, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Multi-GPUs also have issues that you need to consider before installing that second GPU.
GPUs are expensive
Before the 2020 pandemic ravaged the world, most GPUs had reasonable prices. For example, the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti had an SRP of $699. But, if you get two of these cards, you have to shell out $1,398.
But in 2022, prices have changed dramatically. Never mind the GPU shortage in 2021 and early 2022; the Nvidia RTX 3090 and Nvidia RTX 3090 Ti retailed for $1,499 and $1,999 respectively. So if you were planning on getting two RTX 3090s, you would have to shell out almost $3,000.
Multi-GPU computers consume a ton of electricity
GPUs are among the most power-hungry parts of any computer. If you’re using an RTX 3090 Ti, the GPU has a TDP of 450 watts, that’s more powerful than some PSUs can provide. So if you plan on installing two of these cards, you need at least a 1300 watt power supply to account for both GPUs as well as your CPU and other parts.
Since these cards already draw 450 watts each, they also put out an equivalent amount of heat. With this, you can expect the area your computer is in to be particularly hot as well. This means you need to invest in air conditioning or a heat exchanger or else you risk overheating your body while playing.
Multi-GPU systems require specific video cards
If you’re upgrading your gaming PC, you might be tempted to add your old GPU to your new system. However, it is not as simple as that. Multi-GPU systems usually require you to have GPUs of the same model and series. So if you have a Radeon RX580 on your current PC and want to hook up the R9 390 GPU from your old gaming system, it won’t work.
There may be cases where cards of different performance levels can work together, but the lower performing GPU will hinder the faster card. For example, you could theoretically connect the RTX 3090 Ti to the RTX 2080 Ti. However, you’re not maximizing your faster GPU because the older card is bottlenecking it.
Your games must specifically support multiple GPUs
Suppose you have finally set up two RTX 3090s on your computer and now you are preparing to test it with your games. However, it’s not as simple as opening your favorite title. First you need to check if it supports multi-GPU technology.
For example, Grand Theft Auto V works perfectly with it because it has in-game support. However, other titles, like Forza Horizon 5, don’t support it at all. If a game runs on DirectX 9, 10, or 11, you can still run it by downloading driver profiles from your GPU manufacturer.
But, if the game you are playing uses DirectX 12, it should natively support multi-GPU technology. Otherwise, the game will only use one GPU in your system. The rest will remain idle while you play.
Some games that support multi-GPU systems also require complicated setups. Additionally, sometimes titles with multiple GPU support end up with poor performance like frame drops and stuttering due to poor driver implementation.
So should you use multiple graphics cards for your gaming PC?
The short answer is no. Considering the pros and cons above, investing in two or more cards only makes sense if you use them professionally. If you have specialized software that processes billions of data points or hours of 4K video, multi-GPU systems have a place in your workflow.
However, multi-GPU gaming systems are simply done for good. This is because the latest GPU models, architectures and technologies are more than enough to deliver super high quality gaming with high frame rates. Even current midrange GPUs like the 3060 Ti can now perform as well as the latest generation enthusiast cards.
If your job requires this type of system and you also love gaming, then by all means, get a multi-GPU computer. But otherwise, you’re wasting money installing a second GPU in an already powerful system. The extra cost – an extra $2,000 for the 3090 Ti – isn’t worth the extra performance.
Be a smart player
If you have an unlimited budget, you can install a second (or third or fourth) GPU to maximize your system’s potential power. But that’s just the potential. No game, current or past, uses this amount of power. So unless you’re using your monster PC for work, you don’t really need another GPU to play at the best possible quality.
Instead of spending $2,000 for a second card, why not buy better peripherals? For that money, you can get a massive 4K or 8K display, high-speed SSDs, gaming keyboards and mice, a plethora of game controllers, wheels and accelerators, and even a full VR setup to boost your immersion.
After configuring your system, you will even have some change left over to treat yourself to a good meal.