In the mid-2000s, gamers usually envisioned a top-end Intel processor with at least 16GB of RAM and as many as four premium GPUs when talking about the ultimate gaming machine. These cards run under Nvidia SLI or AMD CrossFire technology.
However, almost 20 years later, people no longer talk about this kind of raw power. Instead, it’s all about expensive GPUs, cryptocurrency and 4K screens.
So what happened? Are multi-GPU setups still worth it for gamers? Let’s examine their pros and cons and see if it’s still worth the price.
The benefits of multi-GPU gaming systems
A GPU is specially designed to process tons of graphics data. So if you’re a gamer, you’ll want a decent graphics card in your gaming setup to deliver high-quality graphics. But from the mid-2000s until the mid-2010s, game development outpaced hardware capabilities – meaning even top-end cards struggled to deliver high FPS 4K gaming.
That’s why many gamers built computers with two or more GPUs. Here are two key benefits that multi-GPU computers unlock.
Better resolution, higher frame rate
By installing two or more GPUs, your computer can divide the workload between the graphics cards. This system allows your PC to process more data, allowing you to have a higher resolution while maintaining high frame rates.
For example, high FPS 4K gaming requires at least a 3060 Ti or 2080 Super. However, in a video posted on YouTube, DudeRandom84 was able to run Grand Theft Auto V on ultra settings in 4K. This was way back in 2017, about a year before Nvidia launched its RTX GPUs.
DudeRandom84 used two Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti GPUs connected via SLI and powered by an overclocked Intel Core i7-7700K.
You have a backup GPU
Another advantage of multiple GPUs is the availability of a spare card. If one of your graphics cards fails, you can still play games on the other while you wait for the damaged GPU to be repaired or replaced.
Furthermore, multi-GPU setups are far more useful in professional use. If you’re a researcher, video editor, or have another application that requires massive computing power, multiple GPUs will get your work done much faster than relying on just one card.
Disadvantages of multi-GPU PC
While having multiple graphics cards does provide a bump in power, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Multi-GPUs also have issues that you need to consider before installing the second GPU.
GPUs are expensive
Before the 2020 pandemic ravaged the world, most GPUs were reasonably priced. For example, the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti had an SRP of $699. But if you get two of these cards, you’ll have to pay $1,398.
But in 2022 the prices have changed drastically. Never mind the GPU shortage in 2021 and early 2022; The Nvidia RTX 3090 and Nvidia RTX 3090 Ti were sold for $1,499 and $1,999, respectively. So if you were planning on getting two RTX 3090s, you’d be out almost $3000.
Multi-GPU computers use a lot of power
GPUs are some of the most power-hungry elements on any computer. If you’re running an RTX 3090 Ti, the GPU has a 450-watt TDP – this is more powerful than what some PSUs can deliver. So if you plan to install two of these cards, you’ll need a power supply of at least 1300 watts to account for both GPUs plus the processor and other parts.
Given that these cards already use 450 watts each, they will also spit out a similar amount of heat. With that, you can expect the area your computer is in to also get particularly hot. This means you need to invest in an air conditioner or heat exchanger, otherwise you risk overheating your body while playing.
Multi-GPU systems require specific graphics 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 from the same model and series. So if you have a Radeon RX580 in your current PC and you want to connect the R9 390 GPU from your old gaming system, it won’t work.
There may be cases where cards with different performance levels can work together, but the lower performance GPU will bottleneck the faster card. For example, you can theoretically pair the RTX 3090 Ti with the RTX 2080 Ti. However, you’re not maximizing your faster GPU because the older card is a bottleneck.
Your games must specifically support multiple GPUs
Let’s say you’ve finally set up two RTX 3090s on your computer and you’re now testing it with your games. However, it’s not as easy as opening your favorite title. You need to check if it supports multi-GPU technology first.
For example, Grand Theft Auto V runs smoothly with it since it has in-game support. However, other titles, such as Forza Horizon 5, do not support this at all. If a game runs on DirectX 9, 10 or 11, you can still run it by downloading driver profiles from the GPU manufacturer.
But if the game you’re playing uses DirectX 12, it must naturally support multi-GPU technology. Otherwise, the game will only use one GPU in your system. The rest remain inactive while you play.
Some games that support multi-GPU systems also require complicated setups. Furthermore, there are times that titles with multi-GPU support end up with poor performance, such as 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. Given the advantages and disadvantages above, it doesn’t make sense to invest in two or more cards unless you use them professionally. If you have specialized software that processes billions of data points or hours of 4K video, then multi-GPU systems have a place in your workflow.
However, multi-GPU gaming systems are simply too well done. That’s because recent GPU models, architectures and technologies are more than enough to deliver ultra-quality games with high frame rates. Even current mid-range GPUs like the 3060 Ti can now perform as well as last-generation enthusiast cards.
If your work requires such a system, and you’re also into gaming, then by all means get a multi-GPU computer. But if not, you’re wasting money putting a second GPU into an already powerful system. The extra cost — an extra $2,000 for the 3090 Ti — isn’t worth the extra performance.
Be a wise player
If you have an unlimited budget, you can install a second (or third or fourth) GPU to maximize the potential power of your system. But it’s just that – potential. No game, current or past, uses that amount of horsepower. So, unless you’re using your monster of a PC for work, you don’t really need another GPU to play at the best possible quality.
Instead of shelling out $2000 for an extra card, why not get better peripherals? For that money, you can get a massive 4K or 8K display, some high-speed SSDs, gaming keyboards and mice, a slew of game controllers, wheels and throttles, and even a full VR setup to heighten your immersion.
After you set up your system, you’ll even have some left over to treat yourself to a nice meal.