In the mid-2000s, gamers typically envisioned a top-of-the-line Intel processor with at least 16GB of RAM and whopping four premium GPUs when talking about the ultimate gaming machine. These cards run on Nvidia SLI or AMD CrossFire technology.
But almost 20 years later, people no longer speak of this brute force. Instead, it’s all about expensive GPUs, cryptocurrency, and 4K displays.
So what happened? Are multi-GPU setups still worthwhile for gamers? Let’s examine their pros and cons and see if it’s still worth the cost.
The benefits of multi-GPU gaming systems
A GPU is specifically designed to handle tons of graphics data. So if you’re a gamer, you want a decent graphics card in your gaming setup to deliver quality graphics. From the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s, however, gaming development outstripped hardware capacity – meaning even top-end cards struggled to deliver high-FPS 4K gaming.
For this reason, 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
Installing two or more GPUs allows your computer to share the workload across the graphics cards. This system allows your PC to handle more data, giving you 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 to YouTube, DudeRandom84 was able to run Grand Theft Auto V in 4K on Ultra settings. That was 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 that multiple GPUs offer is the availability of a backup card. If one of your graphics cards ever fails, you can still play games on the other while you wait for the damaged GPU to be repaired or replaced.
In addition, multi-GPU setups make far more sense in professional use. If you’re a researcher, video editor, or any other application that requires massive processing power, multiple GPUs will get your work done much faster than relying on just one card.
Disadvantages of multi-GPU PCs
While many graphics cards provide a boost in performance, it’s not all about 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 were reasonably priced. For example, the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti had an MSRP of $699. However, if you get two of these cards, you’ll have to shell out $1,398.
But in 2022, prices have changed drastically. Forget the GPU shortage in 2021 and early 2022; The Nvidia RTX 3090 and Nvidia RTX 3090 Ti retailed at $1,499 and $1,999, respectively. So if you want to buy two RTX 3090s, you’ll have to shell out almost $3,000.
Multi-GPU computers use a ton of power
GPUs are among the most power-hungry elements of a computer. If you’re using an RTX 3090 Ti, the GPU has a TDP of 450 watts – that’s more powerful than what some power supplies can deliver. So if you’re planning on installing two of these cards, you’ll need to have at least a 1,300-watt power supply to accommodate both GPUs, as well as your processor and other parts.
Since these cards already consume 450 watts each, they also spit out a corresponding amount of heat. With this, you can expect that the area where your computer is located will also get particularly warm. That means you need to invest in an air conditioner or heat exchanger unit, or you risk overheating your body while playing.
Multi-GPU systems require special graphics cards
When upgrading your gaming PC, you might be tempted to add your old GPU to your new system. However, it’s not that simple. Multi-GPU systems typically require GPUs of the same model and series. So if you have a Radeon RX580 in your current PC and want to plug in the R9 390 GPU from your old gaming system, this won’t work.
There may be cases where cards with different performance levels work together, but the less powerful GPU will hinder the faster card. For example, you could theoretically connect the RTX 3090 Ti to the RTX 2080 Ti. You’re not maxing out your faster GPU, however, because the older card is a bottleneck.
Specifically, your games need to support multiple GPUs
Let’s say you finally got two RTX 3090s set up on your computer and now you want to test them with your games. However, it’s not as simple 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 is supported in-game. However, other titles like Forza Horizon 5 don’t support it at all. If a game runs on DirectX 9, 10, or 11, you may still be able to run it by downloading driver profiles from your GPU manufacturer.
However, if the game you are playing uses DirectX 12, it must natively support multi-GPU technology. Otherwise the game will only use one GPU in your system. The rest remain idle while gaming.
Some games that support multi-GPU systems also require complicated setups. Additionally, titles with multi-GPU support sometimes 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 pros and cons above, there is no point in investing in two or more cards unless you use them professionally. If you have specialized software processing 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 just done for good. That’s because newer GPU models, architectures, and technologies are more than enough to deliver the highest quality games with high frame rates. Even current mid-range GPUs like the 3060 Ti can now perform as well as last-gen enthusiast cards.
If your work requires such a system and you also like gaming, then by all means get yourself a multi-GPU computer. But if not, you’re wasting money adding a second GPU to 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’re on a budget, you can install a second (or third, or fourth) GPU to maximize your system’s potential performance. But that’s it – potential. No game, whether current or in the past, consumes so much horsepower. So when you’re not 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 on a second card, why not buy better peripherals? For that money, you can get a massive 4K or 8K display, some high-speed SSDs, gaming keyboards and mice, a plethora of gaming controllers, wheels and throttles, and even a full VR setup to increase your immersion .
After setting up your system, you’ll even have some spare change to treat yourself to a nice meal.