When the world was introduced to the idea of SLI and multiple GPUs connected into a single unit, it was brimming with potential.
But, as years went on and new graphics cards were being released, the technology simply never lived up to it.
As such, we’re can’t help but feel disappointed because even though there are games that do support it and scale nicely, there are just as many where the performance boost is negligible, and even a few where performance drops.
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What Is SLI?
A shorthand for Scalable Link Interface, this is an Nvidia technology designed to pool resources from two graphics cards and use them as if it was a single GPU. On paper, the concept sounds really cool, but in practice, we saw different results.
The technology originally reared its head in the mid-2000s to a mild reception and then kind of continued in the same vein. SLI’s entire run was marred by driver issues, and by an apparent lack of support from game developers, an ingredient it desperately needed to have a breakthrough.
First and foremost, in order to function, SLI had to have two identical GPUs running side-by-side, and only in some rare instances there was a possibility of mismatched GPU setup, but at a steep performance cost.
The other thing that ended up costing SLI the fulfillment of the potential it could have had was the master-slave relationship in which the GPUs were set up. As such, they were severely limited in the way the frames were being rendered, most often using the technique called alternate frame rendering in which one GPU will render every odd frame, and the other one every even frame.
What might’ve as well been the nail in the coffin for SLI is the low bandwidth that SLI bridges could provide, but one could argue that not even that could’ve helped it.
So, We Can’t Have Multiple GPU Setups?
Yes, you can have multiple setups, it’s just that with the advancement of technology, there’s no need for that. SLI in its current state, after being succeeded by NVLink, is considered an obsolete technology. This newer tech functions much better and aims to correct the mistakes that SLI made and fortunately, it partly succeeds.
NVLink enormously improved upon SLI’s master-slave concept and used, instead, mesh networking which allowed every GPU in the setup to function properly on its own as an equal contributor to the overall process. Furthermore, it brought with itself NVLink Bridge which substantially outperformed the SLI bridge. All of these are some of the major contributing factors to NVLink simply being a better multi-GPU option and a perfect choice at the moment if you’re looking to hook up two GPUs.
Again, it’s important to emphasize that modern GPUs like RTX 2080 Ti or even more budget-friendly options like RTX 2060 or RTX 2070 will still be an excellent option for almost any modern game and that getting a second GPU might as well be a waste of both time and money.
Best Games With SLI Support
There are a lot of games that technically support SLI and almost any AAA released in the last decade will probably slap on the SLI support label.
However, there are a lot of issues that have arisen with some of these titles. And just before we start, we want to clarify that this isn’t a list of games with SLI support we consider the best, but rather games that scale the best and manage to take advantage of the extra resources they’ve been given.
Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar has been at the forefront of the video gaming world for the last twenty years and one of the reasons why they managed to do so is because they always adapted and made use of the best technology available to them. With GTA V, they released the Kraken, and at this point in time, there are very few people in the gaming world who don’t know the name of their best selling game.
Despite not being a game with groundbreaking graphics, it has still somehow managed to withstand the test of time and is among the most popular games today. There are mods that enable some high-end graphics, but those don’t come from Rockstar, so it would be unfair to talk about them.
GTA V is the first game on this list because it’s probably one of the best executions on SLI technology and the video below shows how that performance looks like.
This iconic game comes from the iconic series. CD Projekt Red was on a tighter budget when they released the original Witcher, nonetheless, that didn’t stop the game from having some stunning visuals for the time. Indeed, by the time the second installment came out, they had their stuff figured out and as a result, we got even more remarkable visuals.
It’s safe to say that with Witcher 3, they knocked it out of the park, both gameplay-wise and in terms of graphics. Simply put, the game is beautiful to play and look at.
Even though it’s a 2015 game, it’s still held in high regard in terms of graphics and exactly because of this, it feels really good to report that they fantastically executed their support for SLI.
Below is a video that showcases the difference between one card and two card setup in Witcher 3.
Far Cry 5
This series has always been beautiful to look at but also hard to run, and its fifth installment is no different. It’s often put a notch above the GTA series in terms of industry-setting graphics, although GTA had other innovative things to factor in as well.
Far Cry made lush tropical maps seem easy to make, but that shouldn’t be a detriment to the technical marvel that are the wonderful gameplay graphics.
Below is a side-by-side comparison between the in-game benchmark being executed with one and two GPUs. The first thing that might pop up for you is that the increase in FPS isn’t so ridiculously noticeable, but that might be an SLI issue, rather than a Far Cry issue.
If you were in the market for a GPU anywhere between 2007 and 2014, the first question that needed to be answered was “Can it run Crysis?”
Although those days are behind us, it’s worth pointing out that that question was posed for a reason. Crysis has been a graphics marvel since the first game was released and with each edition, it got prettier and more realistic.
The way Crysis 3 has implemented the support for SLI makes it seem like dark magic. Maybe poorly executed dark magic. The reason for this assessment is that the game will actually run better with dual GTX 1070 Tis than with two GTX 1080 Tis.
The latter is showcased below.
Upon its release, innovative game mechanics and game modes weren’t the only things at a high standard. There’s no need for outlandish superlatives and it’s enough to just say that this is a beautiful game. Character models look stunning and so do the environments.
What may have caught a few people by surprise was its excellent support for SLI.
For a game with extensive multiplayer options, every little frame gained can be considered an advantage and For Honor has succeeded in delivering for multi-GPU enthusiasts, and below is an excellent example of how that looks.
The long-awaited sequel in the critically acclaimed series didn’t have as good as reception as it hoped. Still, to say that this game isn’t good or that it doesn’t look good would be more than dishonest.
Although upon release Fallout 4 had its fair share of SLI-related issues and it took some time to actually get good support for it, there is that desired FPS increase.
The reason why this section exists is probably the biggest sign that SLI is dead and buried. To clarify, in this section we’ll list games where there have actually been reports of FPS decrease. That’s right, two GPUs in SLI mode are worse than one.
In no particular order, here are the games that are best run on a single GPU.
Rainbow Six Siege
To have a multiplayer game not take full advantage of available resources is borderline criminal, but if we take into consideration that that “advantage” is SLI, we can kind of see why they haven’t bothered.
Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Another online shooter that doesn’t get better with more GPUs. Admittedly, the FPS drop isn’t nearly as bad as in Rainbow Six Siege, but the fact that there is a drop is concerning.
Resident Evil 7
Although FPS isn’t as necessary here like online shooter games, it’s still a bad sign that two graphics cards are outperformed by one.
Final Points On SLI
It’s time to admit that SLI just isn’t it. Truthfully, we should have admitted that five years ago, but nobody did. In regards to the games where SLI actually does bring performance increase, we hope that you noticed how most of them were released around 2015. Objectively, this was the peak of interest in SLI.
In 2018, we got a consumer-ready replacement in the way of NVLink to go along the new RTX series GPUs and that was the death blow for SLI.