Regardless of profession, everyone likes kicking back and playing a game for a while. In order to enjoy graphics and today’s stunning effects, you’ll need an adequate card capable of handling the massive data processing burden. If you encounter stuttering, it usually means that your card can’t take handle the task. In that case, you should lower the resolution or detail settings, but not before you try one often overlooked thing – installing new drivers.
The more advanced users might think it’s funny that we’d even discuss this issue, but many users never update their drivers after installing the card for the first time. However, the better the drivers, the better you’ll utilize the actual hardware.
This is where the ultimate question comes in – the graphics card of choice. If you take your pick wisely, it will do you a world of good.
In order to display all the special effects, a strong graphics processor is a must. It will process data fast enough and display the picture on your screen, whereas incapability to refresh the screen fast enough results in visible stuttering or even freezing. The rule is simple – more processing power results in faster data processing.
We played many good games and sequels these days. Sometimes, one graphics card can score 60fps in one game, whereas in others it will barely manage 25 fps, so we picked the card that will handle the latter, more demanding game.
Christmas and New Year’s are on our doorstep, and this means many will want to buy a new graphics card. The offer is as grand as ever, but we opted on the current top two contenders – Geforce GTX 260 and Radeon HD 4870. Nvidia launched a new driver for their GTX 360 with 216 shader processors, but if you missed our previous comparisons with HD 4870 you can jog your memory here.
Today, we’ll find out whether the new driver is responsible for GTX 260’s success.
Zotac GTX 260 AMP2 was our test subject, and we used three versions of drivers – ForceWare 177.42 (shipped with the CD), last month’s ForceWare 178.24 and the latest ForceWare 180.47.
Geforce GTX 260 AMP2 has 216 stream processors, unlike GTX 260 AMP which comes with 192. Increasing the number of stream processors was Nvidia’s answer to Radeon HD 4870’s tremendous success. Now the situation is more evened out, although Geforce has a slight performance advantage, and the only thing making these cards less desirable is the steep price, for most users at least. Geforce GTX 260 is priced at €230 whereas Radeon HD 4870 1GB costs about €200.
Nvidia’s advantage lies in larger frame buffers compared to most HD 4870 cards that come with 512MB of memory. GTX 260 features 896MB of memory and the 448bit memory interface that gives it a gaming advantage compared to ATI’s competitors. We’ve seen some partners, such as Gainward, that offer HD 4870 with 1GB of memory, but these card’s are a bit more expensive than 512MB versions.
Of course, Zotac pushed their AMP2 version with some overclocking.
The core speeds are up from reference 575MHz to 650MHz, and the same goes for shader speeds that are up from reference 1242MHz to 1400MHz. Memory didn’t get such serious overclocks, only by about 100MHz over reference 1998MHz.
The card features the reference dual slot cooling that performs well and isn’t loud. Powering the card is done via two 6-pin PCI Express connectors. The I/O panel features two dual-link DVI outs that support HDCP and with an adequate adapter can be used as HDMI outs. The adapter is shipped in the box, together with the SPDIF cable used for routing sound to the card. That way you’ll be able to use just one cable to get HDMI with sound on your HDTV device. The cable connects to the motherboard’s SPDIF out on one whereas the other end goes into the graphics card (the connector is placed next to the power connectors).
With their GTX 260 AMP2, Zotac ships a gift game Racedriver GRID.
Motherboard: MSI P45D3 Platinum ( Provided by: MSI );
Processor: Intel Core 2 QX9770 Extreme edition at 3.6GHz ( Provided by: Intel );
Memory: Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24 ( Provided by: Corsair);
HDD: WD VelociRaptor 300G 10,000RPM ( Provided by: SmoothCreation );
The drivers from the CD are usually not the best ones, so we strongly advise updating if possible.
In order to play Call of Duty: World at War, we had to use 180.47 drivers. The older drivers caused our game to crash upon starting.
We measured the performance gain by comparing it to ForceWare 177.42 drivers, the ones we received with the CD. Using the new ForceWare 180.47 drivers results in a score better by up to 11%. All the scenarios result in similar performance increase, except for 3DMark06 where the increase is minimal.
FarCry resulted in an obvious increase, but not until we turned antialiasing on. This is a big deal, as the result improved from 35fps by 44fps, which is impressive 25% better.
If you purchase the GTX 260 and try to play FarCry 2 with the CD-supplied drivers, this is what happens.
Call of Duty - World at War
This game wouldn’t hear of old drivers. In order to make sure that the problem is not in Zotac’s card, we tried the same thing with EVGA’s card and the same thing happened. The drivers would simply stop responding after starting the game.
Company of Heroes
In this game, Zotac GTX 260 AMP2 gave us some trouble. We couldn’t figure out the reason why - the game would occasionally crash and the same thing happened with all the drivers. The performance increase is up to 8%.
Crysis is a very demanding game that mercilessly throws cards at their knees. The new drivers enabled for 16% better scores, and we ended up playing at 1920x1200 with antialiasing.
World in Conflict
The new drivers rewarded World in Conflict, as well as F.E.A.R., by up to 10% better performance.
After our gaming weekend, it’s not difficult to see why installing newer drivers is a wise thing to do, and the same thing is in certain scenarios even a prerequisite for playing at all. We’ve seen the increase in almost all the tested games, so we’re guessing that other games will get better performance, too.
Zotac GTX 260 AMP2 is only a bit slower than EVGA’s overclocked card, but it beats HD 4870 1GB. If you’re wondering whether this is the card for you – then worry no more, as this card is currently the crème of the crop and we sincerely recommend it.