Review: A wholle lotta memory + native HDMI out
Geforce GTS 250 is a card based on the G92 core, found on many Nvidia’s cards including the 8800 GS, 8800 GT, 8800 GTS, 9800 GT, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+ and 9800GX2. The only difference between the 9800 GTX+ and the GTX 250 is a somewhat different PCB, but since both cards use the same core, the GTX 250 is nothing but a glorified 9800 GTX+. The core is built in 55nm and packs 754 million transistors.
Nvidia launched the GTS 250 with 512MB and 1024MB of memory, but Gainward decided to go the extra mile and offer its BLISS GTS 250 card with 2048MB of memory. Additional memory however couldn’t fit on just the front of the PCB, so 1024MB was placed on each side of the PCB. The back of the PCB also houses a large metal plate used for cooling the memory chips.
Gainward BLISS GTS 250 2048MB Limited Edition uses non-reference cooling, and it’s a dual-slot cooler with a fan in the middle, which blows air towards the heatsink. The fan is mounted on the plastic “hood”, and you can control its RPM. The fan runs almost silent in idle mode, but in workload scenarios it unfortunately runs a bit louder than the reference GTS 250’s fan. However, it’s still not too loud, and we can’t say we were bothered by it.
The heatsink is quite large, and the cooling fins are partly touching the heatsink’s copper base, and where they’re not, the heatpipes are in charge of heat transfer. The following photo shows the heatsink from below, and we see that the front memory is covered with a smaller metal plate. The card packs 16 GDDR3 memory chips in total. The memory is Hynix’s H5RS1H23MFR-N2C, meaning it’s a 0.8ns memory rated at 1200MHz.
The card has 4+1 phase system for power regulation, and uses OnSemi voltage regulator with no software voltage change support.
Gainward didn’t push the memory to its max, and so it runs at 1100MHz on the card, which is GTS 250’s reference memory clock. The core on the other hand got overclocked, albeit slightly, and it runs at 745MHz for the core and 1848MHz for shaders. Note that reference clocks are 738MHz for the core and 1836MHz for shaders.
The I/O panel features an analog VGA port, one DVI and one HDMI port. It’s become somewhat customary to provide a DVI-to-HDMI dongle so the customers can use the DVI port as HDMI out but since this card already has native HDMI, the box contains a dongle that does the opposite in case a need for a second DVI out arises. You can use HDMI to route video, but if you want to use just one cable to bring both audio and video to your HDTV, you’ll have to use the provided SPDIF cable and connect it to your motherboard’s/soundcard’s SPDIF out to your graphics card’s SPDIF in. The card is powered via two 6-pin power cables.
The card has a red PCB and it’s a bit difficult to tell whether Gainward’s cards use Geforce or Radeon. The following photo also shows Gainward’s HD 4850 card, but Gainward also offers its HD 4850 Goes Like Hell which shares the cooling solution with our today’s test sample – the GTS 250 2GB.
As far as we recall, Gainward was the first partner to have native HDMI on Geforce graphics cards. Some Gainward’s cards feature DisplayPort, but not many users need it at the moment, so HDMI out on GTS 250 2GB cards is probably a much more appealing feature.
The packaging says that this DirectX 10 card packs 2048MB of memory and that it’s not your ordinary GTS 250.
Inside you’ll find the graphics card and the accompanying documentation, the driver CD, SPDIF audio cable, PCI-Express power cable and the HDMI-to-DVI dongle.
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 );
Driver: AMD 9-4_vista32_win7_32_dd_ccc_wdm_enu.exe
Vista 32 SP1
3DMark Vantage High test reports the Gainward GTS 250 2GB to be identical to the reference card. Still, this card packs potential and we expect it to shine in newer games, especially the ones yet to come as they’ll know how to put Gainward GTS 250’s large frame buffer to good use.
Far Cry 2
The tables we’re looking at show that GTS 250 2GB is the slowest card coming from Gainward, but it still scores great compared to the GTS 250 512MB. At 1680x1050 we see 10% better results, but the 2GB frame buffer greatly helps in antialiasing and high resolution scenarios.
The fastest HD 4850 card is Goes Like Hell and it comes with 512MB of GDDR5. This Gainward’s special HD 4850 scores 17% better than reference HD 4850 with 512MB GDDR3. The same card beats Gainward HD 4850 GS 1GB GDDR3 card by 4%.
The HD 4850 GS GLH’s shortcoming however is in the 512MB of memory (despite it being GDDR5), because, as you can see for yourself, the card loses to HD 4850 1GB. We’re talking about 10 fps less, meaning that turning on antialiasing at high resolutions in FarCry 2 results in less than 26 fps.
GTS 250 2GB card allows for gaming at 1920x1200 with antialiasing on, where it churns out 30fps, whereas the fastest HD 4850 card with 512MB of memory loses by 28% and the reference HD 4850 512MB by as much as 41%. The same resolution sees the reference GTS 250 512MB lose by even more embarrassing 48%.
Two Gainward’s cards are in the same range as HD 4890, namely the GTX 260 GLH and the GTX 275. Both of these cards are great for gaming at all the tested resolutions, and we see over 40fps at 1920x1200 even when AA and aniso filters are on.
World in Conflict
Unlike our previous FarCry 2 testing, this game doesn’t consider more memory to be an advantage, not even at high resolutions and antialiasing. Gainward GTS 250 2GB ended up lagging slightly behind the GTS 250 512MB card, whereas Gainward’s HD 4850 1GB was faster than the reference HD 4850 mostly due to higher clocks.
Nvidia still ends up faring better in World in Conflict, as GTS 250 emerges a winner versus HD 4850.
Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead is a nice game, and any of the tested Gainward’s cards will definitely strike your chord. All the cards achieve over 60 fps at all the tested resolutions. Unlike in FarCry 2, the HD 4850 GS 1024MB with GDDR3 is constantly taking a beating from the HD 4850 GS GLH with 512MB of GDDR5 memory. The core and memory clocks help the GLH card beat Gainward’s HD 4850 GS 1024MB by up to 19%.
Our today’s test subject – the Geforce GTS 250 2GB does well and is keeping up with HD 4850 GS 1024MB. It manages to score over 60 fps at 1920x1200 with antialiasing on.
Similar to Left 4 Dead gaming tests, Gainward HD 4850 GS GLH is performing better than HD 4850 1GB. Note that all the tested resolutions provide a playable framerate.
You’ll notice how the GTS 250 2GB scores nicely with no antialiasing on, but the scores duck considerably when antialiasing is turned on. The reason for this is the HAWX game, where we turned on DirectX 10.1 for Radeon cards, which is not supported by Geforce cards. That however didn’t stop Gainward GTS 250 2GB from beating the reference GTS 250 512MB by 33%, mostly thanks to the additional memory. So, this is another game which puts memory to good use.
Thermals and Overclocking
Compared to the reference GTS 250 card, Gainward’s GTS 250 model with 2GB of memory runs cooler during operation, but that’s not the case with idle mode. The reason for that is absence of clock-switching mechanism – meaning there’s no downclocking when the card is in idle mode. The fan however is pretty quiet in idle mode, but noise levels during operation are higher than those on the reference GTS 250. Still, we can’t say it’s too loud to actually bother you, unless you’ve got hyper-sensitive hearing, in which case we recommend sacrificing a couple of degrees Celsius for some “golden silence”.
As far as overclocking goes, the core can easily be pushed to 800MHz+ and the memory to 1150MHz+. We put the “+” sign there as we’ve managed to squeeze out a couple of MHz more, but achieved total stability with these round numbers. Note that overclocking potential varies between cards from the same series, meaning that you might be able to achieve more or less and this mostly depends on your luck.
GTS 250 2GB doesn’t come with clock switching, and it results in idle consumption higher than the rest of the GTx 2x0 pack. Furthermore, the additional memory and slightly higher core and shader clocks result in Gainward card’s higher consumption compared to the reference GTS 250.
Today we’ve seen results from a couple of Gainward’s cards, and all in all we must say the results are great. A common feature among these cards is the non-reference cooling solutions, and they were efficient and quiet.
Gainward BLISS Geforce GTS 250 GS 2048MB Limited Edition is a card that is unique in its class due to the 2048MB GDDR3 frame buffer, while the reference GTS 250 cards pack either 512MB or 1024MB. If you remember the emergence of 1024MB cards, you know that it was at the time regarded as quite unneeded, but things have changed since. Depending on your gaming preference and detail and effects settings, some games will ask for more than just 512MB. Our testing reveals that FarCry 2 and HAWX really like the additional memory on graphics cards and that high resolution gaming with antialiasing on is only possible with a large frame buffer.
Gainward GTS 250 2GB unfortunately doesn’t support any kind of clock switching, meaning higher power consumption. The fan isn’t too loud in 3D, but it does get louder than the one on the GTS 250. During operation, GPU temperatures are lower than on the reference GTS 250, but that’s not the case in idle mode.
Gainward BLISS GTS 250 2GB card costs about €180, Gainward HD 4850 GS 1024MB costs €150, Gainward HD 4850 GS GLH is available for under €110 and the cheapest GTS 250 with 1024MB can be found at about €130.
Although Gainward BLISS GTS 250 comes with native HDMI out, choosing to splash out additional €50 for extra 1024MB of memory is not an easy decision. We have to congratulate Gainward on pushing the limits further and further on each card they make, but we’ll have to recommend this card only to those who are positively sure they need “whole lotta” memory and know where to put it to use.
Alternatively, Gainward offers GTS 250 cards with 512MB or 1024MB of memory, and you can find them here.