Review: The GTX 285 can still deliver a mean punch
If you're planning to treat yourself to the fastest single-GPU Nvidia card, you'll have to resort to buying the GTX 285 as Fermi is still nowhere to be seen. Don't let that discourage you though, as the GTX 285 can still churn out impressive results and Gainward sent us one of their GTX 285 and we're about to drive this point home. Gainward offers as much as six different GTX 285 versions, where each sports different clocks, amount of memory and different video outs. The card we're about to show you is Gainward's GTX 285 2048MB, which is a card with doubled frame-buffer compared to the reference design.
Before we move on to the details on Gainward's iteration, let us recap where Geforce GTX 285 fits in.
In early 2009, Nvidia launched the dual-GPU GTX 295 and the single-GPU GTX 285 card, which are to this day the fastest Geforce cards around. The dual-GPU GTX 295 is a new graphics card with which Nvidia once again established itself as the manufacturer of the world's fastest graphics card, leaving ATI's offer behind up until the HD 5970 arrived. On the single-GPU side of things, the GTX 285 held the top position up until the Radeon HD 5870 hit the shelves, but you should know that the GTX 285 wasn't a full fledged newly designed card, but rather an ofshoot of the older GTX 280 card.
Nvidia commenced the transition from 65nm to 55nm back in 2008, but didn't launch its new GPUs until early 2009. Armed with a new 55nm GT200b GPU, the GTX 280 was ready for an overhaul and the name change, so that users don't confuse the old 65nm version with the new 55nm one. So, the GTX 280's evolution came in the form of GTX 285, and it's well worth noting that GTX 280 cards are long gone from Nvidia's offer, whereas the GTX 285 still standing.
The same scenario is likely to occur again, as the low-end segment already features 40nm chips, but high-end 40nm offerings will follow in 2010 (with the new Fermi GPU). Of course, smaller process means many a good thing – lower manufacturing cost, lower consumption and better thermals.
The Geforce GTX 285 card runs at reference clocks – 648MHz, whereas the old GTX 280 ran at 620MHz GPU. The new 55nm chip is much more efficient in the performance-per-clock department, and this is obvious even after a brief glance at the card. Namely, the new card requires two 6-pin PCI-Express connectors, while the GTX 280 ran on one 6-pin and one 8-pin connector. Nvidia claims the GTX 285 will draw up to 204W, and the GTX 280 will draw 236W.
The new card comes with the memory of the same type, but this time it's faster so that it can cope with the demands of the overclocked graphics core. GTX 285/GTX 280 cards pack 1024MB of 512-bit memory by default, and it runs at 1242MHz (2484MHz effectively) for the GTX 285 and at 1107MHz (2214MHz effectively) on the GTX 280. The memory overclock improved the bandwidth as well, from 141.7GB/s on the GTX 280 to 159GB/s on the GTX 285. We've already said that the memory interface is 512-bit, and it was a very wise choice since the memory in question is GDDR3. Of course, the next generation of Nvidia's high-end cards will get GDDR5 memory, which can easily be combined with the cheaper 256-bit interface and still provide the bandwidth of GDDR3 with 512-bit bandwidth.
With the transition from 65nm (GTX 280) to 55nm (GTX 285), the GPU was pretty much unchanged, and the GPU still packs 240 stream processors. In order to paint a better picture of the aforementioned 512-bit interface, note that the chip still has 32 ROP units. Within the chip you'll find 8 ROP partitions, each packing 4 ROP units (8 x 4 = 32 ROPs), where each ROP partition features a 64-bit connection to the main memory. The equation is simple - 8 ROP partitions x 64-bit interface = 512-bit memory interface.
The GTX 285 is a DirectX 10 card with PhysX and CUDA app support. It's well worth noting that the GPU is slowly but surely establishing itself as another processing unit capable of much more than just graphics, and that's why Nvidia often mentions the term "Graphics Plus". A proof of this would be that GTX 285 cards, apart from excellent gaming capabilities, enable for PhysX technology (an increasing number of games feature PhysX based effects), Stereoscopic 3D (for which you'll need special 3D glasses and a special monitor), as well as improved operation of video and image processing apps, courtesy of the GPU itself.
Gainward's strapping the GTX 285 with 2048MB of memory sounds promising, but if you're looking for a card to use solely for gaming, you should know that only a few games support such large frame buffer. Of course, it's not only gamers who need graphics cards and our today's card's pipeline can be utilized in many ways and the card's memory plays a significant role in processing larger amounts of data.
The picture below shows that Gainward uses special cooling with two fans, 4 heatpipes and a large heatsink. The cooling is dual slot and in this respect nothing has changed from the reference design.
We've already mentioned that Gainward has as much as 6 different GTX 285 iterations and that they all use the same cooling. Just like reference cooling, Gainward's solution is dual-slot as well.
The cooler features two fans connected to the 4-pin connector via one cable, and regulating the rpm is a breeze. Note that both fans run at same speed. The fans are placed on the large plastic hood, which covers the entire length of the card and hides a large aluminum heatsink. Gainward's card appears a bit longer than the reference design, mostly due to the hood, although the PCB size didn't change and it still measures 26.7cm.
Twin fan design used by Gainward is efficient, but it's worth noting that the heat released off the dissipation surfaces will stay in the case, whereas the reference design makes sure it is pushed out of the case. For this reason, you should make sure that your in-case airflow is adequate.
Although the cooling solution seems a bit complicated at a glance, it's pretty simple. The main part comprises of the heatsink with the heatpipes, which take care of the GPU, whereas the remaining two components are aluminum plates, which act as passive heatsinks. The black heatsink is placed on the power components whereas the second one takes care of memory modules. Of course, heatpipe technology would've been an overkill in this case since power components and memory don't even come close to the temperatures the GPU emits.
Of course, the card itself features heatpipe technology, and the picture shows four large heatpipes going from the copper base and ending among the aluminum cooling fins. So, the heatpipe transfers the heat emitting from the GPU to the cooling fins (heatsink), where the heat is dissipated. You'll notice that this cooling resembles Gainward's solutions on the GTX 275/260 cards, although lower thermals on the aforementioned cards allow for using three heatpipes and safely getting away with it.
The cooler has proven to be efficient during our testing, keeping the GPU temperatures at about 72 degrees Celsius, which is much better than the reference card's 82 degrees. On the other hand, we can't say that we're pleased with the operating noise levels, but it's possible to remedy that by lowering the fan rpm and basically sacrificing a couple of degrees Celsius for quieter operation (you can use the provided ExpertTool). Idle operation and casual desktop work won't introduce noise.
As you already know, Gainward strapped its card with 2048MB of GDDR3 memory. All the memory modules are located on the front side of the card, and the memory in question comes from Hynix.
The memory runs at reference 1242MHz (2484MHz). On this card Gainward decided against overclocking so the GPU retained the reference 648MHz clocks and the shaders are still at 1476MHz.
The GTX 285 will draw up to 204W and the card is powered via two 6-pin power connectors, which kept their standard location. With the card installed, our test rig drew up to 300W in gaming scenarios (without the monitor) whereas idle operation resulted in consumption of about 122W.
You'll also notice the SPDIF connector, and you'll need it if you want to add audio to your graphics card's video out. On this card, Gainward doesn't provide HDMI out, but the company provides a DVI-to-HDMI dongle. The card also features two dual-link DVIs and S-video out.
The box is pretty large but sturdy and you'll find a 3DMark Vantage Advanced serial number inside. You'll have to download the program from the internet yourself, but nevertheless it's a nice addition. The box also features a short user's manual, the driver CD with ExpertTool app, S-video connector, Molex-to-6-pin PCI-Express power connector, DVI connector, HDMI dongle and a SPDIF cable.
Processor: Intel Core 2 QX9770
Memory: Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24 ( Provided by: Corsair);
HDD: WD VelociRaptor 300G 10,000RPM
Driver: ForceWare 195.50, Catalyst CCC 9.11
Gainward GTX 285 scores great in Vantage as well as in gaming tests, allowing for pleasant gaming at 2560x1600, but it can't cope with HD 5870. Unfortunately, the 2048MB of memory on Gainward's card adds to the price making it almost equal to the pricetag on Radeon HD 5870. Of course, Gainward offers five more different GTX 285 cards, and if saving money is your intent you can easily find up to €50 cheaper GTX 285 models.
Far Cry 2
Gaming with Gainward GTX 285 2GB is a treat. No matter what game and resolution you pick, this game will provide you with smooth gaming experience with all the special effects on. We ran Far Cry 2 at 2560x1600 at 50fps, something not many cards are capable of. Radeon HD 5870 scores about 20% better, but bear in mind that it came out almost a year later.
World in Conflict
World in Conflict shows that both graphics cards are capable of spinning the game at maximum possible settings. At 2560x1600 and antialiasing on, Gainward's GTX 285 2GB scores 32fps, which is only 3fps lower than the result scored by Radeon HD 5870. Turning antialiasing off underlines the importance of frame buffer capacity, and in such scenarios Gainward ran up to 25% slower than ATI's new card.
Crysis is a tough nut to crack for many cards, but Gainward's card proves that it has what it takes. The card scores 45fps at 1920x1200 and 26fps at 2560x1600 with in-game detail settings at "high". Quadruple antialiasing is possible only at 1920x1200 as the same scenario at 2560x1600 can't manage a playable framerate. A glance at all the tested games and resolutions shows that Crysis is the only game that significantly benefited from the introduction of Radeon HD 5870 cards.
We tested Gainward's GTX 285 2GB card, which is special for being one of few cards with such large frame buffer. Gainward has a reputation of pleasing even the most demanding users, and we must admit that the announcement of a 2GB GTX 285 card didn't come as a surprise. Gainward's efforts on the graphics market are perhaps best portrayed by the fact that Gainward's offer includes as much as 6 different GTX 285 cards. A common feature shared by all the cards is nonreference cooling, whereas clocks, memory size and video out configurations mostly vary depending on the card.
Gainward's version of the GTX 285 with 2048MB sure sounds promising, but if you're planning to use this card solely for gaming, you should know that only a small fraction of games can put such a large buffer to use. Of course, the card also supports PhysX and CUDA apps, and since gamers aren't the only ones in need of quality graphics, you can use the card to process data (video and images for instance. In such scenarios, you'll certainly be glad you've got such a hefty frame buffer, as memory often plays a key role in data processing.
Gaming with Gainward's GTX 285 2GB card is a treat, even when considering that most games can't use the provided memory to its full capacity. Still, no matter which game and resolution you choose, this card will enable for smooth gaming and maximum special effects. To prove this, take a look at Far Cry 2 results where the card scored 50fps at 2560x1600, which is an admirable feat and something not a lot of cards are capable of.
The only downside to this card is the pricing, as additional memory resulted in the price being higher than any other GTX 285 card in Gainward's arsenal. In fact, our today's test sample is as much as €50 pricier than the most affordable Gainward's GTX 285.
GTX 285 is a great card, but bear in mind that it's almost a year old and only supports DirectX 10. If you're aiming to treat yourself to Nvidia's DirectX 11 card, you'll have to wait on Fermi, otherwise you'll have to resort to buying the opposing camp's Radeon HD 5870.
If, on the other hand, you don't care about DirectX 11 support and wish to buy a CUDA and PhysX-supporting card with a hefty, 2GB of memory and enviable gaming performance, then there's no excuse not to consider Gainward's GTX 285 2GB.
You can find the card listed here.