Review: The fastest single-GPU "Spirit"
Our today’s review features Gainward GTX 480, currently the fastest single GPU graphics card. Of course, we’re talking about a Fermi GF100-based card announced about a month ago. Fermi is the family name for the latest generation of GPUs from Nvidia, and naturally comes with DirectX 11 support. The first Fermi derivative is the GF100 GPU - Nvidia’s internal code name for the first Fermi based chip that is used for the high end GTX 480 and GTX 470 cards. With about 3.2 billion transistors in 40nm, GF100 is the largest graphics processor ever to be announced (AMD's RV870, which is used in the ATI Radeon HD 5870, is comprised of roughly 2.15 billion transistors)
Gainward’s GTX 480 card runs at reference clocks, just like the rest of the GTX 480 pack we’ve seen so far.
Unlike ATI, this is the first time Nvidia used GDDR5 memory on its high-end cards whereas the red team resorted to that a couple of years ago. Gainward’s GTX 480 packs 1536MB of memory.
Gainward prepared a new box design for the new cards. Now when the company is once again Premium Nvidia partner, Gainward didn’t miss out on the chance to emphasize that on the GTX 480’s box.
The cable you see on the picture is mini-HDMI-to-HDMI and is 1.5m in length.
Gainward GTX 480 comes with reference dual slot cooling. We must admit the cooler looks pretty cool with five large heatpipes.
The writing on the card proves that this GTX 480 comes from Gainward.
GF100 heats up to about 90°C, where fan noise is pretty audible and discernible from the rest of the components. The card is pretty quiet in idle mode, and while gaming won’t be a problem if you turn up audio, if and when you’re working in 3D programs it will get on your nerves. The fan, which is located at the far end of the graphics card, blows through the large aluminum block and the hot air escapes the case via the outlets on the I/O panel.
Copper heatpipes and the aluminum heatsink cover more than half of the card’s surface. Unlike most reference graphics cards, the GTX 480’s heatsink is visible for the most part rather than hidden under the plastic hood. The plastic hood directs the air towards the fins and heatpipes. As you can see, the cooling is pretty complex and is made up of several parts.
The heatpipes are in direct contact with the GPU whereas the memory is in contact with the metal block. All the power components are cooled by the fan and passive heatsink. Nvidia is using a 65mm Delta fan, which is rated at 1.8 A.
Nvidia resorted to using the same trick they used on the dual-GPU GTX 295 for air supply - this card features a hole in the PCB behind the fan as well. There's also an air outlet on the I/O panel and it's similar to that on the GTX 285.
The thermal paste residue clearly shows that the GF100’s heatspreader is wide enough for 5 6mm heatpipes, which with the distance in between the heatpipes makes the heatspreader 42.3 x 42.3mm in size. The GF100 is made in 40nm and contains about 3.2 billion transistors.
The GTX 480 is the first Nvidia’s high-end card to feature GDDR5 memory. The provided 1536MB of memory uses a 348-bit memory interface and runs at 924MHz (3696MHz effectively).
Samsung’s K4G10325FE-HC04 memory is rated at 1250MHz (5000MHz effectively) but it obviously couldn’t be pushed to its full potential on GTX 480 cards.
GTX 480 has TDP of 250W and it needs external power via one 8-pin and one 6-pin connector. Recommended PSU for the GTX 480 is 600W whereas for GTX 470 Nvidia recommends a 550W PSU (GTX 470 has TDP od 215W). Power connectors are located on the top of the card.
The I/O panel features two standard dual link DVI outs as well as one miniHDMI. Gainward included a 1.5m cable with a miniHDMI connector on one end and a regular HDMI connector on the other. Despite the card supporting DisplayPort, Nvidia deemed HDMI more important for most users, so DisplayPort implementation will be up to partners.
Nvidia included an HDMI sound device within the GPU, rendering the task of connecting external audio to your graphics card obsolete (previous generations of Nvidia cards required this if you wanted to bring both audio and video to your HDTV via one cable). The GF100 supports anything you might need for 3D TV etc., using HDMI 1.4. The HDMI interface is HDMI 1.3a compatible which includes DTS-HD, AC-3, Dolby TrueHD, DTS and up to 7.1 channel audio with 192 kHz / 24-bit.
In case you're looking to use three displays with Nvidia 3D Vision technology, you'll have to reach further into your pockets for another card as one card will allow for two displays only.
Motherboard: EVGA 3xSLI
CPU: Core i7 965 XE (3.6 GHz / 1.270 Volts, Intel EIST and Vdrop enabled)
Memory: 6GB Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24
Power Supply: CoolerMaster Ultimete 1100W
Case: Corsair Obsidian 800D
Fan Controler: Kaze Master Pro 5.25"
Operating System: Win7 64-bit
In Vantage benchmarks, Gainward GTX 480 wins hands down. The advantage melts from 10.5% in Performance to 6.2% in High and ends up at about 3% in Vantage Extreme, but it still manages to beat the HD 5870 in every single test, albeit with a rather tight margin.
Far Cry 2
As you can see, in Far Cry 2 at ultra high settings, the Gainward GTX 480 is definitely faster than the HD 5870 and there is no question about it. When the AF and AA comes into play, the Gainward GTX 480 definitely shows its sheer power and the difference is quite obvious at a higher resolutions.
In this case, Gainward GTX 480 is on par with the Radeon HD 5870.
Batman Arkham Asylum
Batman Arkham Asylum is one of the games that features PhysX effects, but if you’re playing it on one of the Radeon cards, you’ll have to turn them off.
The following tables prove that PhysX effects are pretty demanding and that they managed to slice framerates in half, but it still didn’t prevent Gainward’s GTX 480 from hitting 54fps at 2560x1600.
HAWX used to be AMD’s champ thanks to DirectX 10.1 support, but Nvidia’s Fermi based DirectX 11 cards gave Radeons a serious run for their money. Fortunately for the green team, while AMD is doing good in HAWX, it still doesn’t churn out enough fps to defeat Fermi.
Note that performance differences aren’t very high, especially at the highest tested resolution. At 1920x1200 and no AA, Gainward’s GTX 480 wins by 16% and the difference jumps to 20% after turning on AA. At 2560x1600 and no AA, Gainward’s GTX 480 wins by only 4% whereas turning on AA results in a 12% advantage.
Gainward GTX 480 once again shows its sheer power and proves that it is faster than any single GPU. The difference between the cards isn't that big, but after all Dirt 2 is the game where ATI's HD 5870 really shines, especially with new drivers. At 1920x1200 the GTX 480 wins by about 20%. At 2560x1600 the GTX 480 wins by about 7%, with and without AA.
Strapped with 1536GB of fast GDDR5 memory, Gainward GTX 480 has no trouble dealing with high resolutions and tessellation in undoubtedly one of the best looking PC games of 2010, Metro 2033. Metro 2033 is a post-apocalyptic game developed by 4A Game and implements a number of advanced DX11 features with the latest generation of DX11 graphics cards.
GTX 480 fares pretty well in this game as it beats its competitor by about 18% at 1680x1050 and 1920x1200. We couldn’t test 2560x1600 because Radeon HD 5870 stuttered so bad it couldn’t even allow movement, while the also-stuttering GTX 480 at least allowed movement.
Nvidia made sure that the GTX 480 handles tessellation like a champ, and the results confirm that. Tesselation levels can be controlled in Heaven engine and we see that the difference between the GTX 480 and the HD 5870 is much higher when tessellation is at higher levels. In fact, the fps difference of 36% jumped to as much as 59% after pushing tessellation to the extreme setting. Fortunately, even with maximum tessellation Gainward’s GTX 480 churns out a nice framerate at 1920x1200.
Gainward GTX 480 runs at 700/1401/924MHz for the GPU/Shaders/Memory, meaning the card kept reference clocks. Naturally, the GF100 graphics processor packs more punch than that but the GPU’s thermals made things extremely difficult. In fact, Nvidia strapped the GTX 480 with a large dual slot cooler with 5 heatpipes and the card still easily hits 90°C in 3D. Note however that even if you do notice higher temperatures, you need not worry as the default cooler will definitely keep things in check. When temperatures exceed 91°C, fan spins faster and the temperatures quickly revert to 91°C.
Unfortunately, while the cooler is capable of keeping the temperatures in check, it does get very loud. On the other hand, the card is pretty quiet in idle mode but you’ll definitely hear it in graphics-hungry apps or games.
Naturally, any overclocking requires sacrificing silence. For comparison purposes, with the fan running at Auto RPM we managed to overclock Gainward’s GTX 480 card to 760MHz. After manually setting the fan at maximum RPM we managed to push the card to 810MHz, without meddling with voltages. Note that we experienced most overclocking problems with the memory which wouldn’t run higher than 985MHz (3940MHz effectively).
We performed our overclocking via the ExpertTool, which supports Fermi cards in its latest v7.8 version. The ExpertTool we found on the CD is up to date and we’ve seen that the same version can be downloaded for Gainward’s web portal. ExpertTool runs with all Gainward’s cards starting from Nvidia’s 8th generation, with driver version 180 and newer. It’s well worth noting that ExpertTool v7.8 allows for independent overclocking of the core and shaders, which we couldn’t do when we tested the reference card more than a month ago – GPU clocks were linked to shader clocks in ratio 1:2.
We monitored fan speed via GPUZ tool, and it shows that maximum RPM is 4800. NVIDIA uses a Delta fan, which is rated at 1.8 A.
Besides cranking up noise levels, overclocking introduces higher consumption as well. We don’t have the appropriate equipment to measure exact consumption of the graphics card so we measured our entire rig’s consumption (without the monitor). Overclocking the card increased the consumption by about 30W, which means the entire card consumes about 280W. Note that this is seriously close to 300W, which is the maximum power the card can draw via one 8-pin and one 6-pin power connector.
We measured maximum temperatures using FurMark, which really knows how to stress a GPU and push temperatures higher than games can. We noticed that the fan starts spinning much faster when temperatures exceed 91°C, which is somewhat of a thermal safety net. Maximum temperature was at 96°C with the room temperature around 23.6°C.
Unfortunately, the fan couldn’t lower temperatures to 91°C during our overclocking. After ten minutes of Furmark, temperatures rose to 96°C and we even measured 97°C after half an hour. We didn’t go further for the risk of damaging our card, but this proves that GTX 480 overclocking is indeed possible. Still, we’d advise using water cooling or some more efficient cooling solution if overclocking is what you’re after.
Gainward GTX 480 is without doubt the fastest single-GPU card with many advantages but a few flaws as well. Packing 1.5GB of GDDR5 memory and based on the mighty Fermi core, the GTX 480 brings DirectX and some nice performance to all Nvidians out there.
The juice it packs is enough to beat the HD 5870 in pretty much every test, especially in newer games which feature DirectX 11 effects such as tessellation. Of course, we can’t forget CUDA, PhysX and 3D Vision support - CUDA-based apps are on the rise as parallel data processing using the GPU is becoming pretty popular; PhysX effects indeed improve the realism of games whereas 3D Vision will offer you a new perspective on 3D.
Gainward’s GTX 480 is no different from the reference GTX 480. The card comes with dual slot cooling which does get the job done, but at what expense. Namely, the cooling can get pretty loud and we’d love seeing Gainward’s magic touch on this card, such as the one on Gainward GTX 470 Good card, here.
We used ExpertTool to overclock Gainward’s GTX 480 and the aforementioned tool comes on the driver CD. It enabled us to push the GPU from reference 700MHz to as much as 810MHz without meddling with voltages. Unfortunately, reference cooling isn’t quite intended for such high clocks and runs too loud when at maximum RPM. Idle operation, however, is pretty quiet.
You can find Gainward’s GTX 480 priced at about €490, here, which is the price you’ll have to pay for this high-end prestige. We recommend this card if you want maximum juice, but only if it won’t leave you bankrupt. One thing is certain though – Gainward’s GTX 480 is the fastest single-GPU card around.