Just about everyone knows that Nvidia’s hot new Fermi graphics chip is literally hot. So, when Asus bundled its new ENGTX480 card with a custom voltage tweaker for overclocking, we wondered if it was such a good idea.
After all, do you really need the card to run hotter? And with the speed of the ENGTX480, you probably don’t need the higher clocks anyway. The ENGTX480 ships with 32 shader processors (what Nvidia calls “CUDA cores”) disabled, yet the card still manages to be the fastest single-GPU card you can buy today.
Asus's ENGTX480 ships with a voltage tweaker for additional overclocking--and heat.
In addition to 480 shader processors, the GPU also offers 60 texture units and a whopping 48 render output (ROP) units in its render back end. This incarnation of the Fermi GPU is built onto a board with 1.5GB of GDDR5 VRAM. The GPU core clock is 700MHz, while the shader units run at 1,401MHz. The GDDR5 memory frequency is 924MHz, suggesting that Nvidia’s GDDR5 memory controller is less efficient than AMD’s, which runs GDDR5 at 1,200MHz on the Radeon HD 5870.
All this graphics goodness comes with a double whammy: a high price and high power consumption. The Asus card typically costs $520–$550, somewhat higher than the expected $500. System power consumption at idle is 159W (versus 134W for a stock Radeon HD 5870) and a whopping 399W at full throttle (compared to 268W for a stock HD 5870).
We popped the Asus ENGTX480 into our standard Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit test system, which is built on an Asus P6X58D Premium motherboard and an Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition. We ran six very different games, all at 1920x1200 and 4x AA, with graphics detail maxed out, plus the Unigine Heaven 2.0 benchmark, with tessellation set at extreme. We compared the GTX 480 results to three AMD cards: the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970, a factory overclocked Radeon HD 5870, and the similarly priced Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity Edition (which offers 2GB of 1,200MHz GDDR5.)
While the Radeon HD 5970 won most of the benchmarks, bear in mind that it is a dual-GPU card, so it may have issues running some games in dual-GPU mode. The 5970 is also hard to find for $680. Most 5970 cards break the $700 mark. Even then, the ENGTX480 card won a couple of benchmarks. If you compare just single-GPU cards, the ENGTX 480 won every contest except Crysis, which was a dead heat.
Despite the added power consumption and higher cost, the ENGTX480 impressed us with its overall performance. It’s very much a forward-looking card—performance in recent games is excellent, indeed. It is pricey, though, at up to $150 more than a stock Radeon HD 5870. So while performance is excellent, the price differential is pretty substantial. Bear this in mind when deciding between AMD and Nvidia.
Excellent performance, particularly with DX11 titles.
Very expensive; sucks vast amounts of power.
HIS Radeon HD 5970
XFX Radeon HD 5870 XXX
Sapphire HD 5870 Eyefinity
Unigine Heaven 2.0 (fps)
Battle Forge / AA on (fps)
Dirt 2 (fps)
Far Cry 2 / Long (fps)
Far Cry 2 / Action (fps)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (fps)
Best scores are bolded. Our zero point uses a Core i7-975 Extreme Edition, an Asus P6X58D Premium, 6GB of DDR3/1333, 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate, and a Corsair TX850 PSU. All games tested at 1920x1200 with 4x AA.