Asus has been coming on strong in graphics cards for several years now, though it never offers quite the variety of versions as companies like XFX and EVGA. Typically, Taiwan-based Asus will ship a reference card under its main brand, and then a custom-built, high-end card under its DirectCU brand. At a later date, the company might ship a super-high-end card using the company’s Matrix or Mars sub-brands. Price differences between Asus’s high-end and standard versions are wider, too, so it’s a little easier to figure out which card really is the premium version.
Consider the bog-standard reference-card design. Enthusiasts often sneer at the thought, but the GTX 680 reference design is efficient, quiet, and fast. You often have to spend extra for higher clocks and more fans—and more moving parts and heat often equate to a higher probability of failure.
The EVGA GTX 680 we’re reviewing here is a standard reference card, but EVGA equips it with one of the best overclocking software tools we’ve tested.
You can use Precision to tweak the base clock, Boost clock, voltage, fan settings, and more. The GTX 680 GPU itself offers good overclocking headroom, so a few quick tweaks using Precision should get you 5–10 percent pretty easily.
AMD’S MARKETING pitch for the new Radeon 7800‑series GPUs suggests that “serious gaming starts here.” Built on AMD’s Graphics Core Next, the 7800 series, previously code-named “Pitcairn,” offers impressive performance for less than the price of AMD’s 7900 series. Let’s take a quick look at key features, as compared to the Radeon HD 6870 and 6950 GPUs, AMD’s previous players in the midrange.
The 7870 has 1,280 stream processors—more than the 6870, but fewer than the 1,408 in the Radeon HD 6950. The 7870’s 1,000MHz stock clock speed is 11 percent higher than the 900MHz of the 6870, and twice the 6950’s 500MHz clock. In the Black Edition HD 7870, XFX boosts the core clock an additional 5 percent to 1,050MHz. The 7870 ships with the same 2GB of 256-bit GDDR5 as the 6950—double the 1GB of the 6870.
The Black Edition ships with XFX’s semi-custom dual-fan cooling solution. As with past cards in this class, the HD 7870 requires two 6-pin power connectors. One disappointment: XFX is continuing its policy of leaving out monitor adapter connectors, so if you don’t have a DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort connector on your monitor, then you’ll need to shell out a little extra for one. It’s mostly not a problem for single-display users, but people with multiple monitors may need to acquire adapters.
AMD’s reference HD 7950 board sets its core clock at 800MHz and memory at 1,250MHz, using the default cooling system. Sapphire takes this reference board, adds dual 12cm fans, and juices the core clock to 900MHz. The memory clock remains at 1,250MHz—but that’s 3GB of 1,250MHz GDDR5. Priced at around $480, it’s worth seeing how the card compares with Nvidia’s GTX 580. Note that we’ve also included results from the XFX Radeon HD 7970 for your reference, but excluded that card from the direct comparisons.
For direct comparison we turned to two different versions of the GTX 580—the slightly overclocked EVGA GTX 580 SC with 1.5GB of GDDR5 and the ultra-beefed-up EVGA GTX 580 Classified with 3GB of video RAM—as well as the XFX Radeon HD 7950 Black Edition reviewed next.
The Sapphire card ships with a slight memory bandwidth disadvantage compared with the XFX card (5GB per second versus 5.5GB/s) due to running its GDDR5 frame buffer at the reference clock speed. This shows up in a few benchmarks, where the Sapphire card places just a little behind the XFX card, but the differences are pretty small.
‘We don’t need no stinkin’ reference design!’ says XFX
It's not unusual to see factory-overclocked videocards ship with custom cooling solutions a few months after a GPU launches. But XFX didn’t waste any time with its Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition—a factory-overclocked card with a custom cooling solution that aims to take the performance crown. Based on what we’ve seen to date, XFX has delivered the fastest single-GPU card on the planet.
The Radeon HD 7970 is AMD’s latest GPU, with support for DirectX 11.1 and OpenCL 1.2. It’s a brand-new architecture—completely different from past AMD GPUs—built on TSMC’s 28nm manufacturing process and sporting a staggering 4.3 billion transistors. In AMD’s reference design, the 7970’s core runs at 925MHz, and its GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1,375MHz. XFX ups the ante significantly, pushing the core clock speed to a whopping 1GHz and running its 3GB of memory at 1,425MHz.
As you might imagine, the results are nothing short of amazing. We’re seeing genuine performance milestones here, including a 3DMark 11 performance score higher than 8,000 (for a single GPU), Far Cry 2 hitting 100fps at 2560x1600 with 4x AA, and Batman: Arkham City heading north of 50fps at the same resolution and AA settings. On top of that, the idle system power is just 124 watts, and a dark idle (when Windows 7 blanks the screen) draws 110 watts. Push the card and you’ll see system power consumption climb to 349 watts, but that merely puts its overall power draw into Fermi territory. XFX’s Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition is substantially faster than EVGA’s super-overclocked 3GB GeForce GTX 580 Classified, and it’s outfitted with just two PCIe power connectors (one 8-pin and one 6-pin). EVGA’s card requires three power connectors.
ASUS HAS GOTTEN a lot of mileage out of its beefy DirectCU II GPU-cooling technology. It has brought some serious overclocking chops to the GeForce GTX 580 in the form of Asus’s Matrix-branded edition, for example. The DirectCU II versions of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti and the Radeon HD 6870 also sport serious overclocks, and those cards perform well in their respective classes. What’s even better is that the company doesn’t charge much of a price premium for its best cooling tech on cards below the Matrix GTX 580.
We’re scratching our heads, however, over Asus’s decision to offer this GTX 570 card in a three-slot configuration similar to its Matrix GTX 580, but running at Nvidia’s reference clock speeds. The beefy cooler delivers plenty of DIY overclocking potential, but you must assume all the risk. Since we review cards based on out-of-the-box performance, we had to benchmark this one with its 742MHz core clock and 3,800MHz (effective) memory clock.
One good thing the new cooler does provide is fewer decibels. This card isn’t whisper-quiet under load, but it generates much less noise than many of the cards in its class—particularly the Radeon HD 6970, which can get fairly loud under heavy loads.
A few weeks back, we highlighted Nvidia's supercomputer-powered "GeForce Experience" initiative, which wants to use the power of the cloud to scan your hardware and offer one-click graphics setting optimization for PC games. Nvidia announced another cloud-based graphics platform at the same time: the GeForce Grid, a Kepler-based GPU that gaming services can use to power games at a remote location, then stream them to you over an Internet connection. (Think OnLive, but powered by Nvidia.) Nvidia boss Jen-Hsun Huang says he thinks Grid's potential for cross-platform ubiquity could break down barriers and create legions of new gamers.
Tosbhia today officially trotted out its AT300 tablet with a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor tucked inside and Google's Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) running the show. The AT300 features a 10.1-inch LED-backlit touchscreen display with a 1280x800 resolution and Gorilla Glass, 1GB of RAM, and either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, upgradeable via a full size SD card slot.
Good news for early GeForce/Verde 600 series adopters: Nvidia's just released a set of WHQL-certified drivers for desktop and notebook gamers alike, one welcomes all the new entries to the Nvidia graphics family with open arms and gives them a big ol' group hug. GeForce 400 and 500 series owners will feel the love, too, thanks to a performance boost of up to 20 percent in a host of top-tier games.
Nvidia is a master of marketing, so when they “quietly” launched the GeForce GT 610, 620, and 630 into the retail channel late last week, we knew something was up. It turns out of the three new cards, none of these are actually based on the most recently released Kepler architecture behind the GTX 670, 680, and 690, and are in reality based on the last generation designs. We knew Nvidia was already rebranding Fermi parts for use in OEM laptops and desktops, however it looks like the practice will again carry forward to the aftermarket parts as well.