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ASUS GeForce GT 430 1GB Review

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SKYMTL

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The entry level graphics card market isn’t one which garners all that much attention but sales at the sub-$99 price points can weigh heavily upon a company’s balance sheet. This category of GPUs may not be all that relevant for the vast majority of DIYers, gamers or overclockers but it holds extreme interest for HTPC users, people on a tight budget and large system builders like Dell, Lenovo and HP. At its most basic an entry level dedicated graphics card is supposed to offer a broad feature set and low power consumption while significantly outperforming integrated solutions.

For the last year or so, the lower price points have been dominated by strong ATI offerings in the form of the HD 5570 and HD 5550 along with their GDDR5 “refreshes” that were introduced a few months ago. NVIDIA has tried to hang tenaciously on by offering the $79 GT 220 but in the face of DX11-totting competition, buying an outdated card wasn’t all that appealing for many consumers. However, the GT 220 is now being replaced at the $75 to $80 price point with the GT 430; a card that uses the new GF 108 core.

The goals for the GF 108 aren’t all that lofty but it does plug a gaping hole in NVIDIA’s current lineup. Both the notebook and desktop markets will likely benefit from the additional features and performance the GT 430 and its mobile sibling the GT 435 bring to the table. Meanwhile, consumers will now have some additional options when looking for a budget friendly, low end graphics card.

The GT 430 also brings some functionality to the table that the outgoing GT 220 was lacking. Bitstreaming of lossless TrueHD and DTS Master Audio tracks (an integral part of the Blu-ray experience), DX11 compatibility have been added which brings its capabilities up to the same level as the competition. NVIDIA bills this as a perfect digital media graphics card and it is hard not to believe them.

This is a market segment which may soon be dominated by upcoming AMD and Intel CPU / GPU combo processors. That being said, NVIDIA is putting their best foot forward to try and wrangle in as much market share as possible before the inevitable entry of Sandy Bridge and Llano processors.

 
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SKYMTL

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The GF 108: Fermi on a Diet

The GF 108: Fermi on a Diet



In order to hit a lower-end market and price point NVIDIA has effectively cut down the size of the original GF100’s 3 billion transistors to a “mere” 585 million on the GF108. The result is a compact package with a single GPC consisting of two Streaming Multiprocessors which are literally identical to those found on the higher-end GF104. Each has 48 CUDA cores, 16 load / store units, 8 texture units and a single PolyMorph Engine giving a “full” GF108 96 cores and 16 TMUs.

The main change to this core in comparison to past Fermi products is the way the memory controllers, L2 Cache and ROP partitions relate to one another. In past Fermi-based cores each ROP partition was associated with 64KB of cache along with a single 64-bit memory controller. If one partition was removed, both the cache and a memory controller needed to be scaled accordingly. The GF108 on the GT 430 changes things around a bit by using a single ROP partition along with 128KB of L2 cache and a pair of 64-bit memory controllers. In addition, there are only 4 ROPs per partition instead of the usual 8 as seen on GF 104 and GF 106 based cards.

This all translates into a core that is supposed to compete with ATI’s lower-end offerings and replace some of the GT 200-series cards that are lingering on the market. The potential is definitely there but we can’t help wondering whether the GF 108 is just a bit short on ROP power to compete with the already-entrenched ATI offerings.


The GF108’s Features


Unlike other Fermi-based products, the GF108 has a number of limitations. Both SLI and Surround gaming capabilities are removed from GF 108 based cards but this shouldn’t be too much of a concern for the vast majority of people looking for a sub-$99 product. The lack of Surround may sound like a bit of an issue considering all of ATI’s current line up has Eyefinity support but the lack of SLI means this feature is automatically eliminated on these low end cores. NVIDIA will be the first to state that Surround is geared towards gamers and the gaming market isn’t one which any GF 108 will play in.

As it stands, the products based off of the GF108 will be the lowest priced units in NVIDIA’s stable that are compatible with technologies such as CUDA, PhysX and 3D Vision. Considering the efficiency that comes with a cut-down architecture, one of the main draws of will be the HTPC capabilities of any lower end card.


3D Vision & Blu Ray 3D


Even though we believe the whole “3D” craze in Hollywood is highly misplaced when it comes to actual movie support, there is no arguing with the fact people’s interest in it is growing. Through the use of a built-in HDMI 1.4 connector, the GF108, GF106 and GF104 support the 3D Blu-ray format which is an absolute necessity for watching movies in 3D. Naturally, you will need supporting software like Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 3D but luckily NVIDIA has also released 3D Vision Play to guide things along.


3D Vision Play is the final piece of the PC 3D movie puzzle. This piece of software allows the NVIDIA GPU to sync with 3D capable HDTVs via the HDMI 1.4 output. As a result, the standard 3D Vision glasses can be made to work with a TV set that would otherwise be incompatible, but beware that some HDTVs may still be incompatible.


Lossless Audio Playback


All of the GF104, GF106 and GF 108 GPUs also support full bitstreaming of lossless HD audio over HDMI. This is a huge step forward for those of you who want true high definition audio to go along with a 3D experience but once again you will need software that supports this feature.

Much like ATI, NVIDIA now has their own HDMI audio driver that is packaged along with their standard Forceware driver stack. With the 250-series drivers, this worked perfectly for us in the latest version of PowerDVD 10 but there is a catch. Below is a response from Cyberlink regarding how to get BD Bitstreaming working on PowerDVD. Supposedly, the process will be streamlined in later versions.

To get BD audio bitstreaming going you will need to play a Blu-ray disc, pause, then go to the settings menu. Make sure you select your HDMI audio output, and then select “Non-decoded high-definition audio to external device.
 
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SKYMTL

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The GT 430’s Place in a Changed Lineup

The GT 430’s Place in a Changed Lineup



As NVIDIA continues to flesh out their DX11 line up, more and more price points are being filled by 400-series graphics cards. The segment of the market we are most interested in today is the all important sub $99 category which is currently dominated by ATI’s HD 5550 and HD 5570. In order to compete on a slightly more level footing with these two pint-sized juggernauts, the GT 430 is being released with a cost of $75 to $80.

The GT 430 basically gets ½ of a GTS 450’s core with 96 CUDA cores, 16 texture units and 2 Polymorph Engines but the ROP count has been seriously cut down to a mere four – a far cry from the 450’s sixteen. A 128-bit memory interface is used which is good to see on a budget friendly card (expect other GF108 derivatives to carry 64-bit interfaces) but due to its use of slower GDDR3 / DDR3, the GT 430 has an effective bandwidth of only 28.8 GB/s.

One of the largest benefits of drastically cutting down the Fermi architecture is the effect these smaller cores have on overall TDP. Even with slightly more than half a billion transistors, TDP is half that of a GTS 450. Could this fact alone could make the GT 430 the perfect budgetary HTPC card.


One of NVIDIA’s main goals with the release of the GT 430 is to finally replace the GT 220. From a pure specification standpoint the new card is literally head and shoulders above the outgoing product since it sports more cores, higher clock speeds, a lower TDP and DX11 compatibility. Peak power consumption in comparison to the GT 220 is said to be about equal but one of the GT 430’s main stumbling points could be its number of ROPs. At a mere four, it is a significant step back from the previous generation and could cause a potential bottleneck in some situations.

Upon first glance, some may think that NVIDIA’s GT 430 has the capability to compete on a level footing with the GT 240 but this just isn’t meant to be. While it may come within sight of the lower spec’d 1GB GDDR3 equipped GT 240, the GT 430’s lower memory clocks and ROP / TMU count will hold it back when compared to the $85 - $95 card.


On paper, the GT 430 looks like the perfect entry level graphics card but the charts above do bring another fact to light. There is now a massive gap in NVIDIA’s lineup between the $130 GTS 450 and the $80 GT 430 which is currently being plugged by decidedly lacklustre GT 240 products. We’ll likely see a cut down GF106 dropped into NVIDIA’s lineup sometime in the near future but until then, the GF108 really doesn’t look like it will punch above its weight category.
 
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SKYMTL

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ASUS Xtreme Design VGA

ASUS Xtreme Design VGA



As the VGA market becomes more and more competitive, board partners are always looking for new ways to distinguish themselves from the competition. Gigabyte has their Ultra Durable VGA initiative and ASUS now has what they call Xtreme Design VGA which is usually implemented on their custom cards. Basically, Xtreme Design involves a number of features that all work in concert to increase the overall quality and staying power of a given card. This section may seem more like a marketing blurb but all we are aiming for is to explain what Xtreme Design claims to bring to the table.


Dust Proof Fan


We all know that dust is a constant problem within a computer case and it can shorten the life of certain components like fans and power supplies. ASUS has implemented what they call a “dust proof fan” which is basically a hub design that ensures dust does not enter the bearing area which will in turn extend the fan’s lifespan. With this feature it is claimed that the fan’s life will be extended by nearly 10,000 hours.


GPU Guard


One of the main problems with larger GPUs is PCB flex which is easily identifiable on cards that use certain custom coolers. In these cases, the PCB will slightly bow where pressure is applied. Even though this isn’t a problem on cards sporting full-length coolers with multiple contact points, the ASUS GPU Guard aims to eliminate this by introducing additional reinforcement between the PCB layers.


Fuse Protection


While surge protectors and most UPS units will protect your computer from harmful surges, there are plenty of people out there that don’t have one of these units installed between their PC and the wall outlet. In order to add another layer of protection between the sensitive components on a graphics card and harmful power surges, ASUS has begun implementing Fuse Protection. This means a pair of fuses have been installed on the card just in case your power supply’s Over Current Protection fails as well. Let’s call this a last line of defence when all else fails.
 

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ASUS GT 430 1GB Specs / Packaging & Accessories

ASUS GT 430 1GB Specifications



Usually we skip the specifications portion of the review when we have a card that is supposed to reflect reference clock speeds...but not this time. ASUS has actually included lower than “reference” clocked memory particular GTS 430. In other words, it operates 200Mhz lower that what is outlined in NVIDIA’s reference guide. In an upcoming section, we go under the heatsink to investigate the memory specifications a bit further but at least the core clocks weren’t touched. Trust me though, you WILL want to read that part of the article


Packaging & Accessories



At barely 12” long, the ASUS GT 430 comes in one hell of a small box but it is jam packed with information. Unfortunately, there is no mention of this card’s lower than reference clock speeds.


A well designed cardboard insert and an anti static bag protect the GT 430 against life’s bumps and bruises. The accessory package is basically nonexistent with only two low profile brackets included but these two items are worth their weight in gold for HTPC and SFF users.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the ASUS GTS 430

A Closer Look at the ASUS GTS 430



NVIDIA’s board partners have the option of either producing standard or low profile GT 430 cards and ASUS has decided to go down the more compact route. This is actually the smallest possible design which keeps a standard PCI-E x16 connector. Since the GF108 isn’t compatible with SLI, you won’t find an SLI connector on the GT 430.


ASUS has added an extensive heatsink to this GT 430 which protrudes about a half inch over the PCB’s outer edge and is slightly higher than a single PCI-E slot. It is capped by a tiny 35mm fan which has the potential to be extremely loud.

The components on this particular card have been extensively upgraded. The lower end copper core chokes and coils from the reference card have been replaced by higher capacity units and dedicated fuse has been added to protect the card from potential power surges. Unfortunately, the fuse isn’t easily user-replaceable so if it takes the brunt of an electrical surge, you’ll likely have to RMA the card anyways.


The back side of ASUS’ GT 430 doesn’t show us anything interesting but it is still good to see that ASUS went with a secure tensioned screw mounting method instead of the brittle plastic push pins that some board partners will surely use.

The backplate of this card uses a standard single slot layout even though the heatsink extends slightly higher than what’s normally expected. It uses an easily interchangeable plate that can be swapped out for a low profile adaptor.

The connector selection is about what one would expect with a DVI and VGA outputs as well as a full size HDMI connector.


At around 5 ¾” long, the GT 430 is simply dwarfed by the GTS 450 and its PCB is actually a bit shorter than the one found on a HD 5570. However, ASUS added a flared heatsink design and its fins extend out to make this particular card 6 ¼” long which equals the ATI card’s length.


The GF 108 core on the GT 430 sits in the center of DDR3 memory modules which are arrayed in an 8x128MB pattern. The large scale IHS which accompanies higher end Fermi products has been deemed unnecessary and the core makes direct contact with the heatsink.


The memory ICs used are Hynix H5TQ1G63BFR units that are rated for a maximum of 1600Mhz and are usually seen on desktop DDR3 modules. ASUS has decided to forgo the higher spec’d GDDR3 modules in favour of DDR3 in order to save cost but there is much more to it than that.....
 

SKYMTL

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Memory Clock Discrepancy Investigated

Memory Clock Discrepancy Investigated


Throughout presentations with NVIDIA, a memory speed of 1800Mhz (DDR) was constantly shown to members of the press. Accordingly, many of us have assumed that cards would be shipping with this “reference” speed but as we have already seen, ASUS decided to ship their cards with a slightly lower 800 / 1600 clocked memory. At first, I thought this was nothing but cost cutting on ASUS’ part but after conversations with NVIDIA and other board partners, the real explanation is slightly more complicated than that.


DDR memory is largely broken up into a number of speed bins with high end GDDR (graphics) memory costing the most. Meanwhile, the standard DDR3 used for desktop memory modules is less expensive due to the massive volumes being produced by the likes of Hynix, Samsung, Micron, etc. as long as speed bins remain below the 1600Mhz DDR mark. Any speeds above that and individual IC prices are driven up exponentially.

When it comes to manufacturing an inexpensive GPU like the GT 430 or HD 5570, every single dollar counts and costs are cut in a number of areas – including memory speeds. This means many board partners choose to go with the lower speed bin of 1600Mhz for their DDR3 equipped products. Our conversations with NVIDIA pretty much confirmed this:

Partners can ship both 800 and 900MHz for mclk. 800 is cheaper so most of the volume is shipped at that speed (that goes for AMD parts as well). -NVIDIA

This implies two things: that most GT 430 cards will NOT be shipping with a memory clock of 1800Mhz and the cost cutting in this department extends to AMD cards as well. We noticed precisely this situation after the HD 5570 was launched because presentations and initial sample cards had a memory clock of 900 / 1800 but perusing store shelves showed something different:


So it seems like most board partners will be shipping GT 430 cards equipped with lower memory speeds than what was originally shown to the press.

We know that ASUS will be launching with 1600Mhz memory but this begs the question: ASUS sent their retail card to the press but will other board partners follow their lead? We are guessing that the proof will lie in exactly what becomes available come launch so let's hope some partners aren't seeding cards to reviewers which may be all but nonexistent at retail.

Does that extra 200Mhz of memory speed make all that much of a difference? On paper, yes. Otherwise, no.

 
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SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Please note that this test system was specifically picked out to run our budget GPUs hand in hand with a configuration that doesn't cost more than $500CAD for the CPU, motherboard and memory.

Processor: Intel Core i5 750 @ 2.67Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: 2x2GB OCZ Platinum PC-15000 @ 6-7-6-17 1066Mhz DDR
Motherboard: Gigabyte H57M-USB3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB + Caviar Black 1TB data drive
Power Supply: Corsair HX520
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64



Graphics Cards:

ASUS GT 430 1GB
Sparkle GT 220 1GB DDR3
Sapphire HD 5570 1GB DDR3
ASUS HD 5550 1GB DDR3
HD 5550 512MB GDDR5 (reference)

Drivers:

NVIDIA 260.89 Beta (official GT 430 release driver)
ATI 10.9 WHQL
NVIDIA 260.63 Beta


Applications Used:

Aliens versus Predator
Civilization V
Dirt 2
Starcraft 2
Mafia II
PowerDVD 10 Ultra 3D
MediaEspresso 6
Internet Explorer 9 Beta
Folding @ Home GPU3


*Notes:

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT OUR GAME BENCHMARKING PROCESS PLEASE SEE THIS ARTICLE

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 

SKYMTL

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Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)

Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)


When benchmarking Aliens Versus Predator, we played through the whole game in order to find a section which represents a “worst case” scenario. We finally decided to include “The Refinery” level which includes a large open space and several visual features that really tax a GPU. For this run-through, we start from within the first tunnel, make our way over the bridge on the right (blowing up several propane tanks in the process), head back over the bridge and finally climb the tower until the first run-in with an Alien. In total, the time spent is about four minutes per run. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.

1280 x 800





1440 x 900





As usual, NVIDIA’s card is able to deliver an impressive performance when AA is enabled in DX11 environments. Mention has to be made about the HD 5550 GDDR5’s performance though; at these resolutions, memory speed trumps the need for a 1GB frame buffer.
 

SKYMTL

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Civilization V (DX9)

Civilization V (DX9)


Civ V isn’t an graphically intensive game in the least but in the later levels, there are enough units and markers on the map that lower-end graphics cards could very well become bottlenecked. For this benchmark, a typical late game panning and zooming sequence is done which lasts around 2 minutes. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1280 x 800



1440 x 900



Both NVIDIA and ATI have their issues in this game and unfortunately the chart cannot effectively show the problems we had. NVIDIA’s GT 430 launch drivers constantly reset the graphics settings to medium / low in DX9 mode (this wasn’t an issue in DX11) after a game restart. The only way around this is to force detail settings in the game’s config file but even this sometimes doesn’t alleviate the issue. Luckily, we got it working twice in order to properly benchmark the GT 430.

ATI’s problems center on an inability to quickly render map tiles once a game is first loaded. It takes a good 15-30 seconds for one of their cards to load all of the necessary terrain textures. This only happens at the beginning of a save game loading sequence and once the tiles are properly rendered, the game operates as normal.

NVIDIA’s GT 430 is able to compete quite well with the HD 5570 in this game and both cards are actually neck and neck throughout both resolutions. The AMD card does push ahead in some cases though.
 
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