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ASUS GeForce GTS 450 1GB DirectCU TOP Review

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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For all launch day coverage, click the following links:

GTS 450 1GB Single & SLI Review, CLICK HERE (Folding @ Home testing included)

EVGA GTS 450 1GB FTW Single & SLI Review CLICK HERE

Gigabyte GTS 450 1GB Review CLICK HERE




The GeForce GTS 450 1GB may be an inauspicious card to the crowd of people who live and die in the enthusiast mindset but to most of the market, it represents very good performance for a minimal investment. NVIDIA has also given their board partners the green light to release a vast number of overclocked and non-reference designs come launch day. These new versions have been helped along by the GTS 450’s abundant willingness to overclock to extremely high levels.

ASUS is following on the heels of their competition by introducing a number of GTS 450s into the market. Naturally, there will be a reference version but the product we are more interested in is their TOP Edition which comes with a custom heatsink design dubbed “DirectCu”. In the longstanding tradition of ASUS cards, the TOP series has always been synonymous with high clock frequencies and cutting edge design. They have now taken this mantra and applied it to their $149 GTS 450 TOP.

Not only does the GTS 450 1GB TOP come with high flying clock speeds and a wicked-looking heatsink but additional changes have also been made. Not satisfied with the canvas given to them by NVIDIA’s reference design, ASUS went back to the drawing board and have designed a card which has the ability to far outstrip its price point. Along with their Xtreme Design VGA initiative (more on this later on in the review), an expanded and improved power distribution layout was added in order to better cope with higher clock speeds. ASUS also includes their SmartDoctor overclocking software which will help push the outer limits of this GTS 450’s design.

We have already seen some companies like Palit announcing their own custom GTS 450 versions but many of their changes have been made to cut costs. ASUS on the other hand charges a slight price premium and yet adds features that improve upon the card and its overall performance. To us, this looks like a winning combination.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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The Current NVIDIA Lineup

The Current NVIDIA Lineup


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It may have taken them a while to get the ball rolling at a meaningful pace, but NVIDIA is well on their way towards fleshing out their first generation DX11 lineup. Currently, the GTX 480 and GTX 470 hold the topmost rungs where they can compete against ATI’s single card flagships; the HD 5870 and HD 5850. They are both beastly cards that spill out the framerates as quickly as they consume power but there is no denying the fact that they each provide some excellent performance.

Running a bit lower along the rungs of the 400-series brings us to the GTX 465 which until recently represented an interesting wrinkle in the lineup. However, this GF100-based card’s performance and efficiency were brought under heavy scrutiny when the GF104 core was released.

The GF104 was NVIDIA’s first departure from the standard GF100 core layout and moved the Fermi architecture into a realm that was infinitely more affordable and attainable than past cards. Everyone’s darling, the GTX 460 series came front and center with a significant increase in its Texture Unit count versus GF100-based cards and it dazzled the press and consumers alike. There are bound to be additional GF104-based products coming soon so stay tuned.

Until additional 400-series cards are released, the GTS 450 1GB will act as NVIDIA’s lowest-end DX11 desktop card that is available at retailers. The GF106 core at its heart is essentially half of a GF104, and as you can see its specifications are very much in line with its asking price. Parallels will naturally be drawn between it and the outgoing yet infinitely long lived G92-based GTS 250.

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The fact that we are comparing this new GTS 450 card to one which sports a GPU core that essentially debuted in 2007 is simply shocking and yet tells two stories; the longevity of the G92 and the fact that NVIDIA has been relying on its associated architecture for FAR too long. Nonetheless, the GTS 450 is meant to act as a direct replacement for the GTS 250 in addition to the 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+ and 8800 GTS. Judging from specifications alone, it should be able to do this without a problem since the only areas where it really loses out is in the memory bandwidth and texture unit departments. By now we all know that the Fermi architecture somewhat makes up for its lack of TMUs with additional processing cores so this should be a non-issue as well.

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Out with the old, in with the new

Competition for this new card is of course ATI’s HD 5750, which is currently retailing for between $130 and $145. From our understanding, NVIDIA is hell bent on dominating this price category; be it by overall performance or a more appealing cost structure.
 

SKYMTL

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The GF106 & Its Features

The GF106


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Since the GF106 is based off of the exact same core design as the GF104, we recommend that you take a close look at our in-depth GF104 architecture analysis before reading any further. If you aren’t willing to do that, let’s just say that the GF106 at the heart of the GTS 450 1GB is essentially half of a fully enabled GF104. This evolution of the GF100 architecture is aimed at appeasing a market that is looking for higher efficiency than the higher end cards are capable of and yet still wants respectable performance. NVIDIA achieved this by upping the texture unit count per SM and slightly modifying the path by which higher level data is passed through the architecture.

The GF106 has four Streaming Multiprocessors which each contains 48 CUDA cores, 8 Special Function Units, 64KB of L1 cache, eight texture units and a Polymorph Engine containing the fixed function stages. In total, an unblemished GF106 has 192 cores and 32 texture units while lower-end cards could be created by disabling one or more of the SMs. This is all serviced by a single Raster Engine, 16 ROPs, 256KB of L2 cache and a pair of 64-bit memory controllers.


The GF106’s Features


As it stands, the GF106-based cards are the lowest priced units in the lineup that are compatible with NVIDIA’s Surround multi-monitor gaming setup. SLI is of course a requirement for Surround, but from our experiences the GTS 450 1GB is more than capable of delivering playable framerates across several monitors, as long as the detail settings are kept within acceptable ranges.

It goes without saying that other NVIDIA technologies such as CUDA, PhysX and 3D Vision are all useable on GF106-based cards but one of the main draws of the Fermi architecture’s efficient side is its ability to act as a higher-end HTPC card.


3D Vision & Blu Ray 3D

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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 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.

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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

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All of the GF104 and GF106 GPUs also support full bitstreaming of HD audio over HDMI. This means every bit of signal processing is done on the GPU itself without the need for external decoding. 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.
 

SKYMTL

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ASUS Xtreme Design VGA

ASUS Xtreme Design VGA


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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

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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

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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

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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.
 

SKYMTL

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ASUS GTS 450 TOP Specs / Packaging & Accessories

ASUS GTS 450 TOP Specifications


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The ASUS GTS 450 TOP brings about some simply awe-inspiring clock speeds to the table when you consider the reference speeds of the GTS 450. Both the memory and the core get equal treatment to the point where the core is running slightly above the speed of EVGA’s FTW while the memory is a mere 100Mhz behind. All of this for $10 more than the reference version? Sign us up!


Packaging & Accessories


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The exterior packaging for the TOP series cards all seems to be the same with the usual angel / tiger hybrid and a whole lot of black. We do however appreciate the inclusion of the core clock on the front but the memory clock speed is conspicuous by its absence. ASUS has also included their Voltage Tweak / Smart Doctor software with this card as stated on the back of the box.

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ASUS was able to cut down a bit on price by using a standard white interior box which runs contrary to the beautiful black / gold packaging we are used to seeing with TOP-series cards. Considering one MAY see the interior of the box once, we would rather the cost savings be used somewhere else and in the case of this card, they are.

Accessories are basic with a single Molex to 6-pin adaptor included along with the usual driver CD and quick install guide. Since the card itself has connectors for VGA, DVI and HDMI, no other dongles are needed.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the ASUS GTS 450 TOP

A Closer Look at the ASUS GTS 450 TOP


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The basic look of the ASUS GTS 450 TOP should seem familiar since it uses the exact same DirectCu heatsink as the HD 5850 TOP we recently reviewed. It should also be mentioned straight off the bat that ASUS has completely tossed the reference NVIDIA design aside and has literally reengineered the GTS 450 from the ground up.


Much like the reference design, the heatsink ASUS is using doesn’t exhaust hot air directly outside of the chassis. However, from our previous reviews we know this cooler performs extremely well. It also looks extremely good with a quartet of NVIDIA green lines in place of the ATI red we saw in past DirectCu reviews.

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The changes ASUS has done to the GTS 450 in order to create their TOP edition are extensive to say the least. To begin with, the excess PCB length meant moving the PCI-E power connector to the side of the card. In accordance with the Xtreme Design VGA, an anodized black aluminum strip was added to the side in order to increase structural rigidity.

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The power distribution and VRMs have been heavily beefed up as well while the VRMs themselves are cooled with a thick aluminum heatsink.


The TOP’s back continues the impression that this isn’t your usual GTS 450 since there have been several component upgrades here as well. ASUS went with the reference memory specifications of 4000Mhz-rated 0.50ns Samsung ICs but the back of the GPU core receives additional capacitance in order to aide with overclocking. There is also a small aluminum heatsink which covers the ON Semiconductor phase conductor chip.

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Unlike the reference version, ASUS has decided not to do away with the unnecessary PCI-E pins. There is also a change on the backplate with single HDMI (full size), DVI and VGA connectors being included.

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Unfortunately, all of these changes contribute to the ASUS GTS 450 TOP being quite a bit longer than the reference version. The PCB itself is about a ¼” longer than what we are used to seeing while the heatsink shroud overhangs the PCB’s edge by a good ¾” making this card a total of 9 ¼” long.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,841
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Montreal
Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 920(ES) @ 4.0Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: Corsair 3x2GB Dominator DDR3 1600Mhz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: CoolIT Boreas mTEC + Scythe Fan Controller (Off for Power Consuption tests)
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

EVGA GTS 450 1GB FTW
ASUS GTS 450 1GB TOP DirectCU
Gigabyte GTS 450 1GB
GTS 450 1GB (Single+SLI)
GTX 470 (Reference)
GTX 460 768MB (Reference)
EVGA GTS 250 1GB (Stock)

ATI HD 5850 1GB (Reference)
ATI HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
XFX HD 5750 1GB (Reference)


Drivers:

NVIDIA 260.52 + Starcraft SLI Update
ATI 10.8b + CAP 10.8a


Applications Used:

Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
Far Cry 2
Just Cause 2
Metro 2033
Starcraft 2
Unigine: Heaven


*Notes:

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT OUR 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

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
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.


1440 x 900

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1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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EVGA-GTS-450-35.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)

BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)


To benchmark BF: BC2 we used a five minute stretch of gameplay starting from the second checkpoint (after the helicopter takes off) of the second single player mission up until your battle with the tank commences. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1440 x 900

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1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

EVGA-GTS-450-40.jpg


EVGA-GTS-450-41.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
DiRT 2 (DX11)

DiRT 2 (DX11)


Being one of the newest games on the market, DiRT 2 cuts an imposing figure in terms of image quality and effects fidelity. We find that to benchmark this game the in-game tool is by far the best option. However, due to small variances from one race to another, three benchmark runs are done instead of the normal two. It should also be mentioned that the demo version of the game was NOT used since after careful testing, the performance of the demo is not representative of the final product. DX11 was forced through the game’s config file. In addition, you will see that these scores do not line up with our older benchmarks at all. This is due to the fact that a patch was recently rolled out for the game which included performance optimizations in addition to new graphics options.

1440 x 900

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1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

EVGA-GTS-450-46.jpg


EVGA-GTS-450-47.jpg
 
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