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BFG GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE (216SP) 896MB Video Card Review

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SKYMTL

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BFG GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE (216SP) 896MB Video Card Review




Manufacturer Product Page: BFG Tech - BFG NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE
Product Number: BFGEGTX260MC896OCXE
TechWiki Info: BFG GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE
Availability: Now
Warranty: Lifetime
Price: Click Here to Compare Prices



As time marches on, Nvidia has gone from an extremely confusing line-up just a few short months ago to one that is quite a bit more streamlined. Within this same timeframe there have been a number of new cards released from both Nvidia and ATI which have hit at different portions of the market. If you take a step back and look at what has happened since the release of ATI’s R770-based HD 4870 and HD 4850, Nvidia’s role has shifted from taking and keeping the performance lead to desperately trying to react against unforeseen competition. The problem for Nvidia was that both of ATI’s new cards hit straight into price / performance categories where Nvidia didn’t have much to answer with. To partially rectify this situation, Nvidia’s partners introduced the 9800 GTX+ to compete with the HD 4850 and after a short delay, showed us what their competitor to the HD 4870 looked like with the GTX 260 with 216 Stream Processors.

When we first reviewed the GTX 260 with 216 SPs, we mentioned that every company would be calling their card something different and it turns out that we were spot on with that assessment. All of Nvidia’s major partners have their hands in this new 216 SP cookie jar so it is only natural that BFG would release their own overclocked versions of this card. Much like their competitors, they have chosen a unique name with their new MAXCORE designation for the “unlocked” GTX 260 cards. They have also gone ahead and introduced quite a few different versions of the MAXCORE starting with the basic overclocked OC branded card, going up a notch with the OC2 and finally the highly overclocked OCX version. Even though there are three versions of this card, today we will be reviewing the highest-clocked one: the OCX.

Since this is the highest-clocked GTX 260 in the BFG lineup, it is not just meant to compete with the HD 4870 but to absolutely destroy it in as many applications as possible. As with all BFG cards, the GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE (boy, that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?) carries with it BFG’s Lifetime Warranty as well as numerous other perks that come with owning a BFG product. However, being the top dog also has its drawbacks and in this case price will become a stumbling point for a good many people. As it stands, $365 is the going rate for BFG’s wunderkind which puts it a good $70 over the price of a bone stock GTX 260 and $40 over a stock GTX 260 with 216 SPs. All in all, this isn’t that much to ask for considering the performance potential of the OCX.

While we have already reviewed a GTX 280 with 216 SPs, it will be interesting to see how the BFG card stacks up considering its price and the potential competition it has been put up against.

MAXCORE-9.jpg
 
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SKYMTL

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The Current Nvidia Lineup / GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE Specs.

The Current Nvidia Lineup


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Here it is; the new Nvidia lineup in all its glory and there are some pretty significant changes that we can see right off the bat. The most notable of these changes is the discontinuation of the short-lived 9800 GX2 as Nvidia’s flagship product which is now replaced by the GeForce GTX 280 and to a lesser extent the GTX 260 as well. The rest of the Nvidia high to mid-range lineup stays pretty much the same with cards like the 8800GT and 9600GT receiving some pretty steep price cuts of late. There has also been the addition of the 9800 GT X+ and the 9800 GT of which the former uses the new 55nm manufacturing process. Dropped from the lineup are quite a few cards including the 9800GTX in favour of the plus model. The 9800 GT on the other hand is basically an 8800GT with a few features thrown in for good measure and uses either 65nm or a new 55nm core.

Into this equation now comes the GTX 260 with 216 shader processors which is positioned slightly above the standard GTX 260 in terms of both price and supposedly performance. Not only does this new card get the extra shaders but there is also a slight bump in the texture filtering units from 64 to 72. It may seem odd to have a card like this seeing the light of day but there has already been some speculation that the cores used on these cards are failed GTX 280 cores which Nvidia would like nothing more than to insert into a competing position against the HD 4870. Other than the bump in shaders and TPUs, all of the other specifications for the GTX 260 216 are a mirror image of the standard card. What does strike us as interesting is the fact that this more powerful card is priced less than the GTX 260 was selling for just a short while ago.

Meanwhile, sitting at the top of this new lineup is the GTX 280 which is equipped with 1GB of GDDR3 memory working at 2214Mhz (DDR) and is basically on-par with what we saw with the GX2. Also gone are the days were we see a 256-bit memory interface on something that is deemed a “high-end” product since the GTX 280 now uses a 512-bit interface. This should eliminate many of the claimed bottlenecks of the narrower interface used on cards like the 9800 GT X. The core speed (which includes the ROPs and TMUs) operates at 602Mhz which is quite interesting since many pundits claimed that with the switch to a 65nm manufacturing process we would see a rapid incline in clock speeds. This has not happened with the core of the G2T00 series it seems.

Looking at the “little brother” GTX 260, it seems that there was quite a bit of pruning going on with lower clock speeds and less memory being the flavour of the day while also being combined with less processor cores. This in effect lowers its price and makes it easier to produce in volume but at the same time it could offer significant performance decreases when compared with the GTX 280.

To keep with their new parallel processing mentality, Nvidia has changed the name of their Stream Processors (or shader processors depending on your mood) to “processor cores”. There are 240 of these so-called processor cores in the GTX 280’s GT200 core which operate at 1296Mhz with those on the GTX 260 operate at a bit more mundane 1242Mhz. This speed is once again quite a bit less than what we are used to seeing with past Nvidia products but considering the number of processors, we can consider this a brute force approach rather than the finesse which comes with faster speeds.


BFG GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE Specifications


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When you compare the specifications of this BFG card it is not hard to see why this card earned the OCX designation from BFG. These are usually their highest-clocked cards and the MAXCORE is no exception to this with some extremely impressive core clocks. With these clockspeeds, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this card competing with the GTX 280 1GB.
 

SKYMTL

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The GT200-series Architecture

The GT200-series Architecture


The GT200-series represents Nvidia’s first brand new architecture since the G80 launched all the way back in November of 2006. In human years this timeframe may have not seemed like a long time but in computer years it was an eternity.

Even though these new cards are still considered graphics cards, the GT200 architecture has been built from the ground up in order to make use of emerging applications which can use parallel processing. These applications are specifically designed to take advantage of the massive potential that comes with the inherently parallel nature of a graphics card’s floating point vector processors. To accomplish this, Nvidia has released CUDA which we will be talking about in the next section.

On the graphics processing side of things the GT200 series are second generation DX10 chips which do not support DX10.1 like some ATI cards while promising to open a whole new realm in graphics capabilities. Nvidia’s mantra in the graphics processing arena is to move us away from the photo-realism of the last generation of graphics cards into something they call Dynamic Realism. For Nvidia, Dynamic Realism means that not only is the character rendered in photo-real definition but said character interacts with a realistically with a photo real environment as well.

To accomplish all of this, Nvidia knew that they needed a serious amount of horsepower and to this end have released what is effectively the largest, most complex GPU to date with 1.4 billion transistors. To put this into perspective, the original G80 core had about 686 million transistors. Let’s take a look at how this all fits together.

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Here we have a basic die shot of the GT200 core which shows the layout of the different areas. There are four sets of processor cores clustered into each of the four corners which have separate texture units and shared frame buffers. The processor core areas hold the individual Texture Processing Clusters (or TPCs) along with their local memory. This layout is used for both Parallel Computing and graphics rendering so to put things into a bit better context, let’s have a look at what one of these TPCs looks like.

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Each individual TPC consists of 24 stream (or thread) processors which are broken into three groups of eight. When you combine eight SPs plus shared memory into one unit you get what Nvidia calls a Streaming Multiprocessor. Basically, a GTX 280 will have ten texture processing clusters each with a grand total of 24 stream processors for a grand total of 240 processors. On the other hand a GTX 260 has two clusters disabled which brings its total to 192 processor “cores”. Got all of that? I hope so since we are now moving on to the different ways in which this architecture can be used.


Parallel Processing

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At the top of the architecture shot above is the hardware-level thread scheduler that manages which threads are set across the texture processing clusters. You will also see that each “node” has its own texture cache which is used to combine memory accesses for more efficient and higher bandwidth memory read/write operations. The “atomic” nodes work in conjunction with the texture cache to speed up memory access when the GT200 is being used for parallel processing. Basically, atomic refers to the ability to perform atomic read-modify-write operations to memory. In this mode all 240 processors can be used for high-level calculations such as a Folding @ Home client or video transcoding


Graphics Processing

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This architecture is primarily used for graphics processing and when it is being as such there is a dedicated shader thread dispatch logic which controls data to the processor cores as well as setup and raster units. Other than that and the lack of Atomic processing, the layout is pretty much identical to the parallel computing architecture. Overall, Nvidia claims that this is an extremely efficient architecture which should usher in a new damn of innovative games and applications.
 

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Of Parallel Processing and CUDA

Of Parallel Processing and CUDA



What is CUDA?

Nvidia has this to say about their CUDA architecture:

CUDA is a software and GPU architecture that makes it possible to use the many processor cores (and eventually thousands of cores) in a GPU to perform general-purpose mathematical calculations. CUDA is accessible to all programmers through an extension to the C and C++ programming languages for parallel computing.

To put that into layman’s terms it means that we will now be able to take advantage of the massive potential offered by current GPU architectures in order to speed up certain tasks. In essence, CUDA should be able to take a task like video transcoding which takes hours on a quad core CPU and perform that same operation in a matter of minutes on a GPU. Not all applications can be transferred to the GPU but those that do will supposedly see an amazing jump in performance.

We could go on and on about CUDA but before we go into some of the applications it can be used in, we invite you to visit Nvidia’s CUDA site: CUDA Zone - resource for C developers of applications that solve computing problems


Folding @ Home

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By now, many of you know what Stanford University’s Folding @ Home is since it is the most widely used distributed computing program around right now. While in the past it was only ATI graphics cards that were able to fold, Nvidia has taken up the flag as well and will be using the CUDA architecture to make this application available to their customers. From the information we have from Nvidia, a single GTX 280 graphics card could potentially take the place of an entire folding farm of CPUs in terms of folding capabilities.


Video Transcoding

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In today’s high tech world mobile devices have given users the capability to bring their movie collections with them on the go. To this end, consumers need to have a quick and efficient way of transferring their movies from one device to another. From my experience, this can be a pain in the butt since it seems like every device from a Cowon D2 to an iPod needs a different resolution, bitrate and compression to look the best possible. Even a quad core processor can take hours to transcode a movie and that just isn’t an option for many of us who are on the go.

To streamline this process for us, Nvidia has teamed up with Elemental Technologies to offer a video transcoding solution which harnesses the power available from the GTX’s 240 processors. The BadaBOOM Media Converter they will be releasing can take a transcoding process which took up to six hours on a quad core CPU and streamline it into a sub-40 minute timeframe. This also frees up your CPU to work on other tasks.

If these promises are kept, this may be one of the most-used CUDA applications even though it will need to be purchased (pricing is not determined at this point).


PhysX Technology

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About two years ago there were many industry insiders who predicted that physics implementation would be the next Big Thing when it came to new games. With the release of their PhysX PPU, Ageia brought to the market a stand-alone physics processor which had the potential to redefine gaming. However, the idea of buying a $200 physics card never appealed to many people and the unit never became very popular with either consumers or game developers. Fast forward to the present time and Nvidia now has control over Ageia’s PhysX technology and will be putting it to good use in their all their cards featuring a unified architecture. This means that PhysX suddenly has an installed base numbering in the tens of millions instead of the tiny portion who bought the original PPU. Usually, a larger number of potential customers means that developers will use a technology more often which will lead to more titles being developed for PhysX.

Since physics calculations are inherently parallel, the thread dispatcher in the unified shader architecture is able to shunt these calculations to the appropriate texture processing cluster. This means a fine balancing act must be done since in theory running physics calculations can degrease rendering performance of the GPU. However, it seems like Nvidia is working long and hard to get things balanced out properly so turning up in game physics will have a minimal affect on overall graphics performance.
 

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Additional Features of the GT200 Architecture

Additional Features of the GT200 Architecture


Yes, there is more than what we have already mentioned in the last few sections when it comes to the new GTX 280 and GTX 260 cards. Nvidia has packed their new flagships with more features than you can shake a stick at so let’s go over a few of them which may impact you.


3-Way SLI

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As multi-GPU solutions become more and more popular Nvidia is moving towards giving consumers the option to run as many as 3 graphics cards together in order to increase performance to insane levels. Before the release of the 9800GTX, the only cards available for 3-way SLI were the 8800GTX and 8800 Ultra so the GTX 280 and GTX 260 cards have now become the fourth and fifth cards to use this technology. Just be prepared to fork over some megabucks for this privilege since not only would you need God’s Own CPU but at about $1500 for a trio of 280 cards and $1000 for three 260 cards. That is a pretty bitter pill for just about anyone to swallow.


Optional Full HDMI Output

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All GTX 280 and GTX 260 cards come with the option for full HDMI output over a DVI to HDMI adaptor. Notice we said “option”? While GT200 cards will come with an SPDIF input connector on the card itself, the board partner has to choose whether or not to include a DVI to HDMI dongle so the card can output both sound and images through a HDMI cable. Coupled with the fact that the new GTXes fully support HDCP, this feature can make this card into a multimedia powerhouse. Unfortunately, in order to keep costs down we are sure that there will be quite a few manufacturers who will see fit not to include the necessary hardware for HDMI support. With this in mind, make sure you keep a close eye on the accessories offered with the card of your choice if you want full HDMI support without having to buy a separate dongle.

To be honest with you, this strikes us as a tad odd since if we are paying upwards of $400 for a card, we would expect there to be an integrated HDMI connector a la GX2. Making the DVI to HDMI dongle optional smacks of some serious penny-pinching.


Purevideo HD

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To put it into a nutshell, Purevideo HD is Nvidia’s video processing software that offloads up to 100% of the high definition video encoding tasks from your CPU onto your GPU. In theory, this will result in lower power consumption, better feature support for Blu-ray and HD-DVD and better picture quality.

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In addition to dynamic contrast enhancement, Purevideo HD has a new feature called Color Tone Enhancement. This feature will dynamically increase the realism and vibrancy for green and blue colors as well as skin tones.


HybridPower

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By far, on of the most interesting features supported by the 200-series is Nvidia’s new Hybridpower which is compatible with HybridPower-equipped motherboards like the upcoming 780a and 750a units for AMD AM2 and AM2+ processors. It allows you to shift power between the integrated GPU and your card so if you aren’t gaming, you can switch to integrated graphics to save on power, noise and heat.

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While we have not seen if this works, it is definitely an interesting concept since it should allow for quite a bit of flexibility between gaming and less GPU-intensive tasks. There has been more than once where I have been working in Word in the summer where I wished my machine would produce less heat so I wouldn’t be roasting like a stuffed turkey. If this technology can deliver on what it promises, this technology would be great for people who want a high-powered graphics card by night and a word processing station by day.

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This technology even works if you have GTX 280 or 260 cards working in SLI and once again you should (in theory) be able to shut down the two high-powered cards when you don’t need them.

GTX-43.jpg

All HybridPower-equipped motherboards come with both DVI and VGA output connectors since all video signals from both the on-board GPU and any additional graphics cards go through the integrated GPU. This means you will not have to switch the connector when turning on and off the power-hungry add-in graphics cards. All in all, this looks to be great on paper but we will have to see in the near future if it can actually work as well as it claims to. In terms of power savings, this could be a huge innovation.


Additional Power Saving Methods

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Other than the aforementioned HybridPower, the GT200-series for cards have some other very interesting power savings features. With the dynamic clock and voltage settings, Nvidia has further been able to reduce power consumption when the system is at idle so if you are using a program that doesn’t require the GPU to work, you don’t have to worry about it consuming copious amounts of power. The same goes for heat since as power consumption decreases so does the heat output from the core. I don’t know about you but I hate sweating like a pig while using Photoshop just because my GPU wants to dump hot air back into the room and with this feature hopefully these sweat sessions will be a thing of the past.

Additionally, Nvidia has added a power saving feature for HD decoding as well. Since the card doesn’t need full power to decode a high definition movie, voltages will be decreased from what they would be in full 3D mode which will once again result in less power draw and heat.
 

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The BFG Advantage: Lifetime Warranty & Trade-Up

The BFG Advantage: Lifetime Warranty & Trade-Up

With dozens of manufacturers vying for your attention in the highly competitive graphics card market, companies are always looking for ways to distinguish themselves from their competition. Some have gone the route of offering highly overclocked cards while others tend to focus on the customer satisfaction aspect of their business before thinking about increasing the performance of their products. BFG has been making a name for themselves by offering the best of both worlds by releasing both overclocked versions of their cards while giving a customer service experience that is second to none. Two of the major aspects of BFG’s commitment to their customers are their Lifetime Warranty and newly-introduced Trade-Up program.


Lifetime Warranty

One of the longtime marquees of BFG has been their Lifetime Warranty on all their graphics cards sold here in North America. From personal experience, all someone has to do is call BFG’s 24/7 customer support hotline, troubleshoot with the representative and if nothing comes of it an RMA number will be issued. This may seem too easy to be true but numerous posts across several tech-centric forums bear nothing but praise for BFG and the way they handle their customers. Indeed, our own http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/troubleshooting/1829-canadian-rma-experience-3.html thread has several posts about good experiences with BFG’s Lifetime Warranty. Just remember: in order to be eligible for the lifetime warranty you must register your card with BFG within 30 days of purchase.

Unfortunately, some manufacturers have one-upped BFG by offering their own lifetime warranties but unlike BFG they also cover aftermarket cooler installation and overclocking.

For more information about BFG’s Lifetime Warranty, please visit their website here: BFG Tech - Warranty


Trade-Up Program

GTX-47.jpg

BFG has recently introduced their Trade-Up program which is in effect for 100 days after the purchase of a new BFG graphics card. This program gives a BFG customer piece of mind by offering them the opportunity to trade in their graphics card for a newer model within 100 days plus pay the difference in cost. The worth of the BFG graphics card you trade in is based off of the pre-determined MSRP of the card in question at the time you apply for the trade-up so this price will probably be quite a bit less after a few months. For now, there is only a few graphics cards listed on the Trade-Up page with their current trade-in value but that will change as more come out: BFG Tech - tradeupmatrix.

This means if you purchase either card we are reviewing here today, you will be able to trade it in for a better card if one is released within 100 calendar days of your invoice date. The only caveat about this is that your card’s value will be based off of the pre-determined BFG price whenever it is you choose to trade it in. In addition, you must register your card within 30 days to have a chance at trading it in for something better.
 

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


MAXCORE-1.jpg
MAXCORE-2.jpg

The packaging for the OCX MAXCORE isn’t anything to write home about since this is the e-tail box which comes with a specifications sticker and little else. Remember, the OCX cards are not designated to make an appearance at brick and mortar shops so flashy graphics is not required.

MAXCORE-4.jpg
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The protection afforded the card is more than enough to keep it safe from any bumps and bruises along the journey to and from the retailer. Basically, BFG wraps the card in an anti-static bag (which has a massive warning label indicating that you should plug in BOTH power connectors), then encases it in bubble-wrap and finally places it within a rigid cardboard sleeve.

MAXCORE-3.jpg

To be honest with you, I breathed a sigh of relief when rifling through the accessories since there are plenty of board partners out there who refuse to bundle their cards with anything other than the absolute necessities. BFG on the other hand has decided to give everything we could possibly want with the addition of an S/PDIF cable and a DVI to HDMI adaptor in addition to the usual inclusions.
 
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A Closer Look at the BFG GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE

A Closer Look at the BFG GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE


MAXCORE-6.jpg
MAXCORE-7.jpg

Once you have seen one 10.5” long GTX 200-series you have seen them all but BFG has decided to add some exceptionally cool graphics to their card. As with all of the GTX 260 versions we have seen to date, the MAXCORE uses a full-length heatsink which is coupled with a reasonably large intake fan. We have always loved BFG’s understated cards; they don’t need loud colors and atomic frogs (sorry Palit) or scantily-clad vixens (sorry Gigabyte) to sell us on a card.

MAXCORE-10.jpg
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While the BFG card has the usual sticker applied to the top side, the underside is mysteriously devoid of any branding as seen on other GTX 200-series cards. That being said, this design actually play up this card’s understated appearance.

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The only part of the MAXCORE that carries the OCX name is the fan hub but other than that, everything else stays true to the BFG vision of style with strategically-based stickers.

As with all of the other GTX 260s on the market, the OCX MAXCORE uses a pair of 6-pin PCI-E connectors on its side. Additionally, there is a covered S/PDIF connector that can be used in conjunction with the included cable to pass high def audio through the GTX 260.

MAXCORE-8.jpg
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The SLI connectors are completely hidden behind a rubber flap on the side of the heatsink assembly as is par for the course with all of Nvidia’s current generation of cards. The backplate shows us the usually assortment of connectors: two DVI and one TV-Out. I would have personally preferred to have seen something a little different like a HDMI output on BFG’s high-end offering but that wasn’t meant to be.
 
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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

System Used

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme QX9770 @ 3.852Ghz
Memory: G.Skill 2x 2GB DDR2-1000 @ 1052Mhz DDR
Motherboard: ASUS P5E Deluxe X48
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Hitachi Deskstar 320GB SATAII
Fans: 2X Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

BFG GTX 260 OCX MAXCORE
Palit HD4870 X2 2GB
Sapphire Radeon HD4850 512MB
Palit Radeon HD4870 512MB
EVGA Geforce GTX 280
BFG GTX 260
EVGA 9800 GTX+
EVGA GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked


Drivers:

Nvidia 178.24 WHQL
ATI 8.11 WHQL


Due to the unpredictability of some beta drivers in Windows Vista x64, we have decided to only use WHQL drivers for all graphics cards other than the one being tested.


Applications Used:

3DMark06 Professional
3DMark Vantage
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Devil May Cry 4 Demo
Crysis
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Prey
World in Conflict


*Notes:

- 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 4 benchmark runs

- If the game did not support 2560 x 1600 resolution, the closest resolution to that was used
 

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3DMark 06

3DMark 06


While some may wonder at the use of still including 3DMark06 in the tests it gives us a good idea of the basic limitations of a graphics card. Since the standard test runs at 1280x1024 there will be a fair amount of CPU bottlenecking with higher-end cards and remember that in many cases a higher 3DMark score does not equate better performance. Here we have also included tests with AA and AF enabled

MAXCORE-24.jpg


MAXCORE-14.jpg


The overclock on the MAXCORE is enough to push it slightly past the overclocked EVGA Core 216 Superclocked card we tested a while ago. However, even though BFG decked its card out with some serious clocks, there was no chance of it catching the GTX 280.
 
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