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BFG GTX 285 OCX 1GB Video Card Review

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SKYMTL

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GTX-36.jpg


BFG GTX 285 OCX 1GB Video Card Review





Manufacturer Product Page: BFG GeForce GTX 285 OCX 1GB PCIe 2.0
Product Number: BFGRGTX2851024OCXE
TechWiki Info: BFGRGTX2851024OCXE
Availability: Now
Warranty: Lifetime
Price: TBD


About a week ago, Nvidia launched their newest bid for market dominance with the GTX 285. While the card itself is nothing more than a massaged GTX 280 with a 55nm core, its performance wowed us even though we reviewed a heavily overclocked version. At this point we all know that ATI doesn’t have a single GPU card that comes close to competing with Nvidia’s new monster but they are making a good show of it by reducing the price of their formidable HD 4870 X2 so it is within spitting distance of the higher-clocked GTX 285s. This in turn is a shot to the gut of Nvidia’s other new kid on the block -the GTX 295- since it currently sits all by its lonesome at the highest peak of the pricing index.

With the GTX 285 we will see the gradual phasing out of the GTX 280 and indeed, we are seeing the telltale signs of this with the outgoing cards retailing for significantly discounted prices. This in effect has been putting some major pressure on the GTX 285 launch since the cards are very similar spec-wise but you can find the GTX 280 for more than $100 less if you care to look around a bit. That $100 may not seem much to some of you but when you have the price of a brand new HD 4670 separating two very similar cards, not many people will look at the more expensive option. Indeed, we expect this situation of opposing prices to iron itself out in the coming weeks but until then the GTX 285 should still appeal to people who want the best performance possible out of a single GPU solution.

Speaking of single GPU solutions, it is due to this one fact that the GTX 285 will probably appeal to the majority of enthusiast customers. Both the GTX 295 and the HD 4870 X2 are limited by their classification as dual GPU cards since this means their performance is closely tied to the compatibility of SLI or Crossfire profiles within a certain game. We have seen from our first GTX 285 review that more than anything else, a dual GPU configuration can and will hold back performance in certain instances and it is usually those instances which you will find yourself stumbling upon during your gameplay sessions.

Today we bring you a review of BFG’s highest-clocked offering into the GTX 285 marketplace: the OCX Edition. Following in the footsteps of the stock, OC, OC+ and OC2 editions this high powered card will only be available at online retailers for the time being. BFG has always been at the forefront of customer service with full RMA service within Canada (yes, that's right, no need to ship back the RMA to the States) and a full lifetime warranty on all of their cards. This means their cards should be of particular interest to us Canadians who have long been asking for home-grown RMA support and processing. Hopefully, BFG will be able to capitalize on the GTX 285’s performance and give us a card worthy of the OCX moniker.

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SKYMTL

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The Current Nvidia Lineup / BFG GTX 285 OCX Specs

The Current Nvidia Lineup


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So this is what Nvidia now has for us and it is still not the whole lineup as the lower-end cards such as the 9800 GT are missing. You would be forgiven if you think that the current high end offerings are starting to look every bit as confusing as the 9-series since that is indeed what is happening these days. This is the direct result of increased market pressure from ATI and Nvidia thus having to go into reactionary mode by releasing intermediary GPUs which weren’t forecasted.

See something interesting about all of this? It seems like Nvidia is finally transitioning their lineup to the 55nm manufacturing process but we wish this trend would make its way down into the lower-end parts as well.
Starting at the top of the lineup, we have the heavyweight champion GTX 295 which is slated to be in the top spot for the short-term at least and depending how things go, may stick around pretty far into the future as well. It sports a pair of 55nm cores with specs somewhere between a GTX 280 and GTX 265.

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A little bit further down the chart is the GTX 285 which is the next evolutionary step of the GTX 280 as it transitions to 55nm. This is essentially the same card as the “older” GTX 280 but with slightly increased core and SP clocks in order to give it a boost in performance. What is interesting is the fact that Nvidia is claiming that through R&D they were able to refine the silicon on this chip to allow it to perform some10% faster than the GTX 280 through its high clocks while actually consuming 20W less power.

We are going to skip over the GTX 280 for the time being since even though it is still on the market (albeit at a deeply discounted price); it will soon be phased out entirely. The GTX 260 with 216 SPs is next up on the list and we have seen some 55nm cores filter their way down into this card’s SKUs as well. This particular card was made for one purpose only: to compete and beat the HD 4870 512MB and 1GB cards and it does quite well at that. Unfortunately, its introduction also left the standard GTX 260 with nowhere to go other than the EOL pile.

Finally there is the 9800 GTX+ 512MB and newer 1GB cards that have the unenviable job of competing with the HD 4850 but make their presence felt by usually putting up very strong numbers. The “+” version of the 9800 GTX was released shortly after the HD 4850 started mopping the floor with the non-plus version of the GTX and basically used increased clock speeds to increase performance. Indeed, this was the first card in the Nvidia lineup to carry a 55nm core.

This pretty much rounds out the upper end of the Nvidia lineup and luckily, things seem to be clearing up a fair bit when compared to the mess we saw just a few short months ago. As the 65nm cards are discontinued, we will eventually see a purely 55nm lineup from Nvidia which is definitely a welcome sight.


BFG GTX 285 OCX Specs


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When we first received the BFG GTX 285 OCX, its specs were listed with a core speed of 712Mhz while its shaders operated at 1620Mhz. This would have put easily above the performance of the EVGA SSC version but unfortunately, that was not meant to be. The initial samples went out with a high clock speed but after continued testing on retail cards, BFG determined that the 712Mhz core clock speed gave them yields which were too low and thus backed off a bit on the speed. For this review we flashed the card with a retail BIOS to give us the clock speeds you see above.
 

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 / 285 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.
 

SKYMTL

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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.
 

SKYMTL

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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 / 285 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 / 285 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 / 285 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.

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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.
 

SKYMTL

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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.

What should also be noted is that all Canadian RMAs stay within Canada. Gone are the days where you have to send a card to the USA and then wait for the accompanying Customs charges once the replacement card makes it over the border. This will also speed up RMA time quite a bit and we definitely have to compliment BFG for recognizing that they have Canadian clients.

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

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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. Please go here for more information: 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.
 

SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


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The box BFG uses is their standard e-tail package which means a minimum of artwork. Contrary to some reports, this isn’t a case of rushed packaging since this is what BFG has used for the past two years for sales from online retailers while brick and mortar stores get a more interesting packaging scheme.

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Unlike some manufacturers, BFG has no issues with listing the full specifications of their card directly on the box. However, the specifications you see here are wrong as BFG changed the clock speeds of their OCX cards right before they went out to retailers. The official specifications are the exact same for the memory but the core

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Protection-wise we get the usual fare from BFG with the card encased in a cardboard cocoon and is additionally wrapped in bubble wrap. There is also an anti-static bag used to package the GTX 285 which makes sure to remind you to plug in the proper power connectors.

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We are used to slim accessory bundles nowadays so the lack of any games or programs with the BFG GTX 285 OCX doesn’t come as much of a surprise. However, BFG makes sure you still get an SPDIF cable and a DVI to HDMI dongle included; neither of which was usually included with stock GTX 280 cards. Other than that you get the now-redundant list of connectors, manuals and case stickers that have become a staple in every other GPU package known to man.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the BFG GTX 285 OCX

A Closer Look at the BFG GTX 285 OCX


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With this first crop of GTX 285s, we won’t be seeing any custom cooling solutions or modified PCBs which is why BFG has stayed the course and designed their OCX around the reference design. That means it is the usual 10.5” in length while using a full-coverage heatsink design with a bit of BFG graphics included.

Speaking of the graphics, it is good to see at least one manufacturer sticking with beautifully understated graphics for their heatsink stickers.

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The fan hub is the only area on this card you will see an indication that it is indeed the OCX version rather than a stock, OC or OC2 card.

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Unlike the GTX 280, since there isn’t any memory ICs on the back of the GTX 285, Nvidia was able to make do without the usual extended heatsink design. This not only saves some money but it has also contributed to make the PCB layout much simpler.

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Even though the GTX 285 is based off of the GTX 280, it consumes less power than its bigger brother which means Nvidia was able to design the card without an 8-pin PCI-E power connector. What is interesting is the fact that even though the OCX version is overclocked to quite high frequencies, this still did not necessitate the inclusion of an 8-pin connector. It seems like the 55nm manufacturing process is paying for itself in spades.

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I know we are starting to sound like a broken record but once again, the BFG GTX 285 OCX comes with the usual assortment of video output connectors: two DVI and one HDTV.
 

SKYMTL

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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 285 OCX (702Mhz core)
EVGA GTX 285 SSC
EVGA GTX 295 (stock)
Palit HD 4870 X2 (stock)
Sapphire HD 4870 1GB (stock)
Palit HD 4870 512MB (stock)
EVGA GTX 280 (stock)
EVGA GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked



Drivers:

Nvidia 181.20 (GTX 295 / GTX 285)
Nvidia 180.48 WHQL
ATI 8.12 WHQL


Applications Used:

3DMark Vantage
Call of Duty: World at War
Crysis: Warhead
X3: Terran Conflict
Dead Space
Left 4 Dead
Far Cry 2
Fallout 3
Need for Speed Undercover


*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

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