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EVGA GeForce GTX 285 1GB SSC Edition Review

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SKYMTL

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EVGA GeForce GTX 285 1GB SSC Edition Review




Price: TBD
Model Number: 01G-P3-1287-AR
TechWiki Info: 01G-P3-1287-AR
Availability: Now
Warranty: Lifetime
Manufacturer's Product Page: TBD



Nvidia has had a tough time as of late with their GTX 200-series being thoroughly beaten in the price / performance area by the HD 4870 512MB and 1GB cards. What followed were drastic price reductions and the release of the GTX 260 with 216 SPs which contributed to allow the GTX 200-series to compete on a level footing with the best ATI had to offer. Meanwhile, the HD 4870 X2 was released and Nvidia didn’t have an answer to that monster until just last week when they officially unveiled their GTX 295 card. As we saw in the review, Nvidia has finally wrested the performance crown out of ATI’s hands and is on a track to success with a full lineup of 55nm cards.

We all know that one of the major limiting factors of the initial G200 products was the fact that they were built on a 65nm manufacturing process which essentially made their production costs high (hence the prices we saw at launch) and contributed to massive amounts of heat being generated by the core. The GTX 285 on the other hand is the next evolution of the G200 architecture and uses the newer 55nm manufacturing process which should hopefully allow for higher clocks, lower power consumption and decreased heat. However, not all is certain since as we saw with the GTX 260 216 55nm card, power consumption wasn’t affected much and the overclocking was identical to 65nm cards. That being said, as we will come to see the GTX 285 is a different beast altogether.

Other than the 55nm core, what makes a GTX 285 different from a GTX 280? Basically, they are the same card but the GTX 285 carries with it higher clocks much like the 9800 GTX+ did when compared to the vanilla 9800 GTX. Pricing will also be a deciding factor for many since at this point we are seeing a new low in GTX 280 pricing with some cards retailing for significantly less than $400 CAD. Considering that our sources tell us that the GTX 285 will be around $500 CAD before rebates, the GTX 285 could initially receive slow sales. It should also be noted that this is just below the price range where the HD 4870 X2 is currently sitting.

For this particular review, EVGA has sent us their GTX 285 SSC card which in typical fashion has overclocks for the shaders, core and memory. You will also get access to EVGA’s excellent customer service, Lifetime Warranty and Step Up programs. From what we hear, stock of this particular EVGA card should be very good and we have already come to know EVGA for having some of the lowest prices on the market today. All of these things should contribute to make the EVGA GTX 285 SSC Edition one of the most popular cards of this generation.


 
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SKYMTL

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The Current Nvidia Lineup / EVGA GTX 285 SSC Specs

The Current Nvidia Lineup



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.


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.


EVGA GTX 285 SSC Specifications


 

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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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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Why Buy an EVGA Card?

Why Buy an EVGA Card?


Many of us know EVGA by name since their cards are usually some of the best priced on the market. Other than that, there are several things which EVGA has done to try to differentiate their business model from that of their competition. Not only do they have an excellent support forum and an open, friendly staff but it also seems like they have a love for their products you just can’t find many other places. Passion for one’s products goes a long way in this industry but without a good backbone of customer support, it would all be for nothing. Let’s take a look at what EVGA has to offer the customer AFTER they buy the product.


Lifetime Warranty


Every consumer wants piece of mind when it comes to buying a new computer component especially when that component costs you over $600. In order to protect your investment, EVGA offers their customers a lifetime warranty program which is in effect from the day you register the card until…well…the end of time. The only caveat is that you must register your card within 30 days of purchase or you will only be eligible for their new 1+1 warranty. So as long as you don’t get lazy or forget, consider yourself covered even if you remove the heatsink. The only thing that this warranty doesn’t cover is physical damage done to your card. For more information about the lifetime warranty you can go here: EVGA | Product Warranty

Even if you forget to register your card within the 30 days necessary to receive the lifetime warranty, EVGA still offers you a 1 year warranty.


Step-Up Program


While some competitors like BFG now offer trade-up programs as well, EVGA will always be known for having the first of this type of program. This allows a customer with an EVGA card to “step up” their card to a different model within 90 days of purchase. Naturally, the difference in price between the value of your old card and that of the new card will have to be paid but other than that, it is a pretty simple process which gives EVGA’s customers access to newer cards. As is usual certain conditions apply such as the cards being in stock with EVGA and the necessity to register your card but other than that it is pretty straightforward. Check out all the details here: EVGA | Step-Up Program


24 / 7 Tech Support


Don’t you hate it when things go ass-up in the middle of the night without tech support around for the next dozen hours or so? Luckily for you EVGA purchasers, there is a dedicated tech support line which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As far as we could tell, this isn’t farmed out tech support to the nether regions of Pakistan either since every rep we have spoken to over the last few years has had impeccable English. Well, we say that but maybe EVGA hunted down the last dozen or so expats living in Karachi.
 

SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



EVGA seems to have made a complete shift to new packaging with their 55nm GTX 200-series cards and this one is no different. Many of you won’t notice the subtle difference but at this point the orange bar running across the front of the package is slightly redder but the “SSC Edition” is still a sticker and not printed directly onto the box.

As usual, the rear of the box has scant little information other than a small picture of the card. It is really unfortunate that EVGA has decided against publishing the specifications of their cards on the box since it would give some much-needed information to the consumer who is buying this at a brick and mortar retailer.


We have already ridiculed this enough but it bears mentioning that PhysX comes free with EVERY Nvidia card since it is a simple download from Nvidia.com away. There’s nothing like getting PhysX shoved down out throats wherever we look the other way.


It seems like every EVGA 55nm card other than their GTX 295 is suspended in a plastic clamshell instead of wrapped in high density foam. This is by no means a bad thing since this provides more than adequate protection against anything a shipping company can throw at it.


The accessories that come with the GTX 285 SSC are basic but the addition of an SPDIF cable and DVI to HDMI dongle round things out quite nicely. Other than the two aforementioned items, you also get two Molex to 6-pin adaptors, a DVI to VGA dongle and a 3D case sticker along with the usual quick start guide and outdated driver CD.
 

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A Closer Look at the EVGA GTX 285 SSC

A Closer Look at the EVGA GTX 285 SSC



The new heatsink sticker design for EVGA’s 55nm cards has drawn some sharp criticism for being a bit too bland but we happen to like understated around here. All in all, the overall design of the GTX 285’s heatsink is nearly identical to that of the GTX 280 but there are some differences as we will see a bit later. It is still about 10.5” long and takes up two slots.


The SLI connector is still located in the same place but lacks the cover seen on the GTX 280 due to the fact that the GTX 285 doesn’t have a sandwich-style heatsink design.

Meanwhile, the side of the card is where things start to get really interesting. Gone is the 8-pin power connector and in its place is a much more mundane 6-pin connector. This change is a direct reflection of the decrease in power consumption this card offers when compared to the outgoing GTX 280. The other connector you see here is the SPDIF input.


The backplate of the GTX 285 is a clone of what we have seen on every reference card for the last few years with a pair of DVI connectors and a single HDTV output. There is also a small LED to the left of the grille which glows green when the card is functioning within normal parameters.


As we can see that aesthetically, there really isn’t any difference between the GTX 280 and GTX 285 other than the obvious progression of EVGA graphics. That is, until you see the back of the card…


Yes, that is right: the GTX 285 has all of its memory ICs located on the front of the card so a backplate is not needed. This can also be considered a cost saving method even though we were sort of attached to the rugged good looks of a fully-enclosed GTX 280 card.
 

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:

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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SKYMTL

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3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage





3DMark Vantage shows us that the overclocked GTX 285 is able to stay well ahead of the older GTX 280 and is even able to beat out the HD 4870 X2 at the Performance setting. However, this win at the Performance setting has more to do with PhysX than anything else as we can see the GPU score of the 285 drop off significantly when compared to the Overall score.
 
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