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NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 1GB Single & SLI Review

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Since the release of their 400-series of graphics cards, NVIDIA has been concentrating upon the mid to high end markets with the GTX 480, GTX 470, GTX 465 and the GTX 460. By and large, they have been extremely successful at hitting the right price and performance points with most of these new products. In particular, the GTX 460 1GB and 768MB cards with their updated GF104 core have proven to be an absolute perfect fit for the current economic climate.

While nearly all of NVIDIA’s bases are covered at the price points above $150, there is still a significant portion of the market that has yet to see a DX11-totting GeForce branded product. Traditionally, enthusiast and high performance cards yield significant profits regardless of their lower volume sales but the bread and butter of any graphics chip manufacturer lies in the sub-$150 category. ATI’s HD 5750 and HD 5600-series cards completely own the high volume mid and entry level tiers and NVIDIA needed a response as soon as possible. Their answer is the new GF106 core and the first card to use it is the GTS 450 1GB.

As should be apparent by its $129 price, the GTS 450 isn’t intended to be a card that will appeal to enthusiasts who want cutting edge performance and technology. Rather, it caters to people who play on 22” and smaller displays which (according to Valve’s latest hardware survey) just happens to be the vast majority of the gaming population.

A replacement for the G92 equipped cards like the 8800 GT, 9800 GT, 8800 GTS, 9800 GTX and GTS 250 has been a long time coming but this is exactly what NVIDIA hopes the GTS 450 1GB will accomplish. With a $129 price, it will take over for the GTS 250 which currently retails for an admittedly inflated $110 for the 512MB version and $130 for the 1GB product. The GTS 450 should also provide a quick and inexpensive upgrade path for those of you who are finally willing to give up your legendary 8800 GT cards. Naturally, this also means ATI’s own $130 HD 5750 will have some much-needed DX11 competition as well.

The GTS 450 1GB promises to do many things; from being the perfect entry level, gamer-oriented GPU to allowing HTPC users access to features such as Blu-ray 3D and native HD audio decoding. Make no mistake about it though: this price point is rife with competition so NVIDIA needs to tread a very thin line in order to guarantee this card success.

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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 GF 106


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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 desktop 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. Meanwhile, the mobile market uses a GF106 core with 24 ROPs, 384KB of L2 cache and a 192-bit memory bus for the GTX 460M.


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.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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A Closer Look at the GeForce GTS 450 1GB

A Closer Look at the GeForce GTS 450 1GB


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One thing that will immediately jump out at you about the GTS 450 is the fact that it is literally a spitting image of the higher end GTX 460 series. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since that card had an excellent heatsink and proved to be extremely quiet. However, the similarities are only skin deep since the GTS moniker brings with it a more budget friendly component layout.


Much like with the GTX 460, the heatsink shroud has a slightly concave shape to it in order to increase airflow towards the centrally-mounted 80mm cooling fan. As we will see on the next page, the internal heatsink is quite a bit different between the two cards but so far, everything looks the same.

There is a single power connector as is befitting a card sporting a 105W TDP (actual power consumption can peak slightly higher than this) while only a single SLI connector has been added which means tri-SLI is a no-go.


The back of the card doesn’t hold anything of particular interest other than a quartet of the eight 128MB memory chips that the GTS 450 is equipped with. For those of you who are wondering, the Samsung GDDR5 installed onto the reference board is rated for 4.0Ghz at 0.50ns. Also, the green PCB on this card will likely be carried over into a few board partners’ cards but from what we have seen, many have chosen to go with their own custom colours.

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Notice something missing? So did we, but according to NVIDIA the removal of non-essential PCI-E pins did save them money. Basically, connectors used for the JTAG bus (used as a high level test interface on some PCI-E products), RSVD (a “reserved” pins that are rarely utilized) and a few Ground interfaces were removed, which will have absolutely zero impact upon performance. The GTS 450 still interfaces with your motherboard via a PCI-E v2.0 x16 bus.

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At 8 ¼” in length, the GTS 450 is a good inch shorter than the last generation of GTS 250 cards. However, when compared to its closest AMD competitor – the HD 5750 - it surpasses the length of the shorter card by a good inch.

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The output connector layout is standard for all of the Fermi cards with a pair of DVI-D connectors and a single mini-HDMI 1.4 output.
 

SKYMTL

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Under the Heatsink

Under the Heatsink


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Popping off the heatsink on this card is actually quite easy since it doesn’t have a full-length backplate and is just held in position by a quartet of small screws. Here is something you should know as well; NVIDIA has retained the same heatsink hole mounting offset as on G92-based cards. This means any aftermarket heatsink that was compatible with the 8800 GT, 9800 GT, 8800 GTS, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+ and GTS 250 will be compatible with this card. Full coverage water blocks will not be compatible due to a different VRM and memory layout.

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The GF106 core is laid bare for all to see as NVIDIA has decided not to use a heatspreader in order to disperse its heat. There is a metal retention ring around it but otherwise, any installed heatsink will make direct contact with the core.

The power distribution and voltage regulation section is what we would call budget friendly. The components used aren’t the highest-end available but since the GTS 450 consumes significantly less than 150W at full load, we think this is perfectly acceptable.

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The plastic shroud hides what amounts to be a simple radial aluminum heatsink topped by a downwards-firing 80mm fan. This is an extremely basic design which is quite a bit different from the affair on the GTX 460 cards that consisted of an extensive fin array and a pair of large copper heatpipes.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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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:

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
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
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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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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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

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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

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Far Cry 2 (DX10)

Far Cry 2 (DX10)


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Even though Far Cry 2 has its own built-in benchmarking tool with some flythroughs and “action scenes”, we decided to record our own timedemo consisting of about 5 minutes of game time. It involves everything from run-and-gun fights to fire effects. The built-in benchmarking too was then set up to replay the timedemo and record framerates


1440 x 900

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1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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