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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 1GB & GTX 460 768MB Review

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SKYMTL

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Can you believe that after more than a year of rumors, debate and supposition, it has already been over four months after NVIDIA’s GTX 400-series launched? The GTX 480 and GTX 470 are for all intents and purposes are still extremely popular and have shown us their gaming capabilities again and again. Only a few weeks ago these two high end cards were joined by the GTX 465 which was met with a decidedly lukewarm reception from us as well as most other publications. In an effort to move on quickly from that bump in the road, NVIDIA is following up with yet another mid-range card: the GTX 460.

Now we’re sure that some of you may be rolling your eyes towards the ceiling and thinking “not another power hungry, hot and expensive NVIDIA 400-series card”. Believe it or not, we’ll go on record right now by saying that this is one graphics card you'll want to pay attention to because the GTX 460 actually bucks several preconceptions many have had about the GTX 400-series cards. If we don’t yet have your attention, read on and I am sure you’ll start getting excited.

Based off of a GF104 core, the GTX 460 doesn’t sport a 3 billion transistor GF100 with a bunch of disabled cores like the GTX 465 did. Rather, it uses a slimmed down 1.95 billion transistor die which is supposed to offer a much leaner power consumption envelope while being less expensive to produce and extremely compact. The result is beneficial for consumers on a number of fronts, especially considering NVIDIA will be releasing two versions of the GTX 460 right off the bat. There will be a 1GB, 256-bit SKU that will retail for around $230 while a slightly lower-end 768MB, 192-bit product should hit the magical $199 price point. Both are compatible with all of NVIDIA’s “Graphics Plus” technologies including CUDA and 3D Vision Surround which we talked about at length here.

With the current price points as they are, the GTX 460 768MB is directly targeting the HD 5830’s performance envelope but its price is the same as or slightly below that of most HD 5830 cards on the market. Meanwhile, the $230 GTX 460 1GB is aiming to bridge the sometimes-miniscule gap between the HD 5830 and the higher-end HD 5850s. This also bodes well for those of you who held off buying the $270 GTX 465 since as you will see on the next pages, there are several areas in which this new card has the 465 beat clean in the specs department. Just be aware that in preparation for the GTX 460 landing on store shelves, several of NVIDIA’s board partners have effectively cut the price of their GTX 465s to around $255.

On a final note it is important to note that while we are reviewing both the 768 MB and 1GB cards in this article, it is quite likely that only the 768MB cards will be widely available come launch time. The 1GB cards will slowly trickle in throughout this week with wide availability on the week of July 19th.

All in all, the GTX 460 looks like a worthy successor its predecessors but the biggest question is whether it can actually surpass the higher end cards when it comes to capturing the attention of a market that has been waiting a long time for a proper sub-$250 GPU.

 
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SKYMTL

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Say Hello to the GF104

Say Hello to the GF104


When it came to shrinking the GF100 which graces the GTX 480, GTX 470 and GTX 465, NVIDIA looked closer at the architecture and decided to make a few changes to a number of areas. In order to scale back things, certain sacrifices would have to be made if the original GF100 layout was kept as we speculated in our original article. The main issue with the GF100 is a real lack of texture units as you start eliminating Streaming Multiprocessors. So, if linear scaling was kept, NVIDIA have had possible lower-end GPUs with 320 cores or fewer cores but only 40 or fewer texture units. Like it or not texture performance is still one of the cornerstones of modern games and if that trend had continued, NVIDIA may have found it very hard to compete with the HD 5000 series.

One of the primary reasons behind designing the GF104 was the need to lower the thermal and power consumption needs of the Fermi architecture by producing a more compact core. Not only is this easier and less expensive to produce but it also allows NVIDIA to attack certain price points which ATI may have left vacant.


The differences between the GF100 and GF104 layouts start with the Streaming Multiprocessor which houses the CUDA cores, Texture Units, Polymorph Engine, Warp Schedulers, Load / Store units, SFUs and their associated cache hierarchies. Let’s start at the top and make our way down.

Instead of two Dispatch Units each being accessed by their own Warp Schedulers, the GF104 makes use of a 2:1 ratio between the dispatch units and the schedulers while the number of Special Function Units has doubled per SM. As a result, transcendental instruction performance has been increased over the GF100 even though the number of concurrent threads has remained as it was. Otherwise, the Instruction Cache and the Register File size stay the same as GF100.

The main changes to the SM come with the number of CUDA cores as well as the number of texture units each houses. Instead of the usual 32 cores per SM, the GF104 uses a structure which allows for 48 cores along with 16 load / store units and 8 Special Function Units. This in and of itself is quite an eye opener but the real differences are with the number of texture units each Streaming Multiprocessor houses. The GF100 cards have four texture units per SM while the NVIDIA equipped the GF104 with eight TMUs per SM. This can and will lead to a massive increase in texture performance which will benefit older DX10 and DX9 games.


Much like the GF100 layout, the GF104 makes use of four Streaming Multiprocessors (SMs) and their associated Polymorph Engines per GPC along with a common Raster Engine. The only differences are the ones we mentioned above and the result is a GPC with sufficiently more horsepower than the GF100 was able to put forth.


Above is a picture of a full GF104 core and we’re hoping you are paying very close attention to its layout and the number of cores it houses within its two GPCs. In total, there are 384 cores, 64 texture units, 32 ROPs, 512KB of L2 cache and four 64-bit memory controllers. It is quite evident that even though the GF104’s SM structure got a face lift, NVIDIA kept the ROP, L2 cache and memory controller array as is when making the transition from the GF100.

To us it looks like NVIDIA took some of the lessons it learned from the GF100 and put them towards designing a core that is infinitely more adaptable for the sub-$250 market. Not only is the GF104 much more compact than the higher-end silicon (it has 1.95 billion transistors versus the GF100’s 3 billion) but it is supposedly quite a bit more efficient as well. The one thing which could hold it back is the fact that it only has a maximum of eight PolyMorph Engines that are essential for DX11 performance. For example, if you wanted to achieve 384 cores with a GF100, a total of 12 SMs (and 12 PolyMorph Engines) would be needed. Will these eight or fewer engines have a negative impact on the GF104’s DX11 performance in future applications? Only time will tell but for the time being this looks like the perfect graphics processor for the current mid-range market.
 
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SKYMTL

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The GTX 460: GF104 Slimmed Down

The GTX 460: GF104 Slimmed Down



According to NVIDIA, the GTX 460 is meant to compete with ATI’s HD 5830 from a number of different aspects. We have always maintained that ATI’s lineup is a bit weak between the $170 and $250 price brackets and this is exactly where we see this new card hitting. Before we go on, it should also be mentioned that the GTX 460 is compatible with 3D Vision Surround and NVIDIA Surround as well.

The GTX 460 is being offered in two different flavours that are distinguished from one another by their price and memory size: 1GB and 768MB. At face value, the distinguishing qualities between these two cards may be minor but since the L2 cache, ROPs and memory controllers scale in a parallel fashion with one another, the elimination of 256MB of memory causes a bit of a domino effect. So the 768MB card not only ends up with less memory than its bigger brother but also less ROPs, 384KB instead of 512KB of cache and significantly narrower bandwidth as well. Clock speeds, core / texture count and other aspects stay constant between the two cards. What’s even more impressive is the number of texture units equals those on a GTX 470 while TDP (not to be confused with actual power consumption) is actually quite low for a 400-series card but remember that ATI’s figure of 171W for the HD 5830 is based on max board power.


When you look closely at NVIDIA’s lineup, everything looks extremely well defined until you throw the GTX 460 into the mix. The main “problem” we see is the GTX 460 stepping on the toes of the $270 GTX 465 and could make the more expensive card look like a lame duck in terms of pricing, efficiency and even performance. The only area where the new kid on the block looses out is with the number of cores but in general, its paper specifications do make for some impressive reading. This will be great news to those of you who didn’t jump on the bandwagon but it also causes us wonder if the GTX 465 is being pushed out of the market already. There is however the small matter of the GTX 465’s edge when it comes to the PolyMorph Engines which could give it a serious edge in some DX11 applications.


One of the most interesting aspects of the GTX 460 is that it doesn’t actually sport a full GF104 core. Much like the GTX 480, NVIDIA decided to disable a single SM in order to improve yields and (in a roundabout way) ensure this sub-$250 card wouldn’t end up taking a bite out of the whole 400-series lineup. Will we see a 384-core totting, GF104-based card in the future? You never know but NVIDIA is likely keeping this as an ace up their sleeves in case ATI is able to mount a counter-offensive.


Unlike the GF100 cards, the GTX 460 also supports full bitstreaming of HD audio over HDMI. All of the signal processing is done on the card itself without the need for external decoding. This is a huge step forward for those of you who want to use this card in an HTPC environment for decoding Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio and TrueHD tracks.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the NVIDIA GTX 460

A Closer Look at the NVIDIA GTX 460



After reviewing NVIDIA graphics cards for more than four years, we were a bit surprised by the general design used for the GTX 460 series of cards. Instead of the usual location of the fan at the rearmost portion of the card, this one uses a centrally mounted 75mm fan that pushes cool air directly onto a large heatsink. Otherwise, the exterior of the reference GTX 460 is pretty much standard with a full length black shroud.


Several times throughout the course of this article we have mentioned that the GTX 460 will be available in two denominations: 768MB and 1GB. Between the two cards, there is no way to tell one from the other other than the differences between each board partners’ packaging and product numbers.


The central fan on these cards is partially exposed since NVIDIA bevelled the shroud towards the center of the heatsink. Supposedly, this should allow the fan to access fresh airflow when it is placed close to a second card in an SLI configuration. It’s a brilliant idea in our books but we’re hoping everyone will realize that exposed fan blades can nip your fingers if you’re working in a case with the card running.


Since the GTX 460 is actually quite short, NVIDIA was able to place the two 6-pin power connectors on the back of the card without having to worry about any interference in standard ATX-sized cases. On the backplane, there are a pair of DVI outputs as well as a single mini DVI connector.


There really isn’t much unique about the rear PCB shot we have above other than the telltale and odd looking rectangular retention bracket which frames an equally unique looking core.


The GTX 460’s svelte 8 ¼” length means that it is one of the shortest cards available in its price bracket. Basically, it’s about the same length as a HD 5770.
 

SKYMTL

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Gigabyte’s GTX 460 768MB

Gigabyte’s GTX 460 768MB



Shortly before this review went live, Gigabyte sent us their version of the GTX 460 768MB and it should give you a good idea of what to expect in the way of board partners’ cards. Its box is actually quite trimmed down from the massive affairs we are used to seeing with other GTX 400-series cards which should work quite well towards cutting back on shipping costs. One interesting thing to take note of is the inclusion of a sticker advertising the GTX 460’s ability to bitstream HD audio over HDMI.

When it comes to accessories, there isn’t anything out of the ordinary as is befitting of a sub-$250 graphics card but all of the necessary items are included. What you get is adaptors for DVI to VGA and Mini HDMI to HDMI along with Molex to 6-pin PCI-E cables.


Gigabyte sticks to NVIDIA’s reference design for this particular card and it’s actually quite odd not to see the usual blue PCB usually associated with their cards. We’re sure that sometime down the road they will release an Ultra Durable version of the GTX 460 which will sport their signature colours but until that day, the black looks particularly stunning.


In the past, Gigabyte tended to use some odd designs for their heatsink stickers but they are gradually moving towards slightly more mature graphics. The ones on their GTX 460 continue the tradition of other 400-series cards with an industrial motif around the single 72mm fan.
 

SKYMTL

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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:

NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (Reference)
GIGABYTE GTX 460 768MB (Reference)
ASUS GTX 465 1GB (Reference)
NVIDIA GTX 470 (Reference)
Sapphire HD 5850 1GB (stock)
XFX HD 5830 1GB (stock)
Sapphire HD 5770 1GB (stock)


Drivers:

NVIDIA 258.80 Beta (GTX 460)
ATI 10.6 WHQL
NVIDIA 257.21 WHQL


Applications Used:

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

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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.


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SKYMTL

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13,410
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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.


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SKYMTL

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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. 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.

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SKYMTL

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Far Cry 2 (DX10)

Far Cry 2 (DX10)



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


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2560 x 1600



 
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