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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 SE 1GB Review

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SKYMTL

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When a new product is released, companies understandably want to make a pretty big fuss about it. Or at least, that’s what usually happens. Last week NVIDIA decided to very quietly launch a card called the GTX 460 SE and many didn’t find out that it was a bona-fide product until it popped up on board partners’ websites.

Why all the mummery up until launch? To begin with, the GTX 460 SE is what’s called a “virtual product” in certain distributor circles. This means there is no reference version per se and NVIDIA’s AIBs can design the card around a loosely defined set of specifications. Of course there are minimum clock speeds that need to be adhered to but all in all, companies like EVGA, Gigabyte, ASUS and others have been given free rein to design their cards as they see fit. Think of the GTX 460 SE launch as NVIDIA’s version of the HD 5830 but with a lot less pomp surrounding its introduction. Indeed, some companies may not even be launching an "SE" edition for the time being.

The raison d’être of the GTX 460 SE 1GB is a bit of a mystery since it is priced similarly to the GTX 460 768MB but its specifications are cut down by comparison. NVIDIA has claimed the target market for the $159 SE will be those who want higher image quality than what a 768MB framebuffer can provide but don’t want to step up to the price of a $200 GTX 460 1GB. In addition, we hear that quite a few board partners may be using this card as a Black Friday promotional item so there may be some excellent prices for it within the next few days.

In order to get information to you as quickly as possible, we had Gigabyte rush-ship us one of their GTX 460 SE OC cards. It makes use of a core speed overclock to provide additional performance at a price that is within a few dollars of a stock-clocked product. To see how a standard GTX 460 SE performs, we flashed the BIOS of the Gigabyte card with one which has the reference clocks.

While this launch may have been one of the quietest in a long, long time it should be interesting to see how the new GTX 460 performs. On paper at least, it has the potential to continue the tradition of NVIDIA’s most popular Fermi products.

 
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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.
 

SKYMTL

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The GTX 460 SE; GF104 Cut Yet Again

The GTX 460 SE; GF104 Cut Yet Again




In terms of market positioning, the GTX 460 SE hasn’t been introduced to replace any existing card but rather to compliment NVIDIA’s current lineup at a price point which is historically extremely popular. With an MSRP of around $160, it should also compete directly with AMD’s HD 5770 which is currently priced between $140 and $150 USD.

Clock speeds are one of the main differentiators between the other cards in the GTX 460 series and this new one. The core on the SE operates at a speed that is 25Mhz than the higher end products but the real change comes in the form of slower memory. Even though bandwidth is increased due to a 1GB / 256-bit setup, a memory clock of a mere 3400Mhz QDR slows things down so this card doesn’t get TOO competitive against the other offerings.



On an architectural level, the GTX 460 SE is quite different from its forbearers since its GF104 core has two Streaming Multiprocessors disabled. This means its CUDA core count is down to 288 from the standard GTX 460’s 336 and more importantly, eight TMUs have been disabled as well. This along with the lower memory and core clock speeds will likely lead to a significant performance gap between the SE and GTX 460 1GB / 768MB cards in some games.

Since NVIDIA is using the full quartet of 64-bit memory controllers for the GTX 460 SE, it actually has a higher number of ROPs than the 768MB version. This additional ROP partition also allows the SE to use the full 512KB of L2 cache. Unfortunately, eight ROPs and a bit more cache won’t make up for the disabled SM but there are some situations where these two items could come into play.


Unlike the GF100 cards, the GTX 460 SE 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 Gigabyte GTX 460 SE OC

A Closer Look at the Gigabyte GTX 460 SE OC



Gigabyte’s Overclocked version maintains the standard 3400Mhz QDR memory speed but the core has been pushed to a level that will likely have a profound impact upon performance.


As with most of their GTX 460 cards, Gigabyte has used their custom heatsink for this particular product but otherwise it remains very close to the reference GTX 460 1GB / 768MB versions. There are some upgraded components on the custom PCB though.

Backplate connectors also stay bog standard with a single mini HDMI and a pair of DVI connectors.


The heatsink uses a pair of 80mm fans which blow down on a reasonably large fin array. Unfortunately, this mean that hot air movement is given very little in the way of directionality and much of it ends up with your case.


The back of the card doesn’t hold anything of particular interest but we can see that Gigabyte has simplified the reference PCB while maintain the 4+1 phase power distribution.
 

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 Consumption 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 SE (Gigabyte, Flashed BIOS)
Gigabyte GTX 460 SE 1GB
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB
NVIDIA GTX 460 768MB
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB

ATI HD 5850 1GB (Ref)
ATI HD 5830 1GB (XFX)
ATI HD 5770 (Ref)
ATI HD 6850 1GB (Ref)



Drivers:

NVIDIA 263.09 WHQL
ATI 10.10 WHQL + 10.10d App Profiles


Applications Used:

Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
Just Cause 2
Lost Planet
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
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Messages
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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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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. 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.

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SKYMTL

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Just Cause 2 (DX10)

Just Cause 2 (DX10)


Just Cause 2 has quickly become known as one of the best-looking games on the market and while it doesn’t include DX11 support, it uses the full stable of DX10 features to deliver a truly awe-inspiring visual experience. For this benchmark we used the car chase scene directly following the Casino Assault level. This scene includes perfectly scripted events, some of the most GPU-strenuous effects and lasts a little less than four minutes. We chose to not use the in-game benchmarking tool due to its inaccuracy when it comes to depicting actual gameplay performance.


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SKYMTL

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Lost Planet (DX11)

Lost Planet (DX11)


Lost Planet is a game that was originally released on consoles but in its port over to the PC, it gained some highly impressive DX11 features. For this benchmark, we forgo the two built-in tools and instead use a 2 minute gameplay sequence from the second level in the first chapter. The reason we use this level is because it makes use of three elements that are seen throughout the game world: jungles, water and open terrain.


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