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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 Review

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SKYMTL

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Unigine: Heaven v2.0 (DX11)

Unigine: Heaven v2.0 (DX11)


Unigine’s Heaven benchmark is currently the de-facto standard when it comes to simple, straightforward DX11 performance estimates. While it is considered a synthetic benchmark by many, it is important to remember that no less than four games based on this engine will be released within the next year or so. In this test we will be using a standard benchmark run with and without tessellation enabled at three resolutions.


1680 x 1050





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600





NVIDIA has stated that the GF100 architecture is made for a DX11 environment and the Heaven benchmark results seem to backup that assertion. Altogether, this is an impressive performance by the GTX 480 to say the least.
 

SKYMTL

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Unigine: Heaven - Normalized Tessellation Performance

Unigine: Heaven - Normalized Tessellation Performance


One of NVIDIA's boldest claims about the GF100 architecture is that it takes a much less severe hit when enabling tessellation than the competing ATI architecture. In this short section we will be taking the results from the Heaven benchmark tests on the previous page and plotting them on a comparative graph.


There should be a number of things which are immediately evident from this graph. First of all, it seems like ATI’s cards do indeed take a harder performance hit than the GF100-based cards when tessellation is enabled, but not by a significant amount. However, NVIDIA’s high end card once again seems to choke a bit at high resolutions. ATI’s HD 5870 stays even when going from 1920 + tessellation to 2560 + no tessellation but the GTX 480 on the other hand looses nearly 20% of its performance.

The exact reasoning behind this isn’t quite clear at this time, and NVIDIA is still looking into the problem. However, from what we have already shown you, this isn’t the only application which shows the exact same performance drop-off.
 

SKYMTL

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8x MSAA Testing (BF: BC2 / DiRT 2 / Dragon Age)

8x MSAA Testing (BF: BC2 / DiRT 2 / Dragon Age)


In this section we take a number of games we have tested previously in this review and bring things to the next level by pushing the in-game MSAA up to 8x. All other methodologies remain the same.

BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Note that 8x MSAA is enabled via the game’s config file for the NVIDIA cards since it is not a selectable option within the game menu


While the overall performance of NVIDIA’s GTX 480 is only about 10% better than the HD 5870, minimum framerates once again tell an altogether different story with the 480 taking a 30% lead.


DIRT 2 (DX11)


DIRT 2 provides an interesting perspective since it has long been considered an ATI-friendly game, but the GTX 480 is able to narrowly eke out a win by 10%.

Dragon Age: Origins (DX9)


It looks like we found a chink in the GTX 480’s armour since it can’t even seem to make its way past the HD 5870 in this test.
 

SKYMTL

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8x MSAA Testing (Far Cry 2 / Left 4 Dead 2)

8x MSAA Testing (Far Cry 2 / Left 4 Dead 2)


In this section we take a number of games we have tested previously in this review and bring things to the next level by pushing the in-game MSAA up to 8x. All other methodologies remain the same.


Far Cry 2 (DX10)


“Dominating” is the only word we can use to describe the GTX 480’s performance in Far Cry 2 8x AA. Not only does it leave the HD 5870 in the dust but it also manages to beat out the HD 5970.


Left 4 Dead 2 (DX9)


We once again see a similar story playing itself out here. Basically, the GTX 480 is about 10% faster than the HD 5870 in average framerates but gets 20% better minimums framerates.
 

SKYMTL

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Comparative Performance Testing

Comparative Performance Testing


To some of you this section may seem to be a bit redundant and it may be just that. However, what we are trying to accomplish here is to give you a quick and easy visual representation of performance across multiple settings without using dozens of charts. In addition, these following graphs can give a user clearer insight about a product’s AA and resolution scaling with just a quick glance. Trust us; there are several interesting and eye-opening charts here that you will want to see.


Aliens Versus Predator


What we have here are contrasting models of consistency versus inconsistency. The HD 5870 takes a massive hit in this game when AA is enabled, even when using their latest and greatest drivers. On the other hand, the GTX 480 may not be as fast without AA enabled but it really comes into its own when IQ settings are raised.


Battlefield: Bad Company 2


At the beginning of this section we told you there would be several interesting charts presented and this is one of them. As you can see, the GTX 480 handily beats the HD 5870 at 1680 and 1920 resolutions both with and without AA enabled, but performance drops like a meteor at 2560. The gap increases slightly when AA is enabled at extreme resolutions but it does seem like there is a bit of an issue here.

As we already mentioned, NVIDIA is aware of this problem, have replicated it and have chalked it up to something they will fix in an upcoming driver revision. Let’s hope this happens sooner rather than later.


DIRT 2


Much in like Battlefield: BC2, the GTX 480’s performance in DIRT 2 is absolutely stunning at 1680 and 1920 resolutions but takes a serious kick to the groin when moving up a notch to even higher resolutions. Once again, NVIDIA is aware that this is happening and there will be improvements soon, but that’s not much consolation for early adopters who are sporting 30” monitors.
 

SKYMTL

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Comparative Performance Testing (pg. 2)

Comparative Performance Testing (pg. 2)



Dragon Age: Origins


This race is literally too close to call but it is nonetheless interesting to see the HD 5870 and GTX 480 switching places between AA and non-AA tests. Unfortunately for NVIDIA, the GTX 480 ultimately falls behind ATI’s flagship single GPU card in the final high IQ test.


Far Cry 2




In Far Cry 2, under both the DX10 and DX9 rendering paths, the GTX 480 is clearly in the lead though there is once again an almost imperceptible drop in performance versus the ATI cards at 2560 x 1600 0xAA.
 

SKYMTL

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Comparative Performance Testing (pg. 3)

Comparative Performance Testing (pg. 3)



Left 4 Dead 2


As we alluded to in the first set of charts, the GTX 480 shows up to the table with excellent performance in Left 4 Dead 2 which is partially marred by the sudden drop-off in performance when resolutions reach 2560 x 1600. How many people will play at this resolution? Not many, but it is still noteworthy.


Metro 2033


Unfortunately, there really isn’t much to show here since none of the cards were able to play the game with 4x MSAA enabled at high detail settings, and the ATI cards refused to do anything at 2560. So, what you see is what you get.
 

SKYMTL

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Performance Per Dollar ($$$)

Performance Per Dollar


To calculate performance per dollar (or dollar per FPS in this case) we took things one step further than in the wattage calculations and broke things down into DX9 / DX10 and DX11 graphs with and without AA enabled. To determine framerates we once again averaged out the average scores within the games (no Unigine results were included). This number was then divided by the price to result in a price (in USD) per 1 FPS. In order to decrease any abnormalities, the highest and lowest score attained by each card was eliminated.

The prices we used were the MSRP for the NVIDIA cards and the average price of 12 in-stock listings for the ATI cards at Newegg.com, Amazon.com and Zipzoomfly.com. The prices for the ATI cards were based off of actual retail prices before rebates or instant savings. All prices are as follows:

GTX 480: $499
GTX 470: $349
HD 5870: $425
HD 5850: $325





While the GTX 480 doesn’t exactly represent the best value when AA isn’t enabled, it is definitely interesting to see it almost draw even with the HD 5870 when IQ settings are increased. Basically, this means you are getting about the same value with either card even though the GTX 480 does tend to have much better minimum framerates, which didn't factor into these charts.

There is however one huge unknown: this is a fluid market and retailers can increase or decrease prices any number of ways so you should just take the charts above as a guide instead of God’s Own truth.
 

SKYMTL

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Temperatures & Acoustics / Power Consumption

Core Temperature & Acoustics


For all temperature testing, the cards were placed on an open test bench with a single 120mm 1200RPM fan placed ~8” away from the heatsink. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C (+/- 0.5°C). If the ambient temperatures rose above 23°C at any time throughout the test, all benchmarking was stopped. For this test we use the 3DMark Batch Size test at it highest triangle count with 4xAA and 16xAF enabled and looped it for one hour to determine the peak load temperature as measured by GPU-Z.

For Idle tests, we let the system idle at the Vista desktop for 15 minutes and recorded the peak temperature.



Say it with me: ninety five degrees. We know the chip is supposedly built to run at these temperatures throughout its life without impacting upon its expected longevity but seeing these temperatures for any length of time on a processor is shocking to say the least. Interestingly enough, the fan stays relatively quiet (subjectively approaching that of the HD 5970) throughout this massive increase in temperatures.

In addition, idle temperatures are actually quite good and fly in the face of previous rumours. In our tests, thermal throttling usually set in at around 105°C on the GF100 cards while complete thermal shutdown happens around 112-125°C. Thankfully, temperatures never got past the 95°C mark even after hours of benchmarking.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we once again use the Batch Render test in 3DMark06 and let it run for 30 minutes to determine the peak power consumption while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 30 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption. We have also included several other tests as well.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.


There is simply no denying the fact that the GTX 480 is one power hungry card. Idle power consumption isn’t all that bad when compared to the previous generation of NVIDIA cards but it pales in comparison to the efficiency achieved by the HD 5800 series. Unfortunately, for the performance it gives the GTX 480 is certainly not the best performance per watt card out there.
 
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SKYMTL

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Performance Per Watt

Performance Per Watt


In order to calculate overall performance per watt, we took every single game benchmark we ran (Unigine was not included), averaged out the average framerates at all resolutions and then divided that by the Max Board power as supplied by both NVIDIA and ATI. The results are thus calculated in watts / average frames per second. In order to decrease any abnormalities, the highest and lowest score attained by each card was eliminated.

Wattages are as follows:
GTX 480: 250W
GTX 470: 215W
HD 5870: 188W
HD 5850: 151W



Honestly, this result isn’t as bad as we thought it would be but it is still obvious that NVIDIA’s architecture simply can’t compete with ATI when it comes to overall efficiency. The main problem as we see it is not the actual performance of the GTX 480 but rather the approximate 62W difference between it and the HD 5870.
 
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