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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB Review

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SKYMTL

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Last year was an interesting time to be watching the graphics card market. There was a sudden flurry of activity leading up to NVIDIA’s Fermi launch followed by long pause as everyone took a deep breath in preparation for the cat fight that broke out in the lead up to Christmas. Over the course of a mere 30 days, AMD introduced the HD 6800 series along with Cayman XT and Cayman Pro while NVIDIA responded with a broadside of their own in the forms of the GTX 580 and GTX 570. It was a hell of a way to end 2010 and 2011 is about to start off with a bag as the GeForce lineup is getting a brand new member.

Presently the GTX 580 and GTX 570 hold the upper range of the market with the HD 6970 and HD 6950 offering up some heated competition. Unfortunately, below NVIDIA’s $350 product stood a significant gap which has only been partially filled by overclocked GTX 460 cards retailing for around $200. The result was AMD lapping up a good portion of sales in a number of highly lucrative price points with the HD 6950 and to a greater extent the HD 6870. We are now being introduced to NVIDIA’s reply and the GTX 460’s spiritual successor: the GTX 560 Ti.

The GTX 560 Ti utilizes a revised GF104 core which is dubbed the GF114 and incorporates all of the refinements NVIDIA built into the GF110. This has given NVIDIA the ability to open up the architecture to its fullest allotment of CUDA cores, increase clock speeds and make some general improvements to overall efficiency as well. NVIDIA’s hope is these refinements will lead to the GTX 560 Ti becoming the go-to card for a huge cross section of the market.

With most HD 6870s suddenly selling for around $230 and the HD 6950 2GB starting at $289, the GTX 560 Ti’s price of $250 threads a very fine needle indeed. AMD is also launching a 1GB version of the HD 6950 which will likely retail for between $259 and $269. However, NVIDIA has made it a point to highlight their new product's performance against the HD 6870; a card that has had a lengthy time to soak up driver optimizations and work its way into the psyche of consumers.

While the exact reasoning behind the resurrection of NVIDIA’s “Ti” moniker wasn’t discussed, we can only assume non-TI branded cards will be on their way in relatively short order. Regardless of the name, we are about to see how well this new $250 card stacks up against the competition.

 
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SKYMTL

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GF114: GF104 on Steroids

GF114: GF104 on Steroids


In order to create the GTX 560 Ti, NVIDIA took basically the same route as they did with the rest of the 500-series: they refined an existing architecture. In this case, it was the GF104 core that underwent a metamorphosis but the overall changes weren’t as drastic as we saw when transitioning between GF100 and GF110.

GF104 already incorporated the full speed FP16 texture filtering, additional optimizations to its z-cull efficiency and higher levels of configurability of its shared memory and L1 cache. All of these were “missing” from GF100 but added in the GTX 580 and GTX 570. This meant that NVIDIA’s job of converting the GF104 into a new “refresh” line of GF114-based products was relatively simple and straightforward.

Even though the original GF104 incorporated many of the architectural features which were eventually incorporated into the current generation of high-end GPUs, NVIDIA still refined certain aspects to create the GF114. Much like with GF110, one of NVIDIA’s main focuses was to increase performance per watt. So once again the transistor layout was rearranged so more of the faster, higher leakage transistors were placed on the critical rendering paths instead of being used for periphery tasks. Meanwhile, the slower, low leakage transistors were placed where speed wasn’t a primary concern.

Strategically distributing the transistors in this way still allows for a small speed-up in overall rendering performance but since the GF104 was already “fine tuned” in this way, the effect won’t be as apparent as with the GF110.


The differences between the GF110 and GF114 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 GF114 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. However, 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 GF114 uses a structure which allows for 48 cores along with 16 load / store units and 8 Special Function Units but the real differences lie with the number of texture units. The GF110 cards have four texture units per SM while the NVIDIA equipped the GF114 with eight TMUs per SM.


Most of you will likely remember that NVIDIA’s move to the GF110 architecture allowed a core with every last SM to be introduced without a significant increase in power consumption. The refinements to GF104 have essentially led the development of its successor down the same path. The GTX 560 Ti -the highest-end SKU containing a GF114 core- will have a total of 384 CUDA cores and 64 texture units, up from the 336 cores and 56 TMUs of the GTX 460 1GB. In addition, the TDP savings from rationalizing the transistor layout allow the core to operate at a higher clock frequency as well.

While the GF114 may not have as many architectural changes as its bigger brothers, it is quite obvious that NVIDIA has focused upon improving the design in several key areas. Naturally, they’re hoping this will be enough to compete head to head against some tough competition.
 

SKYMTL

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The GTX 560 Ti’s Impact upon NVIDIA’s Lineup

The GTX 560 Ti’s Impact upon NVIDIA’s Lineup



As NVIDIA has been releasing their 500-series, the older cards are being gradually phased out in favor of the newer, more efficient models. At the upper end of the spectrum, the GTX 580 / GTX 570 tandem effectively pushed the GTX 480 out of the market with a combination of excellent pricing and jaw dropping performance. AMD’s own Cayman XT and Cayman Pro cards caused a small upheaval but since they were aimed at the NVIDIA’s previous 400-series products, the wind remained in NVIDIA’s sails.

For the time being, the highly popular GTX 460 will be staying around but at a lower price point of slightly under $200. While it will be replaced with an upcoming sub-$200 GPU in the coming months, the GTX 460 1GB still proves itself to be an excellent go-to card against the HD 6850 so it will actually be staying around for the time being.

The GTX 560 Ti meanwhile is meant to supplant the GTX 470, outperform AMD’s HD 6870, compete with the HD 6950 1GB and compliment the GTX 460 1GB. That’s a lengthy list of expectations but the newest card in NVIDIA’s lineup has the specs to back up these lofty expectations. A surprisingly reasonable price of $250 means it drops into a perfect slot in the current market.


From a specifications standpoint, the GTX 560 Ti is literally everything that we were hoping for and then some. A fully enabled core brings along with it 384 cores and a massive 64 texture units which puts it head and shoulders above the GTX 460 1GB. Meanwhile, clock speeds have been increased past the levels of many pre-overclocked GF104 cards. All of this was done without a significant impact upon TDP values which remain a mere 10W above the neutered GTX 460.

In a direct comparison to the GTX 470 it will partially replace, the GTX 560 Ti will come out ahead in situations which demand high amounts of texture performance. However, due to its limited number of Polymorph Engines which provide the fixed function rendering stages, the GTX 560 Ti will likely suffer a bit when it comes to high level DX11 geometry processing. Even though the Ti doesn’t have the large memory bus or framebuffer size of the GTX 470, it partially makes up for these shortcomings with speedy 4Ghz GDDR5.

NVIDIA’s plans for the GTX 560 Ti are highly aggressive no matter which way you look at things. From a pricing standpoint, it offers some hefty specifications for a card that will take over a position occupied a few months ago by the HD 6870. We have been told that NVIDIA as once again been extremely conservative when determining reference clock speeds so like the GTX 460, this card could prove to be a boon for board partners as well.
 

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A Closer Look at the GTX 560 Ti

A Closer Look at the GTX 560 Ti



With a centrally mounted 80mm fan and a slightly beveled heatsink shroud, NVIDIA’s GTX 560 Ti is literally a spitting image of the GTX 460. However, under the heatsink lies a whole new graphics card with quite a few revisions to the core, heatsink and the components on the PCB.

One interesting thing to note is that the GF114 core is pin for pin compatible with the GF104 core. This means quite a few board partners will be shoe horning the new core onto their own custom GTX 460 PCBs. Others like EVGA have decided to stick with the reference design as seen in the pictures on this page and will be rightfully billing their cards as “true” GTX 560 Ti products.


From a top down view the GTX 460 and GTX 560 have many similarities but moving down to card’s side shows a brand new design. Instead of using a full coverage plastic heatsink shroud, the Ti’s upper portion is the usual plastic while a secondary metal stiffener has been added for increased rigidity and better PCB component cooling.

Since power consumption remains relatively similar to that of a GTX 460, NVIDIA was able to maintain the status quo dual 6-pin power connectors. However, unlike the higher-end cards like the GTX 570 and GTX 580, the GTX 560 uses only a single SLI connector which means up to two of these cards can be used together.


The backside of the card doesn’t really show a dramatically different design from the GTX 460 but there is additional capacitance behind the GPU core and the PCB s slightly longer than previous GTX 104 cards.


Backplate connectors meanwhile are laid out in identical fashion to other 500-series cards with a mini HDMI 1.4a connector for full 3D Blu Ray compatibility alongside two DVI-D outputs.


At 9”, the GTX 560 Ti is slightly longer than the GTX 460 but still shorter than AMD’s HD 6870 1GB. Even when the length of the power connectors is added to the equation, this card shouldn’t have any issue fitting into any ATX-compliant case.
 

SKYMTL

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Under the GTX 560’s Hood

Popping the GTX 560’s Hood



Removing the shroud atop the GTX 560 Ti’s heatsink opens up a world of differences when compared to the GTX 460. The heatsink’s fin array has been expanded and now loosely resembles the one found on early MSI Twin Frozr cards. It is extensive to say the least and should prove to be more than a match for the GF114’ TDP of 170W.


The design of this particular heatsink is interesting to say the least. There are two main fin arrays radiating out from a central point in order to maximize upon the air movement from the lone 80mm cooling fan. In addition, NVIDIA installed a secondary black aluminum heatsink which runs the entire length of the card and is supposed to disperse heat from the components installed onto the PCB.

Below all of this lies a 4+1 phase PWM design which is a significant improvement upon the GTX 460’s 3+1 setup.


The fan sits astride a primary heatsink placed directly above the GPU core while the copper contact plate has been expanded to incorporate memory module cooling as well.
 

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 560 Ti 1GB (Ref)
NVIDIA GTX 570 (Ref)
NVIDIA GTX 470 (Ref)
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (Ref)

ATI HD 6970 2GB (Ref)
ATI HD 6950 2GB (Ref)
ATI HD 6950 1GB (Ref)
ATI HD 6870 1GB (Ref)



Drivers:

NVIDIA 266.58 WHQL
NVIDIA 260.56 (GTX 560 Ti)
ATI 11.1a Hotfix

Note: Even though AMD claims the “AMD Optimized Tessellation” feature in the 11.1a drivers has not yet been implemented, we have changed the setting to “Off” in order to ensure additional, untested optimizations are not enabled.

Applications Used:

3DMark 11
Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
F1 2010
Just Cause 2
Lost Planet
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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3DMark 11 (DX11)

3DMark 11 (DX11)


3DMark 11 is the latest in a long line of synthetic benchmarking programs from the Futuremark Corporation. This is their first foray into the DX11 rendering field and the result is a program that incorporates all of the latest techniques into a stunning display of imagery. Tessellation, depth of field, HDR, OpenCL physics and many others are on display here. In the benchmarks below we have included the results (at default settings) for both the Performance and Extreme presets.


Performance Preset



Extreme Preset

 

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.


1680 x 1050





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

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.


1680 x 1050





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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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.

1680 x 1050





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 
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