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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti Roundup: ASUS, EVGA, Gigabyte & MSI

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SKYMTL

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A few weeks ago, NVIDIA released the GTX 560 Ti; a graphics card that has proven to be just the right fit for a large cross-section of the current market. AMD did their best to rain on the parade with their own HD 6950 1GB and did succeed to a certain extent even though availability has been a bit spotty and selection is limited. Nonetheless, NVIDIA’s own board partners have forged ahead with a long line of GTX 560 derivatives.

The GTX 560 Ti follows very much in the GTX 460’s overclocking footsteps since it has the ability to increase both core and memory clock speeds to some incredible levels. This has allowed several companies like EVGA, Gigabyte, ASUS and MSI to release some higher end products which feature increased clock speeds, custom cooling and some excellent software which can be used to push things even further.

For this roundup, we have chosen four of the more popular GTX 560 Ti cards currently on the market: the ASUS DirectCu II TOP, MSI Twin Frozr II OC, Gigabyte Super Overclock and the EVGA Superclocked. Their clock speeds and feature lists run the gamut so by seeing what they offer, we should be able to get a good indication what the GTX 560 market will look like in the coming months.

In previous generations, it wasn’t unusual to see $30 or more tacked onto a GPU’s price simply because it carried a minimal speed increase. Times have changed as the market has become more competitive and every one of the cards featured in this roundup carries no more than a $20 premium over reference-based products while clock speeds get significant bumps. Indeed, the MSI Twin Frozr II OC model features a $249 price; the same cost as a standard GTX 560.

We have already see that the GTX 560 Ti has what it takes to compete with the previous generation’s flagship products and even gives current GPUs a run for their money. It should be interesting to see how this translates into a lineup of pre-overclocked and custom cooled AiB cards.

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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.

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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.

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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.
 

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

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


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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.

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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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Introducing this Roundup’s Cards: Specifications

Introducing this Roundup’s Cards: Specifications


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As we have already mentioned the vast majority of the GTX 560 Ti cards released close to launch haven’t really pushed clock speeds to the outer limits but increases have been significant nonetheless. The one exception to this is Gigabyte’s Super Overclock but more on that later. It used to be that months passed after the launch before we began seeing custom products sporting any noticeable speed increases. This time, every card in this roundup features at least 58Mhz more on the core and memory speed bumps of at least 192Mhz.

MSI starts things off with their OC Edition which brings that aforementioned 58Mhz graphics clock increase and pairs it up with a reasonable overclock to its GDDR5 memory. It’s important to remember that MSI will surely be releasing Golden Edition and Hawk versions of the GTX 560 Ti in the future so this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile, EVGA and ASUS have gone head to head in terms of clock speeds and overall performance with 900Mhz core clocks which represents an approximate 10% increase over the reference card. The memory rates of the ASUS card are identical to the MSI OC Edition but EVGA seems to have caught wind of its competitors’ plans and has one-upped their memory clocks…by a whole 12Mhz.

Much like MSI, we are sure both EVGA and ASUS are far from done releasing GTX 560 cards. We will hopefully see an RoG-branded GF114-based product from ASUS in the near future while EVGA is likely hard at work on SSC and FTW versions as well.

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The one wild card in this roundup is Gigabyte’s Super Overclock. It boasts highly aggressive clock speeds that have been achieved due in part to Gigabyte’s highly stringent GPU Gauntlet binning process and is one of the first pre-overclocked cards to ever reach the 1Ghz mark. Unlike their competitors, Gigabyte has swung for the fences as soon as possible instead of waiting for the market to settle down a bit. In opinion, this is the perfect strategy and surely beats releasing a card like this right before the product lineup is replaced.
 
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SKYMTL

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Meet the Cards: ASUS & EVGA

ASUS GeForce GTX 560 Ti DirectCu II TOP


Product Number:
Warranty Length: 3 Years

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The packaging and accessory list which comes with this card are par for the course. It comes with a pair of Molex to 6-pin PCI-E connectors as well as adaptors for mini HDMI to HDMI and DVI to VGA.

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The ASUS GTX 560 TOP features the brand new dual 80mm fan DirectCu II heatsink which runs its entire length and gives a unique industrial look to the card. For whatever reason, ASUS has decided to stick with a black and red colour scheme here even though past NVIDIA-based products used a combination of black and green.


ASUS has added a number of upgrades to their TOP edition card. These include a stiffening bracket along the PCB’s side as well as an expanded power distribution design which ensures optimal voltage regulation for increased overclocking stability. Even though the TOP has higher than reference clock speeds, it still uses a pair of 6-pin connectors placed at a right angle to the PCB rather than at the back.

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The backplate connectors stick to the reference design with a pair of DVI outputs and a single HDMI 1.4a connector.

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The TOP’s PCB has a pair of LEDs installed near the power connectors which go from orange to red once the power connectors are installed. The use of this may be dubious but it does give a bit of flair to an otherwise drab expanse of black PCB.



EVGA GeForce GTX 560 Ti Superclocked


Product Number: 01G-P3-1563-AR
Warranty Length: Lifetime (with registration)


Along with a well-protected packaging scheme, EVGA has included a long list of accessories with their Superclocked Edition. This includes a long mini HDMI to HDMI cable and an EVGA-branded poster (no pictured) in addition to the usual Molex to PCI-E power cables and a DVI to VGA adaptor.

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EVGA sticks to the reference design for their Superclocked edition which means it incorporates an 8-layer PCB and 4-phase GPU power distribution design; features that some competitors lack. There is also a single centrally located fan which pushes cool air down onto an internal fin array for excellent thermal performance.


Along with a pair of 6-pin PCI-E power connectors, EVGA has added a few graphical touches to this card but as we have already mentioned, it doesn’t deviate from the reference design.
 

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Meet the Cards: Gigabyte & MSI

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 Ti Super Overclock


Product Number: GV-N560SO-1GI
Warranty: 3 Years (from manufacturing date)

*Our Super Overclock card is the retail version but due to the date this roundup was to be published, Gigabyte was not able to send us their actual packaging or accessories.

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At first glance, there really isn’t anything to distinguish this Super Overclock card from past versions. It still uses the dual fan Windforce heatsink along with Gigabyte’s signature blue PCB.


The Windforce cooler features a pair of 80mm fans which have been installed at a slight angle in order to better direct their airflow towards the underlying aluminum fin array. Another distinguishing feature is the quartet of massive copper heatpipes that move heat away from the core.

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As with other Super Overclock cards, Gigabyte has used a custom PCB with upgraded components for its GTX 560 card. They have also installed a single Prodalizer film capacitor made by NEC’s subsidiary Tokin. The film capacitor is supposed to provide high switching frequency and current capacity with lower ESR which results in extremely clean power delivered to all of this card’s components. In addition, these “supercapactiors” can also eliminate the high pitched “whine” that characterizes some high-end graphics cards.

All of these technological advances result in a card which is slightly longer than the reference version but since the SoC uses side-mounted power connectors, once installed it will take up the same amount of space.



MSI GeForce GTX 560 Ti Twin Frozr II OC


Product Number: N560GTX-TI Twin Frozr II/OC
Warranty: 3 Years

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MSI has been hell-bent upon creating a larger market share for themselves and to do so, they have pushed forth a highly aggressive pricing strategy. Interestingly enough, the accessory package that comes with the Twin Frozr OC seems to run at odds with this strategy since it offers items not normally associated with budget-friendly products. Along with the usual power connectors, VGA to DVI and mini HDMI to HDMI adaptors, MSI has bundled a download code for the Advanced Edition of 3DMark 11.

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This card incorporates MSI’s tried, tested and true Twin Frozr II heatsink design which has proven to be an extremely effective cooling solution, even in high stress environments. Topping the card are two 80mm fans which spin at a leisurely pace while (supposedly) keeping temperatures well under control.


Even though MSI will be debuting their Twin Frozr III heatsinks on some upcoming enthusiast-level cards, the version used on the GTX 560 Ti should be more than able to keep temperatures under control. It uses four large heatpipes connected to a dense aluminum fin array along with a large fan shroud in order to direct the airflow.

The backplate is standard GTX 560 with a pair if DVI connectors along with a single mini HDMI 1.4a output but MSI incorporates a custom cutout with their logo.
 

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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:

ASUS GTX 560 Ti DirectCu II TOP
EVGA GTX 560 Ti Superclocked
Gigabyte GTX 560 Ti Super Overclock
MSI GTX 560 Ti Twin Frozr II OC

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

AMD HD 6970 2GB (Ref.)
AMD HD 6950 2GB (Ref)
AMD HD 6950 1GB (Ref)



Drivers:

NVIDIA 266.66 WHQL
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

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Extreme Preset

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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

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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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.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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