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The Effect of GPU Memory on Surround & Stereo 3D Performance

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Months and months ago when we covered the first 3GB GTX 580 cards, many wondered where (if anywhere) these high priced GPUs would be able to flex their muscle. You see, our standard suite of tests showed that in most situations the difference between a reference 1.5GB GTX 580 and its 3GB-totting sibling was minimal at best. Most of the time the underlying GF110 core proved itself to be a bottleneck long before any memory limitations were reached.

Back then, we used a “measly” resolution of 2560 x 1600 and some slightly outdated games but this time we’re taking things to the next level. The 30” monitor has been cast aside and in its place is a setup of three 1920x1080 monitors for a complete NVIDIA Surround solution. Of course 3D Vision has been thrown in for good measure and we’re using some of today’s most popular games: Shogun 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Witcher 2, Dirt 3 and Crysis 2. Metro 2033 has been thrown in for good measure as we feel it sets the benchmark for high quality DX11 scenes and compatibility with multi monitor solutions. Unfortunately, our copy of Battlefield 3 didn't arrive in time to include but expect it to be covered sooner rather than later.

Since NVIDIA’s Surround requires two GPUs to be used, we’ve chosen to pair up our 3GB GTX 580s while throwing in a new twist: a pair of EVGA's relatively new GTX 570 2.5GB cards.

Meet the Cards



Our pair of GTX 580 cards comes from two different manufacturers: EVGA and Zotac. We extensively reviewed the EVGA card back in June and found it to be a reasonably good product but not worth the additional money over a reference version. Nonetheless, with a lifetime warranty and more power than you could possibly need for most games, there’s value to be found here regardless of its $600 asking price.

Zotac on the other hand has also remained with a standard layout for their 3GB GTX 580 but have blazed a different trail with their card’s price. It currently hovers around the $530 to $550 mark which isn’t all that much more expensive than many reference versions go for. Zotac also offers a Lifetime Warranty, a fact that very few people know about.


NVIDIA GTX 570 cards come in many flavors from reference spec to overclocked to custom cooled but EVGA is currently the only board partner to offer this card with 2.5GB of memory (at least in North America). Dubbed the GTX 570 HD 2.5GB is not only offers double the GDDR5 memory but also uses a custom heatsink and houses an DisplayPort connector. The heatsink itself is loosely based off of the one which graces the GTX 560 Ti but uses an expanded aluminum fin array to cope with the GTX 570’s increased heat output. For those of you wondering, due to core architecture limitations, the addition of a DisplayPort connector doesn’t allow for native Surround support from the single card.

While this GTX 570’s clock speeds stick to the standard speeds, its price of about $380 is bound to raise some eyebrows since most reference cards go for $320 without mail in rebates.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Test System & Game Settings

Test System

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
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: 3x Acer GD235HZ 23.5" 1080P LCDs
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1

Drivers: NVIDIA 285.38 Beta

Application Benchmark Information:
Note: In all instances, in-game sequences were used. The videos of the benchmark sequences have been uploaded below along with the in-game settings used for each set of graphics cards in 2D and Stereo 3D modes.


Crysis 2

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/oc6jYEfrLYU?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/oc6jYEfrLYU?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

GTX 580 SLI 2D



GTX 580 SLI 3D / GTX 570 SLI 2D



GTX 570 SLI 3D



Deus Ex Human Revolution

Note: Deus Ex Human Revolution does not support NVIDIA’s 3D Vision so we did not test Stereo 3D in this title.

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/wCyBXJwGvOo?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/wCyBXJwGvOo?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

GTX 580 SLI & GTX 570 SLI



Dirt 3

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/wSs3ha_AS9g?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/wSs3ha_AS9g?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

GTX 580 SLI 2D & 3D / GTX 570 SLI 2D





GTX 570 SLI





Metro 2033

<object width="480" height="360"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/8aZA5f8l-9E?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/8aZA5f8l-9E?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="360" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

GTX 580 SLI 2D




GTX 580 SLI 3D / GTX 570 SLI 3D




GTX 570 SLI 2D




Shogun 2: Total War

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/oDp29bJPCBQ?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/oDp29bJPCBQ?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

GTX 580 SLI 2D / GTX 570 2D (w/2xMSAA)



GTX 580 SLI 3D


GTX 570 SLI 3D



Witcher 2 v2.0

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/tyCIuFtlSJU?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/tyCIuFtlSJU?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

GTX 580 SLI 2D / GTX 570 SLI 2D



GTX 580 SLI 3D


GTX 570 SLI 3D



*Notes:

- 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 IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
13,421
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GTX 580 vs GTX 580 3GB (Surround)

GTX 580 vs GTX 580 3GB (Surround)


Crysis 2


With Ultra detail settings enabled, Crysis 2 becomes an impressive looking game but when paired up with the High Res Texture Pack it also eats up a ton of GPU resources. The average framerates between the 1.5GB and 3GB cards isn’t all that dissimilar but the real story here is the minimum framerates. There are several scenes within our benchmarking sequence which display volumetric particle effects alongside explosions and they cause the GTX 580 1.5GB SLI setup to stagger along. Meanwhile, the dual 3GB cards take a significantly smaller hit.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution



Deus Ex with both MLAA and FXAA enabled isn’t a particularly demanding game and doesn’t exhibit any type of memory bottleneck. This leads to the GTX 580 3GB falling back due to its higher latency memory modules.


Dirt 3


The GTX 580 3GB SLI configuration once again falls behind the reference cards for the same reasons as Deus Ex: the game engine itself just doesn’t require a massive amount of resources to run at high resolutions with AA enabled.


Metro 2033


Metro 2033 has been our perennial GPU widow maker ever since it was released and it still poses a challenge for one of the most powerful systems currently available. Even with $1000 worth of graphics horsepower rendering away, two reference GTX 580 cards just can’t keep up with this game’s demands. The dual GTX 580 3GB setup on the other hand provided reasonable –yet vastly improved- framerates.


Shogun 2: Total War


Back when we first looked at the performance of graphics cards in Shogun 2, we found an issue which caused GPU memory demands to spiral out of control. This was luckily corrected in a patch about two months ago but as you can see above, memory bandwidth still plays a huge part in this game’s performance. As such, the 3GB card is able to steamroll its sibling.


The Witcher 2


Believe it or not, even with a pair of GTX 580 3GB cards, we weren’t able to enable The Witcher 2’s Ubersampling features. Nonetheless, the demands of the Ultra preset (sans Ubersampling) allowed the 3GB setup to edge ahead once again.


With an eye towards overall performance in these scenarios, it looks like the GTX 580 3GB may be the way to go if you plan on running a multi monitor surround setup. There are quite a few instances where the additional bandwidth provided by these cards allowed for a significant improvement in framerates but this eye opening performance does come with a small catch If (and only if) there’s a memory bottleneck, a high end card with a large amount of memory tends to perform much better than its reference-based sibling. But if performance isn’t bandwidth limited, expect any additional onboard memory to actually hold the card’s performance back due to latency, controller overhead and a long list of other pitfalls.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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GTX 580 vs GTX 580 3GB (3D Vision Surround)

GTX 580 vs GTX 580 3GB (3D Vision Surround)


Crysis 2


When 3D Vision was enabled in Crysis 2, we had to turn down the detail settings to a more reasonable level which resulted in less memory resources being needed. This allowed the two GTX 580 system configurations to run neck and neck.


Dirt 3


Dirt 3 shows much the same result as the non-stereo 3D test with the reference cards holding a slight lead due to their more efficient memory design. Again, it seems like enabling stereoscopic settings puts more load on the GPU core rather than the memory subsystem.


Metro 2033


This was a shocker for us but when looking at the in-game settings, a result like this was to be expected. With details set to Normal, much of Metro 2033’s high res textures, large shadow maps and other graphical features are massively scaled back, putting much less load on the memory. Unfortunately for the 3GB card, this also means latency becomes a dead weight and drags its results down.


Shogun 2: Total War


The results for Shogun 2 continue to show how memory hungry this game is, particularly in battles with a large number of units.


The Witcher 2


The Witcher 2 proved to be the GTX 580 3GB’s saving grace since the 1.5GB version just couldn’t put up with the increased memory load. However, we did notice that V2.0 seems to have introduced a memory issue when stereoscopic 3D is enabled. In scenes where rain is involved (like our benchmarking sequence) requirements hover around 2.5GB if anything but the lowest settings are used. The impact wasn’t as noticeable with the GTX 580 cards but as we will see in the GTX 570 results, detail settings needed to be scaled back significantly.


Some of you may have been scratching your heads when comparing these results to the ones achieved with a typical Surround setup but there’s a reason why the two different GPU combinations are suddenly performing so close to one another. Simply put, enabling Stereoscopic 3D doesn’t put much additional load upon a graphics card’s memory subsystem. Rather, it is the core which has to put up with the increased stress of rendering two separate images and becomes the bottleneck, leaving the memory to sit around, twiddling its fingers. There are of course some exceptions to this “rule” and allow the GTX 580 3GB to pull slightly ahead of its lower priced sibling.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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GTX 570 vs GTX 570 2.5GB (Surround)

GTX 570 vs GTX 570 2.5GB (Surround)



Crysis 2


Crysis 2 unfortunately starts things off on the wrong foot for the GTX 570 2.5GB. There was an ever so slight improvement in its minimum framerates over the reference version but otherwise, the Extreme preset doesn’t require all that much video memory (about 1.2GB at most) so the 2.5GB solution falls behind due to its higher latency GDDR5 modules. For those of you wondering, upping the setting to Ultra resulted in a slideshow for both cards.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution



The results from our GTX 580 testing are reflected here with the higher capacity card falling by the wayside. Luckily, the performance difference between the two configurations will never be noticed by the end user.


Dirt 3


Again the two different GTX 570 cards return similar framerates in Dirt 3 with the reference version holding a slight lead.


Metro 2033


When anti aliasing is disabled in order to return playable framerates on a GTX 570, even the traditionally GPU hungry Metro 2033 doesn’t seem to care whether your cards have additional memory or not.


Shogun 2: Total War


Finally, a somewhat convincing win for the GTX 570 2.5GB and would you look at that; it’s Shogun 2 again. This game just gobbles up bandwidth and if this is any indication of what’s to come in the DX11 world, additional memory will certainly come in handy.


The Witcher 2


The Witcher 2 is another game that gets a bit of a performance increase when a pair of 2.5GB cards is installed. Unfortunately, the difference here isn’t substantial considering the GTX 570 2.5GB cost is a good 20% more than a reference version


After seeing what a pair of GTX 580 3GB cards could accomplish, we were a bit disappointed in these results but they weren’t wholly unexpected. For the most part, a GTX 570 just can’t take advantage of the additional memory offered by the EVGA card since the underlying architecture becomes a bottleneck long before any bandwidth limitation is reached. While higher instances of anti aliasing may be possible with a GTX 570 2.5GB, we highly doubt gamers will be willing to sacrifice in other areas of graphics quality by needlessly jacking up AA.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
GTX 570 vs GTX 570 2.5GB (3D Vision Surround)

GTX 570 vs GTX 570 2.5GB (3D Vision Surround)


Crysis 2



Dirt 3



Metro 2033



Shogun 2: Total War



The Witcher 2



When adding 3D Vision into the Surround mix, things get a bit confusing for the GTX 570 SLI setup since its results are all over the place and run contrary to many preconceptions. We mentioned on previous pages that Surround and stereo 3D performance hinge upon GPU performance and in some cases memory bandwidth and nowhere is this mantra more obvious than in the charts above.

The additional memory of the 2.5GB card allowed it to soundly beat the standard GTX 570s in Crysis 2 and Metro 2033 as both games’ memory requirements hit the 1.5GB mark, overwhelming the reference card’s available memory allotment. With a maximum of 1.3GB being needed in The Witcher 2 and Shogun 2, the GTX 570 2.5GB didn’t do quite as well but still eked out a narrow win in both cases. Meanwhile, Dirt 3’s stereoscopic needs of only 920MB didn’t even come close to reaching the GTX 570’s bandwidth ceiling so the reference card was able to pull away.
 
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SKYMTL

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Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts


In our previous reviews of graphics cards like the two in this article, the aftermath was usually a foregone conclusion: if the underlying architecture couldn’t handle a certain workload, more memory wouldn’t do a thing to improve performance. While that mantra still holds true in many scenarios, this article’s results have certainly thrown a wrench into some preconceptions.

For the most part games just don’t push today’s GPUs to the point where they’re crying uncle and have to unload massive amounts of information towards the on-chip cache nor does the memory (and its associated controllers) become a bottleneck. On the flip side of that equation, some DX11 current titles like Crysis 2, Shogun 2: Total War and yes even the perennial favorite Metro 2033 can certainly benefit from added GPU memory when played across multiple monitors. Due to the large disparity between results, we’ll distill things down to some basic principles.


When using the GTX 580 SLI setup alongside a multi monitor configuration, we saw the usual seesaw effect from one game to the next. In some cases like Dirt 3 and Deus Ex, there was slight decline in the 3GB card’s framerates due to the higher latency GDDR5 modules used in its design. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this scenario repeated time and again due to the minimal amount of load most titles put on the GPU’s memory subsystem.

On the positive side of things, there are some tangible benefits when running dual GTX 3GB cards in an ultra high resolution setup. The Witcher 2, Crysis 2 and Metro 2033 all received substantial framerate increases and allowed for higher settings to be used. Shogun 2 meanwhile is an absolute memory hog and actually required the GTX 580 3GB setup for higher levels of anti aliasing.

Adding stereoscopic 3D to the mix changed things around a fair bit. Since in-game details and particularly anti aliasing settings had to be lowered, the larger memory allotment couldn’t flex its muscle as often. The one exception to this rule was The Witcher 2 where the 3GB cards ran away with the crown.


The GTX 570 2.5GB’s results tended to run contrary to our experience with the GTX 580 3GB cards and were downright confusing in some cases. Since it was necessary to run the games at lower settings across, the amount of onboard memory couldn’t make a difference in Crysis 2, Deus Ex, Dirt 3 or Metro 2033. In many of these games, using reference cards actually proved to be a better performing option. We did however see the benefits of more bandwidth in Shogun 2 and The Witcher 2 because anti-aliasing could be enabled without an overly negative impact upon framerates.

Adding 3D Vision into the mix didn’t necessarily aid the 2.5GB card’s performance but it was able to walk away with respectable wins. Gains were found in Crysis 2, Metro 2033 and to a lesser extent The Witcher 2 but otherwise there weren’t any noticeable differences between the two different GTX 570 configurations.


Multi monitor setups crave high end GPUs but do they require a ton of onboard memory to deliver optimal results? Unfortunately the answer to that isn’t as straightforward as some may have hoped. If your graphics card has enough processing firepower to feed three monitors, additional bandwidth will certainly make a noticeable difference in some games. But without an underlying foundation of bleeding edge rendering throughput, any memory expansion and its associated monetary cost will simply go to waste.

The performance of graphics cards –be it in multi monitor, stereo 3D or single monitor setups- all comes down to a delicate balancing act. If the core can’t process information fast enough, doubling a card’s memory allotment won’t improve performance. Meanwhile, if bandwidth isn’t sufficient for the GPU’s output, a faster graphics engine will have no effect. As we saw throughout this article, the effectiveness of additional memory all comes down to a combination of in game settings and the GPU’s inherent ability to process rendering information.

The equation above leads us to a simple recommendation: the Zotac GTX 580 3GB is the way to go if you’re building a rig that will be used for Surround, 3D Vision or a combination thereof. It isn’t all that much more expensive than a reference version, comes with a lifetime warranty and can make a huge difference in the playability of certain games. EVGA’s GTX 570 2.5GB on the other hand faces an uphill battle when it comes to justifying a 20% premium over a reference design but it still fared well, particularly during 3D Vision Surround testing.
 
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