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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216: EVGA, Zotac
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Date: Sep 16, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure 

In the conclusion of our coverage of the Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 launch, we made this statement, "...dare we say a $300 graphics card represents an excellent value, from a price point perspective? These cards are definitely going to put significant price pressure on NVIDIA's GTX 200 series." At the time, the GeForce GTX 280 and GTX 260 were selling for upwards of $650 and $400 respectively, and ATI's newly released Radeon, which performed somewhat better than the GTX 260, was introduced at "only" $299.

Of course, NVIDIA quickly responded with a hefty round of price cuts that brought the GTX 280's price down considerably and put the GTX 260 and Radeon HD 4870 on roughly equal footing, but it turns out NVIDIA wasn't quite done. Today NVIDIA is introducing an updated GeForce GTX 260 card with more stream processors and texture filtering units than its predecessor. The name of the new GPU is the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216, due to the GPU's allotment of 216 stream processors--up from 192 in the first-gen GeForce GTX 260.

We've got a couple of the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards in-house from EVGA and Zotac, and plan to show you what they're made of on the pages ahead. For now, let's check out the specs and get some of the particulars out of the way.



NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216
Specifications and Features




Above, we have a simple chart detailing the main features and specification of the first-gen GeForce GTX 260 and the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216.  As you can see, not much has changed, at least with respect to the reference specifications.  NVIDIA's reference specs for the two cards are virtually identical, with the only real differences coming in the form of an increased number of stream processors (up from 192 to 216) and texture filtering units (up from 64 to 72).  NVIDIA achieved this feat, not by designing a totally new GPU, but by enabling one more functional block in the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216's existing GT200 GPU.  The GT200 has a total of 10 banks of 24 stream processing units, for a maximum of 240 steam processors (as implemented in the GTX 280).  In the first-gen GTX 260, 8 of these banks were enabled, for a total of 192 stream processors.  But in the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216, nine banks are enabled for a total of 216 stream processors.  And along with the additional bank of stream processors, eight more texture filering units come along with it.

We should note that although the new Core 216 card doesn't have the same GPU configuration, NVIDIA has informed us that the new cards can still be linked with first-gen GeForce GTX 260 cards and operate in SLI mode.  That is probably one of the main reasons for amending the GTX 260 name with the Core 216 moniker instead of giving the card a totally new name, like GeForce GTX 270, for example.

As for the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216's other features and capabilities, they remain essentially unchanged from the original GeForce GTX 260.  For a more complete breakdown of the GT200 GPU at the heart of the GTX 200 series cards, we suggest reading our coverage of the launch from back in June.  In that article, we go more in-depth on the GPU, talk much more about PhsyX and CUDA, and breakdown the architecture in greater detail.
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EVGA and Zotac GTX 260 Cards

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

For the purposes of this article, we got our hands on two GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards, one from EVGA and the other from Zotac, both of which are factory overclocked models that offer higher GPU, shader, and memory frequencies than NVIDIA's reference specifications call for.


  

  
EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked Edition

Save for its Core 216-branded decal on the fan shroud, EVGA's new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked Edition looks essentially identical to the first-gen GeForce GTX 260.  They have the same cooler, PCB, and same dual, dual-link DVI outputs.  The GPU on this card, however, is clocked at 626MHz, with a 1350MHz shader clock, and 896MB of 1053MHz (2106MHz DDR) memory.  The increased number of stream processors in conjunction with the card's higher clock speeds should give it a nice performance boost over the original GeForce GTX 260.  EVGA bundles their card with a user's manual and driver CD, a DVI to VGA adapter, a DVI to HDMI adapter, an SPDIF audio cable for feeding digital audio into the card, and two Molex to 6-pin PCI Express power adapters.  EVGA also includes a copy of their Precision Overclocking Utility and when users register the card, a free copy of 3DMark Vantage Advanced Edition is also made available for download.  We should also note that this card is covered by EVGA's excellent lifetime warranty as well.



  

  
Zotac GeForce GTX 260 AMP^2 Edition

Aesthetically speaking, the Zotac GeForce GTX 260 AMP^2 Edition looks just like the EVGA card above but with a different decal affixed to its fan shroud.  The two cards do have different specifications, however.  Zotac outfits their card with a slightly higher 650MHz GPU clock, with a 1400MHz shader clock, and 1050MHz (2100MHz DDR) memory.  Included in the Zotac GeForce GTX 260 AMP^2 Edition's accessory bundle, we found a similar assortment of items to EVGA's, which included a user's manual and driver CD, a DVI to VGA adapter, a DVI to HDMI adapter, an SPDIF audio cable, and two Molex to 6-pin PCI Express power adapters.  In addition to those items though, Zotac also includes an HD component output dongle, and a full version of the driving game GRiD.  If you haven't seen GRiD in action, do yourself a favor and download the demo--it's a very cool game.  Kudos to Zotac for including it with their card.

As for its other features and specification, the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards pictured here require two 6-pin PCI Express power connectors and have a max power of 182 watts.  Like first-gen GTX 260 cards, they also sport of pair of SLI edge connectors and support two-card and three-way SLI configurations.

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Our Test Systems and 3DMark06

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on either an Asus nForce 790i SLI Ultra based Striker II Extreme motherboard (NVIDIA GPUs) or an X48 based Asus P5E3 Premium (ATI GPUs) powered by a Core 2 Extreme QX6850 quad-core processor and 2GB of low-latency Corsair RAM. The first thing we did when configuring these test systems was enter their respective BIOSes and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS, and installed the latest DX10 redist and various hotfixes, along with the necessary drivers and applications.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Intel and NVIDIA Powered


Hardware Used:
Core 2 Extreme QX6850 (3GHz)

Asus Striker II Extreme
(nForce 790i SLI Ultra chipset)

Asus P5E3 Premium
(X48 Express)

Radeon HD 4850 (2)
Radeon HD 4870 (2)
Radeon HD 4970X2 (2)
GeForce GTX 260 (2)
GeForce GTX 280 (2)
GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 (2)

2048MB Corsair DDR3-1333 C7
(2 X 1GB)

Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Western Digital "Raptor" 74GB
(10,000RPM - SATA)


Relevant Software:

Windows Vista Ultimate SP1
DirectX June 2008 Redist

NVIDIA Forceware v177.92
ATI Catalyst v8.7

Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.0.2
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
Unreal Tournament 3 v1.2*
Crysis v1.2*
Half Life 2: Episode 2*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars*

* - Custom Benchmark

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark06

3DMark06 is a synthetic benchmark, designed to simulate DX9-class game titles. This version differs from the earlier 3Dmark05 in a number of ways, and includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests, but Shader Model 3.0 and HDR tests as well. Some of the assets from 3DMark05 have been re-used, but the scenes are now rendered with much more geometric detail and the shader complexity is vastly increased. Max shader length in 3DMark05 was 96 instructions, while 3DMark06 ups that number to 512. 3DMark06 also employs much more lighting and there is extensive use of soft shadows. With 3DMark06, Futuremark has also updated how the final score is tabulated. In this latest version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.





Considering their clock speed differences (the Zotac GeForce GTX 260 AMP^2 Edition is clocked slightly higher than EVGA's offering), the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards performed just as expected--slightly ahead of the first-gen GTX 260, but just behind the high-end GTX 280.  And the increased horsepower gives the Core 216 cards a larger edge over the Radeon HD 4870.







The same hold true in the multi-GPU SLI vs. CrossFire match up, with one notable exception.  The GTX 260 Core 216 cards once again fall somewhere in between the first-gen GTX 260 and GTX 280, but superior scaling on the part of the Radeon HD 4870 cards give them the edge in the multi-GPU configuration in this benchmark.

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3DMark Vantage

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark Vantage

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which y isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1,920x1,200, with 4x anti-aliasing an 16x anisotropic filtering.





The new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards from EVGA and Zotac performed very well in the 3DMark Vantage benchmark.  Performance was clearly superior to the first-gen GTX 260 and markedly ahead of the Radeon HD 4870.








Things only got better for the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards when running them in an SLI configuration.  In this test, the GTX 260 Core 216 SLI configuration easily outpaced the first-gen GTX 260 cards running in SLI and a pair of Radeon HD 4870 cards running in a CrossFire configuration.

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Half Life 2: Episode 2

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Half Life 2: Episode 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


Half Life 2:
Episode 2

Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life was one of the most successful first person shooters of all time. And courtesy of an updated game engine, gorgeous visuals, and intelligent weapon and level designs, Half Life 2 became just as popular.  Episode 2 - the most recent addition to the franchise - offers a number of visual enhancements including better looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. These tests were run at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.  Color correction and HDR rendering were also enabled in the game engine as well.  We used a custom recorded timedemo to benchmark all cards for these tests.

The Zotac and EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards performed as we expected in our custom Half Life 2: Episode 2 benchmark.  In this test, the Core 216 cards once again clearly outpaced the first-gen GTX 260 and pulled well ahead of the Radeon HD 4870.

 

In the multi-GPU tests, the new GTX 260 Core 216 cards put up some very good scores as well.  However, the Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire configuration was able to pull ahead at 1920x1200.  With the resolution cranked up to 2560x1600 though, the new GeForces came right back and pull well ahead.

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Unreal Tournament 3

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Unreal Tournament 3
DirectX Gaming Performance


Unreal Tournament 3

If you're a long-time PC gamer, the Unreal Tournament franchise should need no introduction.  UT's fast paced action and over the top weapons have been popular for as long as Epic has been making the games.  For these tests, we used the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 3.  The game doesn't have a built-in benchmarking tool, however, so we enlisted the help of FRAPS here.  These tests were run at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with no anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering enabled, but with the UT3's in game graphical options set to their maximum values, with color correction enabled.

The extra stream processors and goosed clocks of the EVGA and Zotac GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards gave them enough added oomph to pull measurably ahead of the Radeon HD 4870 in a single-card configuration, in our custom Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark.



The same held true in the multi-GPU tests.  Here, the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 SLI configuration was only slightly faster than the first-gen GTX 260 cards, and about 3% to 4% faster than the Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire rig.

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Enemy Territory Quake Wars

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance


Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on a radically enhanced version of id's Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many smaller textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

This benchmark chart, like a couple of the others in this article, clearly illustrate what NVIDIA is trying to do with the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216.  As you can see, the first-gen GeForce GTX 260 just barely lost to the Radeon HD 4870 in ETQW.  The new Core 216 cards, however, finished ahead on the 4870.

 

Although the deltas were much different, the same thing plays out in the multi-GPU ETQW tests.  Here, once again, the first-gen GTX 260 SLI rig loses to the Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire rig, but the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 SLI setup finished well ahead.

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Crysis v1.2

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Crysis v1.2
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


Crysis

If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player, FPS smash-hit Crysis, should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine produces some stunning visuals that are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the PC to date.  The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet.  In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is a beast of a game.  We ran the full game patched to v1.2 with all of its visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested  A custom demo recorded on the Island level was used throughout testing.

The new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards performed well in our custom Crysis benchmark.  As expected, the higher clocked Zotac card finished just ahead of EVGA's offering.  And both cards were well out in front of the Radeon HD 4870.


 

The GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 SLI configuration showed much better scaling than the Radeons in the multi-GPU tests, and extended their lead in the Crysis benchmark significantly.

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Power Consumption and Noise

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

We'd like to cover a few final data points before bringing this article to a close. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems were consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the motherboards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

The new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 put up some interesting power consumption numbers.  Although the difference is small, the Core 216 card actually consumed slightly less power then the first-gen GTX 260 while idling.  While under load though, the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 used a few more watts than its older cousin.  In comparison to the Radeon HD 4870, the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards consumed significantly less power while idling and under load.

NVIDIA's new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards also run measurably cooler than the Radeon HD 4870.  We witnessed core GPU temperatures in the mid to upper 60's celsius while idling and around 80 to 85'C under load.  The new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards were also much cooler to the touch than the Radeon HD 4870, although they obviously get quite hot.  We should also note that the coolers on the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards are virtually identical to the first-gen GTX 260, which is to say they are near silent at idle and audible, but not very loud, under load.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Performance Summary: The new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 performed very well throughout out entire battery of benchmarks.  Overall, the GTX 260 Core 216 outperformed the first-gen GeForce GTX 260 in every test--as expected--and outpaced the Radeon HD 4870 in the vast majority of tests as well.  The Zotac card we tested was marginally faster than EVGA's offering due to its slightly higher clock speeds, but the differences were small and could be made up for with some mild overclocking.  In the multi-GPU tests, the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 setup performed better than the Radeon HD 4870 CorssFire setup more often than not, but superior scaling in a couple of tests (3DMark06, HL2 1920x1200) gave the Radeons an edge.



 

It seems NVIDIA has done just what they intended to do with the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216.  By upping the number of stream processors and texture filtering units in the GPU, they were able to increase the card's performance enough to give it a slight advantage over the Radeon HD 4870.  We should reiterate that we tested a couple of factory overclocked cards, however, which give them a performance boost as well, so reference clocked GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards will not have as large of an advantage as we have reported here.  Regardless, we've given you a look at the performance of the retail product, which is obviously what you should be concerned with more than any reference spec.

Reference GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards carry and MSRP of $279, which puts them somewhere in between 512MB and 1GB Radeon HD 4870 cards in terms of price.  First-gen GeForce GTX 260 cards are already selling for about $235 on up (after MIR), so don't expect their prices to drop too much on today's news.  Overclocked cards like the ones we have tested here will be somewhat more expensive, however, with MSRPs in the $299 - $329 range. Cards should be available in retail channels immediately.

It is a very interesting time in the GPU space.  ATI owns the single-card leadership position with the Radeon HD 4870 X2 and has a killer value-priced product in the Radeon HD 4850, while NVIDIA holds the single-GPU leadership position with the GeForce GTX 280 and now surpasses the Radeon HD 4870 in the performance segment with the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216.  NVIDIA also has the added benefit of supporting PhysX and CUDA, while ATI has support for DX 10.1.  Choosing the right graphics card may be daunting for some, but the intense competition as of late has driven prices down considerably, which is undeniably a great thing for consumers.  It is a great time to be in the market for a new graphics card, no matter what your budget and the new GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 underscores that nicely.

 

 

     
  • Great Performance
  • Relatively Cool Running
  • PhysX and CUDA Support
  • SLI with First-Gen GTX 260
  • Good Price
  • Can be somewhat loud
  • No DX 10.1 Support



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