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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 Unveiled
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Date: Jan 15, 2009
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications



One short week ago, NVIDIA unveiled the GeForce GTX 295, and with it reclaimed the overall 3D performance crown from a resurgent AMD. As you may know by now, the dual-GPU powered GeForce GTX 295 features a pair of re-worked GT200 GPUs, manufactured using a more advanced 55nm fabrication process than its 65nm predecessor. Looking at the specifications for the individual GPUs used on the GeForce GTX 295, however, revealed something interesting. You see, the GPUs on the GeForce GTX 295 featured a full complement of 240 shader cores, like the former flagship GTX 280, but they had "only" a 448-bit memory interface. The GeForce GTX 280 had a 512-bit interface.

NVIDIA didn't simply lop off a memory partition to create the GPUs for the GTX 295 though. The 55nm GT200B GPUs are fully capable of utilizing a 512-bit interface. NVIDIA chose to implement a 448-bit memory interface per GPU on the GTX 295 to decrease board complexity, and quite frankly because they didn't need to go any wider to have the fastest graphics card on the market. But that meant the GT200B GPU, as it's implemented on the GTX 295, wasn't being used to its fullest potential. This changes today.

Although the GeForce GTX 285 we'll be showing you here hasn't exactly been a well kept secret, its final specifications and performance have been. As its name implies, the GeForce GTX 285 is a step up from the GTX 280. Just how large of a step up remains to be seen, however. Hopefully, we'll be able to find out in the pages ahead as we take the GeForce GTX 285 for a spin through a complete battery of benchmarks, including some numbers from the just-released hot new game title, Mirror's Edge.

 

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285
Specifications and Features

Fabrication Process
55 nm
Core Clock (texture and ROP units)
648 MHz
Shader Clock (Stream Processors)
1476 MHz
Memory Clock (Clock rate / Data rate)
1242 MHz / 2484 MHz
Total Video Memory
1 GB
Memory Interface
512-bits
Total Memory Bandwidth
159.0 GB/s
Processor Cores
240
ROP Units

32

Texture Filtering Units

80

Texture Filtering Rate
51.8 GigaTexels/sec
Connectors
2 x Dual-Link DVI-I 1 x 7-pin HDTV Out
RAMDACs
400 MHz
Bus Technology
PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor

Dual Slot

Power Connectors
2 x 6-pin
Max Board Power (TDP)
183 watts
GPU Thermal Threshold
105° C



The core GPU technology employed in the GeForce GTX 285, is essentially identical to the GeForce GTX 280, save for the fact that the GT200B GPU used on the 285 is manufactured at 55nm. As such, we won't rehash the same information we've covered in the past in this article. If, however, you'd like to learn more about what the GT200, and GT200B by extension, are made of, be sure to check out our coverage of the original GeForce GTX 280 and GTX 260 launch from June of last year. While you're at it, our coverage of the recently released GeForce GTX 295 is available right here. Reading those two articles will lay all of the foundation necessary to understand what's processing the pixels under the GeForce GTX 285's virtual hood.

As you can see in the list above, the GeForce GTX 285's reference specifications call for a 648MHz core clock and a 1476MHz shader clock, with 1GB of GDDR3 memory running at 1242MHz (2484MHz DDR). The card sports a 512-bit memory interface and at the clocks mentioned here, it offers total memory bandwidth of 159GB/s. The number of shader cores (240), ROP units (32), and texture filtering units (80), remains unchanged from the GeForce GTX 280. Max board power has been reduced to 183 watts, from 236 watts on the 280. And the card needs only a pair of 6-pin PCI Express power feeds.  No 8-pin feeds are necessary.

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Inspecting the GTX 285


The new GeForce GTX 285 looks very much like the GeForce GTX 280 that came before it, save for a few minor differences. For the purposes of this article, we procured a reference GeForce GTX 285 and a full-retail version from EVGA, that also happened to be factory overclocked. 


     

      
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 Reference Card

As you can see, the GeForce GTX 285 has a very similar appearance to the GeForce GTX 280 it will eventually be replacing. There are some differences worth noting, however. The GeForce GTX 285, for example, does not feature a cover over the back side of the PCB like the 280, instead the backside is left exposed. The GTX 285's dual-link DVI outputs and HDTV output are unchanged from the 280, but the 285 has a longer set of ventilation holes alongside the DVI outputs, that run almost the full length of the bracket. There is also a slight curve at the front of the GTX 285's fan shroud where it meets the case bracket, whereas it's perfectly straight on the 280.

Looking at the card, you can see that it is still has a dual-slot form factor, despite the die-shrunk GPU. And a pair of SLI connectors reside along the top edge of the card. Like the GTX 280, the new GeForce GTX 285 supports up to a 3-way SLI configuration. 
 


      

      

      
EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition

The EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition card you see pictured here looks much like the reference card above, expect for the EVGA decals affixed to the fan shroud, but there are some differences to point out with regard its specs.

First, let's get some particulars out of the way. The EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition, is the first retail-ready GTX 285 to arrive in the lab. Like most other EVGA cards, the GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition carries a lifetime warranty. It ships with the usual compliment of accessories including a pair of PCI Express power adapters (both of the 6-pin variety), a DVI-to-VGA adapter, an S/PDIF digital audio pass-through cable, a DVI to HDMI adapter, a driver CD, an EVGA case badge, and a user's manual. There were no games bundled with the card, but EVGA does include a coupon to get a 10% discount on up to 5 games or CUDA enabled applications through the nZone Global website.

The EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition may not have an over the top accessory bundle, but its specifications stand out. Whereas NVIDIA's reference specifications call for a 648MHz core clock and a 1476MHz shader clock, with 1242MHz (2484MHz DDR) memory, EVGA's offering sports a 702MHz core clock, with 1584MHz shaders, and 1323MHz (2646MHz DDR) memory. Those bumps in frequency should give the card a nice boost in performance, especially as resolutions increase.

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Our Test System and 3DMark Vantage

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 an Asus Striker II Extreme motherboard powered by a Core 2 Extreme QX9770 quad-core processor and 4GB of Corsair RAM. The first thing we did when configuring these test system was enter the system BIOS 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 SP1 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 QX9770 (3.2GHz)

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

Radeon HD 4870 1GB
Radeon HD 4850 X2
Radeon HD 4970 X2
GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 OC
GeForce GTX 280 OC
GeForce GTX 285
GeForce GTX 295
EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC

4096MB Corsair DDR3-1333 C7
(4 X 1GB)

Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Western Digital "Raptor" 150GB
(10,000RPM - SATA)


Relevant Software:

Windows Vista Ultimate SP1
DirectX November 2008 Redist

NVIDIA Forceware v180.87
ATI Catalyst v8.12b

Benchmarks Used:
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
Unreal Tournament 3 v1.3*
Crysis v1.21*
Left 4 Dead*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5*
FarCry 2
Fallout 3*
Mirror's Edge

* - Custom Benchmark

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.


According to 3DMark Vantage, the new GeForce GTX 285 is the fastest single-GPU powered card we have ever tested.  The reference GTX 285 bests all of the single-GPU Radeons, and the higher-clocked EVGA SSC Edition simply increases the lead.  Only the dual-GPU powered GTX 295 and Radeon HD 4870 X2 are able to come out ahead. 




Looking at the individual GPU test results, we can see how the overall scores above are reached.  The new GeForce GTX 285 finished just ahead of the GeForce GTX 280 in both tests, and again, only the dual-GPU powered cards were capable of putting up higher framerates in these tests.

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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 and motion blur enabled.

 


At a resolution of 1920x1200 in UT3, all of the cards tested here put up similar framerates, except for the more affordable GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 and Radeon HD 4870 cards which finished somewhat behind the others.  With the resolution cranked up to 2560x1600, however, we see much larger deltas separating the cards, and again the GeForce GTX 285 proved to be the best performing, single-GPU powered card tested.  We should also point out that the EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition with its higher core, shader, and memory clocks was even able to pull ahead of the dual-GPU Radeon HD 4850 X2. 

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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.


 


At the risk of sounding a bit repetitive already, the new GeForce GTX 285 once again proved to be the fastest single-GPU solution in our custom ET: Quake Wars benchmark overall, with only the dual-GPU powered Radeons and GeForce GTX 295 coming out ahead here.

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Crysis v1.21

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Crysis v1.21
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 v1.21 with all of its visual options set to 'Very High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested  A custom demo recorded on the Ice level was used throughout testing.



Although the framerates are much lower, the performance trend in our custom Crysis benchmark is virtually identical to those of ET:QW on the previous page.  The GeForce GTX 285, especially the higher-clocked EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition, was one of the fastest single-GPU solutions, and only the dual-GPU based X2 cards and GTX 295 put up higher scores.  Can it play Crysis?  Yes.

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FarCry 2

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA and No anisotropic enabled concurrently.



FarCry 2 proved to be somewhat of a strong point for the GeForce GTX 285.  Although it wasn't quite able to catch the Radeon HD 4870 X2, it was nipping at its heals--especially at the higher resolution.  The GeForce GTX 285, despite having half the frame buffer memory and only a sinlge GPU, was able to pull ahead of the dual-GPU powered Radeon HD 4850 X2 here when the resolution was cranked up to 2560x1600.

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Fallout 3

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Fallout 3
DirectX Gaming Performance


Fallout 3

Fallout 3 is an action role-playing game released by Bethesda Game Studios. It is the third major game in the Fallout series, and it has received a positive response from critics who have praised its open-ended gameplay and flexible character-leveling system. fallout 3 has been compared to the 2007 game BioShock for its setting and use of elements from mid-twentieth century American culture. We tested the game at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.



Although the GeForce GTX 285 was technically the fastest card here overall, the grouping is so tight it's hardly worth talking about.  Even with Intel's fastest quad-core Core 2 processor available and 4GB of RAM at the heart of our test system, Fallout 3 is still essentially CPU bound at both resolutions with the high-end cards.

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Left 4 Dead

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Left 4 Dead
DirectX Gaming Performance


Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is a co-operative, survival horror, first-person shooter that was developed by Turtle Rock Studios, which was purchased by Valve part-way into development. Like Half Life 2, the game uses the Source engine, however, the visual in L4D are far superior to anything seen in the Half Life universe to date. The game pits four Survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic against hordes of aggressive zombies. We tested the game at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.


 


The GeForce GTX 285 performed very well in our custom Left 4 Dead benchmark.  Here, the single-GPU powered EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition outpaced the dual-GPU powered Radeon HD 4850 X2, and similarly outperformed all of the other single-GPU powered cards as well.  Only the dual-GPU powered GeForce GTX 295 and Radeon HD 4870 X2 were faster.

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Mirror's Edge

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Mirror's Edge
DirectX Gaming Performance


Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge is a first person, action-adventure game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE, or DICE. It is powered by a modified version of the Unreal Engine 3, with the addition of a new lighting system, developed by Illuminate Labs in association with DICE. The game has a realistic, brightly-colored style and differs from most other first-person shooters in that it allows for a wider range of actions and greater freedom of movement. We tested the game using FRAPS (there is no built-in benchmarking tool) at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing enabled and all of the game graphical options set to their highest values.




Please pay careful attention to the graphs above and note that one set of numbers was recorded with PhysX enabled, while the other set had it disabled.  Enabling PhysX within Mirror's Edge on non-PhysX compatible cards, i.e. the Radeons, forces the PhysX effects to be processed on the host CPU.

As you can see in the results above, AMD has a few issues to resolve with this game with the current drivers that are available.  For example, the dual-GPU Radeon HD 4870 X2 performed worse than the single-GPU Radeon HD 4870, presumably due to issues related to CrossFire.  We have sent a note out to ATI to see if they've got a HotFix driver available for Mirror's Edge, but haven't heard back just yet.  If / when a new driver that addresses these issues becomes available, we'll update these numbers as necessary.  For now, the Radeon HD 4870 performs relatively well when PhysX is disabled in Mirror's Edge, but with it turned on, neither of the Radeons produce playable frame rates.

The GeForce cards, however, performed very well in this game.  With PhysX enabled, the GeForce cards were tightly grouped at 1920x1200, but the GTX 295 was able to flex its muscle a bit once the resolution was increased to 2560x1600 where it pulled ahead by about 13%.  With PhysX disabled, much larger deltas separate the GeForce cards, and the GTX 295 finishes well ahead at both resolutions.  Once again though, the EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC was the fastest single-GPU powered card in the lot.

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Power Consumption

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



Our power consumption testing revealed some interesting results.  While idling, the new GeForce GTX 285 consumed the least amount of power...by far...besting the other cards by about 30 - 40 watts.  Under load, however, power consumption jumped considerably and the GTX 285 nearly matched the GeForce GTX 280.  The GTX 285's peak power consumption was also well north of the 1GB Radeon HD 4870's.

Despite the surprisingly high peak power consumption numbers--we expected larger saving due to the die shrink--the GeForce GTX 285 ran relatively cool and its fan never had to spin up to more aggressively manage the heat.  In fact, after hours of testing, the card was only warm to the touch when we pulled it out of the test rig.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

Performance Summary: The new GeForce GTX 285's performance falls right where you'd expect it to--just slightly ahead of the GeForce GTX 280, but behind the flagship GTX 295. Throughout our testing, the reference GeForce GTX 285 performed right about on par with, or barely faster than a GTX 280.  However the higher core, shader, and memory clock frequencies of the EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSE Edition gave it a larger edge in performance over the GTX 280. Overall, the dual-GPU powered Radeon HD 4870 X2 and GeForce GTX 295 are faster and more powerful than the GTX 285 in games that scale well with multi-GPU configurations, but the GeForce GTX 285 is the fastest single-GPU powered graphics card available today, hands down.


 


First, let's be clear. We really like the GeForce GTX 285. Its performance is excellent, its power consumption is lower than the previous generation, especially while idling, and thanks to NVIDIA's efforts PhysX and CUDA support now offer more tangible benefits to end-users than ever before.

The GeForce GTX 285's pricing puts it in somewhat of a tough spot though--at least for now. The EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition we tested here is priced at $439. Lower-clocked reference cards will come in closer to the $399 mark. That puts them in the same range as the Radeon HD 4870 X2, thanks to its recent price cut and about 15% to 20%, higher than current street prices on the GeForce GTX 280. In the current 3D graphics landscape, it's tough to justify the additional investment currently necessary for a GTX 285. This may very well change in the next few weeks, however, so pay attention to pricing if you're in the market for a new graphics card.

Despite the pricing, which is likely to change anyway, the GeForce GTX 285 is a very strong product. As we've mentioned, it's the fastest single-GPU powered solution on the market today and that should make it very attractive to anyone building a new rig, or upgrading from the previous generation.  Finally, we're happy to see NVIDIA continuing to make strides, optimizing their core GPU architecture and executing so well on roadmap releases in their potent 3D Graphics lineup.
 


 

     
  • Fastest Single GPU
  • PhysX and CUDA Support
  • Relatively Quiet
  • 55nm GPU
  • Not Much Faster Than The GTX 280
  • Surprising Peak Power Consumption



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