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NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250 Mainstream GPU
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Date: Mar 03, 2009
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Related Info

NVIDIA has gotten a lot of mileage out of their G92 GPU architecture. Starting with the GeForce 8800 GT, which featured a 65nm variant of the G92 GPU, on up through the GeForce 9800 GTX+, which used an updated version manufactured on a more advanced 55nm process.  The G92 GPU has been featured on no less than seven different GeForce branded desktop graphics cards, not to mention the slew of mobile GeForces based on the G92 that are also in production.

Although it has been around for quite some time now, NVIDIA is launching yet another graphics card based on the G92 today, the GeForce GTS 250. The GeForce GTS 250's name suggests it is something new, but it is not entirely different from some previous GeForce 9800 series graphics cards. Instead, what NVIDIA is doing today is using the GeForce GTS 250 launch to align more of their product stack with the new nomenclature introduced with the GeForce GTX series, and to introduce a value-priced G92-based graphics card with a 1GB frame buffer. Take a look...


EVGA GeForce GTS 250

NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250
Specifications and Features


Looking closely at the spec list above, you'll note that the GeForce GTS 250 is a lot like a GeForce 9800 GTX+, just with a larger frame buffer and a new name.  In terms of the underlying technology behind NVIDIA's G92 family of GPUs, as well as detailed explanations on many of their features, we'd suggest perusing a couple of the following HotHardware articles regarding NVIDIA's previous and current GPU architectures:

Our GeForce 8800 GTX launch article goes in depth on NVIDIA's previous generation G80 GPU architecture, which is fundamentally very similar to the G92, save for its wider memory interface, and explains NVIDIA's CUDA GPGPU technology. Also, our GeForce 8800 GT and 8800 GTS 512MB articles cover much of the technology employed in NVIDIA's G92 GPU architecture, and the GPU PhysX Pack Preview details some of the features and capabilities offered by NVIDIA's PhysX physics acceleration technology.

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The GeForce GTS 250, EVGA Style

NVIDIA's is hoping that the GTS and GTX monikers, will ultimately help consumers make easier buying decisions. As it stands today, it can sometimes be confusing when a graphics card has a higher model number, yet a lower price, and usually lower performance. For example, some less informed consumers may think a 9600 GT is a higher-end card than an 8800 GTS or GTX, when it is not. So what NVIDIA wants to do moving forward is use a label to designate a performance segment--in this case GeForce GTX or GeForce GTS--in conjunction with a model number. Cards in the GTX family will offer higher performance than cards in the GTS family, regardless of the model number. NVIDIA used the automobile industry as an example--few ever think a 5-series Bimmer is a lower-end model than 3-series. Think of the GTX as a 5-series and the GTS as the 3-series.


    

    

    

Although it is based on an existing GPU, NVIDIA has done some optimizing to differentiate the GeForce GTS 250, somewhat. The card you see pictured here is an early sample of EVGA's GeForce GTS 250 Superclocked edition. It is representative of a retail product for the most part, except for two things; retail-ready cards will have a dark colored PCB (not green) and they will have HDTV out. The card pictured here does not.

You'll notice in the pictures above, that the GeForce GTS 250 has a much short PCB than the GeForce 9800 GTX+, 9" versus 10.5" to be exact. It also has a new cooler, and required only one PCI Express 6-pin power connector. Changes to the board design have also resulted in lower power consumption (150 watt TDP), hence the ability to eliminate one of the connectors.

Reference GeForce GTX 250 cards call for a 738MHz GPU clock, with 1836MHz shaders, and 1100MHz (2200MHz DDR) memory. Also cards feature a 256-bit memory interface, with 128 processor cores, 16 ROP units, and 64 texture filtering units. The EVGA offering you see here, however, is overclocked at the factory to 770MHz, 1840MHz, and 1123MHz (2246MHz DDR), for its GPU, shaders, and memory respectively. This specific card also sports a full 1GB frame buffer, but 512MB versions will be offered at a lower price point as well.


    

EVGA includes only a basic bundle with the GeForce GTS 250 Superclocked edition. Along with the card, we found a driver CD, which also contained a copy of EVGA excellent Precision overclocking utility, a dual 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCI Express power connector, and a DVI-to-VGA adapter. And that's about it. Clearly this cards is targeted at budget conscious consumers, as is evident by its basic bundle.

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Our Test System and 3DMark Vantage

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
GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 OC
GeForce 9800 GTX+
GeForce GTS 250
EVGA GeForce GTS 250 Superclocked

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 v182.08
ATI Catalyst v9.2

Benchmarks Used:
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
Crysis v1.21*
Left 4 Dead*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5*
FarCry 2

* - 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.




The 3DMark Vantage results show just how closely matched the GeForce 9800 GTX+ and GeForce GTS 250 are with the Radeon HD 4850.  All of the mainstream boards finish within a few points of one another, here.  The results also show the large gap of available performance to be gained by spending a bit more money and opting for a GTX 260 or Radeon HD 4870.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

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.

Our Enemy Territory: Quake Wars results mirror those of 3DMark Vantage on the previous page.  Once again, all of the mainstream cards perform within a couple of frames per second of on another.  And the more expensive Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260 pull out in front by a sizable margin.

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Crysis v1.2

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 deltas are relatively small, our Crysis benchmark begins to show the benefits of the GTS 250's 1GB frame buffer, where NVIDIA's latest offering is able to pull ahead of the technically similar 9800 GTX+ by a little over 10%.

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FarCry 2

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 clearly shows the benefit of the GTS 250's 1GB frame buffer, versus the 512MB frame buffers of the Radeon HD 4850 and 9800 GTX+.  At the lower resolution, all of the mainstream cards perform somewhat similarly, with the GTS 250 finishing out in front of the similarly priced cards (the 4870 and GTX 260 were another story).  With the resolution cranked up to 2560x1600, however, the 1GB GTS 250 significantly outperforms the 512MB 9800 GTX+ or Radeon HD 4850.

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Left 4 Dead

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 GTS 250 slipped past the Radeon HD 4850 by a couple of frames per second in our custom Left 4 Dead benchmark, besting ATI's mainstream offering by a slight margin at both resolutions.  Once again though, the Radeon HD 4870 and the GeForce GTX 260, specifically, offer much more performance for the extra $60 to $70 investment.

Remember to push Boomers back before shooting them.  And don't hog all of the medkits! :)

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Power Consumption

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

NVIDIA was able to shrink the PCB down to 9" with the GeForce GTS 250, and in the process eliminate one of the GeForce 9800 GTX+'s 6-pin supplemental PCI Express power connectors.  That would lead you to believe the GeForce GTS 250 consumes less power than the 9800 GTX+.  And you'd be right.  While both idling and under load, the GeForce GTS 250 consumes about 20 - 45 fewer watts than the older 9800 GTX+.

Since we're on the subject of power consumption, which is related to heat, we should also talk for a moment about the GTS 250's cooler.  Throughout testing, we found the EVGA GeForce GTS 250 Superclocked edition to be very quiet.  Even after extended benchmarking sessions, the card's fan never spun up to full power and remained relatively inaudible over other system components.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The GeForce GTS 250 is very similar to the GeForce 9800 GTX+, and as such, the two cards perform almost identically when the new GTS 250's larger 1GB frame buffer doesn't come into play. At higher-resolutions, when additional pixel processing is employed (like in FarCry 2, for example), the GeForce GTS 250's larger frame buffer allows it to measurably outperform the older GeForce 9800 GTX+. In comparison to the Radeon HD 4850, generally speaking, both cards perform at nearly the same level, with a slight edge going to the GeForce GTS 250.

 

We suspect NVIDIA is going to take some flak from a few members of the tech press, for releasing yet another "new" graphics card based on the aging G92 GPU. And we can certainly understand why. But if you take a step back and look at the GeForce GTS 250 for what it really is, it's an interesting option, considering the current economic climate. The GeForce GTS 250 is smaller and quieter than the GeForce 9800 GTX+ and Radeon HD 4850--although the latter does come in a single-slot form factor. The GTS 250 also uses somewhat less power than its predecessor, it's cheaper, which will then drive the price down of the remaining 9800 GTX+ cards still sitting on store shelves.  It also has double the frame buffer memory--1GB vs. 512MB. For about $149, it's really not a bad deal. And don't forget that NVIDIA's cards offer PhysX and CUDA support, which differentiates their offerings from ATI's currently. We wish NVIDIA had something truly new on tap for this release, but we can't really knock them too hard for releasing a more capable graphics card at a lower price point than its predecessor.

Although the embargo on GeForce GTS 250 information is lifting today to coincide with demos taking place at the CeBIT trade show, expect wide retail availability of cards on or around March 10. 512MB versions of the GeForce GTS 250 (which will be SLI-compatible with existing GeForce 9800 GTX+ cards) have an MSRP of $129, and as we've mentioned the 1GB variant we tested here will sell for about $149. Based on current graphics card pricing, taking recently revealed price drops on Radeon HD 4800 series cards into consideration, the GeForce GTS 250 represents a good value.  Although a 512MB Radeon HD 4870 would be a great alternative if you own a 22" or smaller monitor, that can't hit resolutions above 1920x1200.  It may not be based on a totally new GPU, but if you're on a budget and want a capable graphics card, the GeForce GTS 250 is worth a look. If you can muster the extra coin, however, there's a lot of performance to be gained by investing in a GeForce GTX 260 or 1GB Radeon HD 4870.


     
  • Relatively Inexpensive
  • CUDA and PhysX Support
  • 1GB Frame Buffer
  • Cool and Quiet
  • Relatively Low Power

 

  • Based on "old" G92
  • No New Features
  • Naming Convention May Confuse some buyers

 



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