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GeForce GTX 275 and Radeon HD 4890 Round-Up
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Date: Jun 11, 2009
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

The PC world was treated to one of those rare occurrences a few weeks back--a 1-2 punch into the 3D graphics fray from both ATI and NVIDIA. We're talking about the near simultaneous launches of the ATI Radeon HD 4890 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275. Both of their names lead to obvious suggestions about where they fit into their respective families.

With the Radeon HD 4890, one might assume that there was an update made to the venerable HD 4870, and for the most part that assumption would be correct.  Both GPUs share the same number of shader processors, texture units, and ROPs, bit with three million more transistors than the RV770, and hence a larger die, clearly something else was at work here. As most of you probably know by now, the Radeon HD 4890 is based on a new GPU dubbed the RV790 and that the additional transistors along with the inclusion of a decap ring that reduces electromagnetic interference gave AMD the ability to raise clock speeds over the 4870 by about 100MHz, give or take a few MHz depending on the model.

Also, as its name suggests, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 275 fits comfortably into the slot between the GTX 260 and GTX 285 cards, with a price set to match the HD 4890.  All three of these cards are powered, for the most part, by NVIDIA's GT200b GPU, but are equipped with varying number of stream processors, different amounts of memory, and differing memory interface widths and ROP configurations.  At its most basic level, the GTX 275 is a lower power version of the GTX 285, using the same 55nm die at a clock speed of 633MHz while the GTX 285 runs at 648MHz.

With some of the background now covered, we take a look at seven cards, three Radeon HD 4890s and four GeForce GTX 275s, from some of the most prominent names out there.  Which one of these cards deserves your hard-earned dough?  Read on and find out...
 

 Card

 Core Clock

Shader Clock 

 Memory Type and Capacity

 Memory Clock

 Memory Bandwidth

Radeon HD 4890

Diamond Radeon HD 4890 XOC
Diamond Radeon HD 4890 XOC
Current Street Price: $269
 

 925 MHz

 N/A

 1GB GDDR5

1050 MHz    

 134.4 GB/s

HIS Radeon HD 4890 Turbo
HIS Radeon HD 4890 Turbo 
Current Street Price: $230
 

900 MHz

N/A

1GB GDDR5

1000 MHz

128.0 GB/s

XFX Radeon HD 4890 Extreme
XFX Radeon HD 4890 Extreme
Current Street Price: $248
 

875 MHz

N/A

1GB GDDR5

975 MHz

124.8 GB/s

GeForce GTX 275

ASUS ENGTX275
ASUS ENGTX275 
Current Street Price: $268

633 MHz

 1404 MHz

 896MB GDDR3

1134 MHz

127.0 GB/s

EVGA GeForce GTX 275 1792MB
EVGA GeForce GTX 275
Current Street Price: $292
 

633 MHz

1404 MHz

 1792MB GDDR3 

1134 MHz

127.0 GB/s

Gigabyte GV-N275UD-896H
Gigabyte GV-N275UD-896H
Current Street Price: $248
 

633 MHz

1404 MHz

 896MB GDDR3

1200 MHz

134.4 GB/s

MSI N275GTX Twin Frozr OC
MSI N275GTX Twin Frozr OC
Current Street Price: $244
 

666 MHz 

1476 MHz

 896MB GDDR3

1161 MHz

130.0 GB/s 


Now, there's much more to these cards than the basic specifications that we've shown you here.  The chart above is there to show the major difference between the cards, mostly in regards to GPU and memory clock speeds as well as the amounts of memory installed and their respective memory bandwidth.  For a more complete rundown of either the RV790 or GT200b architectures, we recommend checking out some of our previous articles including the launch pieces on both the HD 4890 and GTX 275:

With all that reading out of the way, we're set to take a look at our first cards based on ATI's RV790.

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HD 4890s: Diamond XOC, HIS Turbo, and XFX Extreme




At the heart of each of the Radeon HD 4890 video cards here is the RV790 GPU, packed with 959 million transistors and 800 shader processors.  Default specs call for an 850 MHz core clock, and 1GB of GDDR5 running at 975 MHz (3900 MHz effective).  The improvements over the HD 4870 don't just stop there, however.  With numerous reports of hot running HD 4870 cards, ATI has decided to add an additional heatpipe to the cooler's construction.  All three of the cards we will take a look at use this same cooler, although their core GPU speeds differ.

Diamond HD 4890 - Front    Diamond HD 4890 - Back
Diamond HD 4890 - Box  Diamond HD 4890 - Card  Diamond HD 4890 - Bundle
Diamond Radeon HD 4890 XOC Edition

Diamond's Radeon HD 4980 XOC is the highest clocked card out of the box, with the GPU set at 925 MHz and the memory clocked at 1050 MHz.  Everything about the package screams Radeon red, from the box with a stern-looking Ruby to the PCB and HSF combo to the getting started packet within.  Also included in the box is the user's manual, driver CD, Crossfire Bridge, DVI to VGA adapter, DVI to HDMI adapter, HDTV Component-out cable and S-Video adapter.  Although S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky is featured prominently on the back of the box, no game is actually included.  Perhaps to make up for this, a coupon is included instead offering 50 free downloads of DRM-free songs and a free audiobook.  Did we mention these were all "free"?

The translucent covering over the heatsink allowed us to peek into the innards where we could see the three heatpipes leading away from the GPU into the massive block covering the majority of the face.  The heat radiates out to the fins which are then cooled by airflow from the rear-mounted fan and then warm air is expelled out of the system.  As with all the cards, both Radeon and GeForce, twin connectors are found on the top of the card for CrossFireX and SLI, respectively, as well as two 6-pin power connectors at the other end.


HIS HD 4890 - Front    HIS HD 4890 - Back
HIS HD 4890 - Box  HIS HD 4890 - Card  HIS HD 4890 - Bundle
HIS Radeon HD 4890 Turbo Edition

HIS' Radeon HD 4890 Turbo was up next, and in direct irony to the aforementioned lack of included game, a sticker on the cover of the box indicates that there is, indeed, a copy of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky bundled within.  Another sticker to the right marks this model as the 'Turbo' edition - 900 MHz engine clock and 1000 MHz for the memory (effectively, an even 4Gbps). The box is thin and other than listing some of the salient points of the HD 4890 only has a green shuriken-like graphic on the cover.

Inside, HIS' take on the Radeon HD 4890 looks just like Diamond's, only with their own branded graphic placed on a blue starry background.  Considering the similarity between the HD 4870 and HD 4890 coolers, we were a bit disappointed that HIS hadn't already come up with something a little more their own, such as their customized IceQ 4+ cooler that enhances performance and is also UV sensitive.  We're sure that in their initial push to get a card out there they simply stuck with the reference cooler and will update the line, undoubtedly with even higher speeds.



XFX HD 4890 - Front    XFX HD 4890 - Back
XFX HD 4890 - Box  XFX HD 4890 - Card  XFX HD 4890 - Bundle
XFX Radeon HD 4890 Extreme Edition

XFX's Radeon HD 4890 Extreme Edition showed up in the stoutest package of all - it looks like there's just enough room to carry the card and the accessories and nothing else.  We can actually appreciate it as it not only saves room on our shelves, but cuts down on the unnecessary waste that bigger packages create when it's time to toss the box in the trash.  Red and grey metallic themes run throughout the package with minor call-outs regarding their 5-Star Support and the 1GB of GDDR5 memory.  Two additional decals also point out that this card is XFX's Extreme Edition and comes with a copy of Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. in it (which we then turned around and used for benchmarking purposes).

Extreme Edition is something of a misnomer, as the speed boosts are relatively tame: 875 MHz on the core and no change on the memory over reference specs. To be fair, however, XFX does have two models with increased overclocks dubbed XXX and their new Black Edition - complete with a 1GHz GPU.  The bundle that you'll get in any of those packages is the same:  a

DVI-to-VGA Adapter, DVI-to-HDMI Adapter, HDTV Component Adapter, 2 MOLEX to 6-Pin power cables, HDTV Cable, CrossFire bridge, Install and Quick Install guides, drivers CD, and the previously stated full copy of the aerial assault game H.A.W.X. 
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ASUS ENGTX275 and EVGA GeForce GTX 275 1792MB



Much like what we saw and reported with the HD 4890s, three of the four GeForce GTX 275s in our round-up look almost exactly the same.  The Gigabyte, ASUS, and EVGA branded cards are all using the same stock cooler and fan, and clock in at the default speeds of 633 MHz for the GPU, 1404 MHz for the shader cores, and 1134MHz for the GDDR3 (2268MHz effective).  There is, as they say, more than meets the eye with each of these models, however.

ASUS GTX 275 - Front    ASUS GTX 275 - Back
ASUS GTX 275 - Box  ASUS GTX 275 - Card  ASUS GTX 275 - Bundle
ASUS ENGTX275 GeForce GTX 275


ASUS' ENGTX275 was shipped to us in a box that at once gives you the impression of the true length of the GTX 275 packaged within.  A fully armored knight astride his equally armored horse reflects the message displayed prominently on the cover: this card is equipped with "Ultimate Armaments".  These "armaments" include an EMI shield that reduces EMI interference for more stable signals, covered chokes and low RDS(on) MOSFETs that guarantee more power efficiency and less heat generation, and finally solid capacitors that not only reduce power loss, but the construction of which should result in longer usage under both normal and extreme conditions.

In addition to all of the above, the ENGTX275 is the first ASUS card to feature device-Fuse protection, helping eliminate any chance of excessive or dangerous rises in temperatures in the card's conductors.  Should any of the three over-current controllers malfunction, one of the three fuses present on the circuit board would "break", thus interrupting the flow of the electrical current.  So, while the exterior looks quite familiar (other than the same warrior graphic used on the decal), Asus does put their own spin on things.  Completing the package, ASUS has included two discs, one with the drivers and another containing a multi-language manual as a backup to the written version.  There is also a brief on using the HDMI and S/PDIF connectors that come in the bundle, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a TV-out cable, as well as a dual Molex to single 6-pin PCI Express power adapter.
 

EVGA GTX 275 - Front    EVGA GTX 275 - Back
EVGA GTX 275 - Box  EVGA GTX 275 - Card  EVGA GTX 275 - Bundle
EVGA GeForce GTX 275 1792MB

EVGA ships all four versions of their GTX 275 cards in relatively similar packaging.  As such, one needs to look closely at the details and the price tag to ensure they are getting the expected variant.  They include a plain vanilla version, a slight overclock in the Superclocked model, a much better overclock in their FTW release, and finally a double-sized frame buffer model, increasing the onboard memory to 1792MB.   This is the model we received for testing.  The card, like the box, is primarily done up in black, from the PCB to the shroud with a piston-like graphic on it and a red plastic inlay along the top.  The red plastic doesn't appear to serve any other function other than to be an eye-catcher, as this is the edge that would be facing outward in an open-windowed chassis.  A company logo stylized "e" finds its way to the top of the fan, but otherwise we're looking at another stock cooler.

Theoretically, the extra memory should help at higher resolutions when additional pixel processing is enabled, and since this extra memory comes at an increased price, we will definitely be keeping an eye on overall performance.  We wrap up our look at the EVGA GTX 275 with a review of the package contents; Full installation and quick installation guides, a drivers CD, DVI-to-VGA adapter, and two MOLEX to PCI-E power cables.  There's a S/PDIF audio cable included, but oddly no HDMI adapter to go along with it.  Although no game is included, per se, there is a special bonus included in the form of a coupon used to gain a discount on some popular games.  In our box, we found a code good for 20% off a copy of Mirror's Edge, which when combined with the new lower price on the EA Store website (19.95) is a pretty good deal.

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Gigabyte GV-N275UD-896H and MSI GTX 275 Twin Frozr OC



We wrap up our look at the contestants with two more GeForce GTX 275s - one each from Gigabyte and MSI.

Gigabyte GTX 275 - Front    Gigabyte GTX 275 - Back
Gigabyte GTX 275 - Box  Gigabyte GTX 275 - Card  Gigabyte GTX 275 - Bundle
Gigabyte GV-N275UD-896H GeForce GTX 275


Similar in many aspects to the ASUS ENGTX275, the Gigabyte GV-N275UD-896H looks plain-jane on the outside, but the components that go into the build are what Gigabyte calls their Ultra Durable VGA technology.  Cleverly hidden in the robot image on the cover, Ultra Durable VGA consists of Gigabyte using 2oz. copper layers in their PCB, Japanese Solid capacitors, Lower RDS(on) MOSFETs, and Ferrite core chokes.  Gigabyte, like ASUS, claims that these top tier components will allow their card to operate at 5-10% lower temperatures than the competition, reduce power loss by 10-30%, and have a 10-30% higher overclocking capability.  We intend on checking into each one of these statements during our benchmarking routine.

The Ultra Durable Robot and Gigabyte logo are the only truly discernable marking on the card, and Gigabyte goes the extra step to cover the SLI bridge as well as cap off each of the ports on the bracket to prevent any incidental damage during shipping. Packaged in with the Gigabyte GV-N275UD-896H are two 6-pin to Molex converters, a DVI-I to VGA adapter, HDMI Cable, User Manual, and a CD-ROM that contains device drivers as well as the very handy application named GamerHUD, which we have used in the past for overclocking and monitoring their video cards.


MSI GTX 275 - Front    MSI GTX 275 - Back
MSI GTX 275 - Box  MSI GTX 275 - Card  MSI GTX 275 - Bundle
MSI GeForce GTX 275 Twin Frozr OC Edition

MSI's Twin Frozr GTX 275 is a breath of fresh air, if you will, as it is the sole card in our round-up to break from the norm.  The NGTX275 is equipped with an intelligent PWM dual-fan design where the fan speeds automatically adjust according to the core temperature of the GPU.  MSI also bills the Twin Frozr as an industry first for graphics cards: using not two or four, but five heatpipes to improve heat dissipation efficiency.  Heat is drawn away from the GPU immediately by the heatpipes, transferred back to the fins which are then cooled by the dual fan setup.  Having two fans not only helps improve cooling efficiency, but also serves as a failsafe, since it is unlikely that both fans would fail at the same time.

The only detraction that we can make about MSI's Twin Frozr is that the fans release the heat directly back into the chassis instead of finding a way to exhaust out the rear.  And the rear of the NGTX275 is actually something to take a quick look at if you're at all into the little things, as MSI has done a little custom work etching the company name into the grill.  Finally getting to end of our summary, we noted that every company seems to have an idea about what a successful bundle consists of.  For MSI, two Quick User's Guides, a drivers CD, DVI and HDMI adapters, and a S/PDIF audio cable mirror what we've seen with the others, and MSI also throws in standard S-Video and Component video cables which just about covers all of the possible output options available nowadays.

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Test Setup and 3DMark Vantage Results

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on an Asus Rampage II Extreme motherboard powered by a Core i7 920 quad-core processor and 3GB of Qimonda DDR3.  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.  We also used "CPU Level Up" in the BIOS to automatically overclock our system to the same level as the Core i7 965 Extreme in order to provide the most computational power we could afford to our suite of graphics cards. Finally, we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use.  The hard drive was formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed and updated to Service Pack 1. With the operating system installed, we installed the latest hotfixes, along with the necessary drivers and benchmark applications.


HotHardware's Test Systems
Intel Powered


Hardware Used:
Core i7 920 (overclocked to 3.2 GHz)

Asus Rampage II Extreme
(Intel X58 Express chipset)

ASUS ENGTX275 GeForce GTX 275
Diamond Radeon HD 4980 XOC
EVGA GeForce GTX 275 1792MB
Gigabyte GV-N275UD-896H GeForce GTX 275
HIS Radeon HD 4890 Turbo
MSI GeForce GTX 275 Twin Frozr OC
XFX Radeon HD 4890 Extreme
Radeon HD 4850
Radeon HD 4870
GeForce GTX 285
GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 OC
GeForce GTS 250

3GB Qimonda DDR3-1066 C7
(3 X 1GB, Triple Channel DDR3)

Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11
(7,200RPM - SATAII - 750GB)


Relevant Software:

Windows Vista Ultimate SP1
DirectX November 2008 Redist

NVIDIA Forceware v182.50
ATI Catalyst v9.4

Benchmarks Used:
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
High Preset - 1680x1050, 2x AA/8x Aniso
Crysis v1.21*
Very High Quality Settings - No AA/No Aniso
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5*
High Quality Settings - 4x AA/16x Aniso
Far Cry 2 v1.02
Very High Quality Settings - 4x AA
Left 4 Dead*
High Quality Settings - 4x AA /16x Aniso
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. (DX10/DX10.1)
High Quality Settings - 4x AA

* - 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 High Quality preset option, which uses a resolution of 1680x1050, with 2x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering.




Although the GeForce GTX 285 rules the roost in both the overall score and GPU Test, MSI's Twin Frozr OC version of the GTX 275 made the best attempt at running it down.  A little over 600 points separates the two in the overall score, and just over two and a half frames per second in the game tests.  Each of the other GTX 275s finds itself in a close battle with the other two with very similar scores across the board.  Interestingly, the double-sized buffer on the EVGA GTX 275 has little positive effect in 3DMark Vantage, with the card actually posting the lowest scores of the four GTX 275s being tested.

At their highest point, the HD 4890 troika barely makes a dent in the mostly NVIDIA controlled landscape.  Even Diamond's super-overclocked XOC card finds it a hard task to keep up with the GTX 260 Core 216, only "winning" one of the four battles.  Our other two HD 4890's are placed directly in relation to their core/memory speeds: HIS, with 900MHz core and 1000MHz memory speeds always in second place with XFX (875/975) bringing up the rear.

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Crysis v1.21

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.

 

While 3DMark Vantage gave the ATI fanbase a reason to pause, Crysis, typically considered one of the hardest benchmarks on GPUs, portrays the HD 4890 in a different light.  It's not exactly a runaway, but the Diamond and HIS HD 4890's ran the highest frame rates at 1280x960, with the XFX model finishing just behind the only overclocked GTX 275 of the bunch.  That advantage seems to slip, however, as we raise the resolution settings.  At 1920x1080, the MSI and Gigabyte cards begin to make up a little ground, although all told the vast majority of both GTX 275s and HD 4890s are running within a half of a frame per second of each other.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5



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.

 

It's a clear victory for the GeForce GTX 275 here: each of our NVIDIA-based entries posted frame rates as high as 20 fps faster than any of the HD 4890s we used.  MSI's Twin Frozr OC lead them all as the extra boost in GPU and memory speeds translates into an extra 3-4 frames over the next nearest card, the EVGA GTX 275.  We also noticed that the advantage that the GTX 275 enjoyed over the HD 4890 is still present at the higher resolutions as well, although it diminished by half by the time we reached 1920x1080.

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Far Cry 2 v1.02

FarCry 2 v1.02
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.

 

Far Cry 2 results were at stark contrast with ET: Quake Wars with no distinctive advantage given in either direction.  The two highest frame rates come, naturally, from the two cards with the highest default clock speeds: the MSI GeForce GTX 275 Twin Frozr OC on the green team, and Diamonds Radeon HD 4890 XOC on the red.  Following those two, the remaining five cards are basically operating on the same level, with a combined delta of less than 2 frames per second.

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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 various resolutions with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.

 

Left 4 Dead benchmarks were also quite close - at least within each camp.  All three Radeons found themselves pushing out just over 159 fps at 1280x960, regardless of their differences in speeds.  With the exception of ASUS ENGTX275, our GeForce GTX 275 quartet improved on the Radeons by close to three frames per second.  This equated to a performance delta of just under 2 percent.  That margin of difference increases this time at the higher resolutions, ultimately topping out at closer to 4 percent when comparing the top-performing HD 4890 card to the top GTX 275.

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Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
DirectX Gaming Performance


Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare video game that takes place during the time of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.  Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 famous aircrafts in both solo and 4-player co-op missions, and take them over real world locations & cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye.  We used the built-in performance test at three resolutions with all quality settings set to High, using the DX10-based engine for the GeForce cards, and DX10.1 libraries for the Radeons.

 

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. gives us an opportunity to compare a GTX 275 using DirectX 10.0 with the Radeon HD 4890 using DX 10.1.  The results, as you can see, are dramatic.  Using the XFX HD 4890 as an example, we ran the initial run at 1280x960 twice, once using DX 10.0 and then again using DX 10.1.  The difference was 15 fps - a 20% increase in frame rates by using the updated version of the API.  It also helped catapult the Radeons from what would have been a second-place finish to the GTX 275 to a healthy lead at all resolutions.

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SLI and Crossfire Testing

Having the sheer number of cards at our disposal begs for some dual and even triple GPU combinations.  Luckily for us, having an Intel X58-based motherboard allows us to run both our GeForce GTX 275s in 3-way SLI and 3 Radeon HD 4890s in CrossFireX - no need for swapping out parts. 

SLI and Crossfire Testing
We've got the extra cards, so why not?

 

Doubling the number of cards has almost but not quite the effect one would expect - the overall performance and frame rates were just under twice the original scores.  With the GeForce GTX 275 already enjoying a comfortable lead with single GPU testing, that margin of difference now becomes nearly double when comparing SLI to Crossfire results.  Adding in a third card to the mix obviously increases performance even further, but to a lesser degree than we saw when adding in the second.
 

Benchmarking Crysis with the same combinations of cards points out that 3-way SLI performance is scaling better than the CrossFireX combo, at least in this game.  Whereas the GTX 275 saw increases of 83% when using 2 cards, and 167% in total when going with 3 GPUs, the Radeon HD 4890 "only" received a 60% boost when running in Crossfire with 2 GPUS, and 94% total gain with three HD 4890s running in tandem.  This might be something that ATI should look at with newer Catalyst drivers, as the multi-GPU advantage when running Crysis is surely in NVIDIA's court.

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Overclocking Results

Overclocking the Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 275
Putting the Pedal To The Metal

After running our cards in two and three GPU combinations, we switched back to single card installations and checked to see how much more performance we could squeeze out of each of our contestants.  We chose RivaTuner as our instrument of choice, which lets us control the GPU and Memory speeds, as well as the Shader clock speeds on the GeForce cards.  RivaTuner also allows us to modify the fan speeds in case the cards started to get a bit too hot.

We would find out quickly that controlling the fan speeds become instrumental in overclocking our GTX 275s.  The fan speeds seemed to be locked in at 40%, regardless of GPU temp, and as we attempted to raise the clock speeds even a little bit we were met with instant crashes.  By cranking up the fan speeds in RivaTuner we were able to move on with our overclocking with the obvious price of much increased noise output.  We found that the ASUS and Gigabyte boards, both of which touted higher quality components, had the tamest overclocks, EVGA came in the middle, and the MSI Twin Frozr OC model - which comes overclocked by default - achieved the highest speeds for all three areas.  Obviously the enhanced cooler on MSI's card helped us in this regard.

As for the Radeons, each of our cards comes with higher clock speeds than reference values, ranging from XFX's 25MHz boost to the core speed to Diamond's heady 75MHz. Using 925MHz as the start off point, since that's where the Diamond HD 4890 XOC is already running, we pushed up the core and memory speeds 5MHz at a time until we reached a point where we could go no further.  And unlike the GeForce cards, the fans on our Radeons dynamically changed speeds according to temps and load conditions.  Once we reached our final stable overclocks, we noticed a strange irony: the lower the original clock speeds that a card had, the higher the final overclocked speed we achieved.  Thus, the XFX HD 4890 which started out as the slowest card wound up with the fastest GPU at the end, nullifying the Diamond HD 4890 XOC's 50MHz advantage.

 

 




We ran through two of the games in our benchmark suite to see what the new clock, memory, and shader speeds would bring to the table.  In ET: Quake Wars, overclocking the Radeons brought them level with the non-overclocked GTX 275s; however, those same GTX 275s were now operating at close to or at the same level of a GTX 285 at their highest speeds.  Far Cry 2 originally had the cards at similar performance levels, but that's slightly skewed as all the Radeons were overclocked by default while only a single GTX 275 had higher than normal speeds.  With the extra headroom afforded to the GTX 275s, they were able to pull away even further from the Radeons when all was said and done.

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Power Consumption and Thermals

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

 

When equipped with a GeForce GTX 275, our system pulled down from 155W to 164W at idle, and then almost double that when under load conditions.  Installing any of the Radeons upped the idle draw to 194W, nearly 30-40W more than the GeForce GTX 275.  Under a full load, however, the total draw was typically slightly less than the GTX 275.

Since we're on the subject of power consumption, which is related to heat, we also made note of the minimum and maximum temperatures recorded by the GPU sensor using HWMonitor.  In general, we saw that the HD 4890s were running nearly 25% hotter than the GTX 275 at idle, but the Radeons were actually somewhat cooler than the GTX 275s under load.  As the majority of the cards are using stock cooling methods, it makes sense that the temperatures are, for the most part, similar save for the MSI GTX 275 Twin Frozr OC.  The twin-fanned cooler used on MSI's card shaved off a few degrees at idle, but did a great job at load, resulting in temps that, like the Radeons, were significantly lower than stock cooled models.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: As you may have already surmised, there is no clear winner here based solely on performance, as the cards traded victories in our benchmarks.  NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 275 romped the Radeon HD 4890 in the synthetic benchmarks, we saw huge wins in ET: Quake Wars, and lesser victories in Left 4 Dead, although the deltas increased as the resolution was raised.  Conversely, the HD 4890 was an ace in H.A.W.X.--at least when using DirectX 10.1--and had a slight lead in our Crysis testing. Far Cry 2 was a dead heat, with the top overclocked models finishing almost completely on par with each other.

 

With the victor varying from game engine to game engine, we turn our eyes next to the extra details.  Both series of cards are priced competitively and make multiple card configurations a very realistic option for more users.  In this category, we would have to lean in the direction of the GeForce GTX 275.  3DMark Vantage results are somewhat skewed in that the overall performance scores heavily favored for the GTX 275, but when we break down the performance increases in multi-GPU configurations as a percentage we see that the cards are scaling on similar levels, with the HD 4890 dropping off just a bit in CrossFireX.  Real world testing paints an entirely different picture, however.  Dual and 3-Way SLI combinations work best with Crysis, completely overcoming any advantage the Radeons might have had during single GPU testing.  A quick look at our results actually has three Radeon HD 4890s running closer to two GTX 275s in SLI.

Of course, not everybody will be going down the multi-GPU path.  So, we must factor in the power and temperature results to get a better picture of everyday operation.  At idle, browsing the web, checking your e-mail, or simply writing up your homework, etc., the GTX 275 consumes far less power than the HD 4890.  In most cases the difference is about 40W or more; much lower than the Radeons.  The GTX 275 also tends to run cooler at idle as well.  Cards like these are more geared for gamers, though, and load conditions are a better indicator of what they will be used for.  Here, under load, the Radeons are running not only cooler, but consuming slightly less power.  The exception to this rule is the MSI NGTX275 Twin Frozr OC, which is ALWAYS running cooler than the others, at idle or under load.  It also uses up the most power, due to the addition of the second fan and its higher clocks, but not exorbitantly so.

As we finally reach the conclusion of this article, we realize that with no clear cut winner emerging from the two camps in terms of performance alone, the final choice of what to buy will probably come down to price, overall value, and, of course, brand preference.  Price-wise, the cards are almost all within a few dollars of $250 with the exception of the 1792MB version from EVGA, which commands a premium for the additional memory at just over $300.  In our experience, that's money not spent wisely as we saw little in return to justify the higher price point.

 
MSI N275GTX Twin Frozr OC

 


Based on all the information that we've gathered, our opinion is that MSI's NGTX275 Twin Frozr OC is the stand-out card from this group.  The card is factory-overclocked, performance was very strong, and its cooler did a much better job than any of the reference models. Temperatures might not have been quite as low as advertised, but they were still lower than any of the other cards that we tested, and the speeds adjust properly to keep noise output low when full power is not a necessity.  Although already running at higher speeds from the factory, we also managed to obtain the highest GPU, Shader, and Memory speeds during our overclocking tests, most likely due in part to that extra cooling.  And somehow, checking the prices, the MSI NGTX275 manages to find itself as one of the best GTX 275 deals out there - currently retailing for ~$245 (after rebate).  All around a fine job by MSI.


     
  • Twin Frozr keeps temps cool
  • Comes pre-overclocked
  • Best overclocker overall
  • Lowest priced GTX 275 of our group

 

  • High power consumption while gaming
  • No games in the bundle
  • No DX 10.1 support

 


Our runner-up, if you will, comes from the red team in the form of HIS' Radeon HD 4890 Turbo.  No, it doesn't come with the highest clock speeds out of the gate - that title is held by Diamond - but with the word out on how well the RV790 overclocks, it's a no-brainer that many would-be buyers will want to overclock their own cards.  HIS' card had plenty of headroom to play with, moving up far beyond the final stable overclock that we achieved with the Diamond HD 4890, with the enhanced performance one might expect.  The current discounted price of this card also makes it one of the least expensive HD 4890's out there to boot (~$215). 

 
HIS Radeon HD 4890 Turbo

 

     
  • Comes overclocked out of the box
  • Lot of headroom for more overclocking
  • Currently one of the least expensive HD 4890s out there

 

  • No custom cooler such as HIS' own IceQ4
  • Not the fastest specs
  • Runs hotter and consumes more power than GTX 275 at idle

 

The Rest of The Pack:
So, where does that leave the rest of the cards? With prices for the majority of the cards each hovering around the mid-250s, and nothing else truly differentiating them performance or otherwise, we'd firmly group them all together as "HotHardware Approved".  Either camp's card will give you the performance you're looking for at a good price. The GeForce GTX 275 and Radeon HD 4890 are both very strong products in their price-range and gamers would be well served by either.  The rest of the equation comes down to cost, features, and your own personal usage model.  Either way, you almost can't go wrong...almost.  
 



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