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Zotac GTX 480 AMP! Edition VideoCard Review
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Date: Aug 17, 2010
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Mathew Miranda
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Introduction

By now, we all know that NVIDIA's flagship GeForce GTX 480 is a powerful graphics card. For most systems, it provides a lot more GPU muscle than is even necessary, but that's OK with us. We're sure there are many enthusiasts out there that consider overkill a good thing. Unfortunately, the card in its reference form is not perfect and has its own set of flaws that might turn off some consumers, namely excessive heat and noise. Roughly $500 is a lot of money to spend on a single PC component. And if a product commands such a high price, any perceived drawbacks can be a tough pill to swallow. Without a doubt, if you happen to have that much disposable income to spend on a video card upgrade, you definitely don't want to make a choice that you may regret later on.

Zotac's GTX 480 AMP! Edition was designed to address some of the issues found in the reference design. One look and it's easy to see that this is an extreme graphics card, made for enthusiasts that want only the best of the best. What makes us say that? With a core frequency of 756MHz, with 1512MHz shaders, and 950MHz memory, this is the fastest GTX 480 on the market currently. The preinstalled, triple slot Zalman VF3000 cooler also makes it one of the largest cards you can buy. Nevertheless, it's obvious to us that Zotac made no compromises in designing this bad boy, which caters to hardcore consumers who won't settle for stock.


Zotac GTX 480 AMP! Edition Video Card

Zotac GTX 480 AMP! Edition
Specifications and Features

Core Clock
756 MHz
Memory Clock
950 / 3800 MHz (Clock Rate / Effective Rate)
Shader Clock
1512 MHz
CUDA Cores
480
Total Memory
1536 MB GDDR5
Memory Interface
384 bit
Memory Bandwidth
182.4 GB/s
Output Connectors
1 x Mini-HDMI, 2 x Dual Link DVI-I connectors
Bus Type
PCI-E 2.0
Form Factor
Triple Slot
Accessories

Mini HDMI to HDMI Adapter
DVI to VGA Adapter
Dual 6-pin PCIe to 8-pin PCIe Power Adapter
Dual Molex to 6-pin PCIe Power Adapter
Supersonic Sled / Design Garage Tech Demo
Driver Disk
Zotac Software Bundle
User Guide
Power Requirements 1 x 6 pin , 1 x 8 pin PCI-E power connectors
Minimum 600 Watt power supply
Dimensions

Height - 4.376 in / 111.15 mm
Length - 10.5 in / 266.7 mm
Weight - 3 lbs
Warranty
Limited Lifetime
Must register within 30 days of purchase
Price
$509




Currently, Newegg lists this video card at $509. We find several reference model GTX 480s in the $449 to $499 range, making Zotac's asking price somewhat competitive, especially considering the factory overclock and upgraded cooling. With this model, Zotac is targeting enthusiasts who desire more performance with less heat and quieter operation, straight out of the box. While this review is filled with benchmark results of the AMP! Edition compared to several high end offerings, the following page takes a closer look at the card to show you exactly what it has to offer.  

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Closer Look

It's common to see video cards featuring aftermarket cooling come along after the initial launch date. Overclocked versions almost always pop up as well. These models give each company a way to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack, since all AIB partners initially release identical reference design cards at launch.



The PCB used on the AMP! Edition GTX 480 is the same one found on the reference design. It measures 10.5" in length, making it one of the longer cards available. It is an inch longer than the GTX 470, which measures 9.5", but is still shorter than the 12" ATI HD 5970.



The top edge of the card features power and SLI connections. Like the reference design, Zotac's AMP! Edition GTX 480 requires two power jacks, one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCI Express connector. Dual SLI connectors enable the use of multi-card gaming, but don't expect to fit more than two of these cards on the same motherboard due to its triple slot form factor. 



Zotac partnered with Zalman and used their VF3000 GPU cooler on the AMP! Edition GTX 480. It worth noting that Zalman makes different models of this cooler for specific products. For example, the VF3000N is compatible with the GTX 285, 280, 275, and 260, while the VF3000A is designed for the HD 5870, 5850, and 5830. The AMP! Edition sports a customized VF3000F made specifically for Fermi models, but features Zotac's black and orange color scheme. The standard VF3000F comes with a green cover instead of the black one you see above.

In many ways, this article is as much a review of the VF3000F as it is Zotac's AMP! Edition GTX 480. The cooler is not widely available yet, but we can imagine there are plenty of GTX 480 owners who want to see just how well it cools the GF100 GPU.


With the cooler removed, the GTX 480 PCB is on full display. For the image above, we left on the memory heatsinks included with the Zalman VF3000F.



The AMP! Edition offers the same dual slot bracket found on the standard GTX 480. You get a mini-HDMI port along with two dual-link DVI connectors. Keep in mind that NVIDIA Surround technology requires two current generation video cards, so don't expect multi-monitor gaming capability from a single card like ATI's Eyefinity technology offers.


The included accessory bundle has everything you need to get up and running quickly. There is a quick start guide, user's manual, driver disk, NVIDIA DX11 demo disk, DVI-to-VGA adapter, and HDMI-to-mini HDMI adapter. The demo disk contains NVIDIA's Supersonic Sled and Design Garage. The only thing missing is an overclocking utility from Zotac, something offered by both EVGA and MSI. 

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Test System and Unigine Heaven 2.0

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: In order to provide comparable results, the graphics cards were installed on the same, high end X58 based test system. The components we used consisted of an EVGA Classified motherboard, Core i7 980X Extreme Edition processor, and 6GB of OCZ Blade memory.

Within the BIOS, we configured the processor to an overclocked speed of 4.38GHz and memory to 1857MHz. We feel these settings will minimize the occurrences of performance bottlenecks during benchmark runs and allow the graphics cards to show their true potential. Furthermore, our Crucial M225 solid state drive entered the testing process with a clean copy of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit installed. Once installation was complete, we fully updated the OS and installed the latest drivers and applications relevant to the review article.

HotHardware's Test System
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 980X Extreme Edition
Overclocked 4.38GHz

EVGA Classified 760 Motherboard
X58 Express Chipset

Zotac Amp Edition GTX 480 1.5GB
XFX HD 5970 Black Edition 2GB
Gigabyte Super OC HD 5870 1GB
EVGA GTX 480 1.5GB

6GB OCZ Blade DDR3-1857
(3 X 2GB) 7-8-7-20 1T


Crucial M225 128GB SSD
Firmware 1916

Display:
Dell 3008WFP LCD Monitor
2560 x 1600 Resolution

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Professional 64bit
NVIDIA GeForce Driver Release 257.21
ATI Catalyst Display Driver 10.7

Benchmarks Used:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Dirt 2
Aliens vs Predator
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat
Just Cause 2
Batman: Arkham Asylum
FarCry2
H.A.W.X.

We put the Zotac GTX 480 Amp Edition against some stiff competition. The comparison group consists of three top end models and should provide a good idea of where Zotac's card fits in. We included a reference design EVGA GTX 480, Gigabyte's Super Overclock HD 5870, and an XFX HD 5970 Black Edition. Of course, we expect the Amp Edition to show a performance bump over the stock GTX 480, but it will be interesting to find out just how much the extra 56MHz provides. In addition, the HD 5970 is widely regarded as the fastest single video card available, and should show a measurable performance lead in some tests.

Keep in mind while looking at our results, we ran benchmarks with every setting as close to being maxed out as possible to see how well the graphics cards could handle them. In most cases, this means anti-aliasing (AA) set to 8x and anisotropic filtering at 16x, at a demanding resolution of 2560 x 1600. Some of the games we use offer higher levels for NVIDIA cards like the GTX 480, but we find 8x AA / 16x aniso to be the max for ATI cards. Textures, shadows, and all other image quality settings were locked in at their highest settings, with V-sync disabled.

Unigine Heaven v2.0 Benchmark
Synthetic DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark v2.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark, when run in DX11 mode, also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), and features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

We couldn't max out all the settings in this particular benchmark due to load it puts on our test cards. In order to avoid slideshow like performance, tessellation and shaders were set to medium and we ran with 4x AA and 8x aniso. As the graph shows, the Zotac Amp Edition falls between the HD 5970 and stock GTX 480 in performance, but the average scores are very close.

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Futuremark 3DMark Vantage


Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DX10 Performance


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 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 1920x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.



The Extreme preset does a good job of taxing all of the cards in our test group. With a score of X10503 3DMarks, the Amp Edition edges out Gigabyte's Super OC HD 5870 and the stock GTX 480 from EVGA. It posted frame rates of 32 FPS and 27 FPS in the GPU tests, with occasional instances of stuttering. The Zotac card, however, was no match for the dual GPU HD 5970 in this test.

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Battlefield: Bad Company 2 - DX11

Battlefield Bad Company 2
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Bad Company 2

Bad Company 2 is a wildly popular first person shooter that is the latest game in the Battlefield series. It features DX11 and can be brutally demanding on graphics cards, especially with eye candy turned up. At 2560 x 1600 and high image quality settings, we used FRAPS to monitor frame rates as we played through a chase scene within the game that featured snow, trees, gunfire, and explosions.



BC2 testing results are similar to the Vantage rankings from the previous page. Zotac's GTX 480 Amp Edition is slower than the HD 5970, but faster than the stock GTX 480 and overclocked HD 5870. We found gameplay to be smooth and stutter free using the Zotac Amp Edition at these particular settings. 

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Dirt 2 - DX11

Dirt 2
DX11 Gaming Performance


Dirt 2

Dirt 2 was released in September 2009 and provides a sequel to the original Colin McRae: Dirt racing game. Codemasters delayed the PC version of Dirt 2 so that they could enhance their Ego engine with DirectX 11 effects. Dirt 2 is also a solid benchmark for multi-core processors since DX11 is designed to take advantage of multi-threaded system architectures.

Here, another benchmark shows the performance one would expect to see from this group of high end graphics cards. The Amp Edition GTX 480 edges out the reference model by a few frames per second and still beats the Gigabyte's overclocked HD 5870. The 5970, however, maintains its lead.

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Aliens vs Predator - DX11

Aliens vs Predator
DX11 Gaming Performance


AvP

Aliens vs Predator is a DX11 title from British developer Rebellion, the same team behind the 1999 original PC game. It brings the war between two of science fiction's most popular characters to the first person shooter gaming world. AvP delivers three single player campaigns and provides unique 3-way multiplayer gaming as well. For our testing, we used the AvP stand alone benchmark using a resolution of 2560 x 1600 and maximum image quality settings.

The pecking order remains unchanged during our Aliens vs Predator testing. But frame rates were pretty low across the board. We recommend turning down image quality settings to reach smoother gameplay at this resolution.  

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat - DX11

S. T. A. L. K. E. R. - Call of Pripyat
DX11 Gaming Performance


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Call of Pripyat is the third game in the STALKER series and throws in DX11 to the mix. This benchmark is based on one of the locations found within the latest game. Testing includes four stages and utilizes various weather conditions, as well as different time of day settings. It offers a number of presets and options, including multiple versions of DirectX, resolutions, antialiasing, etc. SunShafts represents the most graphically challenging stage available. We conducted our testing with DX11 enabled, 2560 x 1600 resolution, and 4x anti-aliasing, and ultra settings.

STALKER is the first game in our test suite to go against the grain. Both GTX 480 videocards beat the HD 5970 by a surprisingly large margin. The GeForce GTX 480's strong suit is DX11 with tessellation, which shows in this benchmark.

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Just Cause 2 - DX10

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called The Dark Tower.  The test results shown here were run at 2560 x 1600 and maximum image settings.

Just Cause 2 proves to be a serious test, even for the high end cards we're testing here. Our testing continues to confirm most of our previous results, as the Zotac Amp Edition fills the gap between the stock GTX 480 and ATI's HD 5970.

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FarCry 2 - DX10

FarCry 2
DX10 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 a built-in demo run recorded in the Ranch Map.  The test results shown here were run at a resolution of 2560 x 1600 and maximum image settings.

FarCry2 is another title that bucks the trend by favoring NVIDIA's GTX 480. At max settings, we find Zotac's card with a substantial performance lead over the HD 5970 and 5870.

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H.A.W.X. - DX10

H. A. W. X.
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


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 and cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye.  We used the built-in performance test at 2560 x 1600 and maximum image quality settings, utilizing DX10.1

With the Amp Edition GTX 480 installed, HAWX offers very smooth game play at maximum settings. We saw a 6% increase over the standard GTX 480, and an 18% gain over the overclocked HD 5870 from Gigabyte.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum - DX9

Batman: Arkham Asylum
DX9 Gaming Performance


Batmat:Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person action game developed by Rocksteady and is arguably the best comic book videogame of all time. Cast as the Dark Knight, you track down the Joker and bring him back to Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. However, the Joker escapes and takes over the asylum filled with hundreds of villains, which you must battle in this dark and creepy world. Gameplay consists of fist fighting, attacking from the shadows, and exploration. We tested the game using the built in benchmark at 2560 x 1600, 8x AA, and very high image settings. For ATI models, we used Catalyst Control Center to apply 8x anti-aliasing. PhsX was disabled for all cards.

Batman is another game that performs much better with NVIDIA hardware installed. Both models of the GTX 480 led the pack in our results. The Amp Edition recorded frame rates of 62 FPS minimum and 89 FPS on average. That's a 13% increase over the HD 5970 from XFX, and an impressive 41% lead over the 5870.  

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Overclocking Performance

 
Overclocking 
Push it to the limit

Overclocking is not an exact science. When it comes to overclocking headroom, every GPU is different. And just because your friend's GTX 480 hit 900MHz doesn't mean that yours will, even using the same settings and other hardware. Many factors can influence what a video card is capable of, starting with unique yield characteristics of each GPU. Other factors may also include complementary components within the system, but we find the primary influence depends on the type of cooling used on the graphics card.





To overclock the GTX 480 Amp Edition, we used Afterburner overclocking utility from MSI. Stability was achieved at an astounding 845MHz core clock and 1025MHz memory frequency. That's a 12% GPU overclock over the rated speed of the Amp Edition video card, and a 20% increase over the reference design.

Magnifying the overclock found on the Amp Edition might seem excessive for some, but taking the time to get every ounce of performance from it can be rewarding. We were able to produce a 14% performance hike with our new settings.

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Power Consumption and Temps

 
Power Consumption and Operating Temperatures
How low can you go?



Now this is surprising. Although Zotac's Amp Edition GTX 480 offers a 56MHz overclock, it actually draws less power than the reference design GTX 480. In fact, we found Zotac's product required 48W less under load conditions than the stock GTX 480 we have on hand.



The cooling power of the triple slot cooler found on the Amp Edition GTX 480 is outstanding. Remarkably, it comes within one degree of matching the temps we recorded for Gigabyte's Super OC HD 5870.  When compared to a the reference design GTX 480, the Amp Edition ran 27 degrees cooler under load and 10 degrees lower during idle. 

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Going into this article, we had a good idea of how the Zotac GTX 480 AMP! Edition would perform. That's because we recently tested a similarly overclocked GTX 480 from EVGA, and the clock speeds of the two cards were very close, a difference of only 4MHz. The results tell us the AMP! Edition offers an 8% performance increase, on average, beyond the reference design GTX 480. Not surprisingly, that's the same percentage we saw in the EVGA article. What we didn't know was how much overclocking headroom the upgraded cooling would allow. After hitting 845MHz on the core during our testing, its clear that the VF3000 cooler from Zalman that Zotac employs in this design, provides significant additional headroom for users interested in pushing this card even further.


Aside from the overclock, the improved cooling performance of the AMP! Edition GTX 480 is what really sets it apart from the reference model. One of the biggest knocks against NVIDIA' s GF100 GPU is its heat production, while ATI HD 5800 cards get praised for relatively lower operating temps. Our testing showed that Zotac's card could match the HD 5870's thermal performance within one degree and eliminated a major disparity between the two cards. Furthermore, we also recorded a drop in power consumption when comparing the AMP! Edition to a stock model.  

Pricing is always part of the decision process, so let's take a look at cost. At $509, the AMP! Edition GTX 480 is one of the pricier GTX 480 cards on the market. Reference 480's are selling for about $449, which gives us a $60 premium for the upgraded cooling and the out-the-box overclock offered by Zotac. Is it worth it? Considering the VF3000 costs roughly $60, we think the price is reasonable. Think about it. If you were to buy a stock GTX 480, along with the Zalman VF3000F (which is not out quite yet), you would be paying the same amount as the AMP! Edition is asking for, except Zotac's product has the cooler pre-installed and the 756MHz clock speed is guaranteed. Of course, its reasonable to expect most standard GTX 480's will be able to hit at least that much, but you never really know how much headroom a particular card will offer. Zotac has taken the guesswork out of the equation, by binning the crop of GTX 480s they have, setting higher frequencies, and installing superior cooling.

High performance enthusiasts should also consider two GTX 460's in SLI. Various performance comparisons show that a couple of 460's outperform a single GTX 480, for roughly the same price. If you can handle the additional noise and heat, its worth looking into.    



To wrap things up, we must admit this card is not for everyone. Its price alone keeps it out of reach for most consumers. In addition, its triple slot form factor might be a deal-breaker for consumers who can't afford to lose an extra expansion slot. But anyone looking to purchase a high end graphics card like the GTX 480 should definitely take note. The AMP! Edition offers considerable advantages over a reference design model. Lower operating temperature is the biggest benefit, by far, followed by measurable performance gains due to the factory overclock and a much quieter sound profile. Zotac also offers customers a lifetime warranty for peace of mind too. With that said, we are definitely impressed by the product overall, and if we were looking to buy a GTX 480 in particular, this is the one to get.

 

 

  • Fastest GTX 480 available
  • Quiet 
  • Run amazingly cool
  • Requires less power than reference GTX 480
  • Lifetime warranty

  • Expensive
  • Triple slot form factor



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