Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
ASUS MARS II Review: GTX 580 SLI On One PCB
Transparent
Date: Aug 26, 2011
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Transparent
Introduction and Specifications
Asus has never been a company to shy away from offering over-the-top, custom products that command a price premium. Here's proof. Perhaps it’s because the company is large enough, and thus, has the resources to cater to virtually all market segments, big or small. Or perhaps the top brass at Asus just likes inducing slack-jawed stares from PC enthusiasts. Whatever the reason, we hope they keep it up because testing this kind of stuff and showing it to you all is freakin’ fun.

A case-in-point is the Asus MARS II graphics card, which packs a full GeForce GTX 580, dual-GPU SLI configuration onto a single PCB. A quick glance at this monolith should reveal to even the most casual PC users that the MARS II is no ordinary graphics card. Heck, there isn’t a single thing about the Asus MARS II, from its specs, to its sheer size, and its huge price tag, that can be considered mainstream. The MARS II is as over-the-top and as custom as they get and it’s also going to be a limited edition, with only 999 cards slated for production.

Luckily, one of those 999 cards (number 545 to be exact) found its way into the HH labs and we’re able to give you the full scoop on this beast. Specifications and a few pics are below; the full Monty is laid out on the pages ahead.


Yeah, that's a pair of 120mm fans and a triple-slot case bracket.

ASUS MARS II Single-Card GeForce GTX 580 SLI
Specifications & Features
Model MARS II/2DIS/3GD5
Graphics Engine NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 x2
Bus Standard PCI Express 2.0
Video Memory 3GB GDDR5 
Engine Clock 782MHz
Memory Clock 4008MHz (1002MHz GDDR5)
Memory Interface 384-bit x2
D-sub Max. Resolution 2048 x 1536 
DVI Max. Resolution 2560 x 1600 
D-sub Output Yes x 1 (via DVI-to-D-sub adaptor) 
DVI Output Yes x 2 (Native dual link DVI x2) 
HDCP compliant Yes
HDMI Output Yes x 1 (Native HDMI 1.4)
Display Port Yes x 1 (Regular DisplayPort)
Adaptor/Cable Bundled 1x Limited Edition aluminum ID plate
2x 8-pin to 6-pin Power Cable
1x DVI-to-D-sub adaptor
1x Exclusive 12cm SLI bridge
Software Bundled ASUS utilities and drivers; GPU Tweak
Dimension 13 inch x 6.2 inch x2.5 inch(3slot)
Note To have the best cooling performance ASUS ROG MARS II extends the Fan sink to 3 slot, please check your motherboard slot space and Chassis Dimension before Purchasing

ASUS ROG Rampage III Extreme or Rampage III Extreme Black Edition Mainboard is recommended for best Synergy


    
Asus MARS II box and accessory bundle

Before we dive in, dissect the Asus MARS II and evaluate its performance, here’s a look at its packaging and accessory bundle. For the most part, it’s pretty standard fair.  Included with the card are a couple of 8-pin PCI Express power adapters, a DVI-to-VGA adapter (for the insane user who uses a $1500 graphics card with an analog display), a driver and utility CD (with Asus' excellent GPU Tweak tool), a RoG case badge, a speed-setup guide, and an extended length SLI bridge.

In addition to the aforementioned items though, Asus also throws in a couple of noteworthy goodies. First is an aluminum plate that’s individually laser-engraved and sequentially numbered to certify the card’s limited edition status. Second, there are a couple of spacers that Asus calls “PCIe Sustainers”. These spacers adhere to the bottom of the card and rest upon adjacent expansion slots to ensure the MARS II sits perfectly straight and upright in its slot. Why would you need spacers to help keep the card sitting upright? Because the thing weighs over 5lbs. Gigity.

Transparent
The ASUS MARS II Card

Let’s get down to business. As we’ve mentioned, the Asus MARS II packs a full GeForce GTX 580 SLI, dual-GPU configuration onto a single board. Doing so required some significant engineering on Asus’ part to deal with the power and heat requirements of such a configuration. Asus pulled it off though, by equipping the MARS II with a new “SAP”, or Super Alloy Power VRM capable of 600W of power delivery, binning the GPUs, outfitting the GPUs with DirectCU heatsinks, and capping everything off with a pair of 120mm cooling fans.


Asus MARS II Exloded View

The exploded view of the Asus MARS II above shows just how complex a product the card really is. The two large heatsinks rest directly atop each GPU. Memory chips flank three sides of each GPU with the SAP VRM smack dab in the middle. A heavy-duty metal backplane adds some much needed rigidity to the card and protects the entire backside. And a large shroud / fan housing covers the front. We should point out that the two fans on the MARS II are capable of pushing 220CFM. For comparison, the fan on a GTX 590 can move 32CFM.


Asus MARS II PCB

Providing smooth, clean power is paramount for any graphics card, but especially for something as complex as the MARS II. To that end, Asus outfitted the card with a 21-phase VRM comprised of “super alloy” chokes, caps, and M.O.S.F.E.T.s, capped off my Asus’ super-hybrid engine. According to Asus, the SAP VRM “utilizes metals that are highly-magnetic, heat-resistant and anti-corrosive to reduce power loss, enhance durability and achieve cooler operation.” Also part of the SAP VRM is a pair of NEC / Tokin Prodalizers mounted directly behind each GPU. These prodalizers offer high capacitance and low ESR for clean power delivery and they’re placed as close to the GPUs are possible to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

     

    

    

Unlike the dual-GPU GeForce GTX 590, which is clocked much lower than the GTX 580, by going all out on its power delivery circuitry and cooling apparatus, Asus is able to provide a no-compromise (in terms of performance and features) GeForce GTX 580 SLI setup on a single-PCB, that runs at slightly higher stock frequencies than a pair of reference cards. The GPUs on the Asus MARS II are clocked at 782MHz (1564MHz shaders) and its 3GB of Samsung GDDR5 memory at 1002MHz (4008MHz effective). Reference GeForce GTX 580 cards have the same speed memory with GPUs that run at 772MHz.

As you look through the pics, you’ll notice the Asus MARS II requires a trio of 8-pin PCIe supplemental power connectors, for a total power (including the 75W available through a PCIe x16 slot) of 525W (150+150+150+75). To dissipate all the heat generated by a card that can use that much power, the two 120mm fans blow air directly onto the large heatsinks w/ copper heatpipes installed on each GPU. At idle, its fans generate about 21db of noise. When spun up to their max speed, the fans output upwards of 48.5db. Also note that there is a push-button switch right on the MARS II that will immediately run the fans at their maximum speed. Asus put that switch there for extreme overclockers that don’t want to mess around with software to tweak fan speeds.

    

    

    

In case you haven’t noticed up to this point, the Asus MARS II is huge. Really huge. The card measures in at 13” x 6.2” x 2.5”and almost 5.4lbs. It’s three-slots wide and dwarfs the Radeon HD 6990 and GeForce GTX 590. The thing is just plain imposing to look at.

Although it’s very big, Asus did make an effort to gussy up the card quite a bit. The backplate is perforated in a slick chevron pattern, the heatsinks in the front fan shroud mimic those on Asus’ Rampage series motherboards, and there is RoG—Republic of Gamers—messaging throughout. If you look close, you may even see the elongated “G” hiding behind the vents in the case bracket.

The Asus MARS II is a triple-slot solution, so you’ll need a board with enough room to accommodate this behemoth if you plan to get in on the action. On the card’s triple-slot case bracket its dual-DVI outputs, DisplayPort and HDMI outputs are visible. The MARS II does support NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround on its own. Not to mention, two cards can be paired together in a quad-SLI configuration as well. Good God.

Transparent
Test Setup & Unigine Heaven v2.5

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 motherboard powered by a Core i7 980X six-core processor and 6GB of OCZ DDR3-1333 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the 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 (DDR3-1333, CAS 7) and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS and installed the latest DirectX redist, along with the necessary drivers, games, and benchmark applications.

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 980X
(3.3GHz, Six-Core)
Gigabyte EX58-UD5
(Intel X58 Express)

Radeon HD 6990
Radeon HD 6970
GeForce GTX 580
GeForce GTX 590
Asus MARS II

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333
Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX April 2011 Redist
ATI Catalyst v11.8
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers 280.26

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.5
Futuremark 3DMark11
FarCry 2
Just Cause 2
Alien vs. Predator
Metro 2033
Lost Planet 2
F1 2010

Unigine Heaven v2.5 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

Unigine's Heaven Benchmark v2.5 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) It also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

Do you see these two graphs? The ones with the longer bars in attached to the Asus MARS II entry? Get used to 'em, because the Unigine Heaven Benchmark isn't the only one that the Asus MARS II dominated. As you can see, Asus' powerhouse outran both the GeForce GTX 590 and Radeon HD 6990 by a wide margin here.
 

Transparent
Futuremark 3DMark11

Futuremark 3DMark11
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


Futuremark 3DMark11

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and WIndows 7-based systems due to its DirectX 11 requirement, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1080 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

Nothing could touch the Asus MARS II in the 3DMark11 benchmark. While running in AUSUM mode, the Radeon HD 6990 came within a few hundred points, but ultimately the MARS II was still more than 10% faster than the OC'd Radeon and about 18 - 22% faster than the stock 6990 and GTX 590.

Transparent
FarCry 2 Performance

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 enabled.

FarCry 2 was essentially CPU bound at 1920x1200 and all of the high-end, dual-GPU cards finished within a couple of frames per second of one another. At the higher resolution, the MARS II and GeForce GTX 590 distanced themselves from the Radeons and the GTX 590 notched out a victory.

Transparent
Just Cause 2 Performance

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 similarly named 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 Desert Sunrise. The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level.

Talk about a good, old fashioned, butt whoopin'. The Asus MARS II smoked every other card by a wide margin at both resolutions in the Just Cause 2 benchmark. The MARS II's closest competitor--the Radeon HD 6990 AUSUM--still finished about 17FPS behind at the highest resolution we tested.
 

Transparent
Metro 2033 Performance

Metro 2033
DirecX11 Gaming Performance


Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. This title also supports NVIDIA PhysX technology for impressive in-game physics effects. We tested the game resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with adaptive anti-aliasing and in-game image quality options set to their High Quality mode, with DOF effects disabled.

The Asus MARS II finished about 10% ahead of the Radeon HD 6990 AUSUM in the Metro 2033 benchmark, when tested at 1920x1200. With the resolution cranked up to 2560x1600, however, the overclocked Radeon comes surging back and takes the top spot by the slimmest of margins.

Transparent
Lost Planet 2 Performance

Lost Planet 2
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Lost Planet 2

A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX11 mode which makes heavy use of DX11 Tessellation and Displacement mapping and soft shadows. There are also areas of the game that make use of DX11 DirectCompute for things like wave simulation in areas with water. This is one game engine that looks significantly different in DX11 mode when you compare certain environmental elements and character rendering in its DX9 mode versus DX11. We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool and with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.

The Lost Planet 2 benchmark is all about NVIDIA-powered cards, and the MARS II simply stomps its competition here. The card is over 20% faster than the GeForce GTX 590, which itself clearly outpaces the Radeon HD 6990.

Transparent
F1 2010 Performance

F1 2010
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


F1 2010

Though Codemasters still continues to torture us with their ridiculously complicated labyrinth of game menus, we’ve found ourselves coming back to one of their titles for a taste of bleeding-edge DX11 benchmarking. F1 2010 is their latest racing simulation and like Dirt 2, it sports impressive visuals with DX11 support. “Ultra” settings for shadow effects and post processing elements like depth of field then become available to the gamer and in turn, crank up the workload on the graphics subsystem. The game engine also makes use of multi-core processors for higher performance on top-end systems. We tested the game configured with its Ultra graphics options at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600.

F1 2010 favors the Radeon HD 6990 over NVIDIA's flagship GeForce GTX 590, but the Asus MARS II's immense horsepower give it enough concentrated oomph to jump into the lead and outpace even the overclocked Radeon HD 6990.

Transparent
Alien vs. Predator Performance

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion and high-quality shadow features, available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11 related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

Like F1 2010, the Alien vs. Predator benchmark has the Radeon HD 6990 finishing well ahead of the GeForce GTX 590, but even while running in AUSUM mode, the 6990 can't hold back the Asus MARS II's onslaught. Once again, the Asus MARS II is the fastest card of the bunch.

Transparent
Overclocking and Power Consumption

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely power consumption, noise, and overclocking. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while 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 graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

Looking back at the numbers, it should come as no surprise that the Asus MARS II consumed the most power off all of the cards we tested, while idling and while under load. At idle our Asus MARS II-equipped test system consumed 43 more watts that its closest cousin, the GeForce GTX 590. And while under load the test system pulled a whopping 673 watts from the outlet. If you're worried about your carbon footprint, the MARS II is most definitely not for you. This card is extremely power hungry.

Overclocking the Asus MARS II
Asus GPU Tweak In Action


The Asus GPU Tweak Utility

The Asus MARS II includes a copy of the company's excellent GPU Tweak Utility, so we fired it up to do a bit of monitoring and overclocking as well. Asus has informed us that most cards will do 800MHz GPU clocks easily, the majority will do 820MHz, and a smaller number are hitting around 870MHz.  We were easily able to hit 828MHz on the GPUs with a 90+MHz increase to the memory clock as well, but think there was more left in the tank. Unfortunately, we only had a limited time to test the card before cranking out this article, so we couldn't tweak much further. We should note, that while overclocked, the MARS II managed to put up 59.9 FPS in the AvP benchmark at 2560x1600, which was an 7 FPS increase over stock.

Using GPU Tweak, we also monitors temperatures on the MARS II during out benchmarking session. At idle, the card's GPUs typically hovered in the 40'C range and under load they hit 85'C consistently. Thankfully, the MARS II's massive cooler and fans do a good job of dissipating heat becuse the card cooled down rather quickly and even while under load it never got terribly loud. It wasn't quiet by any means under load, but it was definitely quieter than a Radeon HD 6990, to give you a frame a reference.

Transparent
Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Asus made summarizing the MARS II’s performance easy for us. The Asus MARS II is quite simply the fastest single graphics card we have ever tested, bar none. With the exception of Metro 2033 when run at 2560x1600, where the Radeon HD 6990 AUSUM (overclocked mode) finished less than 1 FPS ahead of the Asus MARS II, the MARS II finished ahead of every other card we tested in every benchmark. And in many cases the MARS II is upwards of 20% faster than its nearest competition.


Like Baby, the Asus MARS II Has Back

The Asus MARS II is a lot of things. It’s the fastest, single graphics card money can buy right now. It’s a limited edition product that’s going to cost a serious chunk of change, and it’s a physically imposing beast that uses a lot of power. From a technical standpoint, the Asus MARS II is arguably the most complex graphics card ever released and its specifications put it in a class all its own. The Asus MARS II is extreme in every sense of the word.

The Asus MARS II isn’t for everyone (obviously) though, and it's difficult to justify it's high price. The card’s physical dimensions and power requirements alone will also significantly limit its audience. Couple those factors with the MARS II’s $1499 price tag and you’ll get an idea as to why Asus is only making 999 of these babies. At that price the MARS II is about $750 more expensive than a GeForce GTX 590 and about $600-$660 more expensive than a pair of GeForce GTX 580 cards, which would offer nearly identical performance. Heck, three GTX 580s would be cheaper, use the same number of slot locations, and offer more performance.

If you’re the type of user that would consider the Asus MARS II, however, you probably don’t care about any of those things. If you’ve got the coin and want the fastest graphics card available—no matter the price—the Asus MARS II is it. It may not be a good value and it consumes more power than a truckload of netbooks, but the Asus MARS II is as hot as geek porn can get. Gigity.

  • Great Performance
  • Quiet At Idle
  • Limited Edition
  • 3D Surround From a Single Card
  • Overclockable

  • Simply Huge
  • Can Be Loud Under Load
  • Uses a TON of Power
  • Extremely Expensive

 



Content Property of HotHardware.com