Performance Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: Before running a single test, you could get a line relatively easily on how the performance numbers would play out. The MSI N580GTX M2D15D5/OC had the most aggressive GPU and memory settings out of the box and proceeded to rip every benchmark we threw at it with a vengeance. It consistently turned in the highest frame rate in the majority of the tests conducted. Only in a few tests could the dual GPU HD 5970 top its performance. But clearly, the MSI N580GTX was the strongest card in this round up.
Gigabyte's Ultra Durable VGA GTX 580 did well in all the tests, but trailed the other two cards by a small margin. The card really stood out once we fired up the overclocking utility to see how far it could go though. With the limited time we had, we were able to push the N580UD to extreme settings of 1005 MHz core / 1265 MHz memory. That's a significant increase over the overclocks achieved on the other two 580's, and equals the manual overclock we achieved with EVGA's liquid cooled Hydro Copper 2 GTX 580. It's also worth noting the fantastic cooling performance provided by its triple fan design and custom PCB. We're left wondering why Gigabyte decided to incorporate such a modest overclock since it's clear this model has boatloads of OC headroom.
Last but not least, Zotac's Amp! Edition GTX 580 did not disappoint. It routinely produced the second fastest results during testing, usually just one or two frame rates behind MSI's card. It had no problems beating out Gigabyte's N580UD due to its higher factory overclock straight out of the box. In addition, the Amp! Edition performed on par with the M2D15D5/OC in power consumption and temps, but had the lowest GPU overclock of all three GTX 580s. Of course, hitting 925 MHz on the core is definitely nothing to whine about.
The Recommendation: With that tax refund burning a hole in your pocket, we know it's tempting to splurge a little bit. While we can think of better ways to blow $500, enthusiasts will always figure out a justification to upgrade their systems, especially if it involves graphics performance. In this round up, all three cards performed admirably and the differences between them are relatively minimal in most cases. Zotac's Amp! Edition comes with a decent factory overclock and offers its owners a lifetime warranty with registration. At $549, it's considerably more expensive than the competition, but if warranty length is important to you then maybe the extra cost is justified.
The M2D15D5/OC from MSI turned in the highest scores in most of our benchmarks, thanks to its ambitious overclock. And for about the same price as a stock model, this particular card makes a strong option for consideration at $509. If you're looking for the fastest air cooled GTX 580 you can buy, then this is a solid choice.
But if we were to choose one card from this trio as our next upgrade, it would have to be Gigabyte's N580UD. Yes, in every benchmark we ran, it was a tad slower than the MSI and Zotac models. So why does it get the nod? Well, the gaming performance disparity between the cards was negligible in most cases (1 to 3 FPS). And at $504, Gigabyte's card is the least expensive out of the three we looked at, almost matching the current price for stock GTX 580's. Equally important, we suspect many owners would invest the time to overclock their high end graphics card in order to squeeze every ounce of performance out of it. That's precisely where the N580UD excels and its owners will be rewarded. The icing on the cake is the exceptional cooling performance served up by the card's custom PCB and triple fan design. If you're looking to purchase a high end, no compromise video card, we highly recommend the GV-N580UD-15I from Gigabyte.