Reviewed: Gigabyte GeForce GTX580 graphics card

November 19th, 2010 · No Comments

For LivDigital Independent News

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

RRP: R 6999

In light of the recent nVidia releases of the GF100 “Fermi” – better known as the GTX470, GTX480 and their brethren – it took us a while to figure out how to approach this article.

Let’s not pull any punches here and state the facts;

  • these cards were hot,
  • they were noisy, and
  • they were power-hungry

They were fast, no doubt about it, but that came with quite a trade-off. AMD’s cards were nearly as fast – or as fast in some cases – and faster in others, with less of everything that was about Fermi. AMD won the first round quite resoundingly.

The GTX460 card was a highlight for nVidia and has been doing well. It’s what Fermi should have been like at the top. Recently, AMD launched the 6800 Series, and these cards are very hard to beat on a price/performance scale.

There’s no doubt that the GeForce 4xx vs Radeon 5xxx/6xxx battle has been a tough one for nVidia.

You can read all about Fermi from our previous review here, as well as here and here

Please welcome: Fermi. Again. And done right

So here is the catch – and it’s quite a difficult one to fathom. This is the card that the GTX480 should have been when it was launched back in March. This is the GF110 though; an evolved GF100. The first change is that nVidia has managed to enable all the shader processors on the GPU, so we are up to the full 512 promised by the original GF100.

The other thing that has been rumored, although never confirmed, is that nVidia were already working on this new core before the GF100 even launched to retail. That’s an interesting rumour – if it turns out to be true.

The GF110 is roughly the same die size, although there are no official figures available. nVidia has had some time to tweak the core; here’s a look at what it has done.

GeForce GTX580

GeForce GTX480

GeForce GTX470

GeForce GTX465

Stream Processors

512sp

480sp

448sp

352sp

Core Clock

772MHz

700MHz

607MHz

607MHz

Shader Clock

1540MHz

1401MHz

1215MHz

1215MHz

Memory Clock

4008MHz GDDR5

3696MHz GDDR5

3348MHz GDDR5

3208MHz GDDR5

Memory Bus

384-Bit

384-Bit

320-Bit

256-Bit

Memory

1,5GB

1,5GB

1,28GB

1GB

Transistors

3 Billion

3 Billion

3 Billion

3 Billion

As you can see, the GF110 has roughly the same number of transistors but with more shader processors, a higher core clock, memory clock, and shader clock.

But let’s not beat about the bush here: the GTX580 is still capable of cooking itself. It is still hot and power-hungry, but it is much more graceful and designed in such a way that the card better handles its attributes.

For the techies among us, the card has three types of transistors:

  • slower, less leaky ones;
  • quicker, more leaky ones, and
  • horribly fast, very leaky ones.

Leaky refers to the electrical leak that generates the heat in the GPU. GF100 only had two types – the first and the last. This contributes to the GTX 580 being able to run cooler than the GTX480.

The GTX580 is also able to better handle FP16 filtering in one pass instead of the two it takes the GTX480. It also has a much improved Z-Cull engine, meaning that pixels that will not be visible will not be rendered, which speeds up rendering performance.

The GTX580 using all 16 shader processor groups also enables and extra 4 texture units. All of this, nVidia says, will provide a 14 percent increase over GTX480 before clock speeds and other factors are taken into account.

Gigabyte GeForce GTX580

The Gigabyte GeForce GTX580 test card follows nVidia’s reference design, which uses the redesigned cooling shroud and blower fan. The shroud has a more

wedge shape which better controls air flow and also has a redesigned blower with a stabilizer ring on the top. Both are firsts for nVidia.

The redesigned card runs cooler and is much quieter than the GTX480 ever was, with nVidia claiming the card is “completely nearly silent”. Quite the play on words, because it should either be completely silent or nearly silent – we’re not sure if it can be both.

Regardless, the card is much quieter and is no longer reminescent of a jet fighter taking off. nVidia still recommends that if you place the GTX580 in SLI, that you leave a gap between the cards, but you are looking at mid to low 30s for idle temps and low 80s for load temps. This is highly dependant on your chassis, but it is within a safer zone.

The actual cooler design has changed greatly thanks to the improvements by nVidia. There are no longer exposed heat pipes, and fingerprint removing exposed heatsink on the card anymore, and we have the fully-enclosed shroud cooler back. This card looks more like a GTX285 and is actually quieter.

The card also used a vapor chamber, which works in a similar fashion to a heat pipe, but is much more effective. This is also a first for nVidia when it comes to reference coolers.

The cards performance is roughly 20 percent higher than the GTX480; this with lower power consumption, less heat and a 10 percent increase in core speed – which is quite an achievement.

This does beg the question: why didn’t nVidia delay Fermi just a little longer to release this instead? The answer is simple in that nVidia needed to have a card they could launch as quickly as possible to combat the AMD threat.

But can it play Crysis?

We are going to run a full battery of tests on the GTX580, with our shiny new review rig.

  • Intel Core i7 950 3.06GHz CPU @ 3.48GHz
  • Intel Smackover DX58SO Motherboard
  • Transcend aXeRAM DDR3-2000 6GB Kit
  • Intel X25 80GB SSD Hard Drive
  • Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit

We have included as many cards as possible to paint the best possible picture of the GTX580 so that you get the best possible outcome. We ran all our benchmarks three times and took an average of the scores.

We must say, however, that Furmark was impossible to run, due to the new power monitoring chips built straight onto the PC board. The card will actively keep an eye out of scenarios where the card is approaching or hitting its envelope and immediately adjust speeds and throttle the cards to prevent damage. There is also a driver bound tweak that looks for Furmark and OCCT and enables the power check chips immediately. This makes it very hard to get accurate reads out of these two applications.

Metro 2033

So here we have Metro 2033. This is one of the titles that could replace Crysis as the benchmark that brings PCs to their knees. Although it’s not quite there; Crysis still has the ability to crush a PC more than Metro.

As you can see, the GTX580 beats just about everything, and makes a good improvement over the GTX480, and blows away the Radeon cards. As a single GPU card it is the quickest out there. The Radeon 5970 is quicker, but that is Dual GPU so take that as it comes. We did not include the SLI figures as we do not have another GTX580 at time of publicatio. But we will update that at a later stage; all we can say is from what we have seen, it is very very fast.

We noticed a limitation on resolutions due to video memory when we moved up to 2560×1600. The GTX 580 has a clear advantage with 1.5GB of memory onboard, and does not battle like the 1GB group does, similar to the GTX480 review.

At 1680×1050, the GTX580 does overtake the HD5970 card. We just thought we would throw that little tidbit into the mix for flavour.

Battleforge (DirectX 11)

We again have used BattleForge for DirectX 11 and the numbers are very interesting. DirectX 11 adds in a few cool features, including tessellation, for one. In English, tessellation makes a cobbled path look more cobbled by making the cobles “pop”. Say that 10 times really fast…

Again, as in the Metro 2033 benchmark, the GTX580 is faster by quite a margin over the GTX480 and is nipping at the heels of the HD5970.

The GTX580 really gets to flex its muscles on this test. The GTX580 is a good step up over the GTX480 and as you will see in the rest of the tests, this pattern repeats itself quite a bit.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

If you remember from our previous review of the GTX480, Stalker started out as a game set in the Chernobyl area years after the accident. Call of Pripyat is the latest game in the series and setting. With some snazzy engine upgrades it looks the business and can strain lesser cards.

This is starting to get quite repetitive if you look at the figures. The GTX580 again beats its single GPU brethren and the Radeon batch. The GTX 580 kills the GTX480 and again approaches the levels of the HD5970 and is extremely close. A Dual GPU GTX580 would be the fastest thing on the planet were it even possibly feasible.

Benchmarks Summary

We don’t want to bore everybody with too many benchmarks. Let’s say that the GTX580 will offer a good boost of the GTX480 and play all the new games out there without a problem. Starcraft 2, Metro 2033, Mafia 2 and the like will all run smooth as butter again, and smoother than the GTX480. A second GTX580 will give these numbers a good solid jump in numbers.

Overall, the GTX580 beats the GTX480 and further trounces the HD5870 in most tests by a good margin and is very very close to the Radeon HD5970 card. Most gamers do not play at 2560×1600. The bulk fit into the 1920×1200, 1920×1080 and 1680×1050 range. At these resolutions the GTX580 is the single GPU king.

Conclusion

So the GTX580 has improved power consumption, improved heat management, better performance and is what Fermi should have been.

So – yes – it is a great card, but we are going to sum it up this way:

The GTX580 is what Fermi should have been the first time around, and the GTX480 is actually a black spot in nVidia’s history, and is reminiscent of the FX5800 of old. The 6800 was the improvement and the GTX480/GTX580 saga is a complete repetition of that.

The Good: The GTX580 is quieter, places less strain on the power supply, draws less energy overall, offers a good performance increase, and with no comparable new cards from AMD thanks to the delayed HD69xx series, is the fastest Single GPU on the planet.

The Bad: The card is expensive, and doesn’t offer that much over the GTX480 to be called a GTX580, as this is not really a next-generation GPU. This should be a GTX485 or GTX490. The card still does not offer more than 2 displays off the single board, and a second board is needed to do this, AMD have nVidia on this one. The GTX580 is not really an upgrade for GTX480 users unless they cannot bear the noise. This is better suited to those looking to updated from the 8000, 9000 or 200 series of nVidia boards.

Our conclusion is that the GTX580 is a very good card on its own merits and deserves its rating of 4.5/5 from us. It offers a good boost in performance with a better handling of power consumption and heat. We will reserve judgment of the King Of The Hill for when the HD6900 Series Launches.

We can only hope that the market becomes more competitive and drives prices down as this can only be good for the consumer.

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