|EVGA GTX 460 SC Superclocked Video Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Saturday, 04 September 2010|
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Closer Look: EVGA GeForce GTX460 SC
The EVGA GeForce GTX460 Superclocked model is physically based on the NVIDIA reference design. The unique graphics are applied via adhesive labels, and they stay with a fairly dark theme that matches up well with the black fan and shroud, and don't go overboard with garish graphics. My personal preferences are right in line with this design style; although I generally prefer more angular treatments, I can't argue with the neat, compact lines on what I call the "Little Black Barchetta."
The first thing I noticed with this video card is the nearly closed construction of the fan shroud. Although it isn't a sealed-off design, it is as close as you can get with a central fan location. A certain amount of air flows out the back end of the card, past the voltage regulator modules and other power supply components. After the GPU itself, these are the things that benefit the most from active cooling. My experience with GDDR5 memory so far, is that it runs awfully cool all by itself, and it doesn't need or benefit from additional cooling. That being said, the central fan does blow a good portion of air down in the direction of the eight DRAM chips arrayed around the perimeter of the GPU.
The fan itself carries the distinctive EVGA logo and is an eleven-blade affair that sits a bit higher than the edges of the shroud. It is a full-fledged PWM controlled design, and the board supports the required 4-wire electrical connection. One of our sharp-eyed readers, while looking at my recent MSI N460GTX Cyclone review, picked up on the fact that the fins on that heatsink face the opposite direction of the fan blade rotation. Here on the reference design, the spiral of the fins matches the fan rotation. Given the completely open design of the MSI, and the relatively closed shroud design shown here, I'm not surprised that the engineers chose different orientations for the fins. My thanks to Stefan for pointing that out. We'll take a look at the underside of the heatsink later, and show you some more differences.
The power section features a dense array of state-of-the-art components: solid polymer capacitors, solid construction of the surface-mounted chokes, and on the back side of the board are tantalum capacitors, mounted right next to the GPU. Their small size, high capacity, and low profile are particularly useful in this demanding application. The VRM implementation is a three-phase design and uses discrete MOSFETs for all three positions: Low side, High side and Driver. The DRAM power section on the left uses a similar discrete design, but only a single phase.
The first two power supply chokes, mounted right at the PCI-E power connectors, are open frame units with a lower inductance than the units seen downstream in the current flow. Their purpose here is really to filter out very high frequency noise and transients at the input to the card. The downstream chokes are there to convert a couple million square waves into a very close approximation of direct current (DC), so they have a higher inductance and smaller gauge wire.
The board is fed from two 6-pin PCI-E power connectors exiting the rear of the fairly short card. There should be no problems fitting this card, and its connectors, in any standard ATX style chassis. The 6-pin PCI-E connection is highly underrated, at 75W each. The real capacity of a 6-pin connector is at least 100W, so there is approximately 275 W available from the standard connector arrangement (including the X16 PCI Express connector on the motherboard), well above the card's rated 160W maximum requirement.
The PC board had excellent solder quality and precise component placement, as can be seen here. The component placement is quite good; this is the area on the back side of the board, directly below the GPU, and is one of the most crowded sections. On my LCD screen, this image is magnified 20X, compared to what the naked eye sees. The small SMD resistors located side-by-side in this view are placed on 1mm centers. This is one of the most critical sections of the PCB for build quality, as variations in stray capacitance here could impact the performance of the GPU, and certainly its overclocking ability.
This board was also much cleaner than several samples I've looked at recently. There were some very minor traces of residue in a few places, but the comparison was like night and day. Once you start looking at macro photographs like this, there's no place for any manufacturing shortcuts to hide. All manufacturers are under intense pressure to minimize the environmental impact of their operations, and cleaning processes have historically produced some of the most toxic industrial waste streams. The combination of eco-friendly solvents, lead-free solder, and smaller SMD components have made cleaning of electronic assemblies much more difficult than it used to be.
The layout on the front and back of the printed circuit board is identical to the NVIDIA reference card. It's a fairly simple design, and there are fewer components mounted on the back side than on a full-bore high end card. The only interesting things mounted on the rear of the board are several tantalum capacitors near the GPU, and the main PWM controller IC. The GPU cooler is mounted with four spring-loaded screws, along with the aid of a skeleton back plate. There are no additional cooling considerations for any of the power supply components or the GDDR5 RAM chips. However, all of them benefit somewhat from the airflow of the centrally located cooling fan.
What I like about this card is how it does so much with so little. It's a simple design, without a lot of excess, whiz-bang components, yet it dares to compete with some pretty sophisticated Cypress and Fermi-based products. It's relatively compact, runs cool and doesn't use as much power as its competitors. It's all down to the design of the GF104 GPU really, which is actually a relief. After the first round of nuclear powered GF100-based cards came out, I was wondering if NVIDIA had completely lost the bubble. Now I know they haven't.
Let's take a more detailed look at some of the components on the board. I did a full tear-down, so we could see everything there is to see...