|ASUS ENGTX480/2DI/1536MD5 GeForce GTX 480|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Friday, 01 October 2010|
Page 3 of 19
Closer Look: ASUS ENGTX480
Up to now, 2010 has been an exciting year for game developers. Microsoft Windows 7 (and updated Windows Vista) introduced gamers to DirectX-11, allowing video games released for the PC platform to look better than ever. DirectX-11 is the leap in video game software development we've been waiting for. Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) is given emphasis in DX11, allowing some of the most detailed computer textures gamers have ever seen. Realistic cracks in mud with definable depth and splintered tree bark make the game more realistic, but they also make new demands on the graphics hardware. This new level of graphical detail requires a new level of computer hardware: DX11-compliant hardware. Tessellation adds a tremendous level of strain on the GPU, making previous graphics hardware virtually obsolete with new DX11 game titles.
The ASUS ENGTX480/2DI/1536MD5 is very similar to the reference design, and retires NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 285 series as the most powerful single-GPU desktop graphics card. Assuming the same double-bay card height and 10.5" long profile, the ASUS GeForce GTX 480 adds a more robust thermal management system with five heatpipes (four are exposed) that transfer heat away from the GF100 GPU to an exposed heatsink surface. Video frame buffer memory specifications change with the GTX 480. The 512-bit memory interface of the GTX 285 is replaced by a 384-bit version, which features 1536MB of GDDR5 vRAM operating at 924/3696 MHz clock and data rates.
Other changes occur in more subtle ways, such as with the device header panel. While keeping to the traditional design used for GeForce 200-series products, the GTX 480 simply replaces the S-Video connection with a more relevant (mini) HDMI 1.3a A/V output. ASUS has retained dual DVI output on their GTX 480, which means that at least two GeForce video cards will be needed for a NVIDIA 3D-Vision Surround functionality. As with past GeForce video cards, the GF100 GPU offers two output 'lanes', so all three output devices cannot operate at once.
The 40nm GPU fabrication process opens the die for more transistors, now increased from 1.4-billion in GT200 GPU present on the GeForce GTX 285 to an astounding 3.2-billion built into the Fermi GF100 GPU used with the ASUS GeForce GTX 480. While the exposed heatsink surface does well-enough to remove a portion of heat from the 700MHz Fermi GPU, the wide exhaust vents begin to expel hot air from the initial system start-up. Additionally, the GF100 Fermi GPU is located closer to the exhaust panel than GT200 was, and although the heatsink and heat-pipes are improved over previous designs the loaded operating temperature runs very warm at full output. We explore operating temperatures later in this article.
NVIDIA designed the GTX 480 for 250 watts Thermal Design Power (TDP), however the 6+8-pin power connections are good for up to 400W on demand. Keep this in mind when shopping for a power supply unit, because NVIDIA recommends a 600W PSU for the GTX 480; although I feel that an 800W PSU would be a safer suggestion for upgrade longevity.
NVIDIA has designed triple-SLI capability for all of their GF100 Fermi video cards: GTX 465, 470, and GTX 480. Technically SLI and triple-SLI are possible, but careful consideration for heat must be given to the GTX 480. Under maximum load using FurMark, the ASUS GTX 480 video card reached 84°C in a 20°C room with no additional cooling assistance from the computer case. Upon close inspection of the printed circuit board (PCB), there's an opening behind the blower fan that allows intake air to be drawn from either side of the unit.
The PCB is a busy place for the GeForce GTX 480. Many of the electronic components have been located to the 'top' side of the PCB, so to better accommodate the fully-grown 530 mm2 GF100 GPU and its 3.2-billion transistors. 480 CUDA cores operate at 1401 MHz, which keeps a firm lead over AMD's 850 MHz Cypress-XT GPU that measures 334 mm2 and fits 2.154-billion transistors.
Over the next several sections, Benchmark Reviews explains our video card test methodology followed by a performance comparison of the ASUS GeForce GTX 480 against several of the most popular graphics accelerators available. The GeForce GTX 480 replaces the DX10 GeForce GTX 285, and directly competes against the DX11 AMD Radeon HD 5870; so we'll be keeping a close eye on comparative performance.