|Gigabyte GeForce GTX 480 SOC GV-N480SO-15I|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Wednesday, 22 December 2010|
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Gigabyte GTX 480 SOC Conclusion
From a performance standpoint, it seems odd to be criticizing an overclocked GTX 480, just because a couple of GTX 460 cards took their combined strength of 672 CUDA cores and leapt to the top of almost every benchmark. Multi-GPU set-ups are not the right answer for everyone, and as of today, only the new GTX 580 really improves on the performance of the Gigabyte GTX 480 SOC graphics card. I'm thrilled with the cooling solution, due to the noise factor and the aggressive fan profile that keeps the fan speed above 48%, even at idle. All this leads to lower operating temperatures during normal gaming scenarios and also when the system is at rest, or doing 2D tasks. Power requirements are within reason, I think. NVIDIA recommends a 600W PSU for the GTX 480, which is the minimum I would really consider for any modern gaming rig.
The appearance of the Gigabyte GTX 480 SOC video card is very attractive; the Windforce 3x fan shroud gives it an edgy look that implies toughness without the fake styling that often times is used to portray that character trait. The decorative touches are few, and they're subtle and refined; the grayish color of the anodized aluminum shroud doesn't shout at you, either. The blue PCB material is a Gigabyte trademark and it doesn't look out of place, even though the hardcore among us would probably have preferred black. When installed in a typical ATX-style PC case, the fans point down towards the ground and you mostly see the back side of the board, where twelve red LEDs provide a status report on the number of PWM phases in use at the time. They're not so bright that they overpower any other lighting in the case, but they are easy to spot, especially if you have a side window.
The build quality of the Gigabyte GTX480 SOC card was top notch, as it should be at the sharp end of the gaming market. The overall impression of the card was solid, even though the cooler wasn't a rigid block like some other cards. All the open space on the shroud takes away from the rigidity of the assembly. The packaging was high quality and very informative. I was very happy to see that the PC board was clean and free from residue; I've seen too much gunk on video cards lately, leftovers from the wave solder/cleaning process. The power supply used high quality parts, and a great deal of attention was paid to powering all of the sub-systems with localized voltage regulators. The 12-phase VRM section reserved for the GPU is unique to this card and is a definite bonus for ensuring stability in overclocking situations. Gigabyte also employs their GPU GauntletTM sorting process for production of the GV-N480SO-15I, ensuring that the owner is getting all the performance that's intended. No more wondering if you got the golden sample or the duff chip. I do wonder what the "pass rate" is, but I'm sure that is very confidential info that NVIDIA does not want to be released.
The basic features of the GTX 480 SOC are fully comparable with the latest offerings from both camps, plus it includes PhysX Technology, which is a real must-have for some. One of the really unique features of the Gigabyte GTX 480 SOC is the ability to choose from two different BIOS files for startup. The original idea for this feature was to prevent "brain freeze" of the GPU when really extreme cooling methods are used for overclocking competitions. This cold-bug behavior is never encountered in normal use, even with high-end water cooling, so it's clear that Gigabyte has designed this card for the customer looking for extreme performance potential. On the power supply side, GIGABYTE uses five NEC proprietary film capacitors, to give extremely low parasitic inductance and resistance in the final filter section of the GPU and memory power supplies. It takes more than raw processing power to win over today's hard core enthusiast, and this board doesn't hold back on build features.
As of early October 2010, the price for the Gigabyte GV-N480SO-15I GeForce GTX 480 Super Overclock Video Card is $399.99 at my favorite PC component supplier, Newegg. This is at the very low end of the price range for all GTX 480 cards. Of course, the recent introduction of the GTX 580 and especially the GTX 570 have increased the volatility of GTX 480 prices. The extra costs associated with production of this card serve to increase performance, which is exactly where I like to see the money spent. The asking price is no more than the base card from other manufacturers, and there is a Mafia II game included as an incentive at this time. Considering the extra value that this card brings compared to the reference designs, it's actually a bargain. You have to move way up the price ladder to the MSI N480GTX Twin Frozr II at $480 to get away from the reference design which definitely runs hotter and louder than this GTX 480 Super Over Clock edition. The problem with the value proposition on this, and all the other GTX 480 cards, is that a brand new GTX 570 generally matches it in performance and they are currently going for only $350 - $370. They are all bog-standard reference cards at that price, but the new reference design is a big improvement over the previous generation.
I liked this card, despite the fact that it has essentially been replaced by the GTX 570 at a price that is some $50-$70 lower. This card would have been at the top of every category 3-4 months ago, but today it is eclipsed by the latest product refreshes from both AMD and NVIDIA. OTOH, this is the best example of a GTX 480 I've seen to date, even though the MSI product line gives it some competition at higher price points. The out-of-the-box clocks are fantastic, no doubt due to Gigabyte's GPU selection process. I almost always prefer the performance of cooler designs that use an axial fan, and this example is one of the best; it's both quiet and efficient.
For the extreme overclocker, and even the folks who want to run water cooling, the power supply and BIOS features make this a standout video card for bagging the top clocks anywhere you go. For the person who's never going to take the factory cooler off, there are some cheaper alternatives out there today. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 480 Super Overclock card is a viable choice, but only if the special features are needed to meet your special needs. It can't compete directly with the latest GPUs from NVIDIA, and it never will at its current price. I'm actually hoping the prices will bottom out in a month or so and I can pick up a second one for SLI. I told you I liked it, I just don't like the current pricing.
+ Ultra quiet cooling system with aggressive stock fan profile
- The GTX 570 does it all for less
Final Score: 8.70 out of 10.
Recommended: Benchmark Reviews Seal of Approval.