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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 Video Card E-mail
Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards
Written by Olin Coles   
Monday, 16 June 2008
Table of Contents: Page Index
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 Video Card
GT200 GPU: Why Now and What's New?
GeForce GTX 280 Specifications
GTX 280 Features
NVIDIA Hybrid Technology
GeForce GTX 280 Closer Look
Video Card Testing Methodology
3DMark06 Benchmarks
Crysis Benchmark Results
Lightsmark Frame Rates
SupComm: Forged Alliance Results
World in Conflict Benchmarks
GTX 280 Temperatures
GTX 280 Power Consumption
GT200 GPU Final Thoughts
GeForce GTX 280 Conclusion

GeForce GTX 280 Conclusion

When Benchmark Reviews tested the GeForce 9800 GX2, the box-like NVIDIA reference design was not incredibly appealing to me. Apparently I just needed to wait for the 9800 GTX design before I would see curves influence the product appearance. Now that we're launching the GeForce GTX 280, the new king is wearing clothes but they aren't exactly new. While I never really considered the entire pre-G92 GeForce 8800 series to be very attractive as a whole, primarily because of the awkward half-covered products, the GTX 280 has finished what was started. One particular favorite of mine is the tilted blower fan, which corrects the functional flaws of the parallel blower fan found in the 9800 series. Unlike the past generation of products, this GeForce video card does not offer LED lights for cosmetic accents because they are now utilized for functional indication of hardware status.

In the not so distant past I have had to replace my GeForce 8800 GTX because of an errant SATA cable swiped off one of the capacitors. At that moment, I felt that NVIDIA definitely should have done something more to protect the electronics on their product. Unlike the higher-end 8800 series GeForce products, the GTX 280 leave nothing exposed to potential damage to sensitive electronic components. NVIDIA has engineered the GeForce GTX 280 to sustain above-average abuse, which also means you'll have very little change of having to RMA this product because it falls apart on you. The plastic shell covering the GTX 280 will work very well in cramped environments where the video card will be in contact with cables and components, just so long as it can fit.

In regards to performance and functionality, NVIDIA has redefined the graphics card space for single-GPU solutions. Beginning with 240 processor cores, the GeForce GTX 280 is everything that previous products have not been: parallel-computing ready. Without question, the GeForce GTX 280 has earned the top position for NVIDIA's video card product lineup. The core, shader, and memory clocks are at the launch-date reference level, so it might be a short while before drivers are stable enough to gain stable overclocks. Optimized post process compression combined with a future-proof 1024 MB of video frame buffer will make this the must-have card for extreme gamers for the foreseeable future (*see intro). A long-overdue 512-bit memory bus calls upon the PCI-E 2.0 bandwidth opportunities, and opens the design to GDDR4 components as the product line matures. Additionally, full HDMI audio and video output is available for HTPC builds and viewing high definition copyright protected material.

The GT200 GPU is not perfect, however. NVIDIA decided against working towards a DirectX 10.1 capable graphics processor, which may effectively limit the amount of development at the upcoming level. Fortunately, the competition isn't suiting up for DirectX 10.1 either, so perhaps this is all a moot point. In terms of multimedia connectivity, there is no DisplayPort functionality available on the new GTX 280, however AIC partners may be allowed to add this feature as a value-add incentive.

On this lauch day, there are a few eVGA versions of the GTX 280 presently listed at NewEgg for $649, while the similarly powerful GeForce GTX 260 will enter the $399 price point. Some will claim these products have become too expensive, but I am reminded that the GeForce 8800 GTX and GTS launched with very similar price tags almost two years ago. So let's see, count for inflation and a US dollar in decline, then add a 50% graphics performance improvement, 240 compute-ready cores, and a very power efficient architecture, and you might begin to see the value a little more clearly. Helping to blur the line of value is GeForce 9800 GX2, which might not offer the same level of compute power but can play video games at nearly the same level of performance. The least expensive version is presently the PNY 9800 GX2 for $429.99, or you can take advantage of the Step-Up program and get the eVGA 9800 GX2 for $469.99. Either of these would make an excellent gaming alternative, so long as you're willing to miss out on all of the other features.

In summary, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 compute-ready GT200 video card has proved itself to be the long-overdue solution to intensive graphics applications for far too long. To describe performance, you have to think of more than just video game frame rates, because now transcoding, rasterization, and graphics ripping will occur in thin percentiles of the time it previously took. With the power of CUDA technology and the new CUDA runtime for Windows Vista, intensive computational tasks can be offloaded from the CPU to the GPU making this the first GeForce product worthy of Enterprise computing environments.

The GT200 processor is a remarkable achievement that NVIDIA should be proud of, and for once I find myself giving an expensive premium product my highest recommendation; but it's not without some reservations. It's nice that the GTX 200-series offers HDMI video output (via adapter) along with digital audio output through the attached S/PDIF audio cable, but I think that a product of this level should also be looking at native DisplayPort connectivity to fully secure the idea of future-proof hardware. If multimedia transcoding is a selling point, than connecting to the equipment that cutting-edge professionals will be using should be just as important.

With games like Crysis and World in Conflict being replaced later this year, the newest titles are beginning to revolve around features like PhysX and higher post-processing effects. Expect the GTX 280 to shine in upcoming titles like FarCry 2 which uses the Dunia game engine and will place real demand on the 1 GB video frame buffer; even Shadow Harvest and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky should make this product worth while. The future of gaming might let you play the game with an older graphics solution, but it doesn't make any promises on enjoyment. So if you're a competitive hardcore gamer on with an appetite (and disposable income) for the absolute best, NVIDIA's GTX 280 is the only graphics solution you will need to know of. If you're not so extreme, than the GeForce 9800 GX2 still performs just as well.

Pros:Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award

+ Outstanding AA/AF performance from demanding games
+ Supports DirectX 10, OpenGL 2.1, and Shader Model 4
+ 602 MHz GPU/1296 MHz Shader/1107 MHz RAM
+ Parallel Compute ability for CUDA applications and GPU physics
+ Extremely quiet "Smart Fan" under loaded operation
+ Enables NVIDIA HybridPower technology
+ Unprecedented single-GPU performance - matches 9800 GX2
+ Double-precision floating-point support
+ 240 Compute-capable processing cores
+ HDMI Audio and Video supported for HDCP output
+ Contoured enclosure offers improved airflow and cooling
+ 16x Coverage Sampling Antialiasing (CSAA) algorithm
+ Supports triple-SLI functionality
+ Ultra-efficient 65nm GT200 processor
+ 512-bit 12.8 GBps GDDR3 1 GB frame buffer

Cons:

- Cooling improvements would be desirable
- Large footprint full ATX form factor VGA space
- Expensive enthusiast product
- Lacks DisplayPort interface (but may be added by AIC partners)

Ratings:

  • Presentation: N/A (Reference Sample)
  • Appearance: 9.00
  • Construction: 9.75
  • Functionality: 9.75
  • Value: 8.00

Final Score: 9.125 out of 10.

Excellence Achievement: Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award.

Editors Note 06/17/2008: It didn't occur to me until I received two other GTX 280 video cards for testing, but the early reference model NVIDIA offered for testing did not increase fan speed as the load was raised. The fan would operate in low-power mode, which might explain the higher temperatures.

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