Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology
All participating graphics cards were tested in a system with the following configuration:
- Mainboard: Intel Siler DX79SI (Intel X79 Express, LGA 2011, BIOS 0494 from 7/23/2012);
- CPU: Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition, 3.3 GHz, 1.2 V, 6 x 256 KB L2, 15 MB L3 (Sandy Bridge-E, C1, 32 nm);
- CPU cooler: Phanteks PH-TC14PE (2 x 135 mm fans at 900 RPM);
- Thermal interface: ARCTIC MX-4;
- System memory: DDR3 4 x 4GB Mushkin Redline (Spec: 2133 MHz / 9-11-10-28 / 1.65 V);
- System drive: Crucial m4 256 GB SSD (SATA-III,CT256M4SSD2, BIOS v0009);
- Drive for programs and games: Western Digital VelociRaptor (300GB, SATA-II, 10000 RPM, 16MB cache, NCQ) inside Scythe Quiet Drive 3.5” HDD silencer and cooler;
- Backup drive: Samsung Ecogreen F4 HD204UI (SATA-II, 2 TB, 5400 RPM, 32 MB, NCQ);
- System case: Antec Twelve Hundred (front panel: three Noiseblocker NB-Multiframe S-Series MF12-S2 fans at 1020 RPM; back panel: two Noiseblocker NB-BlackSilentPRO PL-1 fans at 1020 RPM; top panel: standard 200 mm fan at 400 RPM);
- Control and monitoring panel: Zalman ZM-MFC3;
- Power supply: Seasonic SS-1000XP Active PFC F3 1000 W (with a default 120 mm fan);
- Monitor: 27” Samsung S27A850D (DVI-I, 2560x1440, 60 Hz).
Besides the above discussed graphics cards we also added five more products to our performance comparison charts. The first one is the reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 2 GB working at 980/6008 MHz frequencies, which will help us estimate the advantages of the factory overclocked products over the standard solution. The second is Asus GeForce GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP 2 GB (TI-DC2T-2GD5), included for comparison against one of the overclocked GeForce GTX 660 graphics cards from our today’s roundup. The third one is Asus GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP 2 GB (GTX680-DC2T-2GD5), which was added for comparison against a pair of GeForce GTX 660 based graphics cards tied together in a 2-way SLI configuration. At last, we also added two more graphics cards on AMD processors, namely Sapphire Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition OC 2 GB and Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC Dual-X 3 GB. I believe no comment is necessary as to why we chose these competitors. I would also like to add that like all other testing participants, the additional graphics cards were also tested at their original clock speeds (with all factory overclocking that is there right from the start):
As usual, in order to lower the dependence of the graphics cards performance on the overall platform speed, I overclocked our 32 nm six-core CPU with the multiplier set at 37x, BCLK frequency set at 125 MHz and “Load-Line Calibration” enabled to 4.625 GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.49 V in the mainboard BIOS:
Hyper-Threading technology was enabled. 16 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 2 GHz frequency with 9-10-10-28 timings and 1.65V voltage.
The test session started on January 3, 2013. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:
- Intel Chipset Drivers 18.104.22.1689 WHQL from 12/08/2012 for the mainboard chipset;
- DirectX End-User Runtimes libraries from November 30, 2010;
- AMD Catalyst 12.11 beta (9.010.8) driver from 12/02/2012 + Catalyst Application Profiles 12.11 (CAP2) for AMD based graphics cards;
- Nvidia GeForce 310.70 beta driver from 12/04/2012 for Nvidia based graphics cards.
Since we have already tested GeForce GTX 660 extensively in one of our earlier reviews, today we will check out only one resolution - 1920x1080 pixels. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “Quality+AF16x” – default texturing quality in the drivers with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “Quality+ AF16x+MSAA 4(8)x” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and full screen 4x or 8x antialiasing if the average framerate was high enough for comfortable gaming experience. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing from the game settings. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panels of Catalyst and GeForce drivers. We also disabled Vsync there. There were no other changes in the driver settings.
The list of games and applications used in this test session was shortened and included one popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suite and 8 latest games of various genres with all updates installed as of the beginning of the test session date:
- 3DMark 2011 (DirectX 11) – version 22.214.171.124, Performance and Extreme profiles;
- Metro 2033: The Last Refuge (DirectX 10/11) - version 1.2, maximum graphics quality settings, official benchmark, “High” image quality settings; tesselation, DOF and MSAA4x disabled; AAA aliasing enabled, two consecutive runs of the “Frontline” scene;
- Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai (DirectX 11) – version 1.1.0, built-in benchmark (Sekigahara battle) at maximum graphics quality settings and enabled MSAA 4x in one of the test modes;
- Crysis 2 (DirectX 11) – version 1.9, we used Adrenaline Crysis 2 Benchmark Tool v.126.96.36.199. BETA with “Ultra High” graphics quality profile and activated HD textures, two runs of a demo recorded on “Times Square” level;
- Battlefield 3 (DirectX 11) – version 1.4, all image quality settings set to “Ultra”, two successive runs of a scripted scene from the beginning of the “Going Hunting” mission 110 seconds long;
- Sniper Elite V2 Benchmark (DirectX 11) – version 1.05, we used Adrenaline Sniper Elite V2 Benchmark Tool v188.8.131.52 BETA with maximum graphics quality settings (“Ultra” profile), Advanced Shadows: HIGH, Ambient Occlusion: ON, Stereo 3D: OFF, two sequential test runs;
- Sleeping Dogs (DirectX 11) – version 1.5, we used Adrenaline Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Tool v184.108.40.206 BETA with maximum image quality settings, Hi-Res Textures pack installed, FPS Limiter and V-Sync disabled, two consecutive runs of the built-in benchmark with quality antialiasing at Normal and Extreme levels;
- F1 2012 (DirectX 11) – update 9, we used Adrenaline Racing Benchmark Tool v220.127.116.11 with “Ultra” image quality settings during two laps on Brazilian “Interlagos” race track with 24 other cars and a drizzling rain; we also used “Bonnet” camera mode;
- Hitman: Absolution (DirectX 11) – version 1.0, built-in test with Ultra image quality settings, with enabled tessellation, FXAA and global lighting.
If the game allowed recording the minimal fps readings, they were also added to the charts. We ran each game test or benchmark twice and took the best result for the diagrams, but only if the difference between them didn’t exceed 1%. If it did exceed 1%, we ran the tests at least one more time to achieve repeatability of results.