Almost High-End: Asus GTX 560 Ti 448 Cores DirectCU II Graphics Card Review

Today we are going to talk about a graphics card on Nvidia GPU, which in our opinion boasts the best overclocking potential and the most efficient cooling system with very low noise parameters.

by Sergey Lepilov
03/06/2012 | 06:49 AM

Now that the initial excitement about AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 and Radeon HD 7950 has subsided, the hot forum discussions about what graphics card is the fastest have quieted down. Those people who are satisfied with the performance and overclockability of the new Radeons have already bought or made up their mind to buy the card they want whereas others have decided to wait a little until Nvidia’s response known under the codename of Kepler. We will soon know if the Kepler lives up to their expectations, but today we are going to discuss a highly interesting product based on Nvidia’s current flagship chip G110. Manufactured by the recognized leader of the hi-tech industry ASUSTeK Computer Inc., the ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448-cores DirectCU II seems to be the culmination of the entire GF110-based generation. Read on to learn why!

Technical Specifications and Recommended Pricing

 


* - may vary for each specific graphics card

Packaging and Accessories

The graphics card comes in a large pretty box that has a picture of a mounted knight with horns and golden wings.

 

The largest of the info icons on the box informs you that the ASUS DirectCU II cooler is 20% superior to the reference GTX 560 Ti cooler. These features are detailed on the back of the box and accompanied with information about the graphics card’s outputs.

Accessories to the card lie at the bottom of the box:

They are not numerous: a power cable, a SLI bridge, a DVI->D-Sub adaptor, a CD with drivers and utilities, and a brief installation guide. There are no free games or anything extra inside the box.

The ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II is manufactured in Taiwan. The card has a retail price of $299. Its warranty period is 3 years.

PCB Design

The first thing you notice about the ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II is how thick it is.

Indeed, the device is 58 millimeters thick and is going to block as many as three adjacent slots on your mainboard. The other dimensions are more conventional for this product class: 282 x 125 millimeters. The PCB is 267 millimeters long, the standard size for a GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 cores card.

The card’s mounting bracket is huge, with not one but two vent grids for exhausting hot air from the cooler:

The video interfaces include two dual-link DVI-I ports, one HDMI port and one DisplayPort. The power and MIO connectors are standard as well.

 

It must be noted, however, that using this card in a SLI configuration may be problematic due to its unusual height.

The custom-designed PCB is taller than usual.

The 6+2 power system has six phases for the graphics core and two phases for the memory chips and power circuit components.

The SHE ASP0907 (Super Hybrid Engine) controller that manages the power supply of the GPU is in fact a rebranded uP6208.

There is a high-capacitance capacitor Proadlizer NEC/TOKIN on the reverse side of the PCB, right below the graphics processor. Such components are usually limited to hi-end products.

ASUS refers to its use of high-quality components with increased service life and durability as Super Alloy Power technology. This technology only covers the company’s top-end products although the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 cores can hardly be viewed as top-end. Well, it’s good that ASUS didn’t save on components but installed top-quality ones on this product, too.

The GF110-270-A1 chip of our sample of the card was manufactured in Taiwan on the 47th week of 2010.

We can remind you that the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 cores GPU has 448 unified shader processors, 56 texture-mapping units and 40 raster operators. Like on the reference card, the GPU clock rate in 3D mode is 737/1464 MHz at a rather low voltage of 0.975 volts. In 2D applications the graphics card drops its GPU frequencies to 51/102 MHz at a voltage of 0.913 volts.

The ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II is equipped with 1280 megabytes of GDDR5 memory in 10 chips soldered on the face side of the PCB. The chips are manufactured by Samsung and labeled K4G10325FG-HC04.

The chips have a rated access time of 0.4 nanoseconds and a rated frequency of 5000 MHz. However, the ASUS card clocks its memory at 3800 MHz, in compliance with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 cores specifications. The memory voltage is 1.5 volts; the bus is 320 bits wide. The memory clock rate is dropped to 270 MHz in 2D mode to save power.

We were lucky to have a GPU with a quality score of 87.3%:

Coupled with the high-quality components and fast memory chips, this is a promise of high overclocking potential. On the other hand, we guess the ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II would be even more attractive for a larger target audience if the manufacturer had pre-overclocked it back at the factory.

Cooling System and Noise

The DirectCU II cooling system is the key feature of this graphics card from ASUS.

It consists of five copper heat pipes, two heatsinks and a metallic casing with fans. Two out of the five pipes are 8 millimeters in diameter. The other three are 7 millimeters.

The plate on the reverse side of the PCB merely serves for decoration or protection but doesn’t act like a heat-spreader.

There is an additional aluminum heatsink with thermal pad on the power circuit components. There are 0.5mm aluminum fins press-fitted on the heat pipes with a step of 1.8 millimeters. The two heatsinks are roughly similar (52 and 48 fins).

The cooler’s sole features direct-touch technology. The 2mm gaps between the pipes are filled in with an aluminum insert.

The surface of the cooler’s sole isn’t finished well but that’s not as critical for Nvidia’s GPUs that have a heat-spreader as for AMD’s open-die GPUs.

There is a separate metallic frame with two 9-blade 100mm fans (their impellers are 95 millimeters in diameter). The fans are 20 mm deep.

That’s why the cooler and the graphics card at large are so thick.

The fans are PWM-regulated within a speed range of 1000 to 3400 RPM.

We checked out the card’s temperature while running Aliens vs. Predator (2010) in five cycles at the highest settings (2560x1600, with 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x antialiasing). We used MSI Afterburner 2.2.0 Beta 12 and GPU-Z 0.5.9 as monitoring tools. This test was carried out with a closed system case at an ambient temperature of 26°C. We didn’t change the card’s default thermal interface.

Let’s see how efficient the DirectCU II cooler is with its fans regulated automatically and at their maximum speed:


Automatic fan mode

Maximum fan rotation speed

The cooler’s performance is simply amazing. The peak GPU temperature is only 58°C, the two fans rotating no faster than 1320 RPM! Of course, the fans are absolutely silent at such a low speed even against the background of our very quiet PC configuration. Yes, we guess such temperatures are worth the three expansion slots on your mainboard you have to give up to use that cooler. When the fans were rotating at their maximum speed of 3400 RPM, the GPU was no hotter than 46°C. With such a highly efficient and quiet cooler, why didn’t ASUS pre-overclock this card? Did they leave this pleasure for us to enjoy? Let’s first see how noisy the DirectCU II cooler is.

We measured the level of noise using an electronic noise-level meter CENTER-321 in a closed and quiet room about 20 sq. meters large. The noise-level meter was set on a tripod at a distance of 15 centimeters from the graphics card which was installed on an open testbed. The mainboard with the graphics card was placed at an edge of a desk on a foam-rubber tray.

The bottom limit of our noise-level meter is 29.8 dBA whereas the subjectively comfortable (not low, but comfortable) level of noise when measured from that distance is about 36 dBA. The speed of the graphics card’s fans was being adjusted by means of a controller that changed the supply voltage in steps of 0.5 V. We’ve included the results of the Sapphire Radeon HD 6970 Dual Fan, the quietest card with an original cooler we’ve tested so far, into the next diagram. Here are the results (the vertical dotted lines indicate the top speed of the fans in automatic regulation mode):

The ASUS DirectCU II beats one of the best original graphics card coolers we’ve ever tested! Its noise level graph goes lower than that of the Sapphire Dual Fan (Dual-X). Moreover, the top noise level of the ASUS cooler in automatic fan regulation mode is only 33 dBA at 1320 RPM whereas the Sapphire’s top noise is 53 dBA at 2580 RPM. Of course, the low GPU voltage of the ASUS card contributes to this excellent performance. The difference is huge and justifies the triple-slot design of the ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II. We only wonder if the DirectCU II can beat the recognized leader among air-based GPU coolers Arctic Accelero Xtreme, but we will check this out in an upcoming review.

Overclocking Potential

We started our overclocking experiment from Samsung’s 0.4ns memory chips and found them capable of working at 4700 MHz. There were occasional image artifacts, however, so we had to roll back to 4660 MHz. The memory frequency grew by 22.6% from the default 3800 MHz, which is quite good for an Nvidia-based card with a 320-bit memory bus.

The GPU could only be stable at 810/1620 MHz (+10.7%) if we didn’t change its default voltage of 0.975 volts, so we had to increase the latter. The top stable GPU clock rate turned out to be directly proportional to GPU voltage. Unfortunately, the maximum voltage we could select was 1.1 volts, so we stopped at 930/1860 MHz. This is 27% above the default GPU clock rate. Although such a number can hardly impress the user of a 28nm Tahiti GPU, it is indeed an excellent result for Nvidia’s current 40nm chips with air cooling.

When overclocked, the ASUS got as hot as 67°C in terms of its GPU temperature, the fans rotating at 45% of their full speed (2100 RPM, 39 dBA):

The DirectCU II cooler keeps on surprising us with its highest performance. It is just designed for nothing else but overclocking.

Power Consumption

We measured the power consumption of computer systems with different graphics cards using a multifunctional panel Zalman ZM-MFC3 which can report how much power a computer (the monitor not included) draws from a wall socket. There were two test modes: 2D (editing documents in Microsoft Word and web surfing) and 3D (the benchmark from Metro 2033: The Last Refuge at 1920x1080 with maximum settings). Here are the results:

When working at its default clock rates and voltages, the ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II needs about as much power as the new Radeon HD 7950 and about 45 watts less than the GeForce GTX 580 3GB. But when the ASUS is overclocked, the power consumption of the respective system grows up as high as 500 watts and more. Well, this is just another proof that you need a 550W or better power supply for a computer with a graphics card of this class.

Performance

We’ve tested the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 cores before, so the main question of this review is whether the ASUS version of this card can be overclocked to compete with more expensive products. We will carry out a series of tests at two resolutions (you can refer to our previous graphics card review for the testbed configuration and testing procedure) using popular synthetic benchmarks and seven heavy games. The ASUS will be opposed by a Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 OC 3GB and an MSI N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition 3. We will show you screenshots with the results of the overclocked ASUS card in some of the tests.

3DMark Vantage

 

Well, the first test looks promising. Being 20% slower at its default clock rates, the overclocked ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II outperforms the more expensive opponents at the Performance settings. It is also ahead of the GeForce GTX 580 and almost as fast as the Radeon HD 7950 in the Extreme mode.

3DMark 2011

 

Like in the previous 3DMark, the overclocked ASUS is competitive against the other products which cost $200 more.

Unigine Heaven Demo

 

The overclocked ASUS looks impressive in Unigine Heaven, yet the Radeon HD 7950 is unrivalled in the harder test mode.

Metro 2033: The Last Refuge

The ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II looks good in this game, too. It is as fast as the GeForce GTX 580 (which has twice its amount of memory) and follows close behind the Radeon HD 7950. The only problem is that the frame rates are too low anyway.

Just Cause 2

AMD-based products have always been fast in Just Cause 2 and the overclocked ASUS can’t do anything about that. On the other hand, it is as fast as the GeForce GTX 580. We’ll see the same picture in the next two games, by the way.

Aliens vs. Predator (2010)

Total War: Shogun 2

Crysis 2

The ASUS card doesn’t have enough memory to run Crysis 2 well. It is especially clear from its bottom speed results at 2560x1600. Overclocking can’t help expand its 1280 megabytes of memory, unfortunately. As for the average frame rate, it is higher with the ASUS card than with the GeForce GTX 580.

Hard Reset Demo

Having lost in the previous three tests, the two GeForce GTX cards finally score a win in Hard Reset. The junior GeForce with its excellent overclocking is ahead here.

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3 shows once again how fast the ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II is when overclocked.

Here is a table with full test results:

 

Conclusion

The ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II is an excellent, almost perfect, product that has only one noticeable downside. It is as thick as 58 millimeters and blocks as many as three expansion slots on the mainboard. We guess this won’t be a big problem for most home users, though. Besides that, we can note that the product accessories do not include any extras, like a free game or something, and that the card doesn’t come pre-overclocked to save you the trouble of overclocking it yourself.

Otherwise, it is an exemplary graphics card. With its high-quality components, exhaustive selection of video interfaces, SLI support and quiet high-performance cooler, the ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 cores DirectCU II also features high overclocking potential that can help it reach the speed of the more expensive GeForce GTX 580. Most importantly, for all these advantages, the ASUS version is not any more expensive than other GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 cores available on the market, so the choice is obvious. It’s the Editor’s Choice!