Nvidia GeForce GTX 275: Worthy Rival to Radeon HD 4890

On April 2, 2009 Nvidia announced a new solution that was destined to compete successfully with ATI Radeon HD 4890 in performance, as well as price. Today we are going to see how good GeForce GTX 275 actually is.

by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
05/14/2009 | 06:38 PM

As we wrote in an earlier review, the announcement of the ATI Radeon HD 4890 proved to be a piece of very bad news for Nvidia because ATI unveiled a graphics card that was comparable to the GeForce GTX 285 in performance but was offered at a lower price. Nvidia had to react somehow just after as it had improved its G200-based solutions by transitioning the graphics core to a thinner tech process and simplifying the PCBs.

 

The Radeon HD 4890 release meant that Nvidia would not be able to have a rest. The new product from the opposing camp proved to be so good that it could challenge the single-GPU flagship of the GeForce series while coming at a lower recommended price. Reducing the price of the GeForce GTX 285 even lower would not make sense even from a technical standpoint. The 512-bit memory bus prevented the G200/G200b-based products from switching to a simpler and cheaper PCB.

The solution is obvious if you recall the GeForce GTX 260 that was made by cutting down the GeForce GTX 280 and later reincarnated as GeForce GTX 260 Core 216. The main difference of that card was that it did not use the full width of the memory bus. Early models of GeForce GTX 260 were based on the full-featured PCB from GeForce GTX 280 but came with 14 instead of 16 memory chips, but later on the card acquired a new PCB design with a 448-bit bus instead of a 512-bit one.

Nvidia already had such a product at the moment the Radeon HD 4890 was announced but it could not match ATI’s new solution in terms of speed. The only opportunity was to increase the number of active shader and texture processors and Nvidia did that. That’s the background behind the release of the GeForce GTX 275 which, by Nvidia’s plans, is going to fill in the empty niche between the GeForce GTX 285 and GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 and to compete with the Radeon HD 4890 in both performance and price.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

As you can see, the new card equals the GeForce GTX 285 in the configuration of the computing and texture-mapping subunits of the G200b chip: 240 and 80 active subunits of these two types, respectively. And it also equals the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 in the configuration of RBEs and memory controllers. The GPU and memory clock rates are increased relative to the latter card’s: from 576/1242 to 633/1404MHz and from 1000 (2000) to 1134 (2268) MHz, respectively. This makes the GeForce GTX 275 closer to the flagship GeForce model and brings a promise of comparable performance because the RBE subsystem does not limit the frame rate in most of today’s games whereas the 448-bit memory bus provides sufficiently high bandwidth even for high display resolutions with full-screen antialiasing.

The GeForce GTX 275 comes at a recommended price of $229-249 and is competitive to the Radeon HD 4890 in this respect. Officially released on April 2 the card began to be mass-shipped only on April 14. Nvidia must have had some problems with production facilities and had to return to the paper announcement tactic.

We have got a few such cards by now and are going to check out how the GeForce GTX 275 compares with the Radeon HD 4890. The first GeForce GTX 275 to be discussed comes from Nvidia’s loyal partner BFG Technologies. It is called BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC.

Closer Look at BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC

Package and Accessories

This product comes to retail in a standard box that can fit into any bag. It is hard to say anything about the design: on one hand, the designers have tried to make it simple and stern as that of EVGA products but could not help adorning the face panel with an odd Fantomas-like character.

The interface type and the amount of graphics memory are indicated as technical features. It is not actually important to indicate the former feature because AGP is obsolete and top-end cards are not produced with PCI interface anymore. BFG should be given credit for not making the common mistake of many graphics card manufacturers that write DDR3 instead of GDDR3. These memory types are both used in modern graphics cards, so there can be potential confusion.

The box is made from thin cardboard. Inside it there is a thick cardboard tray the graphics card lies in, in a blister wrap. Besides the card, the box contains the following accessories:

The accessories are rather scanty. There is no DVI-I → HDMI adapter that is becoming a standard accessory of modern graphics cards. It is necessary for Nvidia’s solutions to output audio via HDMI using an internal S/PDIF cable. Well, BFG does not position this product as a multimedia one and you will see one more indication of that shortly.

An advertising BFG leaflet is included into the box. You can register the card at the address indicated in the leaflet within 30 days after the purchase to obtain a lifetime warranty for the card.

Thus, the packaging of the BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC might be criticized for the sloppy design while its accessories are too scanty to allow for all possible usage scenarios. For example, you won’t be able to use the card out of the box in a HTPC that must provide for listening to music, watching high-resolution video and playing modern games at 1080p resolution because you will need a DVI-I → HDMI adapter and S/PDIF cable for that. This adapter and cable do not cost much and we guess they might be included with every fast graphics card.

We will now discuss the design and specifications of the GeForce GTX 275 card.

PCB Design and Specifications

In today’s graphics card engineering, it is the GPU’s memory subsystem configuration that determines the PCB wiring layout. Thus, the PCB for the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 that uses the 55nm version of the G200 core would suit the GeForce GTX 275 just fine because both cards need a 448-bit memory bus and 14 chips of onboard GDDR3 memory. However, Nvidia has preferred to develop a new PCB for the new product.

The GeForce GTX 285, GeForce GTX 275 and GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 may look the same at first sight, but the cooling system conceals significant differences.


GeForce GTX 275


GeForce GTX 260 Core 216

The PCB carries 14 memory chips indeed. All of them are installed on the face side of the PCB in order to simplify the wiring and the cooling system, but the power circuitry of the GeForce GTX 275 has been greatly revised. A 4-phase regulator was quite enough for powering the core of the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216, but the new design uses a 6-phase regulator. It is a reasonable solution considering the higher GPU frequency and the larger number of active subunits in it: 240 computing and 40 texture-mapping modules against 216 and 72, respectively.

The regulator is based on an ADP4100 controller manufactured by ON Semiconductor. We have not seen this chip before in our practice. It is unclear whether the option of software-based overclocking of the GeForce GTX 275 implemented in ATI and Nvidia cards using the Volterra VT1165 controller works here as well.

The memory chips are powered by uPI Semiconductor UP6161N and ENE Technology P2349WF chips, the latter being similar to and pin-compatible with the well-known Intersil 6549CBZ. External power is delivered through two 6-pin PCIe 1.0 connectors with a max load capacity of 75 watts each. The card does not allow for an installation of an 8-pin connector but we don’t think that G200b-based cards need it.

As we’ve noted above, there are 14 memory chips on the card for a total of 896 megabytes accessed across a 448-bit bus. These are K4J52324QH-HJ08 chips from Samsung with a capacity of 512Mb (16Mb x 32), voltage of 2.05V, and a rated frequency of 1200 (2400) MHz. 1Gb chips can also be used and graphics cards makers have already released such versions of the new card. They are free from main disadvantage of the reference GeForce GTX 275 in comparison with the Radeon HD 4890 – the smaller amount of memory.

The BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC has a slightly pre-overclocked memory frequency: from 1134 (2268) MHz to 1152 (2304) MHz.

Such a small frequency growth cannot affect the card’s gaming performance.

The GPU is pre-overclocked, too. Its computing domain is clocked at 1440 MHz rather than at the reference card’s 1404 MHz and its main domain is pre-overclocked from 633 to 648 MHz. The latter number equals the GeForce GTX 285’s main domain frequency, by the way. Does it mean that the BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC can beat the GeForce GTX 285? There is a chance for that considering its 240 shader and 80 texture processors, yet the cut-down configuration of the RBEs and memory subsystem should not be disregarded. Well, we will soon see everything in practical tests. The core is revision B3 whereas the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 uses revision B2. This sample must be able to work at a higher frequency than those cores that are used to manufacture the junior model of the series. The production date is early 2009.

In the left part of the PCB there is an NVIO2 display controller that is not incorporated into the G200 core. There is a difference from Nvidia’s previous PCB designs as the card offers no place for a DisplayPort translator chip. There is no such seat on the reverse side of the PCB, either. Thus, the GeForce GTX 275 is not supposed to support the DisplayPort interface. That’s not a big loss for a games-oriented graphics card, though. There is also no connector for analog video output in Composite, S-Video, YPbPr formats and this is the peculiarity of the BFG card only. There is a seat for the connector on the PCB and it is indeed installed on most other GeForce GTX 275 manufactured by other companies. Analog video formats are becoming obsolete, so BFG is probably right in saving on them, but we don’t think the company can save a lot. There are two MIO connectors on board: Nvidia does not want to deprive a gaming card that stands higher than the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 (which should be renamed as GeForce GTX 265 already, we guess) of Triple-SLI support.

We can’t say anything new about the cooler: it is a time-tested thing with a copper heat-exchanger connected to a heatsink with heat pipes. The cooler exhausts the hot air though the slits in the graphics card’s mounting bracket. The power circuit components are not cooled specially, just as on the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216. They only get some airflow from the fan through the slits in the base of the cooler.


GeForce GTX 275 cooler


GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cooler

BFG has saved on the thermal interfaces as well. Instead of pads soaked in thermal grease, there are now lozenges of green rubber-like material in every heat exchange point, excepting the main heat-exchanger that contacts the GPU cap through a layer of ordinary dark-gray thermal grease. The whole arrangement is secured on the PCB with a few spring-loaded screws that prevent any misalignment.

As we’ve said above, this is a time-tested design, so we can expect the new card to be just as good in terms of temperatures and noise as the other GeForce GTX 200 series products.

Power Consumption, Temperature, Noise, Overclockability

We measured the power consumption of our GeForce GTX 275 on a special testbed with the following configuration:

Following our standard procedure, the 3D load was created by the first SM3.0/HDR test from 3DMark06 running in a loop at 1600x1200 with forced 4x FSAA and 16x AF. The 2D load was emulated by the 2D Transparent Windows test from PCMark05.


Click to enlarge

The lower GPU and memory clock rates and the disabled subunits (4 RBEs and 1 memory controller section) result in a lower power draw of the new card relative to the GeForce GTX 285. The difference is not as big as to make the GTX 275 competitive to the Radeon HD 4890 in this parameter. The latter has a power consumption of 120 watts, which is 20 watts lower than that of Nvidia’s solution, and is thus the most economical graphics card in its class. The two external power connectors are loaded equally in the 3D mode.

And here is how hot the GeForce GTX 275 is:

Its GPU temperature is lower under load than that of the senior model. Such temperatures are normal for modern top-end graphics cards and should not worry you at all. By the way, the Radeon HD 4890 is ahead in this test, being 10°C cooler under load than Nvidia’s solution.

The BFG card is equipped with Nvidia’s reference cooler, yet we measured its level of noise again to see if there was any difference. There was none:

The numbers are the same as those that we had with the new version of GeForce GTX 260 Core 216. The card is quiet and, traditionally for Nvidia’s solutions with reference coolers, the only noise it produces is the hissing of the air passing through the heatsink.

Our attempt to overclock the BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC was moderately successful:

We increased the core frequencies to 720/1600MHz and the memory frequency to 1250 (2500) MHz (i.e. 50 (100) MHz higher than the rated frequency of the card’s memory chips). The frequency growth is high enough to promise a nice performance boost. Therefore we will benchmark the card at both default and overclocked frequencies. Let’s now move on to the gaming tests.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate the performance of GeForce GTX 275 graphics card on our universal testbed with the following configuration:

The ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured as follows:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

The list of benchmarks includes the following gaming titles and synthetic tests:

First-Person 3D Shooters

Third-Person 3D Shooters

RPG

Simulators

Strategies

Semi-synthetic Benchmarks

We selected the highest possible level of detail in each game using standard tools provided by the game itself from the gaming menu. The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We made a few exceptions for selected games if that was necessary. We are going to specifically dwell on each exception like that later on in our article.

Besides GeForce GTX 275 we have also included the following graphics accelerators to participate in our test session:

We ran our tests in the following resolutions: 1280x1024, 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Everywhere, where it was possible we added MSAA 4x antialiasing to the standard anisotropic filtering 16x. We enabled antialiasing from the game’s menu. If this was not possible, we forced them using the appropriate driver settings of ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers.

Performance was measured with the games’ own tools and the original demos were recorded if possible. We measured not only the average speed, but also the minimum speed of the cards where possible. Otherwise, the performance was measured manually with Fraps utility version 2.9.8. In the latter case we ran the test three times and took the average of the three for the performance charts.

Performance in First-Person 3D Shooters

Call of Duty: World at War

Starting from version 1.3 we use the game’s integrated benchmarking options together with a custom demo record. Unfortunately, this method does not report the bottom frame rate.

The GeForce GTX 275 has a somewhat cut-down configuration in comparison with the GeForce GTX 285, but this has almost no effect on its performance. The two cards differ but little at 1280x1024 and do not differ at all at the higher resolutions, save for the extreme 2560x1600 mode. When overclocked, the BFG card is as fast as the Radeon HD 4890 and even outperforms the latter at 2560x1600. Is the GeForce GTX 275 going to be the killer of GeForce GTX 285? Let’s check out the other tests before answering this question.

Crysis Warhead

Well, the cut-down memory subsystem and fewer RBEs of the new GeForce affect its performance more in Crysis. There is a big difference in terms of bottom speed even at 1280x1024 – the most important resolution for this demanding game. It is only through overclocking that the difference can be eliminated. Theoretically, the GeForce GTX 275 seems to lack graphics memory as you can see by comparing its results with those of the 1GB cards, but the frame rates are too low anyway.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

We disabled the integrated frame rate limiter in the game console for the sake of comparing the cards. The game’s built-in benchmarking options do not provide information about the bottom speed, so there is no such info in the diagrams.

The GeForce GTX 275 is a mere 3-6% slower than the GeForce GTX 285. It is only at 2560x1600 that the gap grows up to 10%, but overclocking helps close the gap. The overclocked GeForce GTX 275 also wins the lower resolutions. The GeForce GTX 285 seems to have a shaky market position now, considering these results.

Far Cry 2

Like in the previous cases, the GeForce GTX 275 is almost as fast as the senior model of the series. Most importantly, it can maintain a playable frame rate at 2560x1600 despite having only 896 megabytes of graphics memory. The Radeon HD 4890 is equipped with 1 gigabyte of memory but is inferior to Nvidia’s solution as its bottom speed is lower than 10fps.

F.E.A.R.2: Project Origin

The GeForce GTX 275 is close behind its senior series mate again and delivers comfortable performance even at 2560x1600. Considering that some makers have released versions of this graphics card with a double amount of memory (1792 megabytes), purchasing a GeForce GTX 285 doesn’t make sense because the small difference can be made up for by even modest overclocking that won’t not affect the stability of your GeForce GTX 275.

Left 4 Dead

The game runs on the Source engine and has an integrated benchmark, but the latter does not report the bottom speed information.

Left 4 Dead is sensitive to the cut-down configuration of the GeForce GTX 275 at 2560x1600: the new card falls behind the GeForce GTX 285 by 21% then.

However, the gap is only 5-8% at the lower resolutions, which cannot be perceived with a naked eye since the frame rates are as high as 55-120fps.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

To achieve a playable speed in this game we disabled FSAA and such resource-consuming options as Sun rays, Wet surfaces and Volumetric Smoke. We use the Enhanced full dynamic lighting (DX10) mode for our test and additionally enable the DirectX 10.1 mode for the ATI cards.

We can’t see much difference between the GeForce GTX 275 and GeForce GTX 285 in the highly demanding S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky even at 2560x1600. Both cards deliver playable speeds at resolutions up to 1680x1050/1600x1200.

Performance in Third-Person 3D Shooters

Devil May Cry 4

 

Devil May Cry 4 is surprisingly less sensitive to the difference in the configuration of the two graphics cards from Nvidia. The less advanced GeForce GTX 275 is 12 to 20% behind, depending on the display resolution. However, its speed is quite enough for comfortable play anyway. And you can close the gap by means of overclocking. You can even beat the GeForce GTX 285 if you are lucky to have a GeForce GTX 275 with high overclockability.

Prince of Persia

The difference between the GeForce GTX 285 and GeForce GTX 275 is negligible. We can only note that overclocking adds a few more frames per second to the GeForce GTX 275 but does not open new opportunities for the gamer.

Performance in RPG

Fallout 3

The Radeon HD 4980 stays unrivalled. Every model from the Nvidia GeForce GTX 200 series looks the same in comparison with the leader, but delivers good performance at every resolution. Even the obvious outsider GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 keeps the frame rate above 24fps at 2560x1600.

Mass Effect

The GeForce GTX 285 and GeForce GTX 275 are both limited to the resolution of 1680x1050 unless you turn off full-screen antialiasing. The overall picture is the same as in most of the previous tests: the difference between the two solutions is small and can be eliminated by overclocking the junior model.

Performance in Simulators

Race Driver: GRID

It is hard to comment when the results do not differ from test to test. GRID is not an exception. We see the GeForce GTX 275 being slightly behind Nvidia’s senior single-chip model. And this gap can be again closed by overclocking.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

We use the in-game benchmarking tools that do not allow to measure the bottom frame rate. We also enable DirectX 10.1 support for ATI’s solutions.

The difference of 1-2fps is negligible, so the GeForce GTX 275 virtually equals the GeForce GTX 285 in performance. Subjectively, both cards seem to deliver comfortable conditions at resolutions up to 1680x1050 if you use the highest graphics quality settings together with full-screen antialiasing.

Performance in Strategies

Red Alert 3: Uprising

The game has a frame rate limiter fixed at 30fps.

Nvidia’s solutions are still very poor in Red Alert 3 if you use full-screen antialiasing. Otherwise, like in the previous tests, the 32 RBEs and 1024MB of graphics memory do not ensure any advantage for the GeForce GTX 285 over the GeForce GTX 275.

World in Conflict: Soviet Assault

The recently released add-on to the original game does not introduce any technical innovations but contains a new plotline that allows you to play for the USSR.

Like in the previous tests, there is not much difference between the GeForce GTX 285 and GeForce GTX 275. As opposed to Red Alert 3, the Radeon HD 4890 is an outsider here.

Performance in Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Futuremark 3DMark06

 

The GeForce GTX 275 is first in 3DMark06 when overclocked. Without overclocking the card scores as many points as the GeForce GTX 285 and loses to the Radeon HD 4890.

At the default GPU and memory frequencies the GeForce GTX 285 has a very small advantage in the individual groups of tests. Perhaps its advantage is more conspicuous in the SM3.0/HDR group. Overclocking has a different effect: there is almost no performance growth in the SM2.0 tests but the SM.30/HDR tests are won by the overclocked GeForce GTX 275 with a score of over 8000 points.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

We minimize the CPU’s influence by using the Extreme profile (1920x1200, 4x FSAA and anisotropic filtering). We also publish the results of the individual tests across all display resolutions to provide a full picture.

The difference is far more substantial in 3DMark Vantage as this benchmark defaults to the resolution of 1920x1200 with 4x FSAA and uses all of the resources a modern graphics processor can offer. Anyway, the overclocked GeForce GTX 275 can catch up with and even outperform the GeForce GTX 285, scoring over 6,000 points.

The individual tests agree with what we have seen above but the difference between the two mentioned cards from Nvidia is somewhat more conspicuous in the second test and the overclocking is more beneficial. This is quite logical considering that the second test puts a higher load on the memory subsystem and RBEs.

Conclusion

This test session produces a gloomy verdict, but not for the GeForce GTX 275. The new card is only slower than the GeForce GTX 285 by an average 4.5% at the most popular display resolutions. Its 896 megabytes of local graphics memory are quite enough even for demanding application while the performance of the RBE subsystem is but rarely a limiting factor in today’s games.

The factory overclocking of the BFG card only increased its performance by 1.5%, so it does not differ much from a GeForce GTX 275 clocked at the reference frequencies.

The GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 is obviously hamstringed by its cut-down computing section. The GeForce GTX 275 is free from this drawback and outperforms the junior model of the series by 17-20% depending on the resolution. The GeForce GTX 285 differs from the GeForce GTX 275 with slightly higher clock rates (besides the RBE and memory subsystem configuration) but is not much faster than the latter. It is only at 2560x1600 that the GTX 285 is 8% ahead thanks to Crysis Warhead, Devil May Cry 4 and Left 4 Dead, but the GeForce GTX 275 offers a playable frame rate in the latter two games as well. And Crysis Warhead is not playable at the highest resolution on either of these cards.

Comparing the GeForce GTX 275 with the Radeon HD 4890, the new card from ATI is competitive to the GeForce GTX 285 while the GeForce GTX 275 is somewhat inferior to the latter. Thus, it all depends on the specific game. The GeForce GTX 275 has an average advantage of 1.5-6% over its opponent but loses to ATI’s card, sometimes quite a lot, in such games as Call of Duty: World at War, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, Fallout 3, Race Driver: GRID, Red Alert 3: Uprising, and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. In other words, if these two cards sell at the same price, you should consider what games you are going to play. The Radeon HD 4890 will be better for some games and the GeForce GTX 275, for others.

We were quite successful at overclocking our BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC without extreme methods and achieved a performance growth of 8-12%. When overclocked, the BFG card was faster than both Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 285, but the latter cards can be overclocked in the same manner, too. So, overclocking is not an advantage here.

The GeForce GTX 275 looks like a good product overall, the smaller amount of memory being compensated by the release of models with 1792 instead of 896 megabytes of memory. The only thing we don’t understand is that Nvidia has itself released a killer for the GeForce GTX 285. Perhaps it is part of Nvidia’s policy of cutting the manufacturing cost of G200b-based products just as the PCB design of the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 had been simplified. What product will come to replace the GeForce GTX 285? Perhaps we will answer this question in a future review.

BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC Summary

This product is based on the reference PCB design and cooler but does not have an analog video output which is not a demanded feature today. As we have found out, the factory overclocking improves the performance of the BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC by no more than 1.5% and can hardly be noticed with a naked eye. Thus, the BFG card is a typical G200b-based solution with a minimum of accessories (even without a DVI-I → HDMI adapter). The product comes with a lifetime warranty, but a gaming card’s term of service is usually short anyway.

Summing it up, the BFG GeForce GTX 275 OC is quite worth your interest. It is not specifically better or worse than any other version of GeForce GTX 275. If you are looking for this Nvidia graphics card model, the BFG solution will be a good buy.

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