by Sergey Lepilov
10/19/2011 | 07:14 AM
What are most of the so-called overclocker-friendly graphics cards anyway? Generally, they are serial products with pre-overclocked frequencies and, occasionally, original cooling systems. Lately, however, there have been more and more exceptions to this rule as new products of this kind feature specially selected GPUs, custom-designed PCBs, distinctive branding, unique ID plates and various overclocking-related accessories.
EVGA Corporation took a solid approach to developing a very special high-end graphics card series of their own and engaged world-famous overclockers, Vince "k|ngp|n" Lucido from the USA and Ilya "TiN" Tsemenko from the Ukraine. The result is called EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified:
The series includes four graphics cards, two of which are fitted with full-cover water-blocks for liquid cooling systems and another two, with air-based coolers. The cards in the two pairs differ in the amount of onboard memory. We’ve got an EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified 3 GB for our today's tests. It’s got an air cooler.
The face side of the black box has a minimum of details. You can only learn the name of the card, the amount of its onboard memory, and what technologies it supports.
The back of the box isn’t gaudy, either, but you can see a photo of the card there, read about its key features and system requirements. The cardboard box is filled with a piece of foam-rubber that protects the card against any transportation hazards.
Included with the card are two power cables, a DVI-I->HDMI adapter, a DVI-I->D-Sub adapter, an installation guide, a CD with drivers and utilities, and a sticker with EVGA logo.
No games, discount coupons, screwdrivers or any other free stuff in here. Everything is simple and serious. Well, every owner of an EVGA GeForce GTX 5xxx series card can get 3DMark 2011 for free by simply registering his/her product at the EVGA website.
There is also a sticker inside the box that warns you against taking the graphics card out of your computer within the first two minutes of shutting the latter down unless you want to scorch your fingers. It also says you must connect three power cables to the card, two of which are of the 8-pin variety.
Judging by the barcode, the graphics card is, rather incredibly, manufactured in Iceland but its PCB is made in China. The recommended price is $599 ($549 for the version with 1.5 GB of graphics memory). This includes the manufacturer’s lifetime warranty you can get by registering your card at the EVGA website.
The EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified 3 GB looks special compared not only to the reference GeForce GTX 580 but also to other graphics cards in general. The chrome letters of the product name are sunken into the cooler’s black plastic casing. A plate with the word Classified is affixed below.
The card’s key features are printed in small white letters on the casing around the cooler's fan. There is another “Classified” plate at the top.
The card measures 280 x 40 x 137.7 millimeters. The large dimensions are due to the cooler which has an additional vent grid in its top part:
The weight of the card is an impressive 1361 grams but we don’t think this can scare off true enthusiasts.
The EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified is equipped with two dual-link DVI-I outputs that support high resolutions. There is no HDMI or mini-DisplayPort here, obviously due to the overclocker-friendly positioning of the product. Take a look at its mounting bracket:
There are large vent grids here which are meant to ensure better cooling at less noise (they do not succeed in achieving the latter goal, though, as you will learn shortly). You can also see a connector for an EVGA EVBot device that can be used to overclock a mainboard together with three graphics cards.
The MIO connectors in the top part of the PCB allow building 2-, 3- and even 4-way SLI configurations.
The EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified is equipped with one 6-pin and two 8-pin power connectors.
This doesn’t mean the EVGA card consumes 50% more power than a reference GeForce GTX 580. Its specs mention the same peak power draw of 244 watts. The extra power connector is only implemented to ensure stability if the card is overclocked further. A 600-watt or better power supply is recommended for a computer with this graphics card.
The EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified offers three connectors for measuring voltages:
It also has LED indicators and a switch that changes its operation mode between Normal and OC:
Here is a photo of the LEDs shining:
The PCB of the EVGA card is completely different from the reference one in size as well as components.
First off, we’ve got a 17-phase power circuit here with three phases for the graphics memory and controller and 14 phases for the GPU. Then, the card uses high-quality DirectFETs which are low-resistance and low-inductance MOSFETs with superior thermal properties.
Three Proadlizer NEC/TOCIN capacitors are installed on the PCB, one of them on the reverse side.
These capacitors feature improved stability at high frequencies and voltages and are employed by several makers in their top-end products.
Dated the 24th week of 2011 (mid-June), the Nvidia GF110 revision A1 chip was manufactured in Taiwan on 40nm tech process. It’s covered with a heat-spreader.
The GPU has 512 unified shader processors, 64 texture-mapping units and 48 raster operators, in full compliance with Nvidia's reference specs, but its 3D frequencies are pre-overclocked to 855/1710 MHz at a voltage of 1.143 V. This is the same factory overclocking as with the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock we tested recently. The GPU clock rates are lowered to 51/101 MHz at 0.962 volts for 2D applications.
This GeForce GTX 580 has twice the amount of the reference card’s onboard memory. The 12 FCFBGA-packaged chips from Hynix Semiconductor, located on the face side of the PCB, sum up to a total of 3072 megabytes.
The barely readable marking says H5GQ2H24MFR T2C which means an access time of 0.4 nanoseconds, a rated clock rate of 5000 MHz and a voltage of 1.5 volts (1.35 volts for 2D applications). The memory frequency of the EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified is 4106 MHz, which is a mere 100 MHz above the reference card’s. That’s not much of overclocking, but the low rated access time of the chips is indicative of high overclocking potential.
Here is a summary of the card’s specs:
The cooling system installed on the EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified consists of four separate details: a plastic casing, a GPU heatsink, a heatsink for memory chips and power system components, and a blower.
Take note that the GPU heatsink is separate from the bottom plate, unlike in many reference coolers, and does not affect the temperature of the memory chips and power components. The latter are cooled with a separate metallic plate with thermal pads.
The GF110’s heatsink consists of a large copper evaporation chamber with an 8mm flat heat pipe and aluminum fins soldered to them.
The heat pipe services the center of the heat-spreader, transferring the heat to the top of the heatsink. Most of the heat is taken off the GPU by the evaporation chamber and the main heatsink.
Instead of a standard 70mm fan, the EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified uses an 80mm fan from Asia Vital Components Co., Ltd.
EVGA claims this fan's airflow is 1.7 times as strong as that of the reference GeForce GTX 580 cooler. It's marked as BA12032?12U and its peak noise seems to be 56.12 dBA. The rotation speed is PWM-regulated within a range of 1400 to 4100 RPM. The service life of the improved fluid dynamic bearing is not indicated but the fan’s power consumption is declared to be no higher than 2.4 watts.
We checked out the card’s temperature while running Aliens vs. Predator (2010) in five cycles at the highest settings (2560x1600, 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x full-screen antialiasing). We used MSI Afterburner 2.2.0 Beta 8 and GPU-Z 0.5.5 as monitoring tools. This test was carried out with a closed system case (you can view its full configuration in the appropriate section of the review) at an ambient temperature of 25.8°C. We didn’t change the GPU’s default thermal interface.
Let’s see how hot the card is with its fan working in automatic regulation mode and at the maximum speed.
We are not impressed with the performance of EVGA's original cooler. With its fan regulated automatically, the GPU was as hot as 79°C and the fan was rotating at 2700 RPM. The card was rather uncomfortably noisy then. At the maximum speed of the fan the GPU was no hotter than 65°C, which indicates that the cooler's performance depends heavily on the speed of its fan and the GPU heatsink isn't large enough to ensure quiet cooling. The card was downright unbearable at 4100 RPM.
By the way, when the graphics card's operation mode is set at OC, the fan switches to its maximum speed of 4100 RPM and the card has the same clock rates, voltages and temperatures as when its fan speed is set at the maximum manually.
There were no other changes in the OC mode, and the card’s overclocking potential was the same.
As for the noise factor, we couldn’t measure the amount of noise produced by our GeForce GTX 580 Classified using our traditional method as we couldn’t connect to the fan’s cable without damaging it. The cooler casing covers the connector and cable, so we could only perform our measurements with the casing taken off. Such measurements wouldn’t yield accurate results. Still, we can tell you that the cooler was rather noisy even in the automatic mode of its fan. The card was more or less comfortable up to a fan speed of 1900-1950 RPM, but not higher. It was quiet in 2D mode.
Our sample of the EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified 3 GB didn't show much in our overclocking tests. We could only increase its GPU clock rate to 920/1840 MHz and its memory clock rate to 4840 MHz.
We had done better with a Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock which had been able to work at 935/1870/4860 MHz. As we’ve noted above, switching to the OC mode didn't affect the EVGA card's overclockability.
When overclocked, the card’s GPU temperature was 86°C at a fan speed of 3090 RPM.
That was hot and noisy, of course. Overall, we were left rather disappointed with EVGA's original cooler.
Winding up the descriptive section of this review, we can tell you that there are special software tools included with the card: EVGA Precision and EVGA OCScanner. The former allows controlling and monitoring the card's clock rates and fan speed. The latter resembles the well-known FurMark.
You can use it to get exhaustive information about the card, its frequencies and voltages and also stress-test its stability in overclocked mode.
All graphics cards were benchmarked in a closed system case with the following configuration:
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 25x and “Load-Line Calibration” (Level 2) enabled to 4.5 GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.46875 V in the mainboard BIOS:
The 6 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 1.44 GHz frequency with 7-7-7-16_1T timings and 1.5V voltage. Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading technologies were disabled during our test session.
The test session started on October 8, 2011. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:
The graphics cards were tested in two resolutions: the today’s most popular 1920x1080 and the maximum 2560x1600. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “High Quality+AF16x” – maximum texturing quality with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “High Quality+ AF16x+MSAA4(8)x” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and full screen 4x anti-aliasing (MSAA) or 8x if the average framerate was high enough for comfortable gaming experience. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing from the game settings or configuration files. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panels of Catalyst and GeForce drivers. There were no other changes in the driver settings.
The list of games and applications used in this test session includes two popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suites, one technical demo and 15 games of various genres:
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.
We already know what to expect from a GeForce GTX 580 clocked at 855/1710/4100 MHz in comparison with the reference GeForce GTX 580 as well as with the top-end single-GPU opponent from AMD. Therefore our today's test session is focused on the benefits of the extra 1.5 gigabytes of onboard memory the EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified is equipped with compared to the Gigabyte card. The diagrams also include the results of these cards when overclocked as well as the results of the Sapphire Radeon HD 6950 Toxic Edition in its HD 6970 mode at 940/6000 MHz. Let’s see what we’ve got.
The first and foremost thing we can note about the results is that there is little, if any, advantage from the EVGA card’s 3 gigabytes of memory. It’s only in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and only at 2560x1600 with FSAA that we can see a significant difference: the EVGA card is almost twice as fast as the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock 1.5 GB. However, that was just a single game out of the total of 18 tests.
We can also note that the EVGA is slightly inferior (by 1-2 fps) to the Gigabyte at the same frequencies (855/1710/4100 MHz). This may be due to different memory timings or BIOS versions.
And the last thing we can learn from this test session is that the Radeon HD 6970 cannot match Nvidia’s top-end solutions even if overclocked to 940/6000 MHz. With the two exceptions of Just Cause 2 and Total War: Shogun 2, the GeForce GTX 580 is up to 30% faster.
Here is a table with the full test results:
The EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified 3 GB didn’t demonstrate anything extraordinary in terms of performance compared to the fast version of GeForce GTX 580 we tested previously. Moreover, looks like Gigabyte card outdoes the EVGA offering in acoustic performance, cooling efficiency, overclocking potential and price. On the other hand, it is important to understand that these are somewhat different products, and not only due to the different amount of onboard graphics memory.
EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Classified was designed by true computer enthusiasts and is targeted specifically for such enthusiasts, because it offers a lot of unique features: high-quality components with long service life, reinforced power circuitry, special connectors for measuring voltages, an EVBot connector, LED indicators, dual BIOS, etc. In other words, those who are the primary target group for this particular graphics card will choose it no matter what, even though this group may be not very numerous. These features are going to be appreciated by enthusiasts whereas most other users will be quite satisfied with simpler and cheaper graphics cards which are just as fast.