by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
06/16/2009 | 08:45 AM
It is no secret that the question about the amount of onboard video memory a contemporary graphics adapter needs is one of the eternal questions in the consumer 3D graphics industry that keeps surfacing over and over again as the games evolve. Many gaming fans with years of experience should remember the times when users were arguing about the benefits of having 128MB of memory vs 64MB, and the benchmarks often showed that there was no serious performance gain so it didn’t make sense to pay extra money for additional memory.
As I have already said, technologies are never the same – game developers are in constant search for ways of increasing their visual attractiveness and I have to give them due credit, they do pretty well here. However, there is always a price for everything, and in this case you had to sacrifice your video memory resources. That is why what used to be expensive excess, soon became a worthy and then absolutely necessary condition for acceptable performance or even proper launching of the favorite game. As a result, the minimal amount of onboard video memory for a relatively high-performance graphics accelerator has gradually increased to 256MB and then 512MB. Today the latter number little by little becomes the necessary minimum – even the cheapest gaming graphics cards are currently equipped with so much memory, for example, a pretty successful Radeon HD 4770, while almost all higher-end solutions come with 896MB or even 1024MB of video memory. How soon will the time come for making the next step forward, if it should ever come?
There is no definite answer to this question. There is an opinion that PC gaming industry has come to a dead end. Even if we disregard the opinion about the genre crisis that also has every right to exist, we can actually state two things. On the one hand, we have reached the maximum resolution of 2560x1600, while most gamers are still playing in lower resolutions; and on the other hand, multimedia projects keep pushing in aggressively and they have very good chances of success as they are initially optimized for considerably more modest resources of Microsoft and Sony gaming consoles. Exceptions like Crysis, are luckily, quite rare, that is why we dare suppose that 1GB of video memory will most likely remain a standard for a pretty long period of time.
However, some graphics card makers dare take a look into the future and release solutions with extreme technical specifications. Sometimes, these launches become prophetical, but sometimes they just turn into pointless jumping the gun. In particular, we could offer you a very good example of the latter type: a budget graphics accelerator equipped with humongous amount of video memory – when the manufacturer tries to accomplish both: save some bucks and at the same time rely on the magic of large numbers to attract potential customers. This trick often works well, because not all gamers know that the amount of onboard video memory is not the only factor determining the graphics card performance.
We are not trying to unmask anyone here today, even though the solution we are going to discuss seems a little ambiguous. On the one hand, the manufacturer didn’t try to save on anything when they designed Gainward GTS250 2048MB Limited Edition, but on the other, is the use of so much memory on a GeForce GTS 250 justified? This is what we will try to find out today.
Our today’s hero ships in a pretty large box made of thick cardboard. It is has very attractive design with dominating blue colours:
The verdict about aesthetics of the package design is always subjective and is solely the matter of your personal preference and taste, but we believe that a spread angel looks much more attractive than robo-frogs on Palit’s boxes. However, in our opinion the font used for “GTS 250” doesn’t go well with the other elements of the package design. The box doesn’t bear too much information on it. When you see this box on a store shelf, you will only notice the card model name and amount of onboard video memory, while the memory type is indicated wrong: of course, the board is equipped with GDDR3 memory chips, not DDR3.
The accessories bundled with Gainward GTS250 2048MB Limited Edition solution are not very numerous and include the following items:
Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB we reviewed before was bundled with exactly the same accessories. This modest kit is quite justified by the price category where GeForce GTS 250 based solutions actually belong, even though Gainward GTS250 2048MB Limited Edition we are discussing today tends to be perceived as an elite product due to 2GB of local video memory onboard. Nevertheless, the bundle includes everything you might need for proper use of the card, including situations when it needs to be connected to consumer electronics devices and sound reproduction over HDMI. Having only one power adapter is no problem, because even inexpensive contemporary power supply units come equipped with at least one 6-pin graphics card power connector.
Overall, package and accessories of the Gainward GTS250 2048MB Limited Edition solution earn a good mark from us: the package looks very nice and attractive and doesn’t annoy the eye, while accessories are quite adequate for the price range this product belongs to. Of course, modest accessories bundle is no advantage, we would definitely only welcome any additional bonuses the manufacturer could offer us; however, it is also no serious drawback as long as everything necessary is there and the user won’t need to buy any additional adapters or cables. As for the things we could actually point out as issues, it is only a pretty common mistake with the wrong memory type indicated on the box: DDR3 instead of the actually used GDDR3.
The graphics adapter we are talking about today uses unconventional but unified PCB layout that we have already discussed in detail in our Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB review. You shouldn’t be surprised about it, because Palit Microsystems currently owns the Gainward brand.
The two graphics cards differ by the stickers on the cooling system casing, otherwise, they are of identical design. This graphics card design uses shorter PCB than the reference Nvidia solution, but requires two power connectors instead of one, which is undoubtedly excessive for a solution of this class, especially, keeping in mind how little power G92b actually consumes.
The GPU voltage regulator circuitry uses four-phase design with three power transistors in each phase and is based on ON Semiconductor NCP5388 controller. Anpec APW7068 chip is responsible for powering the memory subsystem.
Just like on Palit GeForce GTS 250 1G, Gainward card is equipped with 16 GDDR3 memory chips, 8 on each side of the PCB. In this case, however, they use Hynix chips marked as H5RS1H23MFR-N2C. According to their specifications, these 1Gbit chips work at 2.0V voltage and have 1200 (2400) MHz nominal clock frequency. Gainward GTS250 2048MB has 2GB of total local video memory onboard. The memory working frequency meets Nvidia’s official specs and is 110 (2200) MHz. Together with a 256-bit access bus it provides peak bandwidth of 70.4GB/s.
The die marking is the same as on Palit GeForce GTS 250 1G – G92-428-B1, but this particular sample was made on week 51 of 2008. The clock frequencies are also a little different from the reference and equal 745/1848MHz instead of the reference 738/1826MHz for the primary and computational die domains respectively. The graphics processor works in maximum configuration available for G92: 128 universal shader processors, 64 TMU and 32 RBE.
Just like Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB, Gainward GTS250 2048MB boasts very unusual configuration of the interface connectors that includes DVI-I, HDMI and D-Sub ports all together at the same time. The card doesn’t support outdated analogue video Outs in Composite, S-Video or YPbPr formats any more. Besides that, the card has an S/PDIF In connector typical of Nvidia solutions, and two MIO interfaces for building SLI or three-way SLI configurations.
The cooling system is exactly the same as the one on Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB, so we won’t dwell on it here. The main part of this system is a pretty low heatsink made of thin aluminum plates and connected to the copper heat-spreader plate with two heatpipes.
This cooling system may seem not very efficient at first glance, because the air flow needs to be turned around abruptly on a very short distance of only one and a half centimeters. However, as we have already revealed in our Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB review, this solution does it pretty well and proved quite efficient. Its only noticeable drawback is that the hot air is not removed outside the system case.
Gainward card uses Everflow R128015BH fan measuring 80x15mm and featuring 3.84W maximum capacity. At maximum rotation speed it gets pretty loud and its rotation speed control system starts working only when the OS and drivers have been loaded in full. As soon as it kicks in, the card becomes almost completely noiseless.
The heat-spreader base is covered with a layer of light-gray thermal interface. It is of pretty dry consistency and holds the GPU and the cooler base so firmly together that we were very concerned about the well-being of the fragile chip when we tried to remove the cooler. The memory chips are cooled with two metal plates equipped with elastic thermal pads. The cooling system sits pretty securely on the card. Besides, the protective casing prevents the heatsink from shifting, no matter what you do.
Overall, the design of Gainward GTS250 2048MB didn’t reveal anything new to us and proved to be exactly the same as Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB we have already discussed earlier. The only difference is the use on 1Gbit memory chips. This Gainward solution has two drawbacks that you can notice with a naked eye: the need for two power connectors and the cooling system that doesn’t remove hot air outside the system case. However, the latter issue can actually be stricken out because of low power consumption of the G92b chip.
Although Gainward GTS250 2048MB uses the same PCB and components as Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB, we measured its power consumption on our special testbed one more time. The testbed was configured as follows:
According to our standard methodology, the 3D load was created by means of the first SM3.0/HDR test from 3DMark06 running in a loop at 1600x1200 with forced 4x FSAA and 16x AF. The Peak 2D mode was emulated by means of the 2D Transparent Windows test from PCMark05. We got the following results:
Click to enlarge
Everything proved up to our expectations and we didn’t see any significant differences between the results obtained on Gainward GTS250 2048MB and Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB: this GeForce GTS 250 model consumes a little over 80W in 3D mode, which is way below the readings taken off Radeon HD 4850. I would like to mention one more time that using two power connectors seems to be unjustifiably excessive for the current power consumption readings of G92b chip.
The thermal readings were also quite logical:
As you see, there is not that much difference from Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB and the overall cooling efficiency is way higher than by the reference Nvidia cooling solution. Only the owners of small cases with poor ventilation should worry about possible overheating, because as we have already said before, Palit cooling solution doesn’t take hot air outside the system case.
The noise readings are also similar to what we took off Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB and are overall pretty low. The cooler is almost noiseless even in an open testbed, and we couldn’t hear it all inside our system case equipped with a relatively noisy power supply unit. At least this is what you get once the operating system and drivers are loaded, because until then the fan rotates at maximum speed and generates quite a bit of noise.
Even an overclocking attempt undertaken for Gainward GTS250 2048MB bore almost the same results as we got during Palit GeForce GTS 250 1GB overclocking, at least during GPU overclocking part:
We managed to raise its frequencies to 800/1984 MHz without losing stability. The memory overclocked a little better and worked stably at its nominal frequency of 1200 (2400) MHz. We considered the obtained frequency gains to be significant enough to affect the performance in contemporary games that is why we decided to test Gainward GTS250 2048MB in overclocked mode as well.
We are going to investigate the performance of Gainward GTS250 2048MB Limited Edition graphics card using the following testbed:
The graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:
The list of benchmarks includes the following gaming titles and synthetic tests:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
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 Gainward GTS250 2048MB Limited Edition graphics card we have also included the following graphics accelerators to participate in our test session:
We ran our tests in the following resolutions: 1280x1024, 1680x1050 and 1920x1200. 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.
Starting with version 1.3 we used built-in game options that allow recording the original demo. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t allow registering the minimal performance.
As we have expected, 2GB of graphics memory didn’t provide Gainward solution with any advantages. Moreover, all three GeForce GTS 250 models performed equally fast in all resolutions. The performance gain from overclocking helped our hero to secure the advantage over ATI Radeon HD 4850 in low resolutions and achieve parity in 1920x1200.
We were hoping to see the biggest effect from the large amount of video memory on Gainward GTS250 2048MB in Crysis Warhead. The game didn’t disappoint us, but the actual performance boost turned out really tiny – only 6% in 1920x1200 at a very low general performance level. Even in 1280x1024 the average GeForce GTS 250 performance didn’t exceed 20 fps, which is unacceptable for any gamer.
To ensure that we get extensive graphics cards performance report in Quake Wars we disabled the built-in average fps limiter in the game console. Since we use game’s built-in benchmarking options, there is no information about the minimal performance readings.
Having twice as much video memory has some effect on performance in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars game that uses MegaTexture technology. However, this effect is even smaller than in Crysis Warhead and varies from 3% to 5% in 1280x1024 and 1920x1200 resolutions. In 1680x10050 it disappears completely.
Far Cry 2 is the third game where we could theoretically see some benefit from having 2GB of video memory onboard, however, we didn’t see anything like that. While the performance difference between GeForce GTS 250 with 512MB and 1GB of video memory was pretty significant, especially in 1920x1200 resolution, further increase of the amount of local graphics memory didn’t generate any feasible results. I would also like to say that the performance boost we see during Gainward GTS 250 2048MB overclocking is also quite modest in this case and doesn’t exceed 4%.
Strange as it might seem, the advantage GeForce GTS 250 1GB demonstrated over a 512MB version decreases as the resolution grows, although theoretically, it should be the other way around. However, further increase in the amount of onboard graphics memory has no real effect anymore. Only in 1680x1050 we see a slight performance increase that doesn’t even reach 4%.
This game is based on Source engine and has built-in benchmarking tools that report no minimal performance readings.
We didn’t expect Source based game to set any serious requirements to the memory subsystem and it is actually correct: 512MB is more than enough for Left 4 Dead. However, overclocking helped Gainward GTS 250 2048MB to compete successfully against GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 – a solution from a higher segment.
To achieve playable speed in this game we disabled FSAA and such resource-consuming options as Sun rays, Wet surfaces and Volumetric Smoke. We used the Enhanced full dynamic lighting (DX10) mode and additionally enabled the DirectX 10.1 mode for the ATI cards.
Our expectations didn’t come true here, but the reason was most likely connected with not very aggressive detail level settings. Just like in the previous case, GeForce GTS 250 doesn’t benefit from having 2GB of video memory onboard. However, overclocking raises the card’s performance almost to the level of GeForce GTX 260 Core 216, at least in resolutions up to 1920x1200.
The performance delta between three GeForce GTS 250 models that differ only by the amount of onboard graphics memory is minimal and doesn’t exceed the measuring error allowed for our benchmarking methods. Overclocking squeezes additional 9-12% out of Gainward card, but even without it the performance is high enough for comfortable gaming. As usual, overclocking doesn’t make a lot of practical sense, which, however, is true not only for Devil May Cry 4 and GeForce GTS 250.
Today’s gaming consoles have much less onboard video memory than contemporary PC graphics cards. Therefore, all multi-platform projects are being optimized primarily for console technical specifications. As a result, most of these games have very modest requirements to the video memory subsystem of the graphics cards, and Prince of Persia is one of them. The only thing we managed to accomplish by overclocking our Gainward GTS 250 2048MB was to raise its minimum performance to an acceptable level in 1680x1050 resolution.
The GeForce GTS 250 model equipped with 512MB of video memory is a little slower than its elder brothers, but the difference is negligible even in 1920x1050 resolution and is even not noticeable with a bare eye. The performance in this case is at a pretty comfortable level, although there is no real reserve there. Only solutions of higher rank than GeForce GTS 250 can guarantee that.
Unlike Fallout 3, here all GeForce GTS 250 models are equally slow, although the solution with 512MB of memory is slower than the others. The only one fast enough for comfortable gaming with forced antialiasing in 1280x1024 is GeForce GTX 260 Core 216.
Just like in most other tests, twice as much video memory doesn’t give Gainward solution any real advantage over the competitors. However, overclocking helps it to significantly outperform Radeon HD 4850 and get close to GeForce GTX 260 Core 216.
We used the in-game benchmarking tools that do not allow measuring the minimal frame rate. We also enabled DirectX 10.1 support for ATI’s solutions.
This flight simulator is pretty sensitive to the amount of video memory, but you can only feel it in 1920x1200 resolution where GeForce GTS 250 solutions are no longer fast enough to ensure acceptable gaming comfort. In lower resolutions there is no difference between models with 512MB, 1024MB or 2048MB of memory onboard. Overclocking doesn’t seem to help GeForce GTS 250, either.
The game has a built-in fps rate limiter locked at 30fps that cannot be disabled.
We again experience problems with Nvidia based graphics cards performance in Red Alert 3 when FSAA is enabled: all three GeForce GTS 250 models show extremely low results and even GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 is not fast enough for comfortable gaming in 1280x1024. Nvidia based solutions won’t be a good choice for this series of games and the situation is unlikely to change soon.
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.
If you want to play World in Conflict with the maximum image quality settings, you need a better card than GeForce GTS 250 or Radeon HD 4850. Theoretically, there is no difference between the models equipped with different amount of onboard graphics memory, the games seems to be happy even with 512MB – memory bus bandwidth as well as its frequency and technical specs seem to be of much greater importance.
The results in 3DMark06 once again prove that it in fact didn’t make much sense for Gainward to launch a GTS 250 with 2048MB of video memory: the performance difference between our today’s hero and a standard solution equipped with 1024MB of memory is either absent at all or falls within the acceptable measuring error.
We minimize the CPU’s influence in 3DMark Vantage 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 results of 3DMark vantage are much more interesting: Gainward GTS250 2048MB managed to get far ahead of the common GeForce GTS 250 1GB in terms of general scores, but the GPU score turned out considerably smaller, although the card anyway passed 3000 points mark. Additional video memory may have come in handy during non-graphics related calculations such as PhysX physical model, for instance.
The results of individual tests do not contradict our assumptions. We only registered a slight advantage Gainward card demonstrated over the reference Nvidia solution in the first benchmark and it made about 3%. In both cases overclocking didn’t do much for the performance numbers, especially in the first test where we could see it matter only in 1280x1024 resolution.
The obtained results showed that it is not yet the time for graphics accelerators equipped with 2GB of local video memory and it is unclear if this moment comes any time soon. It is obvious that 1GB of video memory is currently the de-facto standard for pretty high-performance gaming solutions, because in most cases they outperform the same solutions equipped with only 512MB of memory quite significantly. 2GB of memory may only be beneficial in extreme resolutions like 2560x1600 or higher, for which the graphics cards of the same class as GeForce GTS 250 do not have sufficient GPU performance or memory subsystem bandwidth.
Just look at the summary charts below and you will be able to draw a sad conclusion that 2GB of video memory onboard the Gainward graphics accelerator we talked about today is just another marketing trick that doesn’t have any real practical value for the gamers.
The biggest advantage it ever gets over GeForce GTS 250 1GB makes only 6% in Сrysis Warhead and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars in 1920x1200 resolution. The average performance gain is less than 1% in up to 1680x1050 resolutions inclusive and is barely past this mark in 1920x1200, so it can actually be neglected. Especially, since it doesn’t provide a sufficient advantage in any of the games, so that the user could feel it without having resorted to testing tools like Fraps.
In fact, Gainward GTS 250 2048MB should be regarded as a common GeForce GTS 250 1GB using the same criteria. These graphics accelerators outperform Radeon HD 4850 1GB in most benchmarks giving in significantly only in Red Alert 3: Uprising and S.T.AL.K.E.R.: Clear Sky in 1920x1200, where the performance of this class of graphics solution is too low to have any real practical value. Nevertheless, ATI cards are faster in a number of games, which could also be the case for multiple games that we are not using during our benchmarking sessions. Therefore, the decision should solely be based on the type of games you prefer to play.
Other peculiarities of the Gainward solution we reviewed today are pretty minor and do not have any serious effect on the final verdict. Although we would like to remind you once again that this solution boasts extremely quiet and efficient cooler. Acoustics is of primary importance to many users out there and may become the primary reason for getting this particular GeForce GTX 250 model.