Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 SLI: Double Impact

Nvidia GeForce 400 family that is slowly becoming history has never got a high-end dual-processor model. Maybe it is destined to be born in GeForce 500 family, and today we will try to find out what we could potentially expect from a hypothetical graphics accelerator with two GF110 onboard.

by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
01/14/2011 | 07:52 PM

Although Nvidia has made some serious progress recently, AMD’s graphics department is still in the lead when it comes to dual-processor graphics cards. Announced as far back as November 18, 2009, the Radeon HD 5970 remains the fastest single-PCB graphics solution available. You can only build a faster graphics subsystem by using multiple graphics cards whereas the Radeon HD 5970 needs just a single PCI Express x16 slot and a high-wattage power supply.

 

We had supposed that Nvidia would offer an alternative with two GF100 or GF104 cores to AMD’s dual-processor product. We had even estimated its potential performance by benchmarking SLI tandems of GeForce GTX 470 and GeForce GTX 460 cards in modern games and got most impressive results, but the successor to the GeForce GTX 295 never emerged.

Why? Perhaps the GF100 chip would be too expensive for such a product and the GF104 would not be fast enough. Thus, the GeForce 400 series has reached the end of its lifecycle without ever including a dual-chip model. It is now being replaced by the new GeForce 500 line-up. We are still waiting for the mainstream GeForce GTX 560 based on a revised GF104 core, but the senior models of the new series, featuring an improved GF100 processor, have debuted successfully.

We might expect Nvidia not to have any dual-processor card on their plans because their GeForce GTX 580, even though inferior to the Radeon HD 5970 in performance, is more than enough for the vast majority of gamers. Those few users who are not satisfied can build SLI configurations after all. However, AMD has explicitly indicated a dual-processor monster codenamed Antilles in their roadmap. It is also known as Radeon HD 6990. Although delayed recently, this card is still going to come out inevitably, so Nvidia might think it a matter of personal pride and technical prestige to offer their own dual-processor alternative.

What would a GeForce GTX 590 or 595 be like if it is ever produced? If based on two GF110 or two GF114 chips, it is going to be similar to SLI tandems of GeForce GTX 570 or GTX 560 cards. The latter variant is far simpler to design and cheaper to make but the former seems to be more likely to come out because it is faster. Of course, such a card would not affect the total sales volumes much, yet it would help maintain Nvidia’s image as a maker of super-fast premium-class graphics cards capable of competing and beating the Radeon HD 6990. That variant would also look promising in terms of technical specs:

Having two samples of the GeForce GTX 570, we now want to perform another test like those we did earlier and see how fast this hypothetic dual-GF110 product may be. Its technical specs are impressive and superior to those of the old Radeon HD 5970 in everything save for texture-mapping performance which is a well-known bottleneck of the Fermi architecture. Even a single Radeon HD 6970 is as good as the proposed GeForce GTX 590 in this respect, and the Radeon HD 6990 is head above the latter at processing textures. On the other hand, Nvidia can offer faster geometry processing and tessellation, so it is not very clear who’s going to come out the best.

One of the cards to be used in our GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem is Zotac’s GeForce GTX 570 (ZT-50201-10P model). Let’s take a closer look at it.

Zotac GeForce GTX 570: Packaging and Exterior Design

This GeForce GTX 570 comes in Zotac’s traditional black-and-orange box with a window that provides a view of the card without opening the package.

There is a foam-rubber tray inside the box to protect the card against any hazards. A transparent plastic cover is on top of it. The text on the box tells you the amount and type of the card’s graphics memory and that a copy of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is included into the box. The ZT-50201-10P model has no factory overclocking; its detailed specs can be found on a sticker on the right side of the box.

Besides the graphics card, the box contains the following:

These accessories from Zotac include everything you need to use the graphics card plus a copy of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. Perhaps not the best title in the series, the game features nice-looking visuals, even though its graphics and special effects are somewhat simplified as is typical of multiplatform projects. Moreover, few manufacturers now include any games with their products. The times when ASUS used to pack half a dozen of free games with their graphics cards are long gone. Overall, we can’t find any fault with the packaging and accessories of the Zotac GeForce GTX 570.

The ZT-50201-10P model (on the left) is a copy of Nvidia’s reference sample (on the right), the only difference being the sticker on the cooler casing.

 

 

As we wrote in our earlier GeForce GTX 570 review, Nvidia didn’t develop a new PCB for that card. Instead, they used the PCB of the flagship GeForce GTX 580 model. The differences between the Zotac GeForce GTX 570 and the reference GeForce GTX 580 boil down to the former card’s having 4 rather than 6 power phases in the GPU voltage regulator and 10 rather than 12 GDDR5 memory chips. We can even see the same Torx screws here that Nvidia chose to employ for some reason in its GeForce GTX 570.

The ZT-50201-10P has the same specs as the reference sample. Its GPU frequencies are 723 and 1464 MHz for the main and shader domains, respectively. They can be lowered to 405/810 MHz or 51/101 MHz in the two power-saving modes that the card supports. The GPU die incorporates 16 physical stream multiprocessors but only 15 are active. This lowers the number of active ALUs from 512 to 480 and the number of texture-mapping processors from 64 to 60. One of the 64-bit memory controllers is disabled, too, so the number of active raster back-ends is 40 rather than 48 and the L2 cache is reduced from 768 to 640 kilobytes.

The memory frequency is 950 (3800) MHz. With the 320-bit bus, the peak memory bandwidth is 152 GBps. The total amount of onboard graphics memory is 1280 megabytes, which is enough for any modern game even if you play at resolutions above 1920x1080 or 1920x1200. The memory frequency is lowered automatically to 162 (648) or 68 (270) MHz in the power-saving modes.

The Zotac GeForce GTX 570 is equipped with two DVI-I ports and a mini-HDMI. You can only connect more than two display devices simultaneously if you use this card in a SLI tandem. The GeForce GTX 570 supports 3-way SLI configurations, too, as it has two MIO connectors.

We described the cooling system in our earlier GeForce GTX 570 review. The new design with an evaporation chamber performs excellently, ensuring high cooling performance at comfortable noise. We don’t think that ordinary consumers will ever want to replace the default cooler with something else.

The Zotac ZT-50201-10P being an exact copy of the reference GeForce GTX 570, we will skip our traditional power consumption and noise level tests and will move on right to our benchmarks.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate the gaming performance of Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 SLI using the following universal testbed in testing conditions that are closest to real “combat” situations:

We used the following ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers:

The ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

Below is the list of games and test applications we used during this test session:

First-Person 3D Shooters

Third-Person 3D Shooters

RPG

Simulators

Strategies

Semi-synthetic and synthetic benchmarks

We selected the highest possible level of detail in each game. If the application supported tessellation, we enabled it for the test session.

For settings adjustment, we used 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 ran our tests in the following resolutions: 1600x900, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600. Unless stated otherwise, 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.

Besides GeForce GTX 570 SLI, we also tested the following solutions:

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 3.2.6. 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

Aliens vs. Predator

The hypothetic dual-GF110 based card would be able to make this game playable at 2560x1600, let alone the lower resolutions like 2560x1440. It will only be challenged by the Radeon HD 6990 Antilles here.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

It is clear that the SLI-based GeForce GTX 570 pair cannot show their best at low resolutions. It is unrivalled starting from 1920x1080, though. The only dubious point is whether the GeForce GTX 590, if it ever comes out, will use GF110 or GF114 cores.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Using an earlier version of the IW Engine than Modern Warfare 2, this game has very modest system requirements. Today’s multi-GPU solutions are redundant here because even a single GeForce GTX 570 delivers a playable speed at 2560x1600. Two such cards in SLI mode may only be necessary for panoramic visuals using three monitors at once. We cannot test such extremely high display modes as yet, and they are not so popular among gamers despite being touted by both AMD and Nvidia.

Crysis Warhead

The SLI tandem of GeForce GTX 570 cards stops very short of the comfortable limit at 2560x1600. This game is still a hard nut to crack even for the latest generation of GPUs, although its engine doesn't implement any of the advanced DirectX 11 capabilities. We are curious whether the Radeon HD 6990 will cope with it.

Metro 2033

This game is tested with tessellation turned on.

When tessellation is turned on, the game’s instantaneous frame rate may occasionally plummet below 10 fps, yet overall it is quite playable even at the highest resolutions. Take note that the SLI tandem is not much faster than the old Radeon HD 5970 at 2560x1600 in terms of average speed. This must be due to the difference in the amount of texture-mapping units: 120 against 160.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

We turn tessellation on in this game.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is far easier than Crysis Warhead, so using two GeForce GTX 570 cards instead of a single GeForce GTX 580 is hardly necessary here. The SLI tandem has a higher bottom speed, but also higher power consumption and noise level. A dual-processor successor to the GeForce GTX 295 would be a better option, especially as an alternative to the upcoming Radeon HD 6990, but so far a single GeForce GTX 580 should be quite enough for most gamers who play at 1920x1200. The Radeon HD 5970 is far from brilliant in tessellation-heavy games and falls behind the single-processor Radeon HD 6970 even at 1920x1080.

Performance in Third-Person 3D Shooters

Just Cause 2

The Radeon HD 5970 and the GeForce GTX 570 SLI are fighting for top place at 2560x1600 and the latter wins, even though the gap is not as large as we might expect from their technical specifications. Nvidia's solution is 15% ahead in terms of average frame rate, which is hardly what we want from a $650 solution. The Radeon HD 5970 is even less appealing, though.

Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2 has rather high system requirements but even the GeForce GTX 580 meets them even at 2560x1600. The average frame rate of the GeForce GTX 570 tandem is higher by 47-48%. A dual-chip card like that would make a worthy rival to the Radeon HD 6990.

Performance in RPGs

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout 3 doesn’t have any of the new-fangled resource-consuming tricks under its hood, so it is meaningless to build a SLI configuration specifically for this game. The GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem performs exactly like the single such card even at 2560x1600.

Mass Effect 2

We enforced full-screen antialiasing using the method described in our special Mass Effect 2 review.

Like in some other tests, the brilliant results of the GeForce GTX 570 SLI are not really called for. One such card is quite enough to enjoy the game even on a 30-inch monitor at the latter’s native resolution and with full-screen antialiasing. Nvidia must be given credit for the excellent scalability of the SLI tandem in this test, which is close to the theoretical maximum.

Performance in Simulators

F1 2010

Now this is one of the few games where the old Radeon HD 5970 can still put up a fight with our hypothetical GeForce GTX 590 at every resolution including 2560x1600. AMD’s solution has a lower bottom speed but is never slower than 40 fps. That’s quite enough for Formula 1 racing. The single GeForce GTX 570 offers a similar bottom speed, confirming that multi-GPU configurations are not very demanded nowadays in the times of multiplatform projects like F1 2010 which has been released for the PC as well as for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 Preview Benchmark

This benchmark makes wide use of tessellation to render the surface of the earth. The number of polygons per one frame can be as high as 1.5 million!

The GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem has no rivals here. It might only be challenged by a GeForce GTX 580 SLI or a 3-way GeForce GTX 570/580 SLI configuration. Take note that SLI technology increases the frame rate at 2560x1600 only. We don't see any performance growth from it at the lower resolutions.

Performance in Strategies

BattleForge

Nvidia’s top-end products with the Fermi architecture have always been good in BattleForge, especially in terms of bottom speed. The GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem carries this tradition on, winning the test. It doesn't open new opportunities for gamers, though. The game is playable at 2560x1600 even on a single GeForce GTX 570, let alone a GTX 580.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

The Radeon HD 5970 is quite competitive here. The GeForce GTX 570 SLI is somewhat faster at high resolutions, but the cost of this solution can hardly justify the performance benefits. If you want maximum performance whatever the price, you should wait a little for the next generation of dual-processor products from AMD and Nvidia. Other gamers are going to be perfectly satisfied with the GeForce GTX 580 which can easily cope with most games at highest resolutions.

Performance in Synthetic and Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

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 resolutions.

Our SLI tandem sets a new record of over 20,000 points, outperforming the Radeon HD 5970 by 6,000 points. So, a dual-GF110 graphics card, if it ever comes out, will be a very fast solution indeed.

The GeForce GTX 570 SLI wins each of the individual tests.

Futuremark 3DMark11

We use the Extreme profile here. As opposed to 3DMark Vantage, this profile uses a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels.

The SLI system is no faster than the single GeForce GTX 570 in our version of 3DMark11. This can hardly spoil our impression from its excellent performance in the other tests, though.

Final Fantasy XIV Official Benchmark

This benchmark can only run at 1280x720 and 1920x1080.

The GeForce GTX 570 SLI is just a little ahead of the single-chip Radeon HD 6970. We guess the upcoming Radeon HD 6990 is going to set a new record in this test.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

We use Normal tessellation in this test.

If this were a real game rather than a benchmark, the GeForce GTX 570 SLI would be the first solution to make it playable at 1920x1080. The resolution of 2560x1600 remains unbeaten, though, just like in the resource-consuming Crysis Warhead.

Conclusion

The results of our tests are hardly surprising. The GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem has colossal hardware resources and can cope with almost any existing game at any resolution. The only exceptions are the notorious Crysis Warhead at 2560x1600 and Metro 2033 with its wide fluctuations of speed with enabled tessellation. The Radeon HD 5970 has no chance, of course, but it is going to be soon succeeded by the Radeon HD 6990. Besides, premium-class multi-GPU solutions are often overkill for today’s multiplatform projects. Costly and less easy to manage, they do not bring any tangible improvements over top-end single-GPU cards.

Thus, Nvidia’s refusal to release a dual-GF100 or dual-GF104 product makes sense. Developing and producing such a graphics card would not be an easy matter. It would have a high manufacturing cost and price, so its popularity wouldn't be high. Such luxurious graphics cards account for but a negligible share of the total sales just because demanding gamers can be perfectly satisfied by a single GeForce GTX 580. However, Nvidia may want to respond to AMD’s upcoming Radeon HD 6990, so we may see another fight of dual-processor monsters yet.

3DMark11 was the only test where we had problems with our GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem. Its performance is best illustrated by the summary diagrams:

It is at resolutions of 1920x1080 and higher that such solutions are expected to show their best. The most popular resolution is 2560x1600 although some large-screen modern monitors with an aspect rate of 16:9 have a native resolution of 2560x1440 (WQHD) or 2048x1152 (QWXGA) pixels. In the highest display mode the GeForce GTX 570 SLI is an average 42-43% ahead of the single GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 5970. The performance scalability relative to the single GTX 570 card is 69% on average, but the overall number if spoiled by Fallout: New Vegas and 3DMark11. In some games the SLI scalability is actually as high as 90 to 100%. The notorious Crysis Warhead is the only game the GeForce GTX 570 SLI tandem could not make playable at 2560x1600. So, this SLI configuration is indeed extremely fast but we don't know if the hypothetic dual-chip GeForce GTX 590 is going to have the same specs and if it will be competitive to a Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire tandem or to the upcoming Radeon HD 6990.

Zotac GeForce GTX 570 Summary

The specific card we used for this review, the Zotac GeForce GTX 570, has all the highs of the reference card from Nvidia. It is a well-made product in the sub-$350 category that offers high performance and supports all modern technologies. It also comes with a copy of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.

Highs:

 Lows: