by Sergey Lepilov
01/30/2013 | 10:27 AM
In September 2012 we checked out the Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 graphics card from Zotac. We found it to be a good solution and it became quite widespread eventually, its retail price dropping to the recommended level ($229) and even lower. This price category being hugely popular among end-users, graphics card makers each has released not just a copy of the reference GeForce GTX 660 but two or three or even eight variations of it so that people could flexibly choose what’s suitable for them. There are some truly exciting products with original coolers and increased clock rates. It is about such GeForce GTX 660s that we are going to tell you about in this review. They come from EVGA Corporation, Gigabyte Technology and Micro-Star International.
EVGA has set a record making its variations on the GeForce GTX 660 theme. The company offered as many as eight models at the time of our writing this! Ranging in price from $239 to $279, they differ in coolers, clock rates and memory amount. We’ve got an EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2 with 2 GB of memory for us to test.
Its compact cardboard box is designed in an austere style. You can see key product-related information, including the type and amount of onboard memory, on the front of the box.
On the back you can see a list of supported technologies, accessories, video interfaces and awards collected by the product. The graphics card is additionally wrapped into antistatic and soft packs inside the box. It is accompanied by a DVI->D-Sub adapter, power adapter (two PATA->one 6-pin plug), a CD with drivers and EVGA Precision X, a EVGA sticker, an installation guide and a couple of leaflets:
The card is manufactured in China. Its recommended and retail prices almost coincide ($239 and $235). It comes with a 3-year warranty.
The EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2 isn’t an eye-catching thing, yet its restrained design is quite attractive in its own way. The plastic cooler casing with two sunken fans has titanium-like inserts and the SIG2 abbreviation in the top right corner.
On the reverse side we can see a short PCB with stickers and memory chips and the plastic extension of the cooling system. The card is 242 mm long.
As is typical of EVGA products, the card’s mounting bracket has a lot of vent openings.
This should make the cooler even more efficient. The EVGA has the same video outputs as the reference GeForce GTX 660: a dual-link DVI-I, a dual-link DVI-D, an HDMI connector and a DisplayPort.
One MIO connector for building 2-way SLI configurations and one 6-pin power connector can be found in their conventional locations.
The EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2 is specified to consume up to 140 watts of power and is recommended to be used with a 450-watt or better PSU.
The PCB follows the reference design and has a 4-phase GPU voltage regulator based on a NCP5395G controller.
Software-based GPU voltage regulation is supported. There is one more power phase for the memory chips.
The GK106 revision A1 GPU of our sample of the EVGA card was manufactured on the 35th week of the last year (in late August) and measures 221 sq. mm. The GPU die is not covered by a heat-spreader but protected by a metal frame:
The GPU clock rate is increased by 9.4% compared to the reference GeForce GTX 660: from 980/1033 MHz to 1072/1137 MHz. That’s the highest GPU frequency among the three products in this review. The GPU voltage is 1.175 volts. In 2D applications the clock rate and voltage are lowered to 324 MHz and 0.987 volts.
The EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2 is equipped with 2 gigabytes of GDDR5 memory in FCFBGA-packaged chips you can see on both sides of the PCB. These are K4G20325FD-FC03 chips from Samsung Semiconductor.
Rated for 6000 MHz, the memory chips are clocked at 6008 MHz by the card, so there is no factory overclocking in this respect. The 192-bit memory bus ensures a peak bandwidth of 144.2 GB/s.
Here is a summary of the EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2 specs:
The original cooler from EVGA has no proper name, yet it’s quite exciting in terms of design and performance.
The GPU is cooled by a large aluminum heatsink with a copper base and three copper heat pipes, 6 mm in diameter. The heatsink carries two 80mm 9-blade fans. An aluminum contact spot with thermal pad is used to cool the card’s power system components. That spot is actually formed by the bent ends of the main heatsink’s fins which are cooled by one of the fans, so it is a simple and seemingly efficient solution.
The heatsink is covered by a plastic casing which has cutouts in its rear and top.
So, some of the hot air goes out into the chassis and has to be removed by system fans. The card’s fans are the PLA08015S12HH model by Power Logic.
Their speed is PWM-regulated in a range of 1000 to 3100 RPM.
To test the thermals of the reviewed graphics cards we are going to use five consecutive runs of a pretty resource-consuming Aliens vs. Predator (2010) game with the highest image quality settings in 1920x1080 resolution with 16x anisotropic filtering and MSAA 4x antialiasing. We used MSI Afterburner 2.3.0 and GPU-Z 0.6.6 as monitoring tools. This test was performed inside a closed system case at 23°C room temperature. All thermal tests were carried out before we took the card apart, i.e. with its default thermal interface still intact.
Let’s see how EVGA’s original cooler copes with its job with its fans regulated automatically or set at their maximum speed.
Auto fan mode
Maximum fan speed
Running a little ahead, we can tell you that the EVGA is somewhat hotter than the cards from Gigabyte and MSI. In the automatic speed regulation mode, when the fans worked at up to 1830 RPM, the GPU was as hot as 72°C. At the maximum speed of 3090 RPM the temperature was 61°C. That’s good but far from impressive. Besides, we don’t take the noise factor into account as we’ll discuss it later on.
In our overclocking experiments we managed to raise the GPU clock rate of our EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2 by only 55 MHz and its memory clock rate, by 660 MHz.
The resulting clock rates were 1127/1192/6668 MHz:
That’s an average result for this review as well as for GeForce GTX 660s in general.
It should be noted that the overclocked card was the same temperature as before (72°C at 1830 RPM).
Not as prolific as EVGA, Gigabyte still offers a couple of interesting GeForce GTX 660s. We’re going to take a look at the fastest of them. It’s called Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 Ultra Durable.
There’s a robot eye looking at you from the front of the box. The card’s model name, memory type and amount and cooling system are also mentioned there.
Its specs are listed on the back of the box. You can also find descriptions of the cooler and Ultra Durable 2 technology there.
The accessories are limited to a power cable and a brief installation guide.
There is even no CD with drivers and utilities, let alone any bonuses like a free game or something. Of course, it is not a top-end graphics card, yet the other two come with more accessories. Manufactured in Taiwan, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 Ultra Durable costs $229 and has a 2-year warranty.
Gigabyte’s original graphics cards can be easily identified by the curvy outline of the cooling system which makes them most attractive.
The two 90mm fans with translucent blades and the black glossy frame on top of the heatsink cover the entire face side of the PCB. The card is 256 mm long.
The Gigabyte offers a standard selection of outputs including two DVI connectors, one HDMI and one DisplayPort.
The SLI and power connectors are perfectly standard, too.
The power requirements coincide with those of the reference card: 140/450 watts.
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 comes from the Ultra Durable 2 series, meaning that it employs high-quality long-lasting components such as Japanese solid-state capacitors, ferrite-core chokes and low-RDS(on) MOSFETs.
The PCB follows the reference design with a 4+1-phase power system.
The revision A1 GPU is dated the 30th week of 2012 (the second half of July).
It is clocked at 1033/1098 MHz, which is higher than the reference card's but lower than the EVGA's GPU frequency. The memory chips are identical to the EVGA's.
The Gigabyte complies with the reference GeForce GTX 660 specs in terms of memory frequency. Unfortunately, the graphics card makers are reluctant to pre-overclock memory chips.
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 Ultra Durable is fitted with the WindForce 2X cooler. We've examined it in our recent GeForce GTX 650 Ti review but seem to have an enhanced version of it here.
There are not two but four heat pipes in the cooler's base now. There's no direct-touch technology as the base is made of nickel-plated copper. The power components are cooled by the main heatsink via a thermal pad (as on the EVGA card).
The components of the cooler (the pipes, the fins and the base) are all soldered to each other.
The cooler has two PWM-regulated 90mm fans. According to our monitoring tools, their speed varies from 900 to 2600 RPM.
The WindForce 2X copes with its job superbly. In the automatic regulation mode its fans worked at 1920 RPM and the GPU was no hotter than 60°C.
Auto fan mode
Maximum fan speed
The GPU was a mere 55°C at the maximum speed of the fans! That’s an excellent result compared to both the reference card and the above-discussed EVGA.
We managed to overclock the GPU and memory of our Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 Ultra Durable by 90 and 760 MHz, respectively.
That’s the same GPU clock rate as we reached with the EVGA card while the resulting memory clock rate is even a little higher.
Gigabyte’s cooler did well on the overclocked card, keeping the GPU temperature as low as 61°C at 2010 RPM.
MSI offers as many as five GeForce GTX 660 models. The most exciting of them are the N660 Hawk (Limited District) with a GPU clock rate of 1085/1150 MHz and the today's GeForce GTX 660 Twin Frozr III. The eye-catching packaging with a 3-year warranty badge is extremely informative.
You can open the front flap and discover even more information about the graphics card and its technologies.
The accessories include everything we’ve come to expect from MSI products.
Manufactured in China, the graphics card costs $239.
MSI cards can be identified easily by their original Twin Frozr III cooler that covers the entire face side of the PCB.
The MSI GeForce GTX 660 Twin Frozr III looks splendid indeed. It has a standard selection of video outputs protected with plastic caps:
These interfaces allow using up to four monitors concurrently.
MIO and power connectors can be found in their conventional locations.
The MSI GeForce GTX 660 Twin Frozr III follows the same design principle as the above-discussed Gigabyte.
We can see the reference design with a 4+1-phase power system. It is additionally reinforced with solid-state capacitors that feature aluminum cores and super-low resistance.
Such capacitors are rated for 10 years of working at full load, so they can be easily sent on a Mars mission and expected to get back still working.
The revision A1 GPU is dated the 30th week of 2012, just like the Gigabyte’s:
It also has the same base clock rate of 1033 MHz (1098 MHz in the boost mode). The two gigabytes of GDDR5 memory are represented by the same Samsung chips as we've seen on the EVGA and Gigabyte cards.
The graphics memory is not pre-overclocked on the MSI GeForce GTX 660 Twin Frozr III. Therefore, the GPU-Z screenshot doesn’t tell us anything new:
The most exciting thing about this product is the MSI Twin Frozr III cooler with a nickel-plated heatsink and three copper heat pipes, the middle pipe being 8 mm in diameter (SuperPipe technology).
The components of the cooler are all soldered to each other. The power components carry a small heatsink with thermal pad. The two 80mm fans with Propeller Blade technology claim to ensure a 20% stronger air flow in comparison with ordinary fans. According to MSI, the Twin Frozr III lowers the GPU temperature of the GeForce GTX 660 by 22°C at 10.2 dBA less noise in comparison with the reference cooler from Nvidia.
The Twin Frozr III performs very well indeed:
Auto fan mode
Maximum fan speed
We have 61°C at 1830 RPM in the automatic fan regulation mode and only 50°C at the maximum 4470 RPM. The noise factor aside, that’s the best cooler in this review in terms of GPU temperature.
The three graphics cards covered here turned out to be similar in overclocking potential. The MSI could be overclocked by 50 and 700 MHz in GPU and memory frequency, respectively.
The resulting clock rates are 1083/1148/6708 MHz:
The overclocked GeForce GTX 660 from MSI is as hot as at its default frequencies: 61°C at 1800 RPM after five cycles of Aliens vs. Predator (2010) benchmarking:
We guess that’s an excellent result for such clock rates and the mentioned speed of the two 80mm fans. Let’s now see how noisy they are.
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 measurements were taken outside the system case, when the only noise source was the cooling system and its fans. The noise-level meter was set on a tripod at a distance of 15 centimeters from the graphics card cooler fan rotor. The mainboard with the graphics card was placed at the edge of a desk on a foam-rubber tray. The bottom limit of our noise-level metering device 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 cards’ fans was changed with the help of a special controller supporting 0.5 V voltage adjustment increments.
The vertical lines on the graph indicate the fan rotation speed range for automatic mode during our temperature tests. Let’s see which graphics card of the three turned out the quietest:
The graphics cards from EVGA, Gigabyte and MSI are actually very similar in terms of noisiness, their graphs being close to each other in the diagram. The fans of the EVGA and MSI cards even have the same speed range, although the MSI is somewhat quieter. However, the numbers and graphs do not agree with our subjective impression in this case. For example, the Gigabyte seems to be the quietest of all while the MSI is the noisiest to us (in the automatic fan regulation mode) – just the opposite of what we see in the diagram. Well, we must confess that none of these three cards will please users who want a silent computer. Each of them becomes audible against the background noise of a quiet computer system as soon as you launch a 3D application. Every card is quiet in 2D applications, though.
Now we can build a diagram to compare the noise and temperature of the cards in three modes: 1) automatic fan regulation mode and default clock rates, 2) maximum speed of the fans, and 3) automatic regulation + overclocked frequencies. The graphics cards are sorted in noise ascending order.
As you can see, the difference in noise isn’t large in the automatic fan regulation mode, as opposed to the difference in GPU temperature. Taking the temperature into account, it’s clear that the GeForce GTX 660s from MSI and Gigabyte are preferable to the EVGA.
We measured the power consumption of our testbed equipped with different graphics cards using a multifunctional Zalman ZM-MFC3 panel which can report how much power a computer (without the monitor) draws from a wall outlet. There were two test modes: 2D (editing documents in Microsoft Word or web surfing) and 3D (three runs of the Metro 2033: The Last Refuge benchmark at 2560x1440 with maximum image quality settings, but without antialiasing).
For comparison purposes we also added the results for ASUS GeForce GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP, ASUS GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP, Sapphire Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition OC and Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC Dual-X. Let’ see what we got:
The configurations with four different GeForce GTX 660s and one GTX 660 Ti don’t differ much in their power consumption, yet the one with the reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 is the most economical since that card is not pre-overclocked. Next goes the Sapphire Radeon HD 7870 whose peak power consumption is 402 watts. The configuration with the top-end GeForce GTX 680 from ASUS needs 8 watts more. The two GeForce GTX 660s (at 1033/6008 MHz) in 2-way SLI mode require almost 500 watts of power, i.e. 110 to 115 watts more than the configuration with only one such card. So, Nvidia seems to have played it too safe by specifying the power draw of one GeForce GTX 660 at 140 watts, but we should take the efficiency of SLI technology into account (90% in Metro 2033) together with the fact that the test load wasn’t 100% high.
It is the Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 at 1050/6000 MHz that needs the most power in this test. Its configuration requires as much as 522 watts. On the other hand, we can note that any of these configurations can be powered by a 550-watt PSU despite the overclocked six-core CPU.
All participating graphics cards were tested in a system with the following configuration:
Besides the above discussed graphics cards we also added five more products to our performance comparison charts. The first one is the reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 2 GB working at 980/6008 MHz frequencies, which will help us estimate the advantages of the factory overclocked products over the standard solution. The second is Asus GeForce GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP 2 GB (TI-DC2T-2GD5), included for comparison against one of the overclocked GeForce GTX 660 graphics cards from our today’s roundup. The third one is Asus GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP 2 GB (GTX680-DC2T-2GD5), which was added for comparison against a pair of GeForce GTX 660 based graphics cards tied together in a 2-way SLI configuration. At last, we also added two more graphics cards on AMD processors, namely Sapphire Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition OC 2 GB and Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC Dual-X 3 GB. I believe no comment is necessary as to why we chose these competitors. I would also like to add that like all other testing participants, the additional graphics cards were also tested at their original clock speeds (with all factory overclocking that is there right from the start):
As usual, 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 37x, BCLK frequency set at 125 MHz and “Load-Line Calibration” enabled to 4.625 GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.49 V in the mainboard BIOS:
Hyper-Threading technology was enabled. 16 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 2 GHz frequency with 9-10-10-28 timings and 1.65V voltage.
The test session started on January 3, 2013. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:
Since we have already tested GeForce GTX 660 extensively in one of our earlier reviews, today we will check out only one resolution - 1920x1080 pixels. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “Quality+AF16x” – default texturing quality in the drivers with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “Quality+ AF16x+MSAA 4(8)x” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and full screen 4x or 8x antialiasing if the average framerate was high enough for comfortable gaming experience. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing from the game settings. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panels of Catalyst and GeForce drivers. We also disabled Vsync there. There were no other changes in the driver settings.
The list of games and applications used in this test session was shortened and included one popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suite and 8 latest games of various genres with all updates installed as of the beginning of the test session date:
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.
As expected, the original GeForce GTX 660s do not differ much in performance. They are 4 to 5% ahead of the reference card. Meanwhile, the ASUS GeForce GTX 660 Ti is 11 to 19% ahead of the trio while the Sapphire Radeon HD 7870 can only be challenged at the Extreme settings.
The SLI tandem of GeForce GTX 660s (Gigabyte + MSI) feels good here, winning the test. Its efficiency is up to 74% at the Performance settings, so it is 14% ahead of the top-end GeForce GTX 680. At the Extreme settings the tandem is 22% faster, sporting 90% efficiency. That’s impressive considering that two GeForce GTX 660s are currently cheaper than a single GeForce GTX 680.
The resource-consuming Metro 2033 shows no difference between the pre-overclocked GeForce GTX 660s and the reference sample from Nvidia. The more expensive GeForce GTX 660 Ti isn’t much different, either. But the two GeForce GTX 660s in SLI mode sport a 90% performance growth and enjoy a 40% advantage over the GeForce GTX 680. The higher speed of the AMD-based solutions in this test should also be noted.
The four GeForce GTX 660s deliver similar performance in Total War: SHOGUN 2 – Fall of the Samurai. As opposed to Metro 2033, the GeForce GTX 660 Ti enjoys a larger advantage whereas the GeForce GTX 680 and the Radeon HD 7970 are the fastest single-GPU cards in this test. The SLI tandem built out of two GeForce GTX 660s is impressive again, beating the single such card by 85 to 90% and the GeForce GTX 680 by 27% in either graphics quality mode.
The three original GeForce GTX 660s and the ASUS GeForce GTX 660 Ti have a low bottom frame rate although the reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 is better in this respect. The GTX 660 tandem improves the average frame rate by 83 to 84%, but its bottom speed remains as low as that of the single card. Same-class GeForce and Radeon products are comparable to each other in this test.
This game shows the same picture as the previous tests.
The AMD-based solutions are preferable in this test whereas the four GeForce GTX 660s don’t differ at all. The GeForce GTX 660 tandem is good in terms of average frame rate (90% higher compared to the single card) but fails in terms of bottom speed. Indeed, this benchmark was jerky, especially in the high-quality graphics mode with antialiasing.
The four GeForce GTX 660s are also close to each other in Sleeping Dogs. And they are all inferior to the Radeon HD 7870. The GeForce GTX 660 Ti is 13 to 19% ahead of the GTX 660s, depending on the graphics quality settings, and there’s the same gap between it and the faster GeForce GTX 680. It is the GeForce GTX 660 tandem that’s the fastest solution again. Its bottom speed is okay, unlike in the previous test.
F1 2012 is the only game in this test session where the 2-way GeForce GTX 660 SLI doesn’t work very well. With antialiasing turned off, its performance growth is so small that the two GTX 660s cannot beat the single GeForce GTX 680 although they easily did that before. With 8x MSAA enabled, the SLI mode cannot be activated at all, making the SLI tandem somewhat slower in comparison with the single such card.
The four GeForce GTX 660s and the GTX 660 Ti are all at the same performance level in Hitman: Absolution and are all outperformed by the Radeon HD 7870. The SLI tandem is very fast: 96% faster than the single card and almost 30% faster than the GeForce GTX 680. It does have problems with the bottom speed in the high-quality graphics mode, though. Unfortunately, that’s a common problem of all multi-GPU solutions from both Nvidia and AMD.
Here is a table with full test results:
First of all, we want to remind you that eight out of the nine graphics cards in this review are factory-overclocked. The first diagram compares the EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2 (the fastest of the three GeForce GTX 660s) with the ASUS GeForce GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP:
Depending on the graphics quality mode, the EVGA is 0 to 20% slower than the ASUS. The average difference across all the tests is 13% and 7% with antialiasing turned off and on, respectively. Predictable enough.
As we’ve seen throughout our tests, the original pre-overclocked cards from EVGA, Gigabyte and MSI are but slightly faster than the reference card from Nvidia, yet we still want to show you the difference between the fastest of them, EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2, and the reference GTX 660:
So, the factory overclocking translates into a 3 to 4% increase in speed. It is a shame that the manufacturers do not overclock the graphics memory which, according to our tests, has rather high potential. It would ensure more speed at high graphics quality settings with enabled antialiasing.
Next, let’s check out the benefits of using two GeForce GTX 660s in SLI mode:
Excepting F1 2012, the multi-GPU technology works well, ensuring a performance boost of 83 to 91% compared to the single card. On the other hand, we have to admit there are bottom speed problems in certain games.
Now the last diagram compares the two GeForce GTX 660s with a single GeForce GTX 680:
Purchasing two GeForce GTX 660s instead of one expensive GeForce GTX 680 is justifiable as the SLI tandem is an average 26 to 28% faster across all the games. The bottom speed problems must be taken into account, though.
The GeForce GTX 660s from EVGA, Gigabyte and MSI have turned out to be very much alike to each other. We can’t name a clear winner or loser among them. Being pre-overclocked, they all deliver similar performance, beating the reference GeForce GTX 660 by 4 to 5%. The MSI GeForce GTX 660 Twin Frozr III is close to the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 Ultra Durable in terms of GPU temperature while the original cooler of the hotter EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2 copes well, too, especially as the EVGA has the highest GPU clock rate. When their fans are regulated automatically, they produce about the same amount of noise, even subjectively. Added to this are reference PCBs with some exclusive features, the same amount and clock rate of onboard graphics memory, identical overclocking potential, and scanty accessories (especially those of the Gigabyte). Moreover, they all cost the same amount of money, so we can’t really choose the best card of the three - EVGA GeForce GTX 660 FTW Signature 2, Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 Ultra Durable and MSI GeForce GTX 660 Twin Frozr III. The choice is yours!