by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
12/24/2009 | 07:11 AM
Nvidia had been somewhat stagnant till the October 12 announcement of its new entry-level GPUs (GT218 and GT216) and graphics cards based on them (GeForce 210 and GeForce GT 220). We tested them and came to the conclusion that they are good enough for their class except for the junior model’s problems with high-definition video playback, which must have been due to some driver issues.
However, the GeForce 210 and GT 220 proved to be too slow in 3D games even though the senior model delivered a playable speed in games with low system requirements such as Left 4 Dead 2. The proposed application for these cards is to serve as high-definition video decoders in HTPCs. The GeForce GT 220 can also make an inexpensive PhysX/CUDA accelerator. So, Nvidia still had to offer an inexpensive gaming card because the GeForce 9600 GT was outdated and the GeForce GTS 240, being a re-branded GeForce 9800 GT with increased GPU and memory frequencies, was supplied to OEMs only and could not be bought in retail.
November 17, 2009, the company announced the GT215, a faster GPU than the previously announced GT216 and GT218. GT215-based cards were also announced under the name of GeForce GT 240. The delay must have been due to some problems Nvidia had had mastering new 40nm tech process to manufacture that rather complex GPU. Besides, the company had to reduce the clock rate of the GT215 to achieve an acceptable chip yield. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to report to you on the GeForce GT 240 series earlier, but we are going to give you’re a thorough test of it right now, comparing it with AMD’s Radeon HD 4670 and HD 4770 in today’s games. First, let’s see where the GeForce GT 240 series stands among same-class solutions from AMD and Nvidia.
Nvidia’s new entry-level gaming graphics card based on the 40nm GT215 core has the following specs (compared to its opponents from AMD as well as to similar products from Nvidia).
Click to enlarge
The new card comes in three flavors which differ in the type and frequency of graphics memory. The cheapest version is distributed among OEMs and equipped with cheap and fast DDR3 but the memory frequency is only 900 (1800) MHz, which limits the memory bandwidth to 28.8GBps. This is unserious even in comparison with the Radeon HD 4770.
The GeForce GT 240 GDDR3 has a memory bandwidth of 32GBps, but that’s not high, either. We guess that this version is going to be the most popular one on the market. Its recommended price is $99.
And finally, the GDDR5 version is competitive to the GeForce 9600 GT and Radeon HD 4770 in terms of memory bandwidth but is no match to newer solutions from AMD as well as to the G92b-based GeForce GTS 240. In fact, the latter card has no relation whatsoever to Nvidia’s new series except for the number 240 in the name. Nvidia just can’t help bringing some confusion into its product nomenclature.
Thus, it is from the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 that we can expect a more or less comfortable performance in modern games, perhaps not at high resolutions. It should be noted that at the time of the announcement of the GeForce GT 240 series there was only one Nvidia partner that had managed to roll out the GDDR5 version. It was Palit Microsystems. The company has introduced as many as five variants of the new card by now: one with DDR3, one with GDDR3, and three variants with GDDR5 including the pre-overclocked GeForce GT 240 Sonic that we’ve got for our tests.
Other than the memory, all GeForce GT 240 variants are identical. They are all based on the new GT215 core that is meant to replace the outdated G94, the heart of the GeForce 9600 series. We cannot say that the new chip is simple. Having only 96 shader processors, 32 TMUs and 8 RBEs, it incorporates almost as many transistors as the G92b which has 128 shader processors, 64 TMUs and 16 RBEs. The GPU die is smaller due to the 40nm tech process, though. Squeezing 727 million transistors into 139 square millimeters wasn’t easy. Nvidia had to cut the clock rates of the GT215 even in comparison with the 65nm G94, let alone the simpler GT216, to get to the required level of chip yield.
Thus, comparing the GeForce GT 240 with its closest relations and opponents, we can see that the GT215-based cards can only really substitute the GeForce 9600 GT in the GDDR5 variant. Although they are superior to their predecessor in terms of computing resources with 50% more shader processors, we cannot expect a 50% performance boost. Why? First, they have lower clock rates. Second, the GT215 has only 8 raster back-ends as opposed to the G94’s 16 RBEs. Although the latter parameter is but seldom a bottleneck in games and may only show up at high resolutions, even the ageing Radeon HD 4770 has 16 RBEs on board. We will check this all out in our practical tests, of course.
It is the processing of multimedia data that the GeForce GT 240 is obviously strong at. Like the previously released GT216 and GT218 cores (the GeForce GT 220 and GeForce 210 cards, respectively), the GT215 is equipped with the fourth-generation PureVideo HD engine and offers full hardware acceleration for both H.264 and VC-1 decoding. It can also output audio over HDMI. It is declared to support HDMI 1.3a but, as we noted in our GeForce GT 220 and 210 review, the lack of Protected Audio Path support means that the card cannot output HD audio in formats other than LPCM. ATI’s fifth-generation Radeon HD series is so far the only graphics card series to offer full support for Dolby True HD and DTS HD/DTS HD Master Audio.
Serving as a discrete PhysX/CUDA accelerator is one more application the GeForce GT 240 may be good at with its 96 unified shader processors. Of course, its computing resources are weaker than those of the Radeon HD 5750 or even Radeon HD 4770, but Nvidia’s GPGPU implementation is superior as yet and enjoys broader support from third-party software developers.
Summing it up, the GeForce GT 240 looks a worthy successor to the GeForce 9600 GT but Nvidia has fallen behind technically anyway. While ATI is already playing on the DirectX 11 field and its solutions have supported HD video decoding and audio-over-HDMI since ancient times (Radeon HD 3000/UVD+), Nvidia is only beginning to implement the transitional DirectX 10.1 standard. Besides, the success of the GeForce GT 240 is going to be strongly influenced by its pricing. The price must be much lower than that of the Radeon HD 5750 as the GeForce GT 240 cannot compete with the latter. GT215-based cards must not cost more than $100 in retail. A price of $80-90 would be even better. Otherwise, we don’t think the GeForce GT 240 will have any appeal in the customer’s eye.
That’s the end of the theoretical part of this review. We will now proceed to practical matters using two closely related products: Palit GT 240 Sonic and Gainward GeForce GT240 1024MB GDDR5 GS.
Both cards come in rather compact packages, Palit’s kit being a little bit larger. They are designed in different ways, of course.
Palit and its subsidiary Gainward have a strong dislike of the very idea of changing anything in the design of its product boxes. So, we again see the armored frog and the angel that our readers should already be familiar with, this time in a new color scheme and with some new details. The accessories are limited to a disc with drivers and a user manual. This should be quite enough for a GeForce GTS 240, though. These graphics cards just don’t need any cables or adapters as they have native DVI-I, D-Sub and HDMI connectors and don’t require additional power supply.
As we’ve noted already, Gainward is currently a subsidiary of Palit Microsystems focused on elite graphics card models which differ from mass-market products with higher overclockability or rich accessories. Therefore we were not surprised to find the Palit GT 240 Sonic and Gainward GeForce GT240 1024MB GDDR5 GS to be not just similar but exactly the same. They share the same PCB design.
Thus, the cards seem to differ with coolers only. The Gainward has a larger heatsink and a fan with a red impeller. The Palit’s cooler has an orange fan and a smaller heatsink. Both fans use a 2-pin connection. The aerodynamic casings are different, too. The Gainward GeForce GT 240 looks more aggressive than its twin Palit.
Other than that, we could not find any visible differences, except for the stickers with names and serial numbers. The power circuit of each card follows a 2+1 design with a 2-phase GPU voltage regulator and a single-phase memory voltage regulator. The former has 2 power MOSFETs in each phase and also has seats for additional transistors. Thus, the GPU power circuit can be reinforced if necessary. No external power is required. The GT215 is satisfied with what it can get from the power section of the PCI Express slot.
An uP6210 chip from uPI Semiconductor is used as the controller. The same chip is employed in the power circuit of the Gainward GeForce GT220 1024MB. The memory power supply is controlled by an uP6161 chip; we saw it earlier on the Gainward GeForce GT220 1024MB, too.
Both cards are equipped with GDDR5 memory from Samsung (K4G10325FE-HC05, 1Gb, 1.5V, 1000 (4000) MHz).
Eight such chips make up a graphics memory bank of 1 gigabyte with 128-bit bus. Thus, these two cards represent the faster version of GeForce GT 240.
Each card’s memory frequency is pre-overclocked from 850 (3400) to 945 (3780) MHz, which improves memory bandwidth from 54.4 to 60.5GBps. This is still lower than the Radeon HD 5750’s 73.6GBps, though.
The two GT215 GPUs have the same marking of GT215-450-A2 and were manufactured at the same time: on the 40th week of this year. They are also pre-overclocked to the same level: from 550/1340MHz to 585/1424MHz. This is still too low in comparison with Nvidia’s earlier solutions. The GPUs don’t even make it to 600MHz.
Each card is equipped with DVI-I, HDMI and D-Sub connectors, saving the user the trouble of connecting adapters. You may only need one (a DVI-I → HDMI) to connect two monitors with DVI inputs. Nvidia’s new 40nm GPUs can work with audio, bypassing S/PDIF, so you don’t have to connect any additional cables. SLI technology is supported but, even though the GeForce GT 240 should be considerably faster than the GeForce GT 220, we guess multi-GPU subsystems built out of such cards won’t be popular.
Thus, the Palit GT 240 Sonic and Gainward GeForce GT240 1024MB GDDR5 GS look absolutely equal to each other, except that the latter has a seemingly more effective cooler that may help it overclock better just as is expected from a Golden Sample product. Well, we are yet to check out of the Gainward version is an elite product or you can just as well buy a Palit GT 240 Sonic.
We had already measured the power consumption of the GeForce GT 240 on our older testbed, so we performed new measurements using a new testbed with the following configuration:
The new testbed for measuring electric characteristics of graphics cards is based on the measurement tool developed by Oleg Artamonov and described in his report PC Power Consumption: How Many Watts Do We Need? The tool facilitates and automates the measurement process.
We changed the tests, too. We discarded old synthetic benchmarks from Futuremark and replaced them with real-life tasks such as playing high-definition video and a modern 3D shooter with DirectX 10 support. We also added OCCT Perestroika: GPU that can load any graphics card fully so that we could measure the power consumption under maximum load. Practice suggests that OCCT: GPU copes better with this job than the notorious OpenGL-based FurMark the graphics card developers have learned to protect their products against. We used the following test settings:
Except for the maximum load simulation with OCCT, we measured power consumption in each mode for 60 seconds. After OCCT: GPU had triggered the PSU’s protection a couple of times on a system with a Radeon HD 5970, we limited its run time to 10 seconds.
We got the following data using the new method:
The card behaves predictably. The only interesting thing is the behavior when playing high-definition video in PowerDVD 9: the load on the 12V line is rather high for the first 5-8 seconds, reaching over 2 amperes at peaks, but then lowers considerably. The power management system seems to realize that this task does not need lots of resources and enables power-saving features, reducing the GPU and memory clock rates.
The 3.3V line is almost unused while the maximum current on the 12V line is not higher than 3.7 amperes, which means 44.4 watts. Yes, the GeForce GT 240 is indeed an economical solution, surpassing the Radeon HD 4770. ON the other hand, the Radeon HD 5750 is almost as economical while delivering a much higher performance in 3D applications.
* - proprietary cooling system
** - passive cooling system
The cooling system installed on the Gainward GeForce GT240 1024MB GDDR5 GS is indeed more efficient but the difference is a mere 1°C under load and 2°C in idle mode. Is it quieter then?
We measured the noise with a noise-level meter Velleman DVM1326. The reference point for our noise measurement tests is 43dBA which is the level of ambient noise in our test lab as measured at a distance of 1 meter from the testbed with a passively cooled graphics card inside. When we installed the tested graphics cards, we got the following results:
So, the 80mm fan of the Gigabyte card’s cooler is not loud in any mode (its noise cannot be heard against the noise from our Enermax Galaxy DXX EGX1000EWL power supply) while the Palit GT 240 Sonic accelerates its fan in 3D mode, the noise-level meter reporting this quite clearly. The noise is audible although not really loud. Its spectrum is not irritating.
Our samples of the cards performed differently at overclocking.
The Palit GT 240 Sonic did better in terms of memory frequency, reaching 1050 (4200) MHz, but the Gainward GeForce GT240 1024MB GDDR5 GS proves its Golden Sample nature by outperforming its mate in terms of GPU frequency: 665/1619MHz is quite a serious overclocking gain and we tested the card at such frequencies. So, if you are into overclocking, you may want to prefer the Gainward version, which is also quieter in 3D mode. Now, let’s proceed to gaming tests.
We are going to investigate the performance of GeForce GT 240 graphics cards using the following universal testbed:
The graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:
Since GeForce GT 240 graphics cards can be quite fit for contemporary games we used the complete set of gaming benchmarks including the following titles:
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.
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 3.0.2. In the latter case we ran the test three times and took the average of the three for the performance charts.
The GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 at default frequencies is ahead of the GeForce 9600 GT at resolutions of 1280x1024 and higher but can only deliver a playable frame rate at 1680x1050/1600x1200. Its bottom speed is too low at 1920x1200. The overclocked Palit/Gainward cards are considerably faster and catch up with the Radeon HD 4770, but cannot make the resolution of 1920x1200 playable, either. On the other hand, no one had expected the GeForce GT 240 to run modern high-tech 3D shooters at 1920x1200.
More advanced solutions than the GeForce GT 240 fail to run Crysis Warhead at a comfortable speed, so we can’t demand anything from it. We can note, however, that the new card is faster than its processor. The gap is large enough at 1920x1200 due to the larger amount of graphics memory. The GeForce GT 240 cannot match the Radeon HD 4770, though.
The Palit and Gainward cards perform well in Far Cry 2, allowing to play comfortably at 1280x1024 with maximum graphics quality settings together with 4x FSAA. The standard GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 with reference frequencies is not so good due to the low bottom speed. The bottom speed of the Palit and Gainward falls below a comfortable level at 1680x1050, but the game seems playable enough if you turn FSAA off. The Radeon HD 4770 is better than the Palit and Gainward in average performance but inferior to them in bottom speed.
The game’s integrated benchmarking tools are far more accurate than Fraps but cannot report the bottom frame rate.
The game features extremely low system requirements and all of the tested cards deliver playable frame rates at every resolution including 1920x1200. It must be noted that the GeForce GT 240 is inferior to the GeForce 9600 GT here: faster at low resolutions and slower at high resolutions. This must be due to the higher GPU clock rates and the higher influence of the RBEs on the overall performance than with newer game engines. It is only through additional overclocking – to higher frequencies than the default pre-overclocked frequencies of the Palit and Gainward cards – that the GT215-based cards can gain the upper hand and catch up with the Radeon HD 4770.
We use the highest settings in the new S.T.A.L.K.E.R. but without antialiasing. We turn on the DirectX 10.1 and DirectX 11 modes products that support them.
The GeForce GT 240 does not benefit much through its DirectX 10.1 support. The Radeon HD 4770 is far from brilliant in this test, either. It is only at 1920x1200 that the new mainstream GPU from Nvidia delivers a higher bottom speed than the older one. You have to lower the graphics quality settings to play this game on inexpensive graphics cards.
The game was tested in OpenGL-based multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, the integrated benchmark cannot report the bottom frame rate.
The Gainward/Palit graphics cards can match the GeForce 9600 GT at the overclocked frequencies only. At the default frequencies, let alone the frequencies of the reference sample, they fall behind their predecessor. All these variants of GeForce GT 240 can be used for play at resolutions up to 1680x1050. You can even try 1920x1200. That’s a good result for an entry-level solution although the Radeon HD 4770 looks preferable.
The reduced frequencies of the GT215 show up in Street Fighter IV. The reference GeForce GT 240 is slower than the GeForce 9600 GT and the Gainward/Palit version falls behind at 1920x1200, too. The GT215-based solutions are always inferior to the Radeon HD 4700, especially at high resolutions, but the new card should be given credit for delivering a comfortable frame rate even at 1920x1200.
The Radeon HD 4770 boasts a higher bottom speed than the GeForce GT 240 at 1920x1200 but Nvidia’s entry-level gaming card looks just as well as its opponent at the lower resolutions. The improved architecture gives the GT215-based solutions an edge against the GeForce 9600 GT, which is especially conspicuous with the pre-overclocked GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 variants.
Judging by the numbers, the Radeon HD 4770 is better for playing at 1920x1200 as it ensures a higher bottom speed. However, we did not feel any difference between it and the overclocked GeForce GT 240 GDDR5. The GeForce 9600 GT has a higher bottom speed than Nvidia’s new cards, obviously because it has higher GPU clock rates and more RBEs on board.
This game uses DirectX 11 but can run under Windows 7 on DirectX 10/10.1 graphics cards without hardware tessellation.
The modest GeForce GT 240 is just as good as the Radeon HD 5750 with all its advanced capabilities. The game is playable at very resolution up to 1680x1050. Judging by the results of the GeForce GTS 250, the game engine prefers Nvidia’s GPUs.
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.
Nvidia is traditionally strong in this game, and the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 outperforms the Radeon HD 5750 even at the reference frequencies. Its DirectX 10.1 support helps it beat the GeForce 9600 GT, too. We guess you should limit yourself to 1280x1024 in this game as the control accuracy worsens on GeForce GT 240-class cards in the higher display modes.
We turn on DirectX 11 support for the Radeon HD 5000 series in this game.
The GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 fails in BattleForge completely. Even overclocked to its maximum, this card is slower than the GeForce 9600 GT, the gap being quite large at 1920x1200. It is also worse than the other tested cards and its performance is too low for comfortable play even at 1280x1024.
The GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 is just as good as the other tested solutions in this game, especially in terms of bottom speed. In fact, it can run the game as successfully as the more advanced Radeon HD 5750 and GeForce GTS 250 at 1280x1024. The new card’s bottom speed is low at the higher resolutions but its opponents have the same problems. Our overclocking above the factory frequencies of the Gainward and Palit cards has no visible effect.
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.
While the GeForce 9600 cannot score even 2000 points here, the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 easily does that. When overclocked to its maximum, this inexpensive G215-based solution has a score of almost 3000 points. This is not enough to beat the Radeon HD 4770, though.
The individual tests produce interesting results. The GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 is ahead of the GeForce 9600 in the first test only. The oldie beats the newcomer in the second test when the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 works at the reference frequencies. It is only through overclocking that it wins at 1920x1200 and narrows the gap at the lower resolutions.
The GeForce GT 240 came out a well-made product. For all its lowered clock rates, it is a worthy successor to the GeForce 9600 GT. Although slower than the latter in some games, the GeForce GT 240 is far more economical and has broader HD video processing capabilities by incorporating the same fourth-generation PureVideo HD engine as the simpler GT216 and GT218 GPUs have. Thus, the GeForce GT 240 offers full hardware acceleration for all modern HD video formats including VC-1 and can output audio over HDMI without S/PDIF. The lack of Protected Audio Path prevents this card from supporting Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio, though.
As for the gaming performance you can expect from the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5, the summary diagrams provide a clear picture of it.
When clocked at the frequencies recommended by Nvidia, the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 is inferior to the GeForce 9600 GT in 7 or 8 tests depending on the resolution. The maximum gap is about 28% and the maximum advantage is nearly 70% (it’s at 1920x1200 in Crysis Warhead because the new card has 1024MB of memory and the older card, only 512MB). The factory overclocking of the Gainward and Palit cards adds 8-9% more and the number of lost tests is 7 at low resolutions and 5 at 1920x1200.
Unfortunately, the GeForce GT 240 cannot compete with the Radeon HD 4770, but the latter is more expensive. Nvidia’s card will only have problems if it does not cost less than AMD’s card in retail.
The GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 is quite a gaming card, particularly if pre-overclocked, except for some heavy applications like Crysis Warhead or S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. In most other cases you will have a playable frame rate, especially if you don’t enable resolutions higher than 1680x1050 the GeForce GT 240 is not actually meant for (it can deliver a comfortable frame rate at 1920x1200 in certain games, though, if you turn FSAA off). Thus, if you don’t want to go AMD for some reason, the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 can make a good choice for a rather fast but quiet and economical HTPC that can be used for gaming among other things.
As for the specific products, the Palit GT 240 Sonic and Gainward GeForce GT240 1024MB GDDR5 GS are both attractive, but the Gainward is somewhat better due to its quieter cooler and higher overclocking potential. We recommend using it for an HTPC. If you don’t mind the small difference in noise, the Palit GT 240 Sonic will be just as good as its twin brother, though.