by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
12/10/2010 | 10:43 AM
September 13, 2010, Nvidia announced a new product in its Fermi-based line-up. It was the GF106 graphics processor and the GeForce GTS 450 graphics card based on it. Priced at $129, the new card was supposed to make Nvidia competitive in the entry-level segment. We discussed it in our review called Fermi Lite: Nvidia GeForce GTS 450 and were quite satisfied with both the new GPU and the new graphics card. The GeForce GTS 450 proved to be as fast as the Radeon HD 5770 and would even occasionally win some tests against the Radeon HD 5830.
Nvidia still had one gap in its product line-up, though. It was in the below-$100 category which, according to Nvidia’s own data, accounts for about 19% of the total graphics card market. Nvidia didn’t have competitive solutions there because its GT215, GT216 and GT218-based cards traced its origin back to the old G80/G92 chips and didn’t support modern technologies like DirectX 11 and Protected Audio Path. The GeForce GT 220 and GT 240 did their job well enough in their time, but had become quite outdated by the end of 2010, especially as AMD offered a full range of competing DirectX 11 compatibles. So, Nvidia needed a new product in that segment and they rolled it out officially on October 11, 2010. It is the GF108 processor, the junior model in the Fermi series.
The GF108 is the simplest new-generation solution developed by Nvidia. Just take a look at its flowchart:
Like its senior cousin GF106, the new GF108 contains but one graphics processing cluster (GPC). It incorporates only two stream multiprocessors with 48 ALUs in each. Thus, the GF108 has a total of 96 ALUs, just like the GT215 chip which used to be installed on entry-level GeForce GT 240 cards. Thanks to the polished-off 40nm tech process, the GF108 has a higher frequency, but it has overall become less complex than the GT215. Why? Let's check out the specifications of the GeForce GT 430 card.
Alas, the new card has only 16 texture-mapping units and 4 raster back-ends, which is too few even compared to the Radeon HD 5570. Despite the increased clock rates and better computing resources, we cannot expect the GF108-based solution to be superior to the GeForce GT 240. On the other hand, we must keep it in mind that $100 and cheaper graphics cards are not designed and bought for serious gaming. Their purpose is different.
They are meant to serve instead of integrated graphics cores and endow the computer with a full set of multimedia capabilities such as HD video support. They may also be used for running simple games at low resolutions. From this standpoint, the GF108 is blameless. It has inherited the best traits of the GF106 and GF104, including their comprehensive support for multichannel HD audio formats Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio by means of Protected Audio Path. Power consumption being an important factor for HTPCs, the GF108 is an improvement over the GT215 in this respect, too. Nvidia says its TDP is only 49 watts (the Radeon HD 5570 consumes even less, though).
Officially priced at $79, the Nvidia GeForce GT 430 completes the Fermi series and puts an end to the outdated G80 architecture. We can’t expect it to break any records in benchmarks, but we’ve got an interesting version of it from Gigabyte. So, we are going to compare the Gigabyte GV-N430OC-1GL with a couple of Radeon HD 5500 products that feature GDDR5 memory.
This product is shipped in a very compact box which contains the graphics card, a disc with drivers and a user manual. The only extra accessory you can find inside is a low-profile mounting frame.
The graphics card is cute and small and doesn’t show any visual sign of the potential of its GF108 processor.
This Gigabyte GeForce GT 430 has a half-height form-factor and is very short. Perhaps it’s even the shortest graphics card we’ve ever seen. It should easily fit into any system case but you must take note that for all its small size and entry-level positioning this card is equipped with a dual-slot cooler. It means you need some space around the slot you are going to plug your GV-N430OC-1GL into.
When we took the cooler off, we could see a very densely populated PCB. The power circuit is simple and uses two uP6103 controllers from uPI Semiconductor located on the reverse side of the PCB. The left part of the face side of the PCB is where the discrete voltage regulator components are located: chokes, power transistors and capacitors. There is no need for an external power connector because the GF108 is the most economical GPU in the Nvidia Fermi line-up.
The card is equipped with eight memory chips Samsung K4W1G1646E-HC11. We saw such DDR3 (or gDDR3 as Samsung calls them) chips on a few models of Radeon HD 5570 and 5450 cards. They have a capacity of 1 gigabit and work at a voltage of 1.5 volts. The HC11 suffix stands for a rated frequency of 900 (1800) MHz and that's indeed the memory frequency of the GV-N430OC-1GL card. The memory chips are connected to the GPU with a 128-bit bus, so the peak memory bandwidth is 28.8 GBps. That’s quite enough for the product category the Nvidia GeForce GT 430 belongs to.
The GF108 die is very compact and its packaging lacks a protective frame. The chip installed on our sample of the GV-N430OC-1GL was manufactured on the 35th week of 2010 and is revision A1. The Gigabyte card’s GPU frequencies are somewhat higher than those of the reference one: 730 MHz for the main domain and 1460 MHz for the shader domain. The manufacturer thinks that’s quite enough to justify the letters OC (for factory overclocking) in the product’s name. The GPU has a standard configuration with 96 stream processors, 16 texture-mapping units, and 4 raster back-ends.
The standard full-height mounting bracket offers an analog D-Sub connector together with DVI-I and HDMI ports. The latter two are available with the low-profile bracket but the image quality may be an issue in high display modes considering the use of a flexible cable. The described GeForce GT 430 is equipped with an HDMI connector but has a seat for a DisplayPort on its PCB.
The cooling system is just a plain aluminum heatsink with two 40mm fans. As opposed to the reference cooler, Gigabyte’s one has a double height, so you won’t be able to install the GV-N430OC-1GL into system cases that allow single-slot graphics cards only, such as some low-profile HTPCs or barebone systems. On the other hand, the high-performance cooler promises a comfortable level of noise.
The Radeon HD 5770 is usually equipped with DDR3 memory. One such model was covered in our earlier article. But as we noted in the mentioned review, there also exist versions of Radeon HD 5570 and HD 5550 cards with GDDR5 memory but lower frequencies and with somewhat cut-down configurations. We’ve got a couple of such cards and will have a closer look at one of them, namely at the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5, because both are designed in the same way.
As opposed to the above-described card from Gigabyte, this one is a full-size, even though rather short, graphics card that can hardly be installed into a low-profile system case unless the latter allows to turn the PCI Express x16 slot around by 90 degrees by means of a riser. The Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 has a dual-slot cooler which is rather large for such a modestly positioned and priced product.
The PCB design is obviously meant for some more advanced graphics card. It doesn't resemble the Radeon HD 5670s that we have tested in our labs. There are a lot of empty spaces on the PCB and, surprisingly, there is a seat for an external power connector although Redwood-based solutions are known to do well without external power because this GPU is highly economical. The GPU voltage regulator is based on an uP6201 controller whereas the memory voltage regulator is managed by an uP6101 chip. These controllers are both located on the reverse side of the PCB.
Each card comes with four 1Gb Samsung K4G10325FE-HC05 memory chips which can be found on many modern graphics cards. Their rated frequency is 1000 (4000) MHz. The four chips make up a total of 512 megabytes of graphics memory accessed across a 128-bit bus. Theoretically, Radeon HD 5570 and HD 5570 cards with GDDR5 are supposed to have memory frequencies of 900 (3600) MHz and 800 (3200) MHz, respectively, but our samples both have a memory frequency of 1000 (4000) MHz, providing a peak memory bandwidth of 64 GBps. This is much higher than that of the above-described Gigabyte GV-N430OC-1GL (28.8 GBps).
The Radeon HD 5570 and 5550 GDDR5 feature the RV830 Redwood processor which was discussed in our review called ATI Radeon HD 5670, Radeon HD 5570 and Radeon HD 5450: A Multimedia Ideal? Despite the rather massive cooler, there is no protective frame on the GPU die. The GPU frequencies and configurations coincide with AMD’s official specs. The GPU works on the Radeon HD 5550 in a cut-down configuration with 320 ALUs and 16 TMUs whereas the Radeon HD 5570 is no different from the Radeon HD 5670 in anything other than frequencies. In this test session the GeForce GT 430 will be competing with the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5 in the first place, the latter being inferior in texture-mapping performance but much faster in terms of scene fill-rate.
Each of these Radeons has three video connectors: DVI-I, HDMI and DisplayPort. We guess this configuration is adequate today as it doesn't include an outdated D-Sub, especially as analog connection can still be established by means of the DVI-I port and an appropriate adapter. Interestingly, there is a seat for a second DVI connector on the PCB. If it were installed, it would be located in the second tier of the mounting bracket above the first such port. It is also interesting that each card is designed to support CrossFire, although CrossFire connectors are often missing even on many versions of the more advanced Radeon HD 5670.
The cooling system of each card consists of a solid aluminum heatsink with an 80mm fan from Arctic Cooling. This should be more than enough to cool an RV830 chip working at a reduced frequency.
The lack of some elements on the PCBs of these cards suggests that they are some prototypes that can hardly be found selling in shops. Anyway, we are interested in learning how fast Radeon HD 5570/5550 cards with GDDR5 memory may be, so we are going to benchmark them today.
It is especially interesting to find out the power consumption of the GF108, so we performed the necessary tests for our GV-N430OC-1GL graphics card installed into the following test platform:
The new testbed for measuring electric characteristics of graphics cards uses a card designed by one of our engineers, Oleg Artamonov, and described in his article called PC Power Consumption: How Many Watts Do We Need?.As usual, we used the following benchmarks to load the graphics accelerators:
Except for the maximum load simulation with OCCT, we measured power consumption in each mode for 60 seconds. We limited the run time of OCCT: GPU to 10 seconds to avoid overloading the graphics card's power circuitry. Since Gigabyte’s factory overclocking is insignificant, we only measured the power consumption at Nvidia’s official reference speeds. Here are the obtained results:
The Gigabyte GeForce GT 430 has a very low power draw of about 23-24 watts when running a modern 3D shooter, which is comparable to the power consumption of the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5, much lower than that of the GeForce GT 240, and but slightly higher than the power consumption of the GeForce GT 220. The GeForce GT 430 is also economical in the other test modes.
The Gigabyte card is not exceptional in terms of temperature. At an ambient temperature of 25°C it was as hot as 70°C under load when installed into the closed system case of our testbed. That would be normal for a modern graphics card of a higher class, but we might expect better results from the economical GF108 processor with an improved cooler (compared to the reference cooling system).
The Gigabyte GV-N430OC-1GL is blameless in terms of noisiness. The couple of fans and the larger heatsink make their job perfectly and the card’s noise grows only by 1 decibel under load. You can hardly hear the sound of this card amidst the other noises produced by a working computer.
So, we can't find any fault with the Gigabyte GV-N430OC-1GL and its electrical, thermal and noise characteristics. Let’s now see how it performs in games.
We are going to test Gigabyte GV-N430OC-1GL in conditions that are as close to real life gameplay as possible using the following universal testbed:
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:
Below is the list of games and test applications we used during this test session:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
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, and 1920x1080, because the first resolution matches the category of the tested graphics accelerators and is standard for today’s inexpensive monitors, and the second one meeting Full HD requirements is mostly popular among those users who have monitors and TV sets with large diagonal dimension. In some resource-hungry games we only ran the tests in 1600x900.
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 Gigabyte GeForce GT 430, we also tested the following products:
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 3.2.3. In the latter case we ran the test three times and took the average of the three for the performance charts.
The outdated GeForce GT 240 defaults due to the lack of DirectX 11 support. Anyway, we can easily see that the GeForce GT 430 cannot compete with the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5, let alone with the Radeon HD 5670, and the modest factory overclocking doesn’t help the Gigabyte card here. It is only ahead of the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5, both being no faster than 21 fps. Well, we could hardly expect anything else from a $79 product.
Having the same number of computing units working at a lower frequency, the GeForce GT 240 is anyway ahead of the GeForce GT 430. This is due to the difference in the number of their texture-mapping and rasterization units: 32 to 16 and 8 to 4, respectively. The new card is overall similar to the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5, both unable to provide a comfortable frame rate at 1600x900 with the highest graphics quality settings.
We’ve got the same standings as in the previous test except that the Radeon HD 5670 wins the resolution of 1600x900. This game has lower system requirements and the GeForce GT 430 can be used to play at 1600x900 or even at 1920x1080 without turning off full-screen antialiasing or lowering the level of detail.
We might have expected such low results in this game. You can’t get 25 fps even from a Radeon HD 5670. We can note, however, that the GeForce GT 430, even with slower memory, is just as good as the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5.
This game doesn't have high system requirements, but the GeForce GT 430 class solutions only make it playable at resolutions up to 1600x900. The new card from Nvidia is a little slower than the older one again. It is competitive to the more advanced Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5, though.
This game is tested without multisampling antialiasing but with tessellation turned on.
The below-$100 cards are not meant to run such highly demanding applications which use cutting-edge graphics technologies. The GeForce GT 430 is about as fast as the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5, the average frame rate barely reaching 15 fps.
We turn tessellation on in this game.
The average frame rate of the GeForce GT 430 is higher than in the previous case but its bottom speed is too low to play comfortably. The Radeon HD 5500 series is even worse, though.
None of these graphics cards can keep the frame rate at 25 fps. The average speed only goes above that mark with the Radeon HD 5670, though. The GeForce GT 240 is somewhat faster than the GeForce GT 430 at every resolution and Gigabyte’s factory overclocking can't save the day.
The overall performance level is depressingly low, but the Gigabyte card is equal to the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 and even ahead in terms of bottom speed, despite the huge difference in their peak memory bandwidth.
The new Fallout has rather modest system requirements but the frame rate may bottom out below comfortable level on the GeForce GT 430 at 1920x1080. The Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 offers a higher speed whereas the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5 is limited to 1600x900.
We enforced full-screen antialiasing using the method described in our special Mass Effect 2 review.
The Radeon HD 5670 is the only card to cope with the game at 1920x1080. The GeForce GT 430 cannot provide a playable bottom speed even at 1600x900 whereas both Radeon HD 5500 series products with GDDR5 memory can do that. Nvidia’s solutions fail this test, except for the rather good results of the outdated GeForce GT 240.
We enable tessellation in this game.
Like in many other tests, the GeForce GT 430 is about as fast as the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5. Both make the resolution of 1600x900 playable with the highest graphics quality settings even though the bottom speed of each card is but barely above the comfortable level.
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 GT 430 is ahead of the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 in terms of geometry processing, but the latter has faster onboard memory. The two are equals as the result and their average frame rates are high enough even for playing at 1920x1080.
The Radeon HD 5670 turns in the best result, the GeForce GT 430 and the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5 bringing up the rear. The game is hardly playable at the average frame rates as low as 15-17 fps.
The Radeon HD 5670 and GeForce GT 240 are the only two cards to cope with this game at every resolution. The GeForce GT 430 and Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5 can only provide a playable frame rate at 1600x900, the AMD solution being a little bit faster.
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.
The ordinary GeForce GT 430 with the reference GPU and memory frequencies stops very short of scoring 1900 points. This is a low result, surpassing only that of the Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5. Gigabyte’s factory overclocking makes the card as fast as the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5, yet the GeForce GT 240 is still faster.
The GeForce GT 430 produces the same results in both tests. Perhaps the factory overclocking affects its performance somewhat more in the first than in the second test at 1600x900. Besides, we can note that in the Full HD mode of the second test the Gigabyte card goes ahead of the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5. Each test is won by the GeForce GT 240 notwithstanding its older architecture
This benchmark can only run at 1280x720 and 1920x1080.
The GeForce GT 430 performs well but somewhat slower than the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5. Gigabyte's factory overclocking helps close that gap. These solutions are quite fast in the HD Ready mode.
We use Normal tessellation in this test.
Although the Fermi architecture is generally superior when doing tessellation, the GeForce GT 430 is slower than the Radeon HD 5570 GDDR5, let alone the Radeon HD 5670, in this test.
There is a trend towards lower 3D performance among Nvidia's entry-level solutions. We noted it with the GeForce GT 240 which proved to be slower than its predecessor GeForce 9600 GT in a number of tests, although superior to the latter in terms of functionality and power consumption. This is quite justifiable on the manufacturer’s part: such graphics cards cannot be used to play modern games comfortably, but they are often bought for HTPCs, so their support for HD video formats is far more important than 3D performance which should only suffice for some casual gaming.
The Nvidia GeForce GT 430 carries the tendency on. Equipped with the cheapest Fermi series processor, it features PureVideo HD VP4 and Protected Audio Path but, compared with the GeForce GT 240, has lost half the texture-mapping units and raster back-ends. This shortage can't but affect its 3D gaming performance.
The GeForce GT 430 is unable to run modern games in the Full HD mode, with but a few exceptions. It is somewhat better at 1600x900 but we can’t call it a gaming card anyway, especially as it even falls behind the Radeon HD 5570 with GDDR5. The GeForce GT 430 is overall comparable to the rather rare Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5 in terms of performance, but its low-profile version, like the Gigabyte GV-N430OC-1GL that we have tested, has a number of other benefits. If your HTPC can accommodate a dual-slot graphics card, but you can’t fit a full-height model like a GeForce GTS 450 into it, Gigabyte’s version of the GeForce GT 430 is going to be a perfect choice as it is quiet, compact, economical, and functional (including DirectX 11 support). Besides, it can be used as a CUDA/PhysX accelerator in a configuration where 3D games run on a higher-class graphics card.