by Sergey Lepilov
09/26/2011 | 09:26 AM
We often use the term “super cooler” in our reviews to denote the most efficient air-based cooling system that is capable of handling an overclocked CPU without producing much noise. But after our tests of the exquisite Sapphire Radeon HD 6950 2GB Toxic Edition we are now thinking whether we should introduce the term “super graphics card” which would denote a product with unprecedented performance and unique features.
We think we really need such a term because we've got yet another graphics card that claims to be super. It's Gigabyte's GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB SuperOverclock.
After browsing through the websites of the major graphics card makers, we can infer that the Gigabyte product is the fastest single-GPU graphics card available today and may remain such until the next generation of Nvidia and AMD GPUs. We're most excited to test it, so let's get started.
The product packaging is eye-catching with the shiny words “Super Over Clock” on its front.
The graphics card's features are described on the back. That's quite an interesting read, by the way. The external colorful wrapper envelops a cardboard box that contains the graphics card and its accessories.
The accessories include everything you need to use the product:
Being a top-end graphics card, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock is quite expensive at $519. Besides the card and accessories this money buys you a 3-year warranty. The card is manufactured in Taiwan.
The GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock looks very stylish with its matte black casing that covers the entire face side of its PCB. It has three 92mm fans with pretty translucent impellers and a thick 8mm heat pipe at the top.
The PCB is 277 millimeters long. The cooler's casing doesn't go out of the PCB's limits as most other nonstandard cooling systems do. The other dimensions of the card are 110 and 39 millimeters.
The GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock is equipped with two DVI ports and one mini-HDMI output. There is also a vent grid in its mounting bracket.
You can also find two MIO connectors for SLI configurations, one 6-pin and one 8-pin power connectors in their usual locations.
Gigabyte recommends a 750-watt or better power supply for a computer with this graphics card. The company adds that the high-quality components of the GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock lower its power consumption by 8% compared to the reference GeForce GTX 580. Thus, the Gigabyte card is expected to draw no more than 264 watts notwithstanding its pre-overclocked GPU and memory frequencies.
The new card allowed us to easily remove its cooling system. The latter was fastened with only four screws.
There is an aluminum heatsink with a thermal pad on the power system components installed on the face side of the PCB.
Together with the NEC/Tokin Proadlizer film capacitors on the reverse side of the PCB, they make up a 12-phase power circuit with 10 phases for the GPU and 2 phases for the memory chips.
A BIOS selector button can be found in the bottom right of the PCB, next to the fan connector.
You can use it to choose between a regular operation mode (blue highlighting) and an accelerated one (red highlighting). The card's GPU and memory clock rates are increased in the latter mode. The GPU is marked as GF110-375-A1. It was manufactured on 40nm tech process on the 11th week of the current year.
The GeForce GTX 580 GPU incorporates 512 unified shader processors, 64 texture-mapping units, and 48 raster operators. In the regular operation mode the GPU is clocked at 772/1544 MHz, like on the reference card from Nvidia, but in the accelerated mode the frequencies are stepped up by 10.8% and equal 855/1710 MHz. The stable operation of the GPU at such high clock rates is ensured by selecting the best chips through Gigabyte's GPU Gauntlet program. The graphics card lowers its GPU frequencies to 51/101 MHz in 2D applications to save power.
Although there already exist versions of GeForce GTX 580 with 3 gigabytes of onboard memory, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock has a standard 1.5 gigabytes in 12 FCFBGA chips located on the face side of the PCB.
The chips are manufactured by Hynix Semiconductor. Their marking (H5GQ2H24AFR T2C) suggests that they work at a voltage of 1.5 volts and have a rated frequency of 5000 MHz. The card clocks them at 4100 MHz, though, which is a mere 2.4% higher than the memory frequency of the reference GeForce GTX 580. The frequency is set at 270 MHz for 2D applications.
Here are the parameters of the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock in its two operation modes:
Normal mode (on the left) and enhanced mode (on the right)
The WindForce 3X cooling system resembles the famous products of the Swiss maker Arctic from its face side, but its reverse side shows that it’s an original solution that combines an evaporation chamber, two 8mm heat pipes, and slim aluminum fins.
The pipes are soldered to the evaporation chamber and press-fitted on the pipes.
Some of the heat is transferred to the external heatsink by the heat pipes but most of it is removed via the fins above the cooler’s copper base.
The whole arrangement is cooled with three 11-blade 73mm fans (the 80x10mm form-factor). They are fixed within a metallic frame and covered with a decorative faceplate.
The fans are manufactured by PowerLogic (the PLD08010S12M model). They run on sleeve bearings.
The maximum speed is specified to be 3000 RPM but we measured it to be 3240 RPM. Each fan is supposed to deliver an air flow of up to 24.45 CFM at up to 27 dBA of noise. The speed of the fans is regulated automatically via pulse-width modulation.
We checked out the card’s temperature while running Aliens vs. Predator (2010) in six cycles at the highest settings (1920x1080, 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x full-screen antialiasing). We used MSI Afterburner 2.2.0 Beta 7 and GPU-Z 0.5.5 as monitoring tools. This test was carried out with a closed system case (you can view its full configuration in the appropriate section of the review) at an ambient temperature of 20.5°C.
Let’s see how well the WindForce 3X cooler does its job.
Maximum fan speed
With its fans regulated automatically, the cooler keeps the CPU temperature as low as 72°C, which is an excellent result for a top-end single-GPU graphics card. The temperature is also no higher than 68°C at the maximum speed of the fans (3240 RPM). What more could we expect from a cooler? Well, perhaps a comfortable level of noise. Let’s check this out, too.
We measured the level of noise using an electronic noise-level meter CENTER-321 in a closed room about 20 sq. meters large. The noise-level meter was set on a tripod at a distance of 15 centimeters from the graphics card which was installed on an open testbed. The mainboard with the graphics card was placed at an edge of a desk on a foam-rubber tray.
The bottom limit of our noise-level meter 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 card’s fans was being adjusted by means of a controller that changed the supply voltage in steps of 0.5 V.
For the comparison’s sake, we’ve added the results of AMD’s fastest single-GPU card, the Sapphire Radeon HD 6950 Toxic Edition, into the next diagram:
You can see that the difference in noise is large enough and the Gigabyte product is obviously superior in this respect. The cooler of the Sapphire card doesn’t reach the comfortable limit of noise even when working at the minimum speed and even though it is quieter than the reference Radeon HD 6970’s cooler. As opposed to it, the WindForce 3X cooler of the Gigabyte card is comfortable at speeds up to 1550 RPM, its fans proving to be high quality. We can add that this cooler is installed on some other Gigabyte cards such as the GV-N570OC-13I and GV-R695OC-1GD.
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock was overclocked back at the factory, so we didn’t expect it to be able to speed up any further. However, the GPU and memory of our sample were stable at 935/1870 and 4860 MHz, respectively.
We carried out our overclockability test at the default voltages. When overclocked, the GPU got hotter by 3°C, reaching 74°C. This is still very low for a GeForce GTX 580.
The speed of the fans increased to 2940 RPM, i.e. almost to the maximum, when the card was overclocked.
Gigabyte offers the exclusive OC Guru tool for setting up each of the card’s parameters.
Besides the standard settings of frequencies and fan speeds, it offers monitoring options and can also change the supply voltage of the GPU and memory chips. It can even calculate the amount of power consumed by the card.
The power consumption calculator didn’t work correctly, though. It would report no more than 100 watts under high loads, which is downright impossible for a GeForce GTX 580.
All graphics cards were benchmarked in a closed system case with the following configuration:
The super graphics card from Gigabyte will be competing today against Sapphire product, which we have already reviewed before:
In fact, it is the fastest single-GPU AMD graphics card available today, so GeForce GTX 580 doesn’t really have any other competitors. We tested it in nominal mode and overclocked to 940/6000 MHz:
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 25x and “Load-Line Calibration” (Level 2) enabled to 4.5 GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.46875 V in the mainboard BIOS:
The 6 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 1.44 GHz frequency with 7-7-7-16_1T timings and 1.5V voltage. Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading technologies were disabled during our test session.
The test session started on September 14, 2011. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:
The graphics cards were tested in two resolutions: the today’s most popular 1920x1080 and the maximum 2560x1600. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “High Quality+AF16x” – maximum texturing quality with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “High Quality+ AF16x+MSAA4(8)x” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and full screen 4x anti-aliasing (MSAA) or 8x if the average framerate was high enough for comfortable gaming experience. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing from the game settings or configuration files. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panels of Catalyst and GeForce drivers. There were no other changes in the driver settings.
The list of games and applications used in this test session includes two popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suites, one technical demo and 14 games of various genres:
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.
We won’t comment on each individual test because they all sum up to the same total. It’s easier to view the general picture using summary diagrams. For example, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock (at 855/1710/4100 MHz) is faster than the reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 (at 772/1544/4008 MHz) by 6.8 to 8.8% in FSAA-less mode and by 7.4 to 10.3% with FSAA enabled.
The pre-overclocked frequencies are the most beneficial in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Just Cause 2 and Aliens vs. Predator (2010). The least resource-consuming games such as Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2 and Left 4 Dead 2 are the most indifferent to the higher clock rates.
The second pair of summary diagrams shows the difference in performance between the fastest single-GPU cards from Nvidia and AMD at the reference frequencies (772/1544/4008 MHz for the GeForce GTX 580 and 880/5500 MHz for the Radeon HD 6970):
It’s only in one game, Just Cause 2, that the Radeon HD 6970 can compete with the GeForce GTX 580. In the rest of our tests Nvidia’s card is faster by an average 14.5 to 19.9% in FSAA-less mode and by an average 11.5 to 24.3% with FSAA. We must note, however, that the GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB is costlier than the Radeon HD 6970 2GB by about 30%.
Here is a table with the full test results:
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 SuperOverclock is not only the fastest single-GPU graphics card available today but also immaculate in terms of cooling efficiency. The latter factor is most important for premium-class cards with their high heat dissipation and power consumption. Its cooler proved to be quieter than the cooler of the fastest AMD-based solution we’ve tested so far. The Gigabyte product comes in a nice-looking box with sufficient accessories and a 3-year warranty, so the only downside we can see about it if we compare the Gigabyte 1.5 GB SuperOverclock and the Sapphire Radeon HD 6950(70) 2GB Toxic Edition is that the latter costs less.
But despite slightly higher price point, we believe Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 Super Overclock deserves our Editor’s Choice title: