Review: GeForce GTX 670 Graphics Cards from Gigabyte, Palit and Zotac

Good, better, the best – this could be the best way to describe the main heroes of our today’s review. Each of these proprietary graphics cards boasts not only its own peculiar design, but also a number of exclusive features that make it truly unique.

by Sergey Lepilov
06/28/2012 | 06:54 AM

As you may have learned from our recent review, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 is far more attractive than the top-end GeForce GTX 680 in terms of the price/performance ratio. The difference in speed between these two graphics cards is small and can be easily eliminated through overclocking whereas the GTX 670 is as much as 20% cheaper, and also smaller and more economical. Therefore, it is not surprising that all graphics card makers that turn out Nvidia-based products have announced their own GeForce GTX 670s, including versions with original coolers, pre-overclocked frequencies and even custom PCBs. We’ll take a look at three such products in this review. They come from Gigabyte Technology Co., Ltd., Palit Microsystems Ltd., and Zotac International (MCO) Ltd.

Technical Characteristics and Recommended Pricing

 

The table below compares side by side the specifications of today’s testing participants against those of the reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 (the major differences are marked with bold font):

Testing Participants

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 2GB Ultra Durable (GV-N670OC-2GD)

Although the biggest out of the three makers of graphics cards in this review, Gigabyte has only one GeForce GTX 670 so far. It is the GV-N670OC-2GD model.

Next to the huge left eye of some Decepticon portrayed on the box, you can see the graphics card’s model name, memory type and amount, and the name of its cooling system. The pre-overclocked nature of the product is mentioned as well.

 

Then you can read key product features and specifications from the back of the box. The graphics card comes with two power adapters, a CD with drivers and a brief installation guide.

The accessories are scanty, we must admit. We expected more from such a renowned brand and a rather expensive product. On the other hand, the recommended price of this card is $399, which equals that of the reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 670. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 2GB Ultra Durable is manufactured in Taiwan (its PCB, in China) and supplied with a 3-year warranty.

It looks exactly like the Gigabyte Radeon HD 7970 Ultra Durable we’ve tested recently due to the Triangle Cool system deployed on its face side.

 

  

The card measures 275x108x40 millimeters, so it is 34 millimeters longer than the reference GeForce GTX 670. Well, roomy system cases are widespread today and installing a long graphics card shouldn't be a problem. The good news is that the card isn't tall and can be easily used in various SLI configurations.

Like the other two cards in this review, the Gigabyte GTX 670 Ultra Durable is equipped with the same video interfaces as the reference GTX 670: two dual-link DVIs, one HDMI version 1.4a, and one DisplayPort 1.2:

Having the same MIO connectors for SLI configurations as the reference GTX 670, the Gigabyte version differs from the latter in its power connectors. It has one 6-pin and one 8-pin plug instead of the reference card’s two 6-pin connectors.

 

Gigabyte has endowed this product with a high-quality power system (as we’ll see again shortly). The peak power consumption of the card is specified to be 170 watts, like that of the reference sample, although a 550 rather than 500-watt power supply is recommended for it now.

The PCB is 266 millimeters long and has the GeForce GTX 680 design instead of the shortened GTX 670.

Moreover, the power system of the Gigabyte GTX 670 Ultra Durable is even more advanced than that of the reference GeForce GTX 680. Instead of the latter’s 4+2 formula and uninstalled fifth phase, we can see here a 5+2 power system without any empty places for more phases.

Like its cousin Radeon HD 7970 Ultra Durable, this model features high-quality components: a PCB with 2 ounces of copper, Japanese solid-state capacitors, ferrite-core chokes, and low RDS(on) MOSFETs. Consequently, Gigabyte claims the card to have a 5 to 10% lower GPU temperature, 10 to 30% higher overclocking potential and 10 to 30% higher efficiency compared to the reference sample. That’s what the Ultra Durable series is all about.

Our card carries a regular 28nm GK104 “Kepler” revision A2 in its standard configuration you could see above in the table. Judging by the marking, this sample was manufactured on the 10th week of 2012 (early March):

The base GPU clock rate in 3D mode is 980 MHz, which is 65 MHz or 7.1% higher compared to the reference GeForce GTX 670 and but slightly lower compared to the reference GTX 680. The boost clock rate is up to 1058 MHz high at the same voltage of 1.175 volts. When the graphics card switches into the power-saving 2D mode, its GPU frequency and voltage drop to 324 MHz and 0.987 volts, respectively.

There are 2 gigabytes of GDDR5 memory on the face side of the PCB in FCBGA-packaged chips from Hynix Semiconductor. They are labeled H5GQ2H24AFR R0C.

The card’s memory frequency is 6008 MHz in 3D mode, in full compliance with the GeForce GTX 670 specs. The memory bus is 256 bits wide. The clock rate drops to 648 MHz in 2D mode. Thus, the Gigabyte version is no different from the reference GeForce GTX 670 when it comes to its memory subsystem.

Here is a summary of the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 Ultra Durable specs:

Besides the advanced PCB and increased GPU frequency, the Gigabyte card features an exclusive cooler called Triangle Cool.

It is based on a dual-section aluminum heatsink with three copper heat pipes, 6 millimeters in diameter:

The cooler features direct-touch technology. There are no gaps between the pipes in its base:

As we can see, each of the three heat pipes takes an active part in cooling the GK104 die. As for the memory chips, they are cooled by an aluminum plate with thermal pads, fastened to the cooler’s base. There’s a separate aluminum heatsink for the card’s power system components.

Three 11-blade 80mm fans, secured in a plastic frame, are set to blow at the whole arrangement.

The fans can be PWM-regulated within a range of 700 to 4700 RPM.

We checked out the card’s temperature while running Aliens vs. Predator (2010) in five cycles at the highest settings (2560x1440, with 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x antialiasing).

We used MSI Afterburner 2.2.1 and GPU-Z 0.6.2 as monitoring tools. This test was carried out with a closed system case at an ambient temperature of 25°C. We didn’t change the card’s default thermal interface.

We were impressed at the high efficiency of Gigabyte’s original cooler on Gigabyte’s Radeon HD 7970 OC, so let’s see now how it copes with the GeForce GTX 670 Ultra Durable.


Automatic fan mode

Maximum fan speed

In the automatic regulation mode the fans reach 2340 RPM, keeping the GPU as cool as 70°C. At the maximum 4680 RPM the temperature is lower by 10°C, which is another proof of the high efficiency of Gigabyte’s Triangle Cool.

Interestingly, our monitoring utilities both reported a peak GPU clock rate of 1189 MHz, although the specified boost frequency is 1058 MHz. Indeed, judging by the frame rate in Aliens vs. Predator (2010), the graphics card was somewhat faster than if it had been clocked at 1058 MHz. Moreover, we managed to overclock the GPU by 120 MHz to 1100 MHz without changing its voltage! That’s an excellent result, especially as the boost clock rate was as high as 1310 MHz at some point. The graphics memory was stable at 7568 MHz (+30%):

The Triangle Cool wasn’t taken aback at our overclocking endeavors and kept the GPU no hotter than 72°C at a fan speed of only 2460 RPM.

So, our impressions about the first GeForce GTX 670 in this review are all positive because Gigabyte’s product features a reinforced power system on a high-quality PCB, pre-overclocked frequencies, a highly efficient custom cooler (we’ll check out its noise level shortly), and excellent overclocking potential. How can Gigabyte’s competitors respond to that? Let’s see.

Palit GeForce GTX 670 2GB Jetstream (NE5X670H1042-1042J)

Unlike Gigabyte, Palit offers not one but two GeForce GTX 670s: a replica of the reference sample (part number NE5X67001042-1042F) and an original Jetstream (NE5X670H1042-1042J). We’ve got the latter to test. Its huge box is really eye-catching and stylish.

 

Besides the information on the front and back of the box, there’s a detailed product description behind the front flap.

There’s a window for you to have a look at the card’s cooler. Included into the box are a power adapter, a DVI->D-Sub adapter, an HDMI->DVI adapter, and a CD with drivers.

The accessories aren’t gorgeous, yet include everything necessary. The card is manufactured in China and comes with a 2-year warranty.

The Palit GeForce GTX 670 Jetstream resembles the Palit GeForce GTX 680 Jetstream we’ve tested recently but has two rather than three fans for cooling. Except for the length of the device, this seems to be the only visual difference between the two models.

 

  

Well, the short PCB with plastic extension cannot be mistaken for anything else. It is a reference GeForce GTX 670 with an original cooler. The card’s dimensions are 247x112x45 millimeters.

There are two dual-link DVI ports, one HDMI 1.4a connector and one DisplayPort 1.2 next to the vent grid in the card’s mounting bracket:

The PCB is an exact replica of the reference GeForce GTX 670.

We studied it closely in our first GeForce GTX 670 review, so we won’t repeat ourselves here. The GPU of our sample was manufactured in Taiwan on the 10th week of 2012 (the same manufacturing date as the GPU of the Gigabyte card above).

Its base clock rate of 1006 MHz can be boosted to 1085 MHz. The voltage in 3D mode is 1.175 volts, just as written in the official GTX 670 specs. The Hynix memory chips installed on the Palit GeForce GTX 670 Jetstream have the same marking as the Gigabyte card’s and make up a total of 2 gigabytes:

Standing out among other makers who don’t bother to do anything about the memory frequency of their original GTX 670s, Palit added 100 MHz in 3D mode for a resulting memory clock rate of 6108 MHz. Of course, this overclocking can hardly affect a gamer’s experience, especially as the new GeForce 6xx series cards are rather indifferent towards memory overclocking. So, here is a summary of the Palit GeForce GTX 670 Jetstream specs:

The graphics card’s cooling system is a simplified version of the cooler installed on the Palit GeForce GTX 680 Jetstream. It has an aluminum heatsink with heat pipes:

As opposed to the GTX 680 Jetstream, there are only three heat pipes here, each with a diameter of 6 millimeters.

 

Although cheaper and lighter, the heatsink is still a high-quality thing, its components neatly soldered to each other.

The memory chips are not cooled at all, but it’s okay. The metallic frame around the PCB serves as a support for the cooler’s casing and plastic extension:

A tall aluminum heatsink with a thermal pad is mounted on the power system components.

The two 92mm fans from Power Logic Tech run on fluid dynamic bearings.

We couldn’t find any fans labeled PLA09215S12H on the company’s website, and their stickers only show us their electric properties:

According to our monitoring tools, the speed of the fans can vary from 900 to 2900 RPM.

The cooling system of the Palit GeForce GTX 670 Jetstream turned out to be quite efficient:


Automatic fan mode

Maximum fan speed

In the automatic regulation mode the fans were only 2040 RPM fast and the GPU was 79°C hot. At the maximum speed of 2900 RPM the GPU was 70°C hot. Not as impressive as the Gigabyte, but good enough.

In our overclocking test the Palit card could provide the same GPU frequency growth as the Gigabyte, i.e. +120 MHz, but the resulting clock rate was somewhat higher at 1136 MHz (due to its higher default frequency).

The memory chips did worse than on the Gigabyte and were stable at 6828 MHz (+14%). When overclocked, the GPU grew a mere 2°C hotter, the fans rotating at 2190 RPM.

Thus, the Palit GeForce GTX 670 Jetstream is a well-made product, but the sum of its consumer properties is inferior to that of the above-discussed Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 Ultra Durable. Now let’s check out the last graphics card we want to show you in this review.

Zotac GeForce GTX 670 2GB AMP! Edition (ZT-60302-10P)

Zotac offers as many as three GeForce GTX 670s: a regular GTX 670 with 2 GB of memory and reference cooler (ZT-60301-10P), a 4GB version of the latter card (ZT-60303-10P), and an AMP! Edition version with original cooler, factory overclocking and improved PCB (ZT-60302-10P). Guess what version we’re going to talk about? By the way, while we were preparing this review, Zotac announced its fourth and fastest GTX 670, called Extreme Edition, but we haven’t yet got a sample to test.

The box with the Zotac card is not as large as Palit’s but surely as eye-catching. There’s an exploding “AMP! Edition” on its front next to the slogans about overclocked performance and extended warranty.

 

The back of the box is not very informative, although provides descriptions of some Nvidia technologies and a brief list of product accessories. By the way, Zotac offers the most accessories including two power adapters, a DVI->D-Sub adapter, a CD with drivers, user manual and utilities, promo materials, and a coupon to download TrackMania 2 Canyon.

The retail price of the Zotac GeForce GTX 670 2GB AMP! Edition is $419, which is a mere $20 more expensive than the lowest retail price of the reference GeForce GTX 670. Manufactured in China, the card comes with a standard 2-year warranty which can be easily extended to 5 years by registering on the official Zotac website.

The Zotac GeForce GTX 670 2GB AMP! Edition has an austere but rather attractive appearance. The metallic casing of its cooler has two angular cutouts for orange-colored fans that match the color of the heat pipes.

 

  

It’s because of the protruding pipes that the card has a height of 125 millimeters. It is also very thick at 56 millimeters, so you may find it difficult to use it in a 2-way SLI configuration. 3-way SLI is not an option altogether (perhaps, in the bottommost PCIe slot of some mainboards only). The card is 266 millimeters long due to the same cooler casing although its PCB is only 255 millimeters long.

The Zotac offers a standard selection of video interfaces: two dual-link DVI ports, one HDMI version 1.4a, and one DisplayPort 1.2.

Two MIO and two 6-pin power connectors can also be found in their conventional locations.

 

Now let’s take a look at the card’s PCB.

 

This is obviously a reference GeForce GTX 680 PCB with a 4+2 power system.

From an overclocker’s standpoint, this PCB is preferable to the Palit’s, yet the Gigabyte card is even better in this respect. The power system is managed by a PWM controller RT8802A from Richtek Technology. You can find it on the reverse side of the PCB:

This GPU had been manufactured 3 weeks earlier than the GPUs of the Gigabyte and Palit cards.

Its specs are standard except for the base clock rate which is 1098 MHz or 20% higher than the reference card’s. And it goes as high as 1176 MHz in boost mode. That’s the highest default clock rate among all GeForce GTX 670s except for the recently announced Zotac GeForce GTX 670 Extreme Edition. Moreover, the card’s memory frequency is pre-overclocked to 6608 MHz or by 10%. Zotac didn’t use some special memory chips for that. The card carries the same Hynix H5GQ2H24AFR R0C memory as its opponents.

So, Zotac has come up with a very fast GeForce GTX 670:

The original cooler doesn’t have a proper name as yet. Its design is simple but clever, featuring four 6mm copper heat pipes that go out of the copper base.

The pipes pierce the heatsink consisting of slim aluminum fins. Fans are attached on top of the heatsink and the whole arrangement is covered with a protective casing.

It’s hard to tell how the heat pipes contact with the copper base as we can see no trace of thermal glue or solder.

There are small heatsinks with thermal pads on the memory chips and power system components.

The fans were made by Protechnic (part number MGT9212YB-W20).

We couldn’t find their specs. According to our monitoring tools, their speed is PWM-regulated from 1300 to 3600 RPM.

Let’s see how Zotac’s original cooler copes with the fastest off-the-shelf GTX 670:


Automatic fan mode

Maximum fan speed

65°C at 1920 RPM in the automatic regulation mode and 56°C at the maximum speed of 3620 RPM – these are outstanding results for a 1098MHz GPU, even if we don’t count the boost mode in.

Unfortunately, they had squeezed everything out of the GPU back at the factory, so we could only overclock it to 1148 MHz (+50 MHz) at the default voltage. Anyway, that’s the highest clock rate among the three graphics cards in this review. The memory chips did well, too, overclocking to 7468 MHz.

When overclocked, the GPU got a mere 2°C hotter, the fans rotating at the same speed in the automatic regulation mode.

Thus, the Zotac GeForce GTX 670 AMP! Edition is something in between the top-end GeForce GTX 680, whose PCB it uses, and the GeForce GTX 670, but its excellent factory overclocking makes it faster as you’ll see in our upcoming report. 

Thermal Modes

The following diagram compares the tested GeForce GTX 670s in terms of temperature both at the default and overclocked settings.

It’s clear that the Zotac and Gigabyte are superior in this test. We should also keep it in mind that the Zotac has record-breaking default clock rates while its fans rotate at a lower speed in the automatic regulation mode (it doesn’t mean they are quieter, though). Palit’s cooler is less efficient but copes with its job well enough. Now let’s check out how much noise these cards produce.

Noise Level

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-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.

We’ve included the results of the reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 into the next diagram for the sake of comparison (the vertical dotted lines indicate the top speed of the fans in automatic regulation mode):

The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 Ultra Durable is the quietest card here. Our subjective impressions agree with the test results. It is only at 1700 to 1800 RPM that we could hear the beating of one of the impellers but that wasn’t a problem, especially as the card only had such fan speeds while switching from 2D to 3D mode. By the way, the Gigabyte is also the quietest card in 2D mode, followed by the Zotac GeForce GTX 670 AMP! Edition which, in its turn, is quieter than both the reference GeForce GTX 670 and the Palit card. The latter is the loudest in this test and its plastic casing would resonate at some fan speeds, generating additional noise. That’s why the noise level graph of that card is not smooth.

Conclusion

We’ll briefly summarize our impressions about each card now. So, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 2GB Ultra Durable features the most advanced PCB with high-quality components and an extra power phase. It comes pre-overclocked to 980 MHz (+78 MHz in boost mode) and our sample could even be overclocked further. Its highly efficient cooler Triangle Cool is the quietest among the three products and doesn’t block any mainboard slots. Considering its reasonable pricing and 3-year warranty, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 670 Ultra Durable can be recommended for purchasing, even despite its scanty accessories and therefore receives our Recommended Buy tile:

The Palit GeForce GTX 670 2GB Jetstream is a copy of the reference GeForce GTX 670 but is pre-overclocked to a GPU clock rate of 1006 MHz (+79 MHz boost) and has an original cooler. Unfortunately, this cooler turned out to be the noisiest among the four solutions we tested. On the other hand, it was quite efficient, even when the card was overclocked. The Palit was just as good as the Gigabyte in terms of the overclocking potential, although has a simpler and cheaper PCB. So, it's a well-made product for people who won’t bother about its noisiness.

And finally, the Zotac GeForce GTX 670 2GB AMP! Edition is the fastest off-the-shelf GeForce GTX 670 available today. Its default GPU clock rate is as high as 1098 MHz (+78 MHz boost) and its memory is as fast as 6608 MHz. Using a reference GeForce GTX 680 PCB, this card features an exclusive and highly efficient cooler which is no louder than the Gigabyte's in the automatic regulation mode. Its eye-catching packaging, numerous accessories, 5-year extended warranty and competitive pricing make the Zotac GeForce GTX 670 AMP! Edition the most desirable of all GTX 670s! That said we would like to award Zotac GeForce GTX 670 AMP! Edition with our Editor’s Choice title as the fastest GeForce GTX 670 graphics card in the market today:

That's not all, actually. In our next article we will use the cards from Gigabyte and Zotac and a reference GeForce GTX 670 to compare an overclocked GTX 670 with a reference GTX 680 and to check out 2-way and 3-way SLI configurations with Nvidia's new drivers. We'll also add some bonus material like a Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition vs. a GeForce GTX 680.