Fermi Light: Nvidia GeForce GTS 450 Review

Nvidia continues the counter attack in the DirectX11-compatible segment. Following the mainstream but pretty high-performance GeForce GTX 460, the company released their budget GeForce GTS 450, which will be the main hero of our today’s review. Moreover, we will also talk about the features, functionality and performance of one of the first products built on this GPU – Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP!.

by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko, Anton Shilov
10/05/2010 | 10:59 AM

As we have already written in our reviews, the announcement of the GF104 graphics processor and GF104-based graphics cards (GeForce GTX 460 1 GB and 768 MB) marked the end of stagnation in the Nvidia camp. Prior to that release, Nvidia had only been competitive to AMD in the sector of expensive top-performance solutions which account for but a small share in both companies’ sales volumes. And even with the GF104 having already arrived, Nvidia still had some problems in one market sector. The company had filled in the entry-level segment (below $100) by means of DirectX 11-incompatible but competitive GT215, GT216 and GT218 chips, yet had only one card, the GeForce GTS 250, to fight back in the gap between the GeForce GT 240 (GT215) and GeForce GTX 460 (GF104).

 

The GeForce GTS 250 looked absolutely outdated in late 2010 as its G92 core traced its origin back to the G80 and actually belonged to the very first generation of Nvidia’s unified graphics architectures (originally released in late 2006). For comparison: the GeForce 400 series is a third generation while the GeForce GT 220/240 can be viewed as a second one with some reservations. Of course, we can praise the GeForce 8 architecture which has only exhausted itself by the end of 2010, yet such a market situation can only be considered as a company’s inability to match its opponent. While AMD had had already transitioned to DirectX 11 in every price segment, Nvidia had to fill in the gap in its product line-up with a graphics card which was not even DirectX 10.1 compliant. The GeForce GTS 250 called for a replacement, but the GF104 core was not a proper candidate both technically and economically. Nvidia had to develop another GPU which would be even simpler than the GF104, yet feature all the advantages of the Fermi architecture.

Nvidia was indeed busy developing such a GPU. September 13, they rolled out the GeForce GTS 450. This card is meant to replace the GeForce GTS 250 and make Nvidia technically competitive in the above-$100 sector. The new card is based on a new graphics chip which is codenamed GF106. It is simple, cheap to manufacture and powerful enough to be a full-featured member of the Fermi family and a worthy rival to the ATI Radeon HD 5700 series. Users of Nvidia products have long been waiting for such an affordable solution and we are going to discuss its highs and lows in this review. We will check out its power consumption and multimedia capabilities and see how well it stands against its predecessor and AMD’s alternatives.

Nvidia GeForce GTS 450: Architecture and Positioning

Despite its higher number, the GF106 chip is lower in the Fermi hierarchy than the earlier released GF104. Although it can be viewed as half the GF104 chip, it is quite complex in itself, incorporating as many as 1 billion transistors. Such complexity used to be a prerogative of top-end chips, e.g. the Nvidia G200, just a few years ago.

Representing the Fermi architecture, the GF106 is fully endowed with all its features such as high performance when processing geometrical data and doing tessellation. The GF106 is structurally alike to the GF104: the latter has two graphics processing clusters (GPCs) while the former, only one. But like in the GF104, the single cluster includes four multiprocessors. Each of these multiprocessors consists of 48 stream processors for a total of 192 ALUs and 32 TMUs. It is good that Nvidia did not cut the GF106 down like they did with the GF100 and GF104: the GF106 physically has 192 ALUs and 32 TMUs and all of them are active.

Well, there was a touch of a scalpel, though. Although the new GPU allows for three 64-bit memory controllers and 24 RBEs, the currently shipped version of GeForce GTS 450 comes with one of those subunits disabled. As a result, the new graphics card has 16 active RBEs and a 128-bit memory bus. The L2 cache has suffered accordingly. It is reduced from the physically present 384 to 256 kilobytes. We suppose Nvidia can release an improved version of the card and call it something like “GeForce GTS 455” as we have witnessed such examples in Nvidia’s history but currently the GF106 is only used in one graphics card model officially priced at $129. Here is how the GeForce HYS 450 compares with its relatives and competitors:


Click to enlarge

As we’ve said above, the GeForce GTS 450 is meant to replace the outdated GeForce GTS 250 which had the same recommended price of $129 at the time of its announcement. If we put these two models next to each other, we can easily see the fundamental trends in the world of gaming 3D graphics hardware for the PC platform: the newer solution is only half as strong as its predecessor in terms of texture mapping performance but superior in terms of computing resources and (this is not shown in the table) in geometry processing. The latter two factors are going to be crucial for current and next-generation games, yet the GF106 has the same bottleneck as its senior cousins while AMD’s Radeon HD 5 series has more advanced texture-mapping resources. The new GeForce GTS 460 looks good against the Radeon HD 5750 in terms of TMUs, but may find it difficult to compete with the Radeon HD 5770. Well, we won’t make any guesses now but we’ll just wait for the results of our practical tests. As for the frequencies, the GF106 seems to have higher frequency potential than the GF104 just because it is simpler, but the reference frequencies look somewhat odd. Nvidia could easily make them as pretty and round as 800/1600 MHz but did not do so for some unknown reason. We guess most GeForce GTS 450 cards will come to market with pre-overclocked frequencies, though.

The GF106 inherited the GF104’s full-featured support of multichannel HD audio formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) by implementing Protected Audio Path. Thus, Nvidia’s GPUs have caught up with the Radeon HD 5000 series in this respect. Nvidia specifies a TDP of 106 watts for its new solution, making it a rather poor choice for an economical HTPC. We will discuss the electric properties of the GeForce GTS 450 in more detail shortly.

The first GeForce GTS 450 to come to our test labs is a Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP!, so we will use it to test the new affordable solution from Nvidia.

Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP!

Packaging and Accessories

The product box differs from other Zotac boxes with its size only. It is very small, matching the low price category of the GeForce GTS 450. It is painted Zotac’s traditional aggressive mix of black and yellow.

There is not much info on the box, which is quite typical of modern graphics cards. You can only learn the amount and type of the card’s graphics memory on the front panel. However, there is a sticker on the left panel of the box telling you the key product specifications including the GPU and memory frequencies.

The packaging is not much of a protection for the graphics card: there is only a cardboard flap inside. The card itself is wrapped into an antistatic pack. It is accompanied with the following accessories:

You cannot expect a $129 product to come with rich accessories, yet we can’t find any fault with the Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! in this respect: the box contains everything you need to install and run the card successfully. Besides, the driver disc contains the Zotac Boost software suite which includes a few helpful tools.

Now let’s have a closer look at the PCB design and specifications of our Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP!

PCB Design and Specifications

The Zotac is very compact and much shorter than the reference sample from Nvidia. That’s good. Of course, it is also smaller than the GeForce GTS 250 but the latter is too old to be compared with a newly released product.

The new card can easily fit into most system cases, except for the smallest ones which are designed for single-slot graphics cards. Yes, even this affordable Fermi-based solution needs a dual-slot cooler for its 1.17 billion transistors with a TDP of 100 watts. On the other hand, the Radeon HD 5750 has similar dimensions. We removed the cooling system to have a better view of the hardware components:

The card is much simpler than its Fermi-based cousins, especially the GF100-based ones. Its power circuit represents a 3+1 design with a 3-phase GPU voltage regulator and a single-phase regulator of GDDR5 memory voltage.

The GPU voltage regulator is managed by a NCP5395 controller from ON Semiconductor. This chip is also used on the GeForce GTX 460 cards from Palit/Gainward. An APW7165 controller from Anpec Electronics is responsible for the memory chips. It is a rather popular controller, being present in the reference designs of GeForce GTX 460, 465 and 470 as well as in some other graphics card models (we have seen it in an XFX Radeon HD 5830, for example). There is only one power connector, so there should be no problems connecting the GeForce GTS 450 to a power supply. Even cheap PSUs offer at least one 6-pin PCIe 1.0 connector nowadays. But if your PSU doesn’t have one, the Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! comes with an appropriate adapter.

The two empty seats for GDDR memory chips on each side of the PCB indicate that the GF106 processor indeed supports a 192-bit memory bus, but the current version of the GF106-based card has a 128-bit bus only.

There are eight 1Gb GDDR5 chips from Samsung Semiconductor on this card. Zotac uses fast K4G10325FE-HC04 chips capable of working at a frequency of 1250 (5000) MHz. Such fast memory is only used on the GeForce GTX 480 and some models of the Radeon HD 5800 series. Coupled with the 128-bit bus, this should yield 80 GBps, but Zotac set the memory frequency at 1000 (4000) MHz for a peak bandwidth of 64 GBps. This is still faster than the reference card’s 902 (3608) MHz and 57.7 GBps. The Zotac supports two power-saving modes in which the memory frequency is lowered to 324 (1296) MHz or to 135 (540) MHz, depending on graphics load.

The GF106 processor looks quite extraordinary, lacking the heat-spreading cap typical of the more advanced Fermi series solutions as well as of the top-performance GPUs of the previous generation. The die is rather large for an affordable GPU, measuring about 240 square millimeters, which is but slightly smaller than the 55nm G92’s size of 270 square millimeters. The GF106 looks quite impressive compared with the modest 170 square millimeters of the ATI Juniper chip. For a die that large, the protective frame is a must. The GPU marking indicates a second revision of the graphics core and shows the manufacturing date of the sample installed on the Zotac card. It is the 30th week of 2010, so the GF106 was being mass-produced in July, long before the official announcement.

The graphics core has the maximum GeForce GTS 450 configuration with 192 ALUs, 32 TMUs and 16 RBEs. One of the physically available 64-bit memory controllers is turned off together with its eight RBEs. We’ve said above that Nvidia chose rather odd reference frequencies for the new card, but Zotac’s version of the GeForce GTS 450 is pre-overclocked from 783/1566 MHz to 875/1750 MHz, which is a promise of a rather high performance growth. The GPU voltage is 0.962 volts in the 3D mode. Like the rest of Nvidia’s Fermi solutions, the power-saving modes reduce the GPU frequencies to 405/810 MHz and to 51/101 MHz in applications with low graphics load, e.g. during HD video playback.

The Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! is equipped with all modern interfaces for connecting to display devices: DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort. Analog connection is supported by means of a D-Sub adapter. The card also supports Nvidia SLI and Surround Gaming technologies but the latter in 2D mode only: even a pair of GeForce GTS 450 is going to be not strong enough to maintain a playable frame rate in 3D Vision mode. As for audio, the card can transmit not only ordinary audio streams but also multichannel streams in Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats over HDMI. This functionality used to be only available on the Radeon HD 5000 series until recently.

The Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! comes with an extremely simple cooler: an ordinary 80mm fan is blowing at a one-piece aluminum heatsink fastened to the PCB with four spring-loaded screws.

The heatsink’s sole is not finished perfectly and is not absolutely smooth. A lozenge of dark-gray thermal grease serves as a thermal interface here. The memory chips and power system components do not have any special cooling. The chips on the face side of the PCB get some airflow from the fan while the chips on the reverse side do not have even that. Well, they do not heat up much and can hardly overheat. Considering the less advanced specifications in comparison with the GF104, the GF106 is going to consume less power, so the above-described cooler should be able to cope with the GeForce GTS 450 even at pre-overclocked frequencies like those of the Zotac version.

Power Consumption, Temperature, Noise and Overclocking

It is the first time that we ever test a GF106-based product, so we are interested in learning about its power consumption. We performed our measurements using a special testbed with the following configuration:

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 limit the run time of OCCT: GPU to 10 seconds to avoid overloading the graphics card's power circuitry. The tests were performed twice: at official Nvidia frequencies and at default frequencies for Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP!  card.  Here are the obtained results:

The GeForce GTS 450 finds it hard to match the energy efficiency of the Radeon HD series even when working at the reference frequencies recommended by Nvidia. It is only in low-load modes when the new card consumes less than the Radeon HD 5700 products thanks to lowering its GPU frequencies. But when it comes to 3D games, the red team wins because the RV840 chip is simpler than the GF106 and does not clock its shader domain at a double frequency like the GF106 does. Yes, the Fermi architecture is superior to the ATI Evergreen in some respects but this superiority has its downside like the lower energy efficiency and higher heat dissipation.

Oddly enough, the factory overclocking of the Zotac card does not increase its power consumption much. The peak power draw is only 95 watts in 3D mode. Note also that the Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! doesn’t use the +3.3V line at all. When overclocked, it increases its power consumption through the external power connector whereas the load on the power section of the PCI Express slot doesn’t change much. Overall, the Nvidia GeForce GTS 450 consumes about as much power as is expected from a graphics card of its class and complexity. However, it cannot match the energy efficiency of the ATI Radeon HD 5700 series in graphics-heavy applications.

The GF106 chip doesn’t produce too much heat. Coupled with the large 80mm fan in the cooling system, the Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! keeps its GPU as cool as 70°C and lower even when running 3D applications. Considering its rather small heatsink, this is an excellent performance of the cooler. The only thing you should take into account is that there should be no other card in the neighboring slot that might block the Zotac card’s fan. This is true for any other graphics card with similar cooler design, though.

The Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! is also good in terms of noisiness. The card is almost silent under load. We could not hear it amidst the noise from the rest of the components in our testbed. Our digital noise level meter reports that the noise is only 1.8 dB higher than the ambient noise of 38 dBA. Perhaps the Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! can be heard in absolute silence, but you need a silent computer for that. So, we don’t think that anyone will find fault with the noisiness of this graphics card.

Now we are going to put our GeForce GTS 450 to some real-life tests.

Nvidia GeForce GTS 450: Multimedia Functionality

At the press conference concerning the GeForce GTS 450 Nvidia told us that the new card would be as good as the GeForce GTX 460 in terms of video playback. Thus, it offers full multimedia functionality at a low price. Let’s see if this is indeed true.

Like its predecessor, the GF106 chip supports Protected Audio Path and can bit-stream Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio for decoding on an external receiver. Of course, it can also transfer ordinary 7.1 audio formats (192 kHz/ 24 bits per sample) with a bit rate up to 6.144 Mbps over HDMI 1.4. These are AC3, DTS, Dolby Digital, DTS HD, LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation), etc. Besides, it supports stereo-3D Blu-ray movies if you can find them. CyberLink and Nvidia have implemented full audio-over-HDMI support for users to enjoy this feature out of the box without resorting to third-party software.

The GF106 inherited its graphics engine from the GeForce GTX 460. The single difference is in the drivers and the GPU clock rate. Thus, the GF106 has a dual full-HD video decoder that supports MPEG4-MVC and allows watching Blu-ray 3D and other 3D-stereo content by means of a TV-set or monitor with a refresh rate of 120 Hz and a pair of special glasses. Like the rest of modern GPUs, the GF106 provides hardware acceleration for decoding of MPEG2, MPEG4, MPEG4-AVC/H.264, VC-1, WMV-HD, Adobe Flash 10.1 and other formats.

Considering the new card's power consumption of 95 watts, we hope there will also be GF106-based cards with passive cooling. They would make a perfect choice for a quiet HTPC capable of running modern 3D games as well as GPGPU applications.

Video Playback Benchmarking Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate the decoding performance and playback quality of Nvidia GeForce GTS 450 and other today’s testing participants on the following platform:

The following graphics cards and integrated graphics processors took part in our tests:

We used the following tools to estimate the video playback quality in standard (SD) and high-definition (HD) resolutions:

The driver settings remained the same. However, according to the HQV suite requirements, the noise suppression and detail levels in the drivers were increased to medium (50%-60%), which, however, didn’t affect the results in multi-cadence tests.

Since the owners of high-end sound systems will be extremely interested in the results of lossless threads playback, we also enabled DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital TrueHD (where available) in order to increase the CPU load in all played movie fragments.

Keeping in mind that all tests are run under Windows 7 OS without disabling background services, the CPU utilization peaks shouldn’t be regarded as critical. It is much more important how much time it takes the CPU on average to complete the task. Note that 1%-2% difference is not indicative of any advantage of a certain graphics accelerator over the competitor.

To estimate the CPU utilization during full-HD video playback (1920x1080) and full-HD video with enabled “picture-in-picture” (PiP) or Bonus View (according to Blu-ray disc Association classification) feature, we used the following movies:

We didn’t use any free content for this test session.

Video Playback Quality

The HQV 2.0 test suite is a means to subjectively evaluate the quality of some video processing operations performed by a graphics card. As we wrote in our earlier reviews, this suite is very detailed and focuses on comparing Blu-ray and DVD players, which are based on specialized video processors. Therefore, today's GPUs do not always score the highest marks in it.

HQV 2.0 DVD

Today, few people watch regular DVD movies on TVs and monitors at the native resolution of DVD content. Most users instead prefer larger screens with full-HD resolution (1920x1080). So, the primary goal of any video processor is not just to properly display video content, but to be able to upscale the image, perform movement correction, reduce noise, improve detail quality, etc. Video fragments used in the HQV 2.0 DVD tests are selected in such a way as to demonstrate how good today’s video processors are at performing each of the mentioned operations.

So, the Nvidia GeForce GTS 450 is somewhat worse in this test than its predecessor, which may be due to the difference in their clock rates or in our subjective impressions. On the other hand, just like its senior cousin the new graphics card leaves its competitors behind, mainly due to its better upscale technology and the multi-cadence tests.

HQV 2.0 Blu-ray

Similar to HQV 2.0 DVD, the HQV 2.0 Blu-ray test suite allows to subjectively evaluate a video processor at high display resolutions.

The GF106 cannot score the maximum possible amount of points, yet its score is quite high. Most of its problems (the tests where it scores naught) are only going to show up in non-commercial video content which needs additional post-processing. We don't think that users who watch HD movies directly from Blu-ray discs will be disappointed with it. You can only have poor quality when trying to upscale HD content from iTunes and other such services.

It must be noted that, like in the HQV 2.0 DVD tests, it is possible to adapt the graphics card’s driver settings for HQV 2.0 BD in such a way as to get the maximum amount of points in specific video fragments. This would show all the capabilities of today's GPUs in terms of video playback. However, this approach is not recommended by IDT and has little practical worth because real movies contain numerous scenes shot at different locations with different lighting and often with different cameras. Thus, a good video processor must be able to adapt itself to the specific scene on the fly.

When analyzing the results of the HQV tests, you must keep it in mind that the scoring method is highly subjective. Therefore a small difference in the total scores of different graphics cards should rather be neglected.

Blu-ray Playback

Like the rest of graphics cards available on the market, the GeForce GTS 450 offers hardware acceleration for decoding video content in modern formats. Let's see how good it is at that.

When playing our VC-1 movies, the new card has a somewhat higher CPU load than the 460 model, yet its result is low enough for comfortable watching of Blu-ray discs.

Even being behind the GeForce 460 series, the 450 model features an exceptionally low CPU load when playing MPEG4-AVC movies. The new card can ensure smooth playback of movies with lots of dynamic scenes even on a rather weak CPU.

Like with the more widespread MPEG4-AVC and VC-1 codecs, the GeForce GTS 450 copes perfectly with the old MPEG2 HD format.

Summary

Nvidia made its inroads into the HTPC market with the GeForce GTX 460 and now gets a firmer foothold there by releasing the 450 model. Power consumption, noise, and price are all lowered in the new card.

The GeForce GTS 450 supports hardware decoding of all popular formats including MPEG2, MPEG4, MPEG4-AVC/H.264, MPEG4-MVC, VC-1, WMV-HD, Adobe Flash 10.1, etc. Thus, it is potentially the most advanced of the inexpensive graphics cards capable of playing Blu-ray 3D movies among other things (if you have such discs and an appropriate TV-set, of course).

We must confess that the new card did not score as high as the 460 model in the DVD playback and upscaling tests from the HQV 2.0 DVD suite but we guess this must be due to the driver (which was beta in late September) rather than to the GPU itself. Moreover, if the DVD movie is remastered properly, its upscaling on the GeForce GTS 450 should satisfy even the most fastidious user. As for HD content playback, we have not noticed any difference between the GeForce GTS 450 and the competing solutions when using Blu-ray movies even though the HQV 2.0 Blu-ray results of the new card are lower than those of the ATI Radeon HD 5 series.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate the gaming performance of Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP!  graphics card 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:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

Below is the list of games and test applications we used during this test session:

First-Person 3D Shooters

Third-Person 3D Shooters

RPG

Simulators

Strategies

Semi-synthetic and synthetic Benchmarks

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 ran our tests in the following resolutions: 1600x900, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600. 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 Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP!, we also tested the following solutions:

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 3.1.2. In the latter case we ran the test three times and took the average of the three for the performance charts.

Performance in First-Person 3D Shooters

Aliens vs. Predator

This game is benchmarked in DirectX 11 mode with the highest graphics quality settings.

The old GeForce GTS 250 defaults from the race as it doesn't support DirectX 11 whereas the GeForce GTS 450 is good enough, even though its speed is not as high as to play the game comfortably. We can only note that Nvidia’s new solution is competitive to the Radeon HD 5830, especially when overclocked.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

We can now compare the old and new generations of Nvidia’s entry-level products. The GeForce GTS 450 is just as good as its predecessor and outperforms the latter when overclocked. It delivers comfortable performance at low resolutions like 1600x900 or 1280x1024, beating the Radeon HD 5770 in terms of bottom speed.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

The new entry-level card from Nvidia is inferior to its predecessor but the difference in their average frame rates is small. When overclocked, the GeForce GTS 450 goes ahead, getting very close to the Radeon HD 5830. The new card looks good for its price, especially as it delivers a playable frame rate in the Full-HD mode.

Crysis Warhead

We can’t expect a $129 graphics card to do anything in such a heavy game as Crysis Warhead. However, we can see the GeForce GTS 450 outperform the GeForce GTS 250 at every resolution thanks to its more progressive architecture and larger computing resources. Unfortunately, it is not strong enough to compete with the Radeon HD 5700 series, being much slower even than the junior model Radeon HD 5750.

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 is not a heavy application as today’s games go, and the GeForce GTS 450 delivers a good speed in the Full-HD mode, being slightly ahead of the Radeon HD 5830 and much faster than the GeForce GTS 250. Zotac’s factory overclocking boosts the card’s bottom speed, which may be useful in some complex scenes.

Metro 2033

This game is tested without multisampling antialiasing as it worsens the textures and provokes a performance hit.

Like in Crysis Warhead, none of the cards can deliver a playable frame rate even at a resolution of 1600x900 pixels. Anyway, the GeForce GTS 450 manages to compete with the Radeon HD 5830 and GeForce GTS 250 at resolutions up to 1920x1080 pixels.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

We use the game’s DirectX 10.1 and DirectX 11 modes for graphics cards that support them.

The GeForce GTS 450 is just as good as the Radeon HD 5770. This might be considered a success if the frame rate were playable, but it is not even at 1600x900 unless you lower the graphics quality settings. A GeForce GTX 460 is the minimum requirement for playing this game comfortably.

Performance in Third-Person 3D Shooters

Just Cause 2

This game’s integrated benchmark does not report the bottom frame rate.

It is only with a graphics card like the GeForce GTX 460 768MB or higher that you can get a playable frame rate in this game. Anyway, we can compare the GeForce GTS 450 and the GeForce GTS 250 to see that the latter is completely outdated whereas its successor is quite competitive to the AMD solutions.

Lost Planet 2

This is a newly released title on the PC platform, but it's clear that its system requirements are high. If you choose the highest graphics quality settings, you won’t get a playable frame rate even with a GeForce GTX 460 768MB, let alone a GeForce GTS 450. Well, the latter is quite good compared to its opponents, beating the Radeon HD 5830 at every resolution, except for 2560x1600, which is an indication of its high potential.

Performance in RPGs

Mass Effect 2

We enforced full-screen antialiasing using the method described in our special Mass Effect 2 review.

Graphics cards like the GeForce GTS 450 cannot run this game sufficiently fast at a resolution of 2560x1600 but the new card is just as good as the Radeon HD 5830 at 1920x1080 and beats the less advanced RV840-based solutions from AMD. The factory overclocking of the Zotac card doesn't show up in its performance much, yet the small increase in the bottom speed may be useful.

Performance in Simulators

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

We enable the DirectX 11 mode for graphics cards that support it.

The GeForce GTS 450 is splendid in this test, being only inferior to the Radeon HD 5830 at 2560x1600. It beats the Radeon HD 5750 and 5770 easily. Such entry-level cards are seldom bought for a computer system equipped with a 2560x1600 30-inch monitor while the resolution of 1920x1080 is quite playable on the GeForce GTS 450. You can use this card to play the game on a Full-HD TV-set, for example.

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.

The game’s integrated benchmark cannot report the bottom frame rate. We use DirectX 10 and 10.1 modes here.

The GeForce GTS 250 is quite a failure while its successor feels good at resolutions up to Full HD (1920x1080). You can even try to play this game at 2560x1600 on the new card. The entry-level products from AMD are slower.

Performance in Strategies

BattleForge

We use DirectX 11 mode for graphics cards that support it.

Every graphics card has a low bottom speed in this game but the GeForce GTS 450 is just as good as the Radeon HD 5830 in terms of average frame rate. It is only at a resolution of 2560x1600, which is not really meant for such cheap graphics cards, that the GeForce GTS 450 is somewhat slower than its AMD opponent. The results of the GeForce GTS 250 make it clear that its time-tested architecture is too old and weak for the year of 2010.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

Zotac’s factory overclocking helps the GeForce GTS 450 make the game playable at 1920x1080, but the new card is quite competitive to the Radeon HD 5770 and even to the Radeon HD 5830 without any overclocking. AMD's unrivalled superiority in the segment of affordable DirectX 11 compatibles has come to an end.

Performance in Synthetic and Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

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 new card is far from brilliant in 3DMark Vantage when working at the reference GPU and memory frequencies. The best that the ordinary GeForce GTS 450 can do is score more points than the Radeon HD 5750. Overclocking makes it faster, so the Zotac card stops very short of the 5000-point mark. This is but slightly lower than the Radeon HD 5830’s score.

The GeForce GTS 450 cannot compete with the Radeon HD 5830 in the individual tests, but the pre-overclocked version from Zotac is quite a dangerous opponent for the Radeon HD 5770.

Final Fantasy XIV Official Benchmark

This benchmark produces an incomprehensible result in points, so we use Fraps to get more understandable numbers. It can only run at 1280x720 and 1920x1080.

This test preferring the Radeon HD 5000 architecture, the GeForce GTS 450 is competitive to the Radeon HD 5750 only. It is actually slower than the latter at 1280x720 and even more so at 1920x1080. We can also note that the GeForce GTS 250 is ahead of its successor in this test. This must be due to its 256-bit memory bus and high texture-mapping performance.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven is optimized for Nvidia’s Fermi architecture, therefore the GeForce GTS 450 successfully competes with the Radeon HD 5830 even at 2560x1600 although in most other tests its low texture-mapping performance makes it slow at that resolution.

Conclusion

The new graphics processor from Nvidia codenamed GF106 is definitely a success. Also successful is the first graphics card based on it. It's called GeForce GTS 450. Nvidia thus filled in the last remaining gap in its product line-up and almost completed the transition to DirectX 11. There are only cheaper solutions like the GeForce GT 240 and 220 left which comply with DirectX 10.1, but that’s not a problem. As a matter of fact, even the GeForce GTS 450 can hardly be viewed as a serious gaming graphics card whereas the less advanced and cheaper products are just not meant for running latest 3D games at high resolutions and with maximum graphics quality settings. They are only good for casual games with modest system requirements.

Summing up the results of our tests, we can say we are impressed with the performance of the GeForce GTS 450 considering that it comes from the below-$140 product category. Priced comparably to the Radeon HD 5750, the new card is quite competitive to the more advanced Radeon HD 5770 and, occasionally, even to the Radeon HD 5830. You can see this clearly in the summary diagrams below:

We are quite sure the GeForce GTS 450 has high chance of becoming a bestseller in its product class because it is free from the downsides of the previous generation of entry-level solutions with the Nvidia brand. Particularly, its full support for HDMI and multichannel HD audio formats make this graphics card a perfect choice for building a fast but rather economical and quiet HTPC. It wouldn’t allow you to enjoy Crysis on a Full-HD display, of course, yet many other popular games, such as Far Cry 2, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 or the recent hit StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, run fast enough on the GeForce GTS 450.

As for the good old GeForce GTS 250, the first generation of Nvidia's unified graphics architecture can finally take its rest, having acquired a worthy successor. This generation is helpless in DirectX 11 applications, but even in other games the new GeForce GTS 450 either beats the GeForce GTS 250 or offers the same performance at playable resolutions. Besides, the GeForce GTS 450 seems to have high overclocking potential, so we are sure there will be numerous versions of this card with pre-overclocked frequencies. We shouldn’t forget about the turned-off memory controller, either. If necessary, Nvidia can roll out an improved version of the GF106-based card with a 192-bit memory bus and 24 RBEs. That would be a serious problem for AMD: the Radeon HD 5830 would be not competitive in terms of performance while the Radeon HD 5850, in terms of price. Of course, this situation may change as soon as AMD releases its new generation of Radeon processors, but right now the GeForce GTS 450 is an excellent choice in its price category.

Being rather fast in games, the GeForce GTS 450 is also a good choice for HTPCs. It supports hardware decoding of popular video formats including MPEG2, MPEG4, MPEG4-AVC/H.264, MPEG4-MVC, VC-1, WMV-HD, Adobe Flash 10.1, etc, and is the most advanced of inexpensive solutions that support Blu-ray 3D. Like the GF104, the GF106 processor supports Protected Audio Path and can transmit lossless audio for further decoding on an external receiver via HDMI.

Although not a winner of our HQV 20 tests, the GeForce GTS 450 is quite good at playing Blu-ray and DVD discs. We also expect the manufacturers to release GF106-based products with passive cooling that would be most suitable for a living-room multimedia computer.

Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP! Summary

The specific graphics card we have tested, Zotac GeForce GTS 450 AMP!, doesn't have any serious drawbacks. It is faster than the reference sample by 6 to 14% thanks to its factory overclocking. It is almost noiseless and compact, yet its cooler has a dual-slot form-factor. It has to dissipate about 100 watts of heat after all. So, the only notable downside is that this card cannot be installed into a low-profile HTPC system case.

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