Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 1 GB Graphics Card Review

As we have expected, GeForce GTX 465, which we have reviewed previously, did become an intermediate solution. It gave way to true Nvidia fighters intending to restore parity with AMD in the segment of affordable gaming solutions priced around $200. Please meet GeForce GTX 460 1 GB and one of the first graphics cards based on GF104 with factory overclocking in place – Gainward GTX 460 GS GLH!

by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko, Anton Shilov
07/18/2010 | 12:17 PM

As you could learn from our tests, the junior GF100-based graphics card Nvidia GeForce GTX 465 was no good due to its low performance and rather high price of $279. Like the rest of Fermi-based solutions, it was good enough at geometry processing, e.g. when doing tessellation, but on the whole could not match the Radeon HD 5850. It would even occasionally be inferior to the GeForce GTX 275, which was a total failure for Nvidia. The company desperately needed a modern DirectX 11 compatible solution with a price of about $200 but the GeForce GTX 465 could not fill that role.

 

Fortunately, Nvidia was already busy preparing its GPU that would be rather simple and not costly to make and yet deliver a rather high performance. A kind of counterpart to the ATI RV870 “Cypress” chip. We guess Nvidia should have given more effort to this project from the beginning instead of focusing on the sophisticated and expensive GF100, but anyway. It is good that the company could learn from its mistakes and develop a competitive mainstream GPU. This is something that Nvidia’s fans have long been waiting for as they have had to use outdated G200-based solutions that do not support modern APIs.

In a new presentation Nvidia compares the GF100 with a main battle tank designed to dominate the battlefield but we wouldn’t call this comparison correct. This GPU is more like a heavily armored and armed super-tank whereas the main tank must be rather simple, have acceptable technical parameters and be produced in mass quantities. There is no doubt the German Tiger was superior to the Soviet T-34 during World War II but the latter was far for numerous. The same is true for the world of gaming 3D graphics hardware.

The diagram from Nvidia indicates that graphics cards priced at $199 and higher make up for but a 14% share of the market, even though this category includes such rather affordable models as the Radeon HD 5850. Thus, really expensive products like the GeForce GTX 480 account for but a few percent of the market. On the other hand, the below-$199 category occupies as much as 31% of the market of discrete graphics cards, bringing the biggest profit to the manufacturer. It is in this very category that Nvidia has not been able to offer anything competitive to its users recently. The GeForce GTX 470 was more expensive, the GeForce GT 240 belonged with a lower market segment, and the GeForce GTX 465 failed to perform as expected. In other words, the company didn’t have the main battle tank. But they worked to produce one and the result was announced on the 12th of July 2010. It is Nvidia’s first DirectX 11 compatible mainstream GPU codenamed GF104. This rather simple and inexpensive chip should spearhead Nvidia’s attack in the sector of affordable gaming graphics cards and expand the success of the GeForce GTX 480 and 470. This review is entirely dedicated to the new GPU.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 460

Architecture

Developing its GF104, Nvidia tried to take into account all the mistakes it had made with the G200 and GF100. As a result, the new chip comes out rather compact with a transistor count of 1.95 billion and a die size of 320 square millimeters. This is comparable to AMD’s RV870 Cypress with its 334 square millimeters and 2.15 billion transistors. Of course, the GF104 is a full-featured representative of the Fermi architecture and does not differ from the GF100 fundamentally. However, there are a few minor differences, particularly in the design of the execution modules.

While the GF100 consists of four graphics processing clusters each of which includes 4 multiprocessors with 32 stream cores in each, the GF104 is different. Each of its two GPCs still contains four multiprocessors but the latter are configured differently. Now each of them consists of 48 stream cores, for a total of 384 ALUs and 65 texture-mapping units. Considering the scalar architecture, the new chip is 1.6 times as good as its predecessor G200 in terms of computing resources. However, Nvidia says the chip includes only 336 stream processors and 56 TMUs. Why?

The fact is one of the eight multiprocessors of the GF104 chip is inactive, just as in the GF100 chip (even in its maximum GeForce GTX 480 configuration). Nvidia must have done everything necessary to release the new core as soon as possible and achieve an acceptable yield of chips capable of working at rather high frequencies, and this is one such measure. As soon as the tech process gets polished off, the inactive multiprocessor can be turned on to make the GF104 a really dangerous rival to the RV870 Cypress. The new chip, working at 675/1350 MHz and having 336 ALUs and 56 TMUs, is quite competitive even in its current form, though. Another difference of the GF104 from the GF100 is that the amount of L2 cache memory is reduced from 768 to 512 kilobytes. This shouldn’t have a fatal effect on its performance, yet we should keep this fact in mind.

It must also be noted that the GF104 is Nvidia’s first new-generation solution to support Protected Audio Path. It is thus able to work with the multichannel HD audio formats Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. This used to be a prerogative of the ATI Radeon HD 5000 series but Nvidia has finally caught up with its opponent in terms of multimedia capabilities. RV870-based solutions have got a worthy rival at last.

July 12, 2010, the new core was announced officially. Besides, Nvidia unveiled two GeForce GTX 460 series products we will discuss in the next section.

Positioning

As we wrote above, the GeForce GTX 465 was based on the GF100 processor originally designed for more advanced solutions. As a result, that graphics card had a lot of inherent drawbacks including a high power draw. Nvidia was absolutely aware of the sheer squandering of GF100 chips applied in such a wasteful way, and the GF104 is going to put an end to this. The new chip has nothing redundant in it and the company has announced two GeForce GTX 460 versions that differ in their technical specs.


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The biggest difference can be seen in the configuration of the memory controller and related RBE subsystem. Thus, the junior model, called GeForce GTX 460 768MB, is inferior to the senior one not only in terms of peak memory bandwidth but also in terms of fill rate because it has only 24 active RBEs out of the GF104’s total 32 RBEs. This positions the junior GeForce GTX 460 above the Radeon HD 5770 but below the Radeon HD 5830, which agrees with its recommended price: $199 as compared to $159 and $239, respectively. The GF104 has inherited the main shortcoming of its cousin, though. We mean the rather low speed of processing textures. Yes, it is higher than that of the entry-level Radeon HD 5770 but the junior RV870-based product from AMD is already ahead of both GeForce GTX 460 models in this respect. Alas, Nvidia could not improve the clock rates much even in the GF104. The GPU frequency of 675 MHz is not impressive at all compared to that of the ATI Radeon HD series. It must also be noted that the multi-GPU capabilities are greatly limited in the GeForce GTX 460. The new cards have only one MIO connector and thus do not support 3- and 4-way configurations although even the Radeon HD 5770, let alone the RV870-based solutions, can work in CrossFire configurations built out of four graphics cards.

The senior model of the series, GeForce GTX 460 1GB, looks good compared to the Radeon HD 5830 1 GB. Yes, it is somewhat inferior in terms of texture-mapping speed and peak memory bandwidth, but its RBE subsystem is as good as that of the Radeon HD 5850 which is $70 more expensive. Oddly enough, Nvidia did not raise the memory frequency even to 4000 MHz. The 256-bit bus and the clock rate of 3600 MHz don’t look serious compared to the parameters of the Radeon HD s5830. However, this GeForce GTX 460 version is arguably the best offer among affordable gaming graphics cards. Of course, we have to benchmark it in our tests first, but the Radeon HD 5850 seems to have got a dangerous opponent and AMD may have to drop its prices to get more competitive. As for the GeForce GTX 465, it doesn’t make any sense, now that the GeForce GTX 460 series has arrived, as it costs more to manufacture and has a higher retail price while its performance is going to be lower than that of the GeForce GTX 460 1GB. That’s why we called it a temporary solution that served only to fill in a gap in Nvidia’s product line-up for a while, in order to stop ATI’s invasion at any rate. However, you should remember that GeForce GTX 460 1 GB is a pretty unique solution that has no direct competitors: a week before the new products were scheduled to come out ATI lowered the MSRP of its Radeon HD 5830 1 GB to $199. As a result, the HD 5830 model is now competing against a simpler solution – Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 768 MB.

The first GeForce GTX 460 1 GB to come to our test labs is Gainward’s GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH which differs greatly from Nvidia’s reference sample. Let’s check out its packaging and accessories first.

Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH

Packaging and Accessories

The graphics card comes in an ordinary rectangular box designed in Gainward’s traditional style with a picture of an angel with spread-out wings.

The packaging looks pretty but is not very informative. You can only learn the amount and type of the card’s graphics memory in the bottom right corner. A sticker above indicates that this is a Golden Sample – Goes Like Hell series product. This is an elite series from Gainward that features select GPUs capable of working at increased frequencies and pre-overclocked by the manufacturer. Running a little ahead, we can note that the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH is indeed greatly pre-overclocked and the increased frequencies have a positive effect on its performance.

Inside the wrapper there is a cardboard box with multiple compartments. The graphics card lies in the central compartment, wrapped into a blister pack. The included accessories can be seen on both sides of it. Here they are:

The accessories do not even include a second power adapter although the graphics card is equipped with two 6-pin PCIe 1.0 connectors. We guess a Golden Sample GLH product might have better accessories. By the way, the Super LoiLoScope coupon does not allow to get a free copy of the video editor with CUDA support. It only offers a 25% discount on that software.

All in all, the packaging and accessories of the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH are far from impressive. The box is no different from a host of other graphics card boxes offered by other brands and the accessories provide but the basic functionality. On the other hand, we don’t have much gripe about that because this graphics card is not a premium-class product. Besides, it has a far more interesting selling point than a pretty box or rich accessories. We will tell you want we mean right now.

Design and Specifications

The first GeForce GTX 460 to come to our test lab has nothing in common with the reference card from Nvidia. It is a unique product from Gainward that relies on the research and development capabilities of Palit Microsystems. Unfortunately, we cannot compare the new card directly with the reference sample but we know that the Gainward version is somewhat shorter, which is indisputably good.

The card has nothing in common with the GF100-based monsters as it is compact and can be easily installed into any system case that can accommodate a dual-slot graphics card. Owners of compact barebone systems should appreciate that. The GeForce GTX 460 will help them build an advanced but small gaming computer. As usual, the most interesting things can be found under the cooler’s heatsink.

The rectangular GPU is highly unusual. We have not seen a GPU package shaped like this before. The power circuit is rather simple. You can see four voltage regulator phases with three transistors in each. There is a seat for a fourth transistor, so this power system can be reinforced if necessary.

This seems to be a 4+1 design. That is, there is a four-phase GPU voltage regulator plus a single-phase memory voltage regulator. Considering the factory overclocking, the use of a 4-phase regulator instead of the reference card’s 3-phase one is justifiable.

The power subsystem is managed by two controllers: a NCP5395T chip from ON Semiconductor and a RT9259B from Richtek Technology. The former is responsible for the GPU and the latter for the graphics memory. The card has two 6-pin PCIe 1.0 connectors for power cables. We guess a single 8-pin PCIe 2.0 connector with its higher load capacity would be quite enough but the engineers from Nvidia and Palit do not agree with us. By the way, these connectors are located at the shorter edge of the PCB on the reference card, making it less easy to plug the cables in. It is good that the Palit/Gainward developers moved them to the top edge.

The memory chips are placed in an unusual way. One of the eight chips is separate from the others, residing close to the DVI connectors. We haven’t seen such a component layout before.

The K4G10325FE-HC05 chips from Samsung have a capacity of 1 Gb (32 Mb x 32) and a rated frequency of 1000 (4000) MHz. As we already know, the default memory frequency of the GeForce GTX 460 is 900 (3600) MHz but Gainward pre-overclocked its GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH to 1000 (4000) MHz, raising the peak memory bandwidth to 128 GBps, i.e. to the level of the Radeon HD 5830 and 5850. The total amount of graphics memory is 1 gigabyte, which should more than enough to satisfy every modern game. The card can drop its memory frequency to 324 (1296) MHz or to 135 (540) MHz in its two power-saving modes. The former mode is meant for such medium-load applications as HD video decoding and the latter is for low loads such as Windows desktop applications.

So, the new GF104 chip is unusually rectangular. As is typical of Nvidia products, the die is covered by a heat-spreading cap. According to the marking, this sample was manufactured on the 10th week of the current year, so this is a second revision. The first revision, which does not usually go into mass production, would be called A0. The revision number suggests that Nvidia had no serious problems developing the GF104. The Gainward card is pre-overclocked from 675/1350 MHz to 800/1600 MHz and this should ensure a good performance boost in games. You will see the exact value of that boost in our gaming tests. The GPU voltage is 0.987 volts in 3D applications, 0.912 volts in the video decoding mode and 0.875 volts in the desktop mode. The GPU clock rates are reduced in the latter two modes to 405/810 and 51/101 MHz, respectively. Coupled with its 40nm tech process, the GeForce GTX 460 should be a very economical device. We will check this out in the next section of our review.

The current version of the GPU-Z utility does not tell the GF104 specs right, reporting only 224 ALUs whereas the chip actually has 336 active ALUs out of the physically present 384. Thus, only seven out of the eight multiprocessors are enabled while the disabled unit may serve as a reserve for Nvidia. For the same reason, the number of texture-mapping units is 56 rather than 64 while the rasterization subsystem consists of 32 RBEs that delivers a high scene fill rate, especially considering the pre-overclocked frequency of 800 MHz. In fact, the GF104 chip overclocked to 800/1600 MHz does not have any apparent bottlenecks. We guess in its hypothetical full configuration with 384 ALUs and 64 TMUs it would be even competitive to the RV870 in the Radeon HD 5870 card.

As opposed to the reference sample, the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH natively supports nearly all modern interfaces save for DisplayPort. The manufacturer calls this QuattroPorts but it doesn’t mean that you can connect up to four monitors to the GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH simultaneously. Like with all other products with Nvidia GPUs, you can only use dual-monitor configurations with the single graphics card. Anyway, it is good that the card has a full-size HDMI connector instead of a mini-HDMI that would require an adapter.

As for SLI support, GF104-based cards are equipped with only one MIO connector and cannot be used in multi-GPU configurations with more than two devices. That’s not a serious downside since even a pair of SLI-linked GeForce GTX 460 cards is theoretically faster than a single GeForce GTX 480. As noted above, the GF104 is the first GPU from Nvidia to support Protected Audio Path and to match AMD’s solutions in terms of working with multichannel HD audio formats.

The cooling system deployed on the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH is far from original. It represents a popular design with a large axial fan placed in the card’s center. If you undo the four screws and take off the plastic casing with fan, you will see the following:

The copper base carries a heatsink consisting of interlocked slim aluminum fins. It is connected to the heat-exchanger with two heat pipes. The heatsink is surprisingly low in profile yet should be enough to cool a GF104. The separate black aluminum heatsink, secured on the PCB with three screws, removes the heat from the power transistors of the voltage regulator via a green elastic thermal pad. A layer of dark-gray thermal grease is applied between the heat-exchanger and the GPU cap.

While we dismantled and then reassembled the cooler, we scraped off the thermal grease from the GPU and cooler and applied a fresh layer of KPT-8 grease. The cooler’s fan was manufactured by Power Logic.

We know the PLA08015B12HH model by the Palit GeForce GTX 470 card we tested in an earlier review. Practice suggests that such fans are efficient and not very loud, so the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH can be expected to be quiet. The cooling system seems efficient overall but it does not exhaust the hot air out of the system case. The slits in the card’s mounting plate do not help much. Most of the hot air goes out near the card’s power connectors. Therefore you should make sure you system case is properly ventilated if you want to install a Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH into it.

So, that’s the end of the theoretical part of this review. We will now proceed to examine our graphics card in practical tests.

Power Consumption, Temperature, Noise and Overclocking

Since we got our hands on a graphics card based on the new Nvidia GPU, we couldn’t help checking out GF104 power consumption. So, we performed a series of corresponding tests using our standard 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 limit the run time of OCCT: GPU to 10 seconds to avoid overloading the graphics card's power circuitry. In this test the clock frequencies of our Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH were lowered to the reference values: 675/1350 MHz for the chip and 900 (3600) MHz for the memory. Here are the obtained results:

We had no doubt the new GPU would be much better than the GF100 in terms of power consumption. The difference between the GeForce GTX 460 and 465 is huge. Interestingly, the GeForce GTX 460 switches into the power-saving mode when playing HD video sooner than its senior cousins. Its power consumption is high for only a couple of seconds and then the card drops its GPU voltage and frequencies, lowering the load on the PCI Express slot and the farther power connector. As a result, the average power draw in this mode is a mere 20 watts or far below the peak level. The second power connector, located near the PCB edge, is always more loaded than the other one, but the load is never higher than 75 watts, which is the recommended maximum for a 6-pin PCIe 1.0 connector.

The new card looks good compared to the other GeForce series products as well as to the AMD solutions. It cannot match the Radeon HD 5770, of course, and is inferior to the junior RV870-based solutions in 3D mode, yet its result of 141 watts is much better than the GeForce GTX 465’s 224 watts! Thus, the GF104 is indeed an economical solution that looks competitive to the AMD products in terms of power draw. But you should keep it in mind that this GeForce GTX 460 card features a unique PCB design and power system, so the reference card from Nvidia may behave differently.

The Gainward card being equipped with a nonstandard cooler, you shouldn’t extrapolate its results in terms of GPU temperature to every other GeForce GTX 460. Still, we can note that the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH has an efficient cooler that keeps the GPU temperature below 72°C despite the hot weather and the pre-overclocked frequencies. This is an excellent result but we can’t guarantee that the reference card is going to be that good in that respect, too. And like with every cooling system of similar design, you should make sure your system case is properly ventilated. Even though the GF104 is not as hot as its senior cousin, it is hot enough to overheat in a cramped and stuffy computer.

For the same reason we cannot extrapolate the noise characteristics of Gainward’s version of the GeForce GTX 460 to the reference sample. The ambient noise being 36 dBA, the noise at a distance of 1 meter from our testbed with the Gainward card inside was only 41.7 dBA. This is an excellent result. In fact, the card’s cooler is quieter than the GeForce GTX 275’s reference cooler which is considered among the quietest. The card’s noise is a whisper of the air passing through the heatsink. Other coolers of similar design usually produce the same sound. The card is not irritating to the ear even during long gaming sessions. We must also note that, despite the hot weather, the card did not increase its noise under load and was equally quiet in both 2D and 3D applications.

We were not successful in our overclocking attempts. Although we increased the memory frequency to 1025 (4100) MHz, the graphics processor, pre-overclocked to 800/1600 MHz by Gainward, refused to speed up any further. So, we decided to benchmark the card at the frequencies of the reference sample from Nvidia as well as at its own default frequencies.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 460: Multimedia Functionality

Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics accelerator consumes very little power according to today’s standards and is of relatively compact size. As a result, this graphics card may suit (though with a few allowances) for home theater PCs (HTPC). In other words, GeForce GTX 460 is the first card on a GPU with Fermi architecture that should be considered as a possible option for video playback, image quality and video decoding.

I have to point out that Nvidia doesn’t officially position GeForce GTX 460/GF104 exclusively as a gaming solution and has no intention to compete against the “king” of HTPC systems – AT Redwood GPU and graphics cards based on it, namely, Radeon HD 5670, 5750 and 5770. The latter two consume even less power, are even smaller and cheaper and boast a bunch of other great HTPC-friendly features.

Nevertheless, official positioning doesn’t mean that video and sound playback by GF104 remained unchanged. The new graphics processor now supports protected audio path and therefore can bitstream Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio for decoding in an external receiver. Of course, it also supports regular 7.1 sound (192kHz/24bits per sample) with up to 6.144Mbps bitrate in AC3, DTS, DolbyDigital, DTS HD, LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) and other advanced audio formats over HDMI 1.3а.

The actual „video core” was most likely inherited from GeForce GT240 products and underwent certain modifications. This way the GF104 graphics processor has at its disposal a dual FullHD video coder supporting MPEG4-MVC codec and allowing to view Blu-ray 3D and other stereo 3D content on a TV or monitor supporting 120 Hz refresh rate with special glasses. Of course, like all other contemporary GPUs, GF104 supports hardware decoding of MPEG2, MPEG4, MPEG4-AVC/H.264, VC-1, WMV-HD, Adobe Flash 10.1 and other formats.

Judging by the technical specifications, GF104 chip and products based on it can become a pretty good choice for a gaming HTPC. In the following chapters we are going to check whether it is true using HQV 2.0 tests and several movies.

Video Playback Benchmarking Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate the decoding performance and playback quality of Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 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 HD suite requirements, the noise suppression and detail levels for Nvidia GeForce and ATI Radeon HD graphics cards were set higher, but not to the maximums. Since the owners of high-end sound systems will be extremely interested in the results of lossless threads playback, we also included 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/Windows Vista 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 the CPU utilization may vary. Therefore, 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

HQV 2.0 DVD

The satiation in the today’s video market has come to the point when very few people watch regular DVD movies on TVs and monitors with DVD’s native resolution. Most users prefer large screens with full-HD (1920x1080) resolution instead. So, the primary goal of any video processor is not the proper displaying of the video content, but rather the ability to upscale the image, correct the movement, reduce the noise, improve detail quality, etc. Video fragments used in HQV 2.0 DVD test are selected specifically to demonstrate how well contemporary chips can cope with all the above mentioned operations individually.


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Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 failed to hit the maximum of 210 points, but the newcomer left all its competitors behind mostly due to better upscaling technology and multi-cadence tests. Looks like we have a new champion in DVD playback quality!

HQV 2.0 Blu-Ray

The new HQV 2.0 Blu-ray suite, which is very similar to HQV 2.0 DVD, allows to subjectively study similar functionality of the new video processor in high resolutions.


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Unfortunately, the new G104 graphics processor can’t catch up with its rivals from the ATI Radeon HD series in terms of the HD content playback quality. It reached 147 point out of 210, which is a very good result. I doubt that those users who watch HD movies from Blu-ray disks instead of upscaling the pseudo-HD image from iTunes and other similar services may ever be unhappy about the end result.

I have to point out that HQV 2.0 DVD, just like HQV 2.0 BD allows adapting driver settings for different popular videos, so that you could get maximum score in the end. This way you can uncover the theoretical potential of contemporary graphics accelerators in terms of video playback. IDT won’t approve this approach and has little practical value because real movies contain a lot of scenes filmed in different places with different lighting and even using different cameras, which means that the value of GPUs lies in their ability to adapt themselves for a specific scene.

When you look at the results of HQV benchmarks, you should remember that the scores are very subjective, so slight difference between the total scores of graphics cards is hardly critical.

Blu-Ray Playback

Here we are going to see how well Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 can unload the video streams decoding routine from the processor.

As usual, Nvidia solutions were a little slower than ATI Radeon when working with VC-1 streams. However, GeForce GTX 460 breaks this tendency by showing better results than the competition. The GF104 graphics processor has obviously been somehow modified and these modifications have noticeably improved the VC-1 decoding efficiency (at least as we can see on the graph).

The results of our tests in H.264/MPEG4-AVC movies confirm our supposition that GF104 provides way more efficient video decoding. In fact GeForce GTX 460 of all testing participants requires least of the CPU during video playback.

Just like with widely spread codecs, such as MPEG4-AVC and VC-1, GeForce GTX also copes perfectly fine with an older MPEG2 HD.

Summary

At the current moment, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 features the most advanced video playback capabilities among all Nvidia GPUs.

It supports hardware decoding of all popular formats including MPEG2, MPEG4, MPEG4-AVC/H.264, MPEG4-MVC, VC-1, WMV-HD, and Adobe Flash 10.1 and will be able to play Blu-ray 3D movies as soon as they become available! Protected Audio Path has been implemented in the new chip, so it can bitstream audio in the Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio formats for an external receiver to decode.

Finally, the GF104 is currently the most effective GPU in terms of offloading the central processor when decoding HD video. Perhaps not a crucial advantage today, it may become important in near future as video bit rates grow up and movies get three-dimensional.

Notwithstanding its excellent DVD playback quality, the GeForce GTX 460 is not ahead of its opponents in terms of Blu-ray playback but this may be due to some driver flaws.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate the gaming performance of our Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 1GB graphics card using the following universal testbed:

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 updated our test modes and 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 GeForce GTX 460, we have 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 GeForce GTX 460 is ahead of the Radeon HD 5870 at every resolution including 2560x1600 at its reference frequencies. When pre-overclocked like the Gainward GeForce GTX GS GLH, it is close to the GeForce GTX 470. Thus, the new card makes the GeForce GTX 465 obsolete, which is the right thing to do because GF100 chips are not really meant for such mainstream products. It must be noted that the game has rather high system requirements and you can only get a comfortable frame rate in it if you use a GeForce GTX 470 or the pre-overclocked Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

The GeForce GTX 465 and Radeon HD 5830 have no chance here as the new card from Nvidia beats them both at resolutions up to 1920x1080 and is but slightly slower at 2560x1600. The pre-overclocked version from Gainward even challenges the GeForce GTX 470! The GF104 seems to be Nvidia’s first real success since the G200b and it even has some yet-unused reserves!

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Rather poor texture-mapping performance is the weak spot of the Fermi architecture, showing up at the resolution of 2560x1600 where the GeForce GTX 460 falls behind its opponent. The factoryverclocking helps close the gap, though, and the new card looks splendid at the lower resolutions, outperforming both the GeForce GTX 465 and Radeon HD 5830. Moreover, the pre-overclocked frequencies make it competitive to the more expensive Radeon HD 5850. That’s impressive, especially if many GF104 chips will be able to work at 750-800 MHz. 

Crysis Warhead

The Gainward is the first affordable gaming card to deliver a playable frame rate at 1600x900 with maximum graphics quality settings. The ordinary GeForce GTX 460 1 GB with reference frequencies cannot do that but looks good against the Radeon HD 5830. It must be noted that the new card is somewhat slower than the GeForce GTX 465 at resolutions above 1600x900, probably due to its smaller cache and fewer ALUs. There are no other reasons for that because besides the mentioned parameters, the GeForce GTX 460 1GB is superior to the GeForce GTX 465 in everything, including peak memory bandwidth.

Far Cry 2

The GeForce GTX 465 1GB finds it easy to keep up with the Radeon HD 5850 in this test at the reference frequencies, being somewhat slower at high resolutions but faster at low ones. The frame rate is comfortably high in every case. The pre-overclocked frequencies of the Gainward card make it competitive to the GeForce GTX 470. So, the GF104 proves to have high potential once again.

Metro 2033

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

The resolution of 2560x1600 is only available with the Radeon HD 5870 which hails from a completely different price category. At lower resolutions the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB easily ensures a high speed, being far ahead of the GeForce GTX 465 both at 1600x900 and 1920x1080. We have no doubt the latter card is doomed now. Like in some previous tests, the pre-overclocked Gainward is almost as fast as the GeForce GTX 470.

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 pre-overclocked frequencies of the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH do not affect the performance much. There is some limiting factor. It cannot be the amount of TMUs because the card would be faster than the GeForce GTX 470 then (the latter has 56 TMUs, too, but clocks them at a lower frequency). Anyway, we can see that the gap between the two versions of the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB and the GeForce GTX 470 is much smaller than it should be theoretically. On the other hand, each of these three cards is fast enough to play comfortably at 1920x1080.

Performance in Third-Person 3D Shooters

Just Cause 2

This game’s integrated benchmark does not report the bottom frame rate, so we measure it with the Fraps utility.

The GeForce GTX 460 1 GB is not much faster than the GeForce GTX 465 in terms of average frame rate but its bottom speed is higher, which makes the resolution of 1600x900 pixels playable. This might be expected as the GeForce GTX 460 has more TMUs and a higher core frequency. The new card is competitive to the Radeon HD 5850 at 1920x1080 but neither of them has a comfortable bottom speed, even though the pre-overclocked Gainward improves it to a near-playable level. Graphics cards like GeForce GTX 460 are no good for playing this game at 2560x1600 because even the Radeon HD 5870 cannot cope with that.

Resident Evil 5

The new card feels good at every resolution, so the factory overclocking of the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB , even though makes it almost as fast as the GeForce GTX 470, brings no practical benefits. At the reference frequencies the GeForce GTX 460 1GB is roughly as fast as the GeForce GTX 465, both cards being inferior to the Radeon HD 5850 but much faster than the Radeon HD 5830, especially in terms of bottom speed.

Performance in RPGs

Mass Effect 2

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

As opposed to most other tests, the new GeForce GTX 460 1 GB is lagging behind the GeForce GTX 465 in Mass Effect 2 but the gap is really negligible. Moreover, the new card delivers a higher bottom speed at 2560x1600 thanks to its more advanced texture-mapping subsystem. The factory overclocking helps improve the speed of the GF104 to a comfortable level. The new card is overall competitive to the Radeon HD 5850, which is an achievement considering its price.

Performance in Simulators

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

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

The GeForce GTX 460 1GB is ahead of the Radeon HD 5850 at 1600x900 while the pre-overclocked Gainward is close to outperforming the Radeon HD 5870! This is an illustrious performance: a $229 card, even though from the elite GS GLH series, is challenging a $400 flagship product! If the GF104 had all 384 ALUs active, AMD’s main processor RV870 Cypress would have a temendous opponent. That’s what the GF100 should have been from the very beginning. Nvidia has shown it can learn from its mistakes and it’s AMD’s turn now to do something to keep its leading position.

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 new GeForce GTX 460 1GB is second to the GeForce GTX 470, outperforming the GeForce GTX 465 with its cut-down GPU configuration. Working at increased frequencies, like those of the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH, it even takes the lead, delivering an excellent speed even at 2560x1600. Graphics cards with the Nvidia Fermi architecture do not have enough TMUs to run fast at the highest resolution, so the Radeon HD 5850 and Radeon HD 5870 catch up with them there.

Performance in Strategies

BattleForge

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

The GeForce GTX 465 cannot deliver a playable speed even at 1600x900 while the new GeForce GTX 460 1 GB does that easily, delivering a bottom speed of over 30 fps. The higher resolutions are only playable on the more advanced GF100-based products, and the factory overclocking of the Gainward card cannot help with that.

World in Conflict: Soviet Assault

This test proves it once again that the GeForce GTX 465 makes no sense now because the new GeForce GTX 460 1GB is equal or faster at every resolution. When overclocked to a GPU frequency of 800 MHz, it can even challenge the GeForce GTX 470. The Radeon HD 5830 is lagging far behind and the main competition takes place between the newcomer and Radeon HD 5850.

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 GeForce GTX 460 1GB is ahead of the GeForce GTX 465 and Radeon HD 5830 but not as much as in the most of our gaming tests. It cannot score 7000 points at the reference frequencies. The pre-overclocked Gainward exceeds that score, being close to the GeForce GTX 470 and far ahead of the Radeon HD 5850.

The gap between the GeForce GTX 460 1GB and Radeon HD 5850 is smaller in the second test where the new card from Nvidia manages to win at 1600x900. Otherwise, 3DMark Vantage does not have anything new to tell us. The GeForce GTX 460 1GB is faster than the GeForce GTX 465 and outperforms the Radeon HD 5830. It is almost as fast as the GeForce GTX 470 at the pre-overclocked frequencies.

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 is the only test where the GeForce GTX 460 1GB is inferior to the Radeon HD 5830. The pre-overclocked from Gainward overtakes the opponent, though. Final Fantasy XIV seems to prefer the Radeon HD 5000 architecture.

Unigine Heaven benchmark

This test is going to be Nvidia’s home turf as it certainly prefers the GeForce series. Like in most of our gaming tests, the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB competes with the Radeon HD 5850. Take note of the fluctuations in bottom speed: the new card is inferior to the GeForce GTX 465 in this parameter at 1600x900 but better than it at 2560x1600. The factory overclocking makes the GeForce GTX 460 1Gb as fast as the Radeon HD 5870 or even better (at 1920x1080).

Conclusion

What can we say about the new graphics processor from Nvidia after checking it out in our tests? First off, we can repeat our thought that this GPU is what the GF100 should have been. A relatively inexpensive but comparable to the ATI RV870 Cypress in both functionality and performance. The GF104 is indeed Nvidia’s triumph and revenge. The company has finally got a GPU that can compete with AMD’s solutions in the sector of mainstream graphics cards priced at about $200. The GF104 is just as functional as the RV870 except for the latter’s rarely used ability to support more than two monitors simultaneously (but you can connect more than two monitors if you run two GF104-based cards in SLI mode). The senior GeForce GTX 460 series model also makes the GeForce GTX 465 outdated, delivering a higher performance at a lower price.

Now let’s see what we have in our tests.

The new card enjoys an average 6% advantage over the GeForce GTX 465 at 1600x900, the maximum gap being as large as 25%. It is only in three tests that the new GeForce GTX 460 1 GB card is inferior, namely Mass Effect 2, Unigine Heaven and BattleForge. And it is only in the last of these tests that the gap is over 5%. As for Radeon HD 5830, it barely has any chances to compete successfully against a slightly more expensive GeForce GTX 460 1 GB considering its significant defeat in a number of gaming benchmarks. In one of our upcoming reviews we are going to see how AMD/ATI solutions manage to compete against GeForce GTX 460 768 MB priced at the same level.  At this point, we can only state that GeForce GTX 460 1 GB is an indisputable winner.

As for the competition against the Radeon HD 5850, the new card loses eight out of the 18 tests but wins another eight while being much cheaper. Moreover, the factory overclocking adds an average 15% to its performance! AMD has got something to worry about as the GF104 may change the market situation in the sector of mainstream DirectX 11 solutions. We want to note the results in Aliens vs. Predator and Crysis Warhead where the factory overclocking helped the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH achieve a playable frame rate.

The GeForce GTX 460 1GB is very confident at 1920x1200, too. Of course, it is slower than the GeForce GTX 465 in some tests, but the gap is only large (15%) in one game, BattleForge. The new card is an overall winner, enjoying an average advantage of 8% and a maximum advantage of 43%. The GeForce GTX 460 1GB also routs the Radeon HD 5830, winning in every test except for Final Fantasy XIV Official Benchmark and enjoying an average advantage of 34%. If compared to the Radeon HD 5850, the GeForce GTX 460 has 6 wins, 11 losses and 1 draw, which is good considering the difference in pricing. Overclocking improves the performance of the GeForce GTX 460 1GB by an average 15%, the maximum performance boost being 20%. The factory overclocking helps the card deliver a playable frame rate in Just Cause 2.

The resolution of 2560x1600 is not really meant for graphics cards priced at $200, yet the GeForce GTX 460 1GB has good results, outperforming the GeForce GTX 465 as well as the Radeon HD 5830 although the average advantage over these cards lowers to 4 and 19%, respectively. It is harder to compete with the Radeon HD 5850 at that resolution. The latter has better texture-mapping resources, so the new card is an average 9% slower. That’s not a big gap, though, considering the difference in price. Overclocking is as rewarding as at the lower resolutions, improving the new card’s performance by 9 to 33%. After all, this resolution is meant for more advanced products such as Radeon HD 5870 or GeForce GTX 480 even though the new GeForce GTX 460 1GB can make some games playable, especially when pre-overclocked. Mass Effect 2 is a good example.

Besides excellent gaming performance, Nvidia GeForce GTX proved to be a great choice for HTPCs. The new card can decode all major contemporary video codecs on the hardware level and has a dual 1080p MPEG4-AVC and Blu-ray 3D decoder. Moreover, GF104 based solution proved the most efficient during HD video decoding out of all today’s testing participants, which means that it will be able to play very smoothly even the most complex scenes on not very powerful computer systems. Just like its predecessors and competitors, GeForce GTX 460 1 GB didn’t reach the maximum score in HQV 2.0 benchmarking suites, but it demonstrated the best DVD playback quality and very decent (although lower than by ATI Radeon HD) high-definition content playback quality.

So, without any doubt, the new graphics processor from Nvidia and at least one of graphics cards based on it are a success. The only downside we can see about it is its rather low texture-mapping performance, but this is also a downside of the GF100 chip. Moreover, the 56 TMUs of the GeForce GTX 460 1GB do not look such a nasty bottleneck as in the GeForce GTX 470. The senior model of the new series is so good that it can be viewed as an opponent to the Radeon HD 5850 rather than to the Radeon HD 5830. The latter may attract a potential customer due to its lower price, which is currently at $199, but we don’t know yet how good it is going to look compared against GeForce GTX 460 768 MB, which is selling for the same price.

With the arrival of the new card the GeForce GTX 465 becomes outdated, being slower and costing more. Anyway, we have no doubts about a bright market future of the GeForce GTX 460 1GB because it lacks serious shortcomings and is competitive against AMD solutions.

Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH Summary

As for the specific graphics card, the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH is an impressive product. It is compact, quiet and fast due to its pre-overclocked frequencies. In fact, its performance is an average 15% higher than that of the reference card from Nvidia. As we said above, the higher frequencies (800/1600 MHz for the GPU and 1000 (4000) MHz for the graphics memory) help increase the frame rate to a comfortable level in some games. We can’t find any fault with this product except for its scanty accessories. The Gainward GeForce GTX 460 1GB GS GLH is also going to cost more than $229 (as recommended by Nvidia for such cards), but this money will buy you a fast and quiet GF104-based device which can often compete with the more expensive Radeon HD 5850. So, we recommend the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH to every gamer. It won’t disappoint you.

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