by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
09/21/2010 | 12:31 PM
Nvidia’s release of the GF104 processor was a real breakthrough for the company which had not had an inexpensive chip to produce profitable mainstream graphics cards. The GF100 processor, the first in the Fermi series, was too expensive, hot, big and sophisticated to fill the part as the GeForce GTX 465 was a vivid example of: that GF100-based card could not deliver as much performance as its high price implied.
The GeForce GTX 460 has improved the situation dramatically. Now Nvidia offers two affordable solutions, the senior model of the new series being especially appealing: officially priced at $229, it supports all modern technologies including PhysX and CUDA and is much faster than the ATI Radeon HD 5830 and GeForce GTX 465, making the latter outdated.
Nvidia set the GPU clock rate of the new cards at 675 MHz for the main domain and 1350 MHz for the shader domain. With such parameters the GeForce GTX 460 1GB proved to be unrivalled in its price category. However, many manufacturers released pre-overclocked versions of that card. We benchmarked the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH and found out that the GeForce GTX 460 1GB could challenge the Radeon HD 5850 and, occasionally, even the far more expensive GeForce GTX 470 if clocked at GPU frequencies of 800/1600 MHz. If viewed from a multimedia standpoint, the GF104 is the first GPU from Nvidia to support Protected Audio Path, so it can work with multichannel HD audio formats (Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio) that used to be supported by the Radeon HD 5000 series only. It’s better late than never. Thus, the GF104 is a real turning point for Nvidia. The company has caught up with AMD technologically and is now ready to counterattack.
The GF104 is known to have debuted on the market in a cut-down configuration. There are only seven active execution clusters within its core out of the total eight. In other words, it can only use 336 out of the 384 ALUs and 56 out of the 64 TMUs which are physically present. This reserve of resources may become available to users after Nvidia unlocks it and releases an updated GF104. We can’t make any predictions about what the performance of such a GPU might be but we can check the current GF104 out at frequencies above 800 MHz. After some looking around and probing into the overclockability of a few graphics cards, we selected a Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum for our experiment. Let’s have a look at its design first.
The Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum is packaged differently than the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH. Although painted dark colors too, it has no pictures of angels or other creatures, like Palit’s favorite frogs. There is one frog looking at us from the side of the box, though.
The Palit GeForce GTX 470 box was designed in a similar manner but here we have a combination of red with gold rather than of green with silver. The box is quite eye-catching but there is no information on it regarding the card’s exact frequencies. There is only a sticker mentioning that the product is pre-overclocked.
Inside the colorful wrapper there is the main cardboard box divided into compartments. The central and biggest compartment is for the graphics card packed into a blister wrap. The side compartments contain accessories which are rather scanty:
This is in fact the same set of accessories that was included with the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH except that there is no discount coupon for Super LoiLoScope. Considering that Palit-branded products are mostly affordable and targeted at a large user audience, this might have been expected. Moreover, this card will need but one power adapter if your power supply has only one graphics card connector.
Thus, the Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum comes in a pretty-looking box but with a minimum of accessories. There’s nothing wrong about that because rich accessories would make it more expensive whereas modest pricing has always been the key advantage of most Palit products. Even with such scanty accessories the GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum looks just as interesting as its cousin Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH and more appealing than the reference GeForce GTX 460 1GB.
The Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum looks somewhat different from the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH we tested earlier but the difference boils down to the cooling system’s casing and fan. Otherwise, these cards are identical, which might have been expected since Gainward is the elite brand owned by Palit Microsystems. There was no reason for the company to develop the PCB for the Sonic Platinum version from scratch.
As we wrote in that earlier review, the PCB developed by Palit/Gainward specialists for their GeForce GTX 460 is somewhat shorter than the reference one while the power connectors are positioned in such a way as not to hinder the installation of the card into short system cases.
NCP5395T and RT9259B controllers from ON Semiconductor and Richtek Technology, respectively, are used in the power system. The former is responsible for the GPU and the latter, for the graphics memory. The card gets external power via two 6-pin PCIe 1.0 connectors.
The card is equipped with 1 gigabyte of graphics memory in eight Samsung K4G10325FE-HC05 chips. These GDDR5 memory chips have a capacity of 1 Gb (32 Mb x 32) and a rated frequency of 1000 (4000) MHz. The card clocks them at their rated frequency which is somewhat higher than the reference card’s memory frequency of 900 (3600) MHz. The Palit can lower its memory frequency to 324 (1296) MHz or 135 (540) MHz in power-saving modes: the latter mode is used for 2D Windows applications except for DXVA-compatible video players and CUDA-based software.
The Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum has the same GPU parameters as the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH. The main GPU domain is pre-overclocked from 675 to 800 MHz. The shader domain frequency is twice the main domain one and equals 1600 MHz. The GPU voltage is 0.987 volts in 3D mode. You can use vGPU-controlling software tools to increase it up to 1.087 volts. This limit is written into the BIOS to prevent the user from setting too high a GPU voltage. When in power-saving modes, the card drops its GPU voltage to 0.912 or 0.875 volts and GPU frequency to 405/810 and 51/101 MHz. As a result, GF104-based graphics cards are highly economical in applications that do not need all of the GPU resources. Quite importantly, the power management system does not turn off when you overclock the card, so the power consumption and heat dissipation of the Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum is only going to grow up in games and other graphics-heavy applications.
The latest version of the GPU-Z utility we had at our disposal during our tests could not show the parameters of the GF104 chip correctly, reporting only 224 ALUs. The chip actually has 336 active ALUs (out of the total 384) and 56 TMUs (out of the total 64). It also has 32 RBEs to ensure a high fill rate, which is going to be even higher when the GPU is overclocked above 800 MHz.
Like its Gainward-branded cousin, the Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum has a couple of DVI-I ports, a full-size HDMI, and an analog D-Sub. One such graphics card can be connected to two monitors simultaneously. Panoramic triple-monitor configurations are only supported with SLI tandems (there is one MIO connector on the PCB for using this card in a SLI configuration). As we’ve mentioned above, the GF104 is more advanced in its audio department than the GF100 thanks to its support of Protected Audio Path which is necessary to play multichannel HD audio formats.
The cooling systems of the Palit and Gainward-branded cards are identical: a flat heatsink is connected to the copper base with two heat pipes. The cooler is secured on the PCB with four spring-loaded screws. There is a layer of dark-gray thermal grease between the cooler’s base and the GPU’s heat-spreading cap. The Palit version lacks an auxiliary heatsink to cool the power transistors but they won’t be left without any cooling at all with this cooler design.
A Power Logic PLA08015B12HH fan is used in both cooling systems but it has a different color of the impeller in the Palit version while the fan casing is shaped differently and is not as angular as in the Gainward version. The casing is fastened to the PCB with four screws.
The cooling system we have just described is quite efficient as we already know but it has to pass a hard trial today because we are going to overclock our Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum at an increased GPU voltage, which means an increased amount of heat. Let’s see if the cooler can cope with that.
The Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum is identical to the previously tested Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH in its PCB design and specifications, so we will not measure its power consumption. We already know it. The point of this review is to check out the overclocking potential of the GeForce GTX 460. Nearly every modern graphics card offers the option of software-based control over the GPU voltage, and we want to use it. The BIOS of the GeForce GTX 460 card imposes some limitations on the vGPU parameter. Every GF104-based graphics card we have tested so far in our labs could only increase its core voltage to 1.087 volts. There exist modified BIOS versions from enthusiasts but we could not use them with the custom-designed cards from Palit/Gainward. Therefore we set the maximum allowable value using the MSI Afterburner utility:
We couldn’t notch 1 GHz, unfortunately, but we did make the GPU stable at main and shader domain frequencies of 900 and 1800 MHz, respectively. This is quite good considering that we didn’t use any nonstandard overclocking tools or methods. The graphics memory could work at 1100 (4400) MHz, increasing the peak memory bandwidth to 140.8 GBps. This is lower than the Radeon HD 5870’s memory bandwidth but quite an increase over the default 900 (3600) MHz and 115.2 GBps.
Now that we had overclocked our GeForce GTX 460 1GB to those values, we wondered how that might affect the card’s power consumption. We measured this parameter using our standard testbed:
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. Here are the obtained results:
We don’t see much difference between the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH and overclocked Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum in the desktop and HD video encoding modes, but when we launch a heavy 3D shooter, we see the effect of our overclocking of the GPU to 900 MHz at an increased voltage. The peak power draw of 236 watts is higher than that of the GeForce GTX 470 and close to the GeForce GTX 480. This is the tradeoff for extreme overclocking and we are yet to see whether the performance growth is worth it.
Surprisingly enough, the cooling system copes with the increased load easily. The GPU temperature is only 7°C higher in 3D mode compared to that of the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH. The temperature doesn’t change much in the power-saving modes. And what about the noise factor?
The increased heat dissipation couldn’t but affect this parameter. The cooling system of the Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum is much louder when the card is overclocked although at the default frequencies the card is just as noisy as the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH. As the card warms up under load, its fan is accelerating, making itself heard amongst the other noise-producing system components. Anyway, the Palit card’s cooler doesn’t irritate with its sound. Its noise is just a soft hiss of the air, just somewhat louder when the card is overclocked.
Like its Gainward-branded cousin, the Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum boasts excellent noise and temperature parameters even when overclocked to a GPU frequency of 900 MHz. Let’s find out what performance benefits this overclocking provides to us.
We are going to investigate the gaming performance of Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum configuration using the following universal testbed:
We used the following graphics card drivers:
The ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:
Below is the list of games and test applications we used during this test session:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
Semi-synthetic and synthetic Benchmarks
We selected the highest possible level of detail in each game 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 Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum, 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.
This game is benchmarked in DirectX 11 mode with the highest graphics quality settings.
Our readers already know what to expect from a GeForce GTX 460 1GB at frequencies up to 800 MHz. The results the card produces at 900 MHz are even more impressive: the Palit card beats the GeForce GTX 470 and outperforms the more expensive Radeon HD 5870 in the first test. But taking a more pragmatic view of the situation, we can see that the Palit does not open new opportunities for the gamer. The resolution of 1600x900 pixels is still the only playable one at the highest graphics quality settings. The bottom speed is too low at the higher resolutions.
The overclocked Palit Sonic Platinum is only inferior to the Radeon HD 5870 at 2560x1600, and the gap is very small there. Unfortunately, it cannot keep the frame rate playable at the highest resolution. On the other hand, we shouldn’t forget that we are talking about a cut-down GF104 chip with a few disabled subunits.
Our overclocking is not as rewarding here as in the previous tests, yet the Palit card is still impressive, beating the GeForce GTX 470 at two out of the three resolutions. We guess that if the frequency potential of the GF104 improves and its disabled subunits are turned on, it will make the GeForce GTX 470 outdated!
The Palit delivers the best bottom speed at 1920x1080. We’d call that a sensation if the frame rate were higher than 21 fps, which is below playable. It’s a shame we couldn’t overclock our sample even higher than 900 MHz!
The Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum is in the lead at every resolution. It doesn’t open new opportunities for gamers here, yet its higher performance will come in handy at 2560x1600, for example.
This game is tested without multisampling antialiasing as it worsens the textures and provokes a performance hit.
The Radeon HD 5870 is unbeaten at 2560x1600, remaining the single card to deliver a playable frame rate there. At the lower resolutions the overclocked Palit is just as good as the leader, being somewhat slower in terms of average speed but costing much less.
We use the game’s DirectX 10.1 and DirectX 11 modes for graphics cards that support them.
The overclocked Palit is just as fast as the GeForce GTX 470 and Radeon HD 5870 but the resolution of 2560x1600 is still unplayable because the average frame rate is below 25 fps. Anyway, our overclocking results are most impressive considering the price category the GeForce GTX 460 1GB comes from.
This game’s integrated benchmark does not report the bottom frame rate.
We’ve got another confirmation of the simple equation: the GeForce GTX 460 1GB equals the GeForce GTX 470 if overclocked to a GPU frequency of 900 MHz. The resolution of 2560x1600 is unplayable but it is quite a bargain to get a Radeon HD 5870 class card for only about $200! The only problem is that not all samples of GeForce GTX 460 cards will be as good at overclocking as ours. Overclocking is not unlike lottery, you know.
The overclocked Palit equals the Radeon HD 5850, which is good considering the difference in prices. Moreover, none of these graphics cards, including the Radeon HD 5830, has any problems delivering a comfortable speed even at 2560x1600.
We enforced full-screen antialiasing using the method described in our special Mass Effect 2 review.
There are practical benefits from overclocking a GeForce GTX 460 in Mass Effect 2: the overclocked card raises the frame rate to a comfortable level at 2560x1600. You don’t have to use the software-based volt-modding for that, though. The factory overclocking to 800 MHz is quite enough already. Our extra frequency increase only helps the Palit card outperform its opponents at the lower resolutions but there is no practical worth in that unless you want to humiliate your friend’s Radeon HD 5870.
We enable the DirectX 11 mode for graphics cards that support it.
This is yet another impressive demonstration of the GF104’s huge potential. When overclocked to 900 MHz, this GPU is faster than the 850 MHz Cypress core from AMD installed on the Radeon HD 5870. Such overclocking is not very necessary in this game even at 2560x1600, yet it’s always good to have an extra reserve of speed.
The game’s integrated benchmark cannot report the bottom frame rate. We use DirectX 10 and 10.1 modes here.
The overclocked Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum has no rivals here. However, like in most other tests, such overclocking is of little practical worth. It is only somewhat useful at 2560x1600.
We use DirectX 11 mode for graphics cards that support it.
The overclocked Palit is inferior to the GeForce GTX 470 in terms of bottom speed at 1920x1080, making the gameplay less enjoyable. This must be due to the lack of computing resources. The GeForce GTX 460 1GB has fewer ALUs than the GeForce GTX 470 and the increased GPU clock rate cannot make up for that deficiency in this test.
Overclocking would be most useful for the GeForce GTX 460 1GB at 2560x1600, yet it is at that resolution that the card’s performance doesn’t grow up much. Even at a GPU frequency of 900 MHz the Palit couldn’t achieve a playable bottom speed with 4x FSAA. On the other hand, the expensive Radeon HD 5870 and GeForce GTX 570 cannot do that, either.
The GeForce GTX 460 1GB improves its average frame rate at 2560x1600 when overclocked to 900 MHz, yet its bottom speed remains almost the same. Thus, such overclocking is of little use for owners of 30-inch monitors.
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 900 MHz GeForce GTX 460 1GB is as fast as the Radeon HD 5870 in this benchmark just as we have seen throughout the previous tests.
The overclocked Palit is somewhat less confident in the second test compared to the first one where it falls behind the Radeon HD 5870 at 1920x1080. The results of the individual 3DMark tests agree with what we have seen above in the games.
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.
It’s hard to beat AMD solutions in this benchmark, yet the overclocked GeForce GTX 460 1GB gets very close to the Radeon HD 5850 at 1920x1080. That’s a good result considering the Radeon-oriented game engine. The frame rate is quite playable.
The average performance of the 900 MHz card from Palit is roughly the same as that of the GeForce GTX 470 but its bottom speed is lower. The lack of ALUs cannot always be made up for by the higher clock rate. Anyway, the overclocked Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum delivers excellent performance, just like in most of the other tests.
The Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum graphics card we have discussed in this review is the same as the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH except for the shape of the cooler’s casing, the color of the fan, and the missing heatsink on the power transistors. So, our impressions about it are just as positive as about the Gainward card we tested earlier. The card is compact and rather quiet. The factory overclocking to GPU frequencies of 800/1600 MHz and to a memory frequency of 1000 (4000) MHz makes it competitive in some applications to the more expensive Radeon HD 5850. So, we can recommend the Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum to any gamer who wants an affordable yet fast graphics card supporting all modern technologies including DirectX 11, PhysX and CUDA.
We also achieved quite impressive results by overclocking the GPU at an increased core voltage, even though the card’s power consumption grew up considerably. Let’s take a look at the results.
Overclocking a GeForce GTX 460 1GB from its reference frequencies to 900/1800 MHz for the GPU and 1000 (4000) MHz for the memory ensures a performance growth of 14-36%, depending on the particular game, at 1600x900. The average performance growth is about 28%. This is enough to compete with the GeForce GTX 470 as well as with the Radeon HD 5870 which are both much more expensive. The overclocked Palit is an average 8% ahead of the GeForce GTX 470 and 13% ahead of the Radeon HD 5870, losing to them in two and six tests, respectively (and never losing by more than 10%).
The average performance growth at overclocking is 30% now, the maximum being as high as 43%. The gap between the overclocked Palit and the Radeon HD 5870 shrinks to 7.5%, though. The Palit card wins most of our tests, demonstrating the huge potential of the GF104 core. Of course, not all samples of GeForce GTX 460 1GB are going to overclock that well, yet this card is indeed a very good choice for every gamer who is into overclocking. You can get the performance of a GeForce GTX 470 or even higher at a much lower cost!
The overclocked Palit has almost no advantage over the Radeon HD 5870 at 2560x1600. This might be expected as the Fermi architecture always feels a lack of texture-mapping resources at such high resolutions. The AMD card wins 11 out of the total of 19 tests. On the other hand, the Palit enjoys a higher advantage over the GeForce GTX 470 (9%) as well as over the reference GeForce GTX 460 1GB (33%). But we must confess that the only game where our extreme overclocking was indeed useful was Mass Effect 2. We also enjoyed a larger reserve of bottom speed in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
In all the other games there was no practical need for overclocking the GPU at an increased voltage: the card was already fast enough or could not accelerate to a playable frame rate even when overclocked. So, extreme overclocking is still more like an exciting sport rather than a practically valuable means of making your gaming experience more comfortable. Anyway, the Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum (and its counterpart - Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH) is one of the best choices if you want to buy a GeForce GTX 460 1GB.