Two Graphics cards from Palit: GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum and GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic Review

Today we are going to review two graphics cards on Nvidia GPUs that offer a great combination of features alongside with far not the reference design.

by Sergey Lepilov
06/16/2011 | 05:59 AM

Summer is usually not the season when GPU developers unveil their new products to the public. The sun, the heat, the vacations all combine to prevent the sales of computer components and particularly graphics cards from growing up. Therefore many brands try to keep the demand up by not only lowering their prices for this season but also by releasing nonstandard solutions that have pre-overclocked frequencies, alternative coolers, custom-made PCBs or even all of these. We’ve recently tested two such products, MSI Radeon R6970 Lightning and VTX3D Radeon HD 6970 X-Edition, and today we’re going to take a look at two more that belong to a lower price category. They are offered by Palit Microsystems Ltd. which used to be a second-tier brand but has got much more prominent and expert over the last years, especially in developing non-reference graphics cards.

Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum 1 GB

 

The first product to be discussed - Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum 1 GB - has been released but very recently. Its small box looks quite eye-catching. You can find such information as the model name, amount of graphics memory, video outputs and supported technologies on the face side of the box. The Sonic Platinum emblem means that the card’s GPU and memory frequencies are pre-overclocked.

 

Brief specs and system requirements are listed on the back of the box. You can also read a description of Nvidia’s gaming technologies there.

There is a cardboard box inside the external wrapper. The graphics card lies in there, in a soft pack. It is thus protected well enough against any hazards during storage and transportation.

The accessories are far from gorgeous: one power splitter from two PATA to one 6-pin connector (the graphics card has two such connectors), a brief installation guide, and a CD with drivers.

The Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum is manufactured in China and costs about $210 in retail, which is a mere $10 higher than the recommended price of Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 ($199).

The card is surprisingly compact, measuring 188 x 99 x 40 millimeters. So, its PCB is as many 22 millimeters shorter than the PCB of the reference GeForce GTX 560. The PCB is red, its face side being completely covered with the black casing of the cooler.

The Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum has three outputs: HDMI, DVI-I and VGA.

There is also a vent grid in the card’s mounting bracket.

You may be surprised that such a compact card has not one but two 6-pin power connectors but Palit sticks to the reference GeForce GTX 560 design here. After all, the specified peak power consumption of the card is as high as 150 watts.

 

We can also see one SLI connector for combining two such cards into a SLI tandem. 3-way and 4-way SLI configurations cannot be built out of GeForce GTX 560s.

With its cooler taken off, the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum looks like this:

The 5-phase power circuit is managed by an ON Semiconductor NCP5395T controller.

The GF114 chip (revision A1) is covered with a heat-spreader.

The GeForce GTX 560 has 336 unified shader processors, 56 texture-mapping units and 32 raster operators. Compared to the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, it lacks 8 TMUs and 48 ROPs. Nvidia does not specify a fixed GPU frequency for its GeForce GTX 560 but rather a frequency range. Thus, the main domain can be clocked at 810 to 950 MHz and the shader domain, at 1620 to 1900 MHz. It’s obviously up to the graphics card maker to decide which exactly frequency to use. Although most GeForce GTX 560s available today have a GPU frequency of 810/1620 MHz, the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum clocks its GPU at 900/1800 MHz with a voltage of 1 volt. This looks like substantial factory overclocking. The card lowers its frequency to 51/101 MHz and voltage to 0.875 volts in 2D mode.

The Palit card has 1 gigabyte of GDDR5 memory in FCFBGA chips located on the face side of the PCB.

These K4G10325FE-HC04 chips are manufactured by Samsung. They have a fetch time of 0.4 nanoseconds and a rated frequency of 5000 MHz. The graphics card’s memory frequency is 4200 MHz, which leaves some room for overclocking. It is lowered to 270 MHz in 2D mode for power-saving reasons. The memory bus is 256 bits wide.

Here is what the GPU-Z utility reports about this Palit card:

The cooler of the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum consists of two components: a plastic casing with fan and an aluminum heatsink.

The heatsink is very compact. Two 6mm copper heat pipes are soldered to its copper base. A number of slim aluminum fins are put on the pipes.

Thick, gray-colored thermal grease is used as thermal interface for the GPU. There are no heatsinks on the memory chips.

The cooler’s heatsink and the PCB elements are cooled with an 80mm 11-blade impeller from Power Logic.

Running on a sleeve bearing, this PLA08015S12HH fan can vary its speed from 1100 to 4000 RPM. Its peak power consumption is 4.2 watts.

To check out how hot the graphics card is, we ran the benchmark from Aliens vs. Predator (2010) in five cycles with maximum graphics quality settings at 1920x1080 with 16x AF and without FSAA (the GPU was the hottest at such settings). There was also a second test: FurMark 1.9.0 running at 1920x1080. MSI Afterburner 2.2.0 Beta 3 and GPU-Z version 0.5.3 were used as monitoring tools. The temperature tests were carried out in a closed system case at an ambient temperature of 25°C.

Let’s see how hot the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum is with its fan being controlled automatically (left) or working at its maximum speed (right).

 

So, the GPU was as hot as 81°C in the automatic mode of the fan. This seems to be high for a mainstream graphics card, but the fan speed is only 2400 RPM. This is not quiet, but comfortable enough. With the fan working at its maximum 3600 RPM, the GPU is 16°C colder than in the automatic mode, but the card gets very noisy.

FurMark heated the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum up more than Aliens vs. Predator (2010) did, of course. The GPU temperature was as high as 86°C at a fan speed of 3300 RPM.

It must be acknowledged that such loads are unrealistic, so the cooling system of the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum copes with its job just fine, despite its compactness and the card’s pre-overclocked frequencies.

The GPU of our sample of the card proved to have some reserve of frequency. It could be overclocked to 960 MHz.

Although the memory chips could be overclocked from 4200 to 4760 MHz, we wouldn’t call that a success. We had expected more from Samsung’s chips rated for 5000 MHz.

When overclocked, the card’s GPU temperature grew up by 1°C and the maximum speed of the fan increased by a mere 120 RPM.

Palit GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic 1GB

The box with Palit GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic 1 GB has the same size and design but different colors compared to the previous card’s packaging.

 

The accessories and the country of origin are the same, too. The Palit GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic has a retail price of $270, which is a mere $11 above the recommended price of Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti ($259).

The cooling system of this card features not one but two fans.

Despite that, the PCB is the same length (188 mm) as the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum but the card itself is larger by 15 millimeters due to the cooler’s casing. Anyway, both cards from Palit are compact by today’s standards.

The previous card’s HDMI, DVI and VGA outputs are complemented here with a DVI-D connector placed in between two vent grids.

Two 6-pin power connectors and a SLI connector can all be found in their habitual places.

  

The PCB is exactly the same as the one of the above-discussed Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum.

The power circuit is the same, too.

The markings on the GPU are similar, as opposed to its configuration.

The GPU of the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic has 384 unified shader processors, 64 texture-mapping units and 32 raster operators. It is clocked at 900/1800 MHz as opposed to the reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti’s 822/1645 MHz. The clock rate is lowered to 51/101 MHz and the voltage is stepped down from 1 to 0.95 volts in 2D mode.

This card bears the same memory as the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum.

It even has the same memory clock rate:

The cooling system of the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic is more serious, though:

It feature two rather than one fan, and its heatsink is larger and has three 6mm heat pipes.

The fans are the same model as we’ve seen on the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum.

Let’s see how this cooling system copes with its job when the card is running Aliens vs. Predator (2010).

 

Well, the GPU is 81°C hot when the fans are being controlled automatically. That’s the same temperature as the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum had in this test but the two fans are rotating at 2610 rather than 2400 RPM. Considering the identical GPU frequencies and voltages of the two cards, we can only attribute this difference to the extra 48 shader processors and 8 TMUs. At the maximum speed of the fans (4110 RPM) the GPU was 68°C hot.

When running FurMark, the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic is also neither colder nor quieter than its junior cousin.

The graphics card didn’t show anything exceptional in overclocking: 940/1880 MHz for the GPU and 4820 MHz for the memory chips.

The card’s GPU temperature didn’t change when we overclocked it, but the fans accelerated by 160 RPM.

Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology

All graphics cards were benchmarked in a closed system case with the following configuration:

We are going to compare the performance of our Palit graphics accelerators against that of AMD Radeon HD 6870 1 GB, which falls into the same price segment as GeForce GTX 560 Ti ($199):

The reference AMD Radeon HD 6870 was tested at its default frequencies as well as overclocked to 945/4620 MHz:

 

Unfortunately, this particular sample couldn’t boast superb overclocking potential.

As for Palit cards, they were tested at their nominal clocks as well as at overclocked frequencies, but also at the default frequencies of the reference Nvidia cards. For GeForce GTX 560 it was 810/1620/4008 MHz and for GeForce GTX 560 Ti – 822/1645/4008 MHz:

 

In order to lower the dependence of the graphics cards performance on the overall platform speed, I overclocked our 32 nm six-core CPU with the multiplier set at 25x and “Load-Line Calibration” (Level 2) enabled to 4.5GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.46875V in the mainboard BIOS:

The 6 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 1.5 GHz frequency with 7-7-7-16_1T timings and 1.64V voltage. Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading technologies were disabled during our test session.

The test session started on May 30, 2011. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:

The graphics cards were tested only in one resolution: 1920x1080. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “Quality+AF16x” – default texturing quality with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “Quality+ AF16x+AA4(8)x” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and full screen 4x anti-aliasing (MSAA) or 8x if the average framerate was high enough for comfortable gaming experience. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing from the game settings or configuration files. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panel of Catalyst and GeForce/ION drivers. There were no other changes in the driver settings.

All games and applications used in this test session were updated to their latest versions. As a result, the list had two popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suites, one technical demo and 19 games of various genres. Here is the complete list of tests used with the settings (all games listed in their release order):

If the game allowed recording the minimal fps readings, they were also added to the charts. We ran each game test or benchmark twice and took the best result for the diagrams, but only if the difference between them didn’t exceed 1%. If it did exceed 1%, we ran the tests at least one more time to achieve repeatability of results.

Performance Tests

The graphics cards are sorted out in the diagrams in the order of descending price in two blocks: at the default and overclocked frequencies. The results of the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic are teal. Those of the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum are green. The AMD Radeon HD 6870 is red. Each of these cards has 1 gigabyte of onboard memory.

3DMark Vantage

Each of the tested graphics cards is quite fast in 3DMark Vantage. When clocked at their default frequencies, the GeForce GTX 560 and Radeon HD 6870 are roughly equal, the former being somewhat faster in the higher-quality mode and the latter, in the lower-quality one. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti, in its turn, is 12 to 13% ahead of the GTX 560 but the pre-overclocked Palit narrows the gap to a mere 2-3%. And when we overclock Palit’s GeForce GTX 560 to its highest clock rates, it gets as fast as the reference GTX 560 Ti.

3DMark 2011

The overall picture is the same as in 3DMark Vantage. We can only note that each graphics card is very slow at the Extreme settings.

Unigine Heaven Demo

The GeForce GTX 560 is ahead of its closest market rival Radeon HD 6870 in this technical demo. The gap is 9% in the lower-quality mode and 1% in the higher-quality one. The reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti is 14-16% faster than the GeForce GTX 560, but the pre-overclocked GTX 560 from Palit is only 5-6% behind and even goes ahead when additionally overclocked. Of course, the overclocked GeForce GTX 560 Ti still gains the upper hand in this test.

Far Cry 2

The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is expectedly superior in Far Cry 2, beating the GeForce GTX 560 by 9-10%. The latter card is competing successfully with the Radeon HD 6870, leaving it behind by 6-15%. We can note that each of these graphics cards makes the game playable at high resolutions and maximum graphics quality settings.

BattleForge: Lost Souls

The GeForce GTX 560 looks good in BattleForge: Lost Souls, too, falling behind the Radeon HD 6870 in the FSAA-less mode only. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is faster than its cousin by 11%, but the gap shrinks to 2% when the latter is pre-overclocked like the Palit version.

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

Once again we see the Radeon beat the GeForces in the lower-quality mode but lose its ground as soon as we enable 4x MSAA. Anyway, the average frame rate of the Radeon HD 6870 is as high as that of the GeForce GTX 560, even though its bottom speed is lower. The reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti is 9-19% faster than the reference GTX 560 but cannot outperform the pre-overclocked GTX 560 from Palit.

Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx

Contrary to the previous test, the Radeon HD 6870 is slower than the GeForce GTX 560 in the FSAA-less mode but goes ahead when we enable full-screen antialiasing. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is 11% faster than the GeForce GTX 560 when both are clocked at their reference frequencies, but the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum is a mere 2 to 2.5% behind the reference GTX 560 Ti and even beats the latter when additionally overclocked.

Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City

The Nvidia-based cards are only competing among themselves in this test because the Radeon HD 6870 is much faster. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is 11% ahead of the GTX 560, but the overclocked GTX 560 from Palit beats the reference GTX 560 Ti.

Left 4 Dead 2

The Radeon HD 6870 is also faster than the GeForce GTX 560 in the frequently updated and improved Left 4 Dead 2. The gap is 7 to 16%. The reference GeForce GTX 560 is also 9 to 15% slower than the reference GTX 560 Ti, but the latter is overtaken by Palit’s pre-overclocked GTX 560.

Metro 2033: The Last Refuge

The GeForce GTX 560 and Radeon HD 6870 are almost equal in Metro 2033: The Last Refuge. The AMD-based card is somewhat inferior in terms of the bottom frame rate, which is an important factor for this game with its high system requirements. We can remind you that we ran Metro 2033: The Last Refuge not at its maximum graphics quality settings and without full-screen antialiasing, yet the mainstream graphics cards are barely able to cope with it.

Just Cause 2

The Radeon HD 6870 leaves no chance to the Nvidia-based products in Just Cause 2. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti and GTX 560 cards behave in the same way as in the previous tests.

Aliens vs. Predator (2010)

The Radeon HD 6870 is ahead of the GeForce GTX 560 but not as much as in the previous game. Otherwise, the overall picture is the same.

Lost Planet 2

The GeForce series cards beat the Radeon HD 6870 here. The reference GTX 560 Ti is 12-14% ahead of the reference GTX 560 but 2-3% slower than the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum.

StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty

The GeForce and Radeon series cards of the same price are equals until we turn on 4x MSAA. Our doing that cripples the performance of the Radeon HD 6870, so there is no competition in the MSAA mode. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is 15-17% faster than the GTX 560. The Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum at 900/4200 MHz is comparable to the reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti, which is quite an achievement considering the difference in price.

Mafia 2

Mafia 2 produces the same picture of performance as we’ve seen in most of the other tests.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V

The Radeon failed in the FSAA mode of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, and the GeForce series do the same in Sid Meier’s Civilization V. Otherwise, we don’t see anything new here.

F1 2010

The Radeon HD 6870 beats the GeForce GTX 560 and even the GTX 560 Ti here. The latter is 12-15% ahead of the reference GTX 560 but is matched by the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum.

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2

The green team wins here as the game favors Nvidia-based solutions. The standings of the GeForce series cards are the same as in most of the previous tests.

Crysis 2

This game doesn’t have anything new to add to the previous results.

Warhammer 40 000 Dawn of War II: Retribution

This CPU-dependent game favors AMD-based graphics cards as you can see in the diagram. The reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti is faster than the GTX 560 by 9 to 12% but cannot outperform the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum.

Total War: Shogun 2

The Radeon HD 6870 is victorious here whereas the GeForce series cards have the same standings as in most of the previous tests.

DiRT 3

The GeForce GTX 560 is overall somewhat better than the Radeon HD 6870 in DiRT 3, although they are roughly similar in the FSAA mode. The Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum looks good again, making the more expensive GeForce GTX 560 Ti a less appealing buy.

Performance Summary Diagrams

For your convenience all results have been summed up in the table below:

The first diagram compares the difference between Nvidia’s reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti and GeForce GTX 560, the latter card serving as a baseline. The red dotted line shows the difference in the recommended prices of these cards (25% or $50).

Although the difference in performance never matches the difference in price, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti does enjoy a considerable advantage over the GTX 560 which amounts to 20% in some tests. The senior model is an average 13% faster than the junior one across all tests in the FSAA-less mode and 12% faster in the FSAA mode.

We see a similar picture when we compare Palit’s GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum with GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic if they are both clocked at 900/4200 MHz:

The next diagram compares the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum (900/4200 MHz) with the reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti (822/4008 MHz):

The final diagram shows the GeForce GTX 560 compared to the Radeon HD 6870. They have the same recommended price, by the way.

It’s hard to prefer one graphics card basing on the tests. The Radeon HD 6870 is faster in 3DMark 2011, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From Liberty City, Left 4 Dead 2, Just Cause 2, Aliens vs. Predator (2010), Sid Meier's Civilization V, F1 2010, Warhammer 40 000 Dawn of War II: Retribution and Total War: Shogun 2. The GeForce GTX 560, on its part, is superior in Unigine Heaven, Far Cry 2, Lost Planet 2, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 and Crysis 2. The two cards are roughly equal to each other in the remaining games.

Power Consumption

We measured the power consumption of systems with different graphics cards (without the monitor) using a specially modified power supply. A gaming load was emulated by running Aliens vs. Predator (2010) at 1920x1080 with 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x MSAA. For the maximum load we launched FurMark 1.9.0 in the stability check mode at 1920x1080 with 16x AF together with Linpack x64 (LinX 0.6.4, 4750 MB, 5 threads). These two programs load heavily the graphics card and CPU, respectively, so we can determine the peak power draw of the whole system and see what power supply will suffice for it. You can see the results in the diagram:

It’s clear that the systems with the Nvidia-based cards require a higher-wattage PSU. Unless you launch such resource-consuming applications as LinX or FurMark, any of the tested systems will be satisfied with a 550-watt PSU. Otherwise, you’ll need a 700-watt PSU. You must be aware that our overclocked six-core CPU contributes a lot to the overall power consumption. The numbers would be lower with a less power-hungry processor. We can also add that the systems had almost the same power draw when idle.

Conclusion

The two graphics cards from Palit we’ve tested today are both good products that combine this brand's traditionally adequate price with factory overclocking and low-noise alternative coolers. We guess the Palit GeForce GTX 560 Sonic Platinum is the more appealing of the two as it can deliver the performance of an Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti which costs more. Moreover, our sample of this already overclocked card could be overclocked even further!

The more expensive Palit GeForce GTX 560 Ti Sonic is 11 to 13% faster than its junior cousin, having the same GPU temperature and producing the same amount of noise at the same frequencies. It is also more compact but expectedly consumes somewhat more power. In fact, both cards can be called compact, which is good, and come with scanty accessories, which is the only thing we can find to complain about.

It’s hard to name the winner in the race between the Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 and AMD Radeon HD 6870 basing on the results of our today's tests. They were constantly changing places, winning one game or test mode and losing another. They have the same recommended and retail prices and feature their respective exclusive technologies. The GeForce GTX 560 consumes more power but is smaller than the Radeon HD 6870. Thus, we've got some tough competition in the midrange market sector, and that'll certainly be good for us, end-users.