by Sergey Lepilov
08/22/2011 | 10:00 AM
Nothing disturbs the summer calm of the GPU market. Neither AMD nor Nvidia finds itself capable of breaking the tradition of not rolling out new solutions during this season, their employees spending their vacations and bonuses they’ve been given for the Cayman, Barts and new GeForces, somewhere by the sea. Not having any new products to show to the customer, graphics card makers try to revamp the old solutions by equipping them with original coolers, pre-overclocking their GPUs and memory, and putting extra stuff into their boxes. Two such products have been provided to us by Inno3D and Leadtek. And we’ve also added two XFX cards, even though they are less original, to this test session.
The Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti comes in a black box with silvery labels and stickers.
The accessories are rather scanty, consisting of a DVI-I adapter, a power cable, a CD with drivers, a user guide and a coupon for downloading and activating StarCraft II.
The graphics card itself is far more exciting, particularly due to its large cooler that covers its entire face side.
It is this original cooling system that constitutes the key feature of the iChill GTX 560 Ti. Take note that it’s going to block not one but two expansion slots on the mainboard (the cooler's height is 63 millimeters). Hopefully, this will be made up for by high cooling performance and low noise. The card is 231 millimeters long.
It has a standard selection of video outputs: two DVI-I and one mini-HDMI connectors. There is a vent grid in the card’s mounting bracket to exhaust the hot air from the cooler.
There are also two 6-pin power connectors and one MIO connector (for 2-way SLI) on the PCB.
The cooling system is fastened with four screws around the GPU, so we could easily take it off after scraping the generous amount of thermal interface material off the GPU surface.
There is a heat-spreading aluminum plate on the memory chips and power system components.
As we found out during our tests, this is quite enough to cool the 4-phase power circuit and the GDDR5 memory chips.
Our sample of the Inno3D card has an Nvidia GF114-400 revision A1 processor manufactured on the 9th week of this year.
Covered with a heat-spreader, the graphics die has a size of 332 sq. mm and incorporates 384 unified shader processors, 64 texture-mapping units, and 32 raster operators. The reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti has GPU clock rates of 822/1645 MHz but the Inno3D version is clocked at 930/1860 MHz and has an increased GPU voltage of 1.0 volts. In fact, this is one of the fastest GeForce GTX 560 Ti available. The card lowers its GPU clock rates to 51/101 MHz and voltage to 0.95 volts in 2D mode.
There is 1 gigabyte of GDDR5 memory in FCFBGA chips on the face side of the PCB.
These K4G10325FE-HC04 chips are manufactured by Samsung and have an access time of 0.4 nanoseconds, which means a rated frequency of 5000 MHz. Despite this, the Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti has a memory clock rate of 4200 MHz (but the reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti has a memory clock rate of only 4008 MHz). It is reduced to 270 MHz in 2D mode. The memory bus is 256 bits wide.
Thus, the Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti card has the following specs:
Besides the increased frequencies, the Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti can boast an original cooler:
Its heatsink consists of aluminum fins and a copper base with four nickel-plated copper heat pipes.
The whole arrangement is cooled by two 86mm impellers secured within a plastic frame:
Their speed is PWM-controlled automatically within a range of 1200 to 3400 RPM depending on the GPU temperature. Again, this cooler will block two expansion slots on your mainboard. The heat-spreading plate contacts the memory chips and power system components via thermal pads:
Now let’s see how efficient this cooler is. To do this, we use the Aliens vs. Predator (2010) test. We run it five times with maximum graphics quality settings at 1920x1080 with 16x anisotropic filtering. We also fry the card up with the FurMark 1.9.1 stability test at 1920x1080. We use MSI Afterburner 2.2.0 Beta 5 and GPU-Z 0.5.4 to monitor the graphics card’s temperatures, frequencies and fan speed. This test is carried out with a closed system case at an ambient temperature of 24°C.
First let’s check out the temperature of the card when running the 3D game, the fans being controlled automatically (left) or working at their full speed (right):
The massive cooler installed on the Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti does its job spectacularly well. Despite the increased frequency, the GPU is no hotter than 74°C whereas the speed of the fans is no higher than 1480 RPM. At the maximum speed of the fans, which is hardly really necessary, the GPU is only 65°C hot.
Interestingly, the GPU was only 80°C hot and the fans worked at 1650 RPM even when running FurMark.
Unfortunately, the Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti wasn’t good in terms of overclocking. They must have squeezed everything possible out of the GPU back at the factory, so our sample of the card was unstable after our increasing its GPU clock rate by 10 MHz even at a voltage of 1.05 volts. The memory chips could be overclocked from the default 4200 MHz to 4560 MHz, which is far from beating any records.
The Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC 1 GB is shipped in a large and beautiful box with a picture of a leopard on its front.
You can learn about the card's model name, memory amount and pre-overclocked frequencies from the text on the box. The accessories include two power cables, a DVI adapter, an installation guide, and a CD with drivers.
The Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC is smaller than the previous product although its cooling system has heat pipes and two fans, too.
As opposed to the Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti, this card is going to block only one adjacent expansion slot. The Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC is 231 millimeters long.
These are the graphics card’s outputs:
The power and MIO connectors are the same as those of the previous product:
The Leadtek doesn’t have an additional heat-spreading plate. The hottest components of its 4-phase power system are cooled with a small aluminum heatsink.
The Nvidia GF114-325 revision A1 processor is dated the 9th week of 2011. It's manufactured on 40nm technology.
The GeForce GTX 560 GPU has 48 unified shader processors and 8 texture-mapping units less than the GeForce GTX 560 Ti. Each has 32 raster operators. The Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC complies with these specs. As you know, Nvidia specified a GPU frequency range rather than a single frequency for the GeForce GTX 560, and Leadtek set the GPU clock rate of their card at a modest 850 MHz. That’s not high compared to the previously tested products from Palit and MSI. On the other hand, this explains the attractive letters OC in the model name. The GPU voltage is 1.025 volts in 3D mode. In 2D mode the voltage is lowered to 0.875 volts while the GPU clock rates are reduced to 51/101 MHz.
There is 1 gigabyte of GDDR5 memory in eight FCFBGA chips on the face side of the PCB:
The chips are the same as on the Inno3D card, so we can only add that they are clocked at 4008 MHz, in full compliance with Nvidia’s official specs.
The Leadtek can’t boast high clock rates, so let’s try to find anything exciting in its cooling system.
The cooler consists of two separate aluminum heatsinks which are connected with three 8mm heat pipes. The heatsink on the GPU features direct-touch technology:
The whole system is cooled by two 80mm fans fitted into a plastic casing:
Their speed is PWM-controlled automatically within a range of 1200 to 4400 RPM.
Interestingly, the Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC turned out to be exactly as hot as the Inno3D in the game test as well as under FurMark.
Thus, the difference in the efficiency of the cooling systems of the two graphics cards is compensated by the difference in the clock rates and the GPUs. Of course, Inno3D’s cooler is more effective.
The Leadtek card could be overclocked a little:
The GF114 processor cannot show high overclockability but the memory chips could be overclocked better than those of the Inno3D card.
The XXX or Black Edition series of XFX graphics cards are far more exciting, but we have to content ourselves with what we’ve got, namely XFX Radeon HD 6970 2 GB Standard Edition and XFX Radeon HD 6950 2 GB Standard Edition. The compact packaging designed in XFX’s traditional style is quite informative:
The graphics card is additionally protected with a cardboard wrap. The box also contains one CrossFireX bridge, a CD with drivers and a lot of documentation.
There are no adapters, power cables, games or coupons to download games, in this box. You can only get fewer accessories with OEM products. The XFX Radeon HD 6970 2 GB is priced at $349. The HD 6950 will cost you about $279.
Both cards are copies of the reference ones in everything except for the stickers on their coolers.
The vent grid in the mounting bracket is shaped like the XFX logo and seems to increase the resistance to the air flow.
Each XFX card has two DVI outputs, one HDMI and two mini-DisplayPorts. They also carry power connectors, two CrossFireX connectors, and a BIOS switch:
On the reverse side of the PCB we can see an aluminum cover and a steel back-plate of the GPU heatsink.
The graphics cards and their coolers following the reference design, we can’t add anything new to our earlier reviews.
The Cayman GPUs of our cards were manufactured on the 43rd and 44th weeks of 2010.
We can remind you that the Radeon HD 6950 has 1408 unified shader processors and 88 texture-mapping units whereas the Radeon HD 6970 has 1536 unified shader processors and 96 texture-mapping units. The number of raster operators is the same at 32. The GPU frequency of the HD 6950 and HD 6970 is 800 and 880 MHz, respectively, in 3D mode. In 2D mode each GPU is clocked at 250 MHz.
Each of these cards comes with 2 gigabytes of GDDR5 memory manufactured by Hynix Semiconductor.
The chips installed on the Radeon HD 6970 are labeled as H5GQ2H24MFR R0C. They have a voltage of 1.5 volts and a rated frequency of 6000 MHz. The Radeon HD 6950 is equipped with H5GQ2H24MFR T2C chips that have a voltage of 1.5 volts and a rated frequency of 5000 MHz. The actual memory frequency of the HD 6970 and HD 6950 is 5500 MHz and 5000 MHz, respectively. Thus, these XFX products do not differ from the reference products in this respect. Each card lowers its memory frequency to 600 MHz in 2D mode. The memory bus width is 256 bits.
Let’s compare the cards using GPU-Z:
We examined the cooling system installed on the Radeon HD 6970 (and 6950) in our earlier review, so we will limit ourselves to just posting its photo here.
It should be noted that the contact surface of the copper base of the XFX Radeon HD 6950's cooler was convex, and the cooler's blower wouldn't work smoothly. Its speed would increase or decrease abruptly.
Replacing the thermal interface on the GPU die and applying a thicker layer of it didn't help much. This is quite a common problem, so we didn't try to overclock that card. As for the XFX Radeon HD 6970, we could speed it up to 930/6000 MHz without increasing its voltage or tweaking its cooling. This is a normal result for such cards.
All graphics cards were benchmarked in a closed system case with the following configuration:
Besides four above discussed graphics cards we also included a reference AMD Radeon HD 6970 1GB:
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 1.44 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 August 12, 2011. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:
The graphics cards were tested only in one today’s most popular 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 drivers. There were no other changes in the driver settings.
The list of games and applications used in this test session included two popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suites, one technical demo and 13 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.
We’ve got expected results in our performance tests. The overclocked Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti is close behind the Radeon HD 6950 which in its turn is 10-12% slower than the Radeon HD 6970, which is the fastest card in this test session. The Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC is somewhat slower than the Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti whereas the reference Radeon HD 6870 is right in between them. There are but a few exceptions: the Nvidia-based products are generally faster in Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2, Lost Planet 2 and the high-quality mode of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty whereas the AMD-based ones are ahead in Just Cause 2, Total War: Shogun 2 and Sid Meier's Civilization. We’ve seen all that in our earlier reviews, though.
Here is a table with the full test results:
We measured the level of noise using an electronic noise-level meter CENTER-321 in a closed room about 20 sq. meters large. The noise-level meter was set on a tripod at a distance of 15 centimeters from the graphics card which was installed on an open testbed. The mainboard with the graphics card was placed at an edge of a desk on a foam-rubber tray.
The bottom limit of our noise-level meter is 29.8 dBA whereas the subjectively comfortable (not low, but comfortable) level of noise when measured from that distance is about 36 dBA. The speed of the graphics card’s fans was being adjusted by means of a controller that changed the supply voltage in steps of 0.5 V.
For the comparison’s sake, we’ve added the results of the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 1 GB Ultra Durable into the next diagram (the dotted lines mark the top speed of the fans when regulated automatically in the gaming mode):
The cooling system of the Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC seems to be quieter than the coolers of the other two cards, but that’s not so. Take note that the Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti is the quietest according to the top fan speeds marked in the diagram. It is also quiet subjectively which is no wonder as the maximum speed of its two fans is 1500 RPM whereas the fans of the Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC work within a range of 1400 to 2280 RPM. The Gigabyte cannot match the Inno3D iChill 560 Ti, either. So, the Inno3D card can boast one of the best coolers for GeForce GTX 560 (Ti).
The graphics cards we have reviewed today are interesting not only for their performance (we already know what to expect from such products from our earlier tests) but also for their temperature and noise characteristics. The two cards from XFX, Radeon HD 6970 and HD 6950, are quite standard in this respect whereas the Inno3D and Leadtek are very good in terms of cooling and noisiness. The Inno3D iChill GTX 560 Ti is especially attractive since its cooler remains very quiet at high GPU loads while keeping the GPU cool at a rather high frequency. The only downside is that the cooler occupies as many as three expansion slots.
The cooling system of the Leadtek WinFast GTX 560 OC is quite efficient, too, but not as efficient as Inno3D's. The Leadtek card is cheaper, though. Either of them will be an excellent choice for a gaming computer.
We can’t say anything special about the XFX Radeon HD 6970 and HD 6950 cards. They are standard products based on the reference design. They come with a minimum of accessories and have rather noisy coolers. If you want to buy an AMD-based product of this class, we can recommend you more interesting versions like the MSI Radeon R6970 Lightning or VTX3D Radeon HD 6970 X-Edition, for example.