Review by NV News Technical Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010
DirectX 11 PC gaming truly is starting to go mainstream. A Steam hardware survey showed that as of August 2010, 10.17% of Steam gamers utilized DirectX 11 GPUs. This may not seem like a large percentage, but it does move DX11-class hardware up to second place over DirectX 9 shader model 2.0B and 3.0 (9.88%).
What does this mean to you? Itís highly likely that games that use DirectX 11 graphical features will be released at quickly-increasing frequency over the short-term. Games presently in the supply channel using DirectX 11 effects include:
... While some upcoming games will be taking advantage of this new tech, including Crysis 2, Battlefield 3/1943, Lost Planet 2, Medal of Honor, Civilization 5, Grid 2, HAWX 2, Dirt 3, Dungeons and Dragons Online and more...
Although a large amount of gamers use cutting-edge systems with fairly high-end CPUs as well as GPUs that cost $200 or more, the majority of PC gamers are in a lower system cost bracket. They may have slower CPUs, graphics cards a couple generations old, and lower resolution monitors. It may seem that this demographic could be easily left behind as technology advances.
NVIDIA takes these budget gamers seriously. They understand their slightly lower system specs, and in the current DirectX 11 generation of video cards, NVIDIA has finally released a product that is laser-targeted on the $130 price point, the Geforce GTS 450.
As the name suggests, the GTS 450 is based on the Fermi architecture, but has a reduced feature set which brings unit cost down. With 192 Stream Processors/CUDA cores and a 128-bit memory interface, itís apparent that this new GPU is not designed for use in a high-end gaming rig. On first glance it does look like an awesome choice for PhysX though, and it appears that it may just have enough raw power for some serious modern gaming.
For the GTS 450, NVIDIA has focused on gamers who use lower resolutions, up to and including a resolution of 1680x1050. By targeting these lower resolutions and trying to build a product around that specific reduced requirement, NVIDIA was able to keep their eyes on the prize (price/performance ratio) during development to do their best to give budget gamers an attractive choice at the price point, and one that can fit into their cases while playing nicely with their likely lower-spec power supplies. Furthermore, NVIDIA is targeting HTPC users, as this lower-power Fermi variant has a low TDP while including interesting home-theatre features such as audio-over HDMI (with new Blu-Ray 3D support, as well as Dolby TrueHD and DTS master audio over HDMI support using the new NVIDIA 260 series drivers).
Speaking of price point, here is NVIDIAís current pricing structure for their current 4-series lineup:
The $129 GTX 450 will be fitting price-wise in-between the AMD Radeon HD 5750 and HD 5770. As those two cards are no slouches when it comes to performance in new games, itís going to be interesting to see if NVIDIA can keep up with the competition. Below is an updated chart of the specification of updated Fermi family
The technology behind the Fermi architecture has been explained frontwards, backwards, in 3D and with lasers in space to the tune of Tony Bennett songs, so Iím not going to go into too great of detail on the specifics of the GF106 architecture. Suffice to say, on paper itís lower in memory bandwidth with a much smaller die than its older siblings, with a much lower TDP (106W around half of GTX 470). It is interesting to see that the texel fillrate approaches that of the much more expensive GTX 465. Surely when overclocked it can surpass the 465 in that respect. NVIDIA is claiming that it has over 2x the geometry performance (GT/s) of both GTX 250 and 9600GT cards, and that it plays the newest DirectX titles at a faster framerate than the HD 5750, and in some cases the HD 5770.
The NVIDIA Geforce GTS 450 is also an SLI ready graphics card. NVIDIA reports that SLI scaling for this new GPU averages between 90 and 95%, even at a lower resolution like 1680x1050. The GTS 450 also includes support for 3D Vision and NVIDIA Surround gaming. On paper at least, it would seem that two GTS 450s in SLI could provide for quite a robust surround gaming or 3D Vision experience.
This review will focus on two NVIDIA cards - a reference GTS 450 sent to NV News by NVIDIA, and an EVGA GTS 450 FTW edition. The primary focus is gaming performance and the differences/improvements encountered with using elevated clock/memory speeds on the GF106 architecture. We will also touch on synthetic benchmarks, GPU PhysX, and some of the features of NVIDIA's new 260-series graphics driver.
Next: A first look at the GTS 450
A first look at the GTS 450
NVIDIA reference card:
NVIDIA has kindly supplied NV News with a GTS 450 reference card. It was quite interesting to see a green PCB; I haven't seen one that color on a new video card in a long time.
So basically the reference GTS 450 looks just like the rest of the Fermi cards, and we can expect that other AIB/IHVs to sell cards that look similar to or exactly like the reference unit. At 8.25” it is on the short side which will make it an easy fit for tight cases, and the single PCIE 6-pin connector indicates that this card doesn’t quite require the same of a power supply as cards like the GTX 460/465/470/480. The heatsink looks like that of the GTX 460, but is different in that it is 100% extruded aluminum with no heatpipe. This indicates that NVIDIA is confident in this GPUs ability to stay cool.
EVGA's GTS 450 FTW Edition
EVGA, a graphics card and motherboard manufacturer out of Brea California, has provided gamers with innovative graphics solutions dating all the way back to their Geforce 4 MX 440 which utilized a custom cooling design not seen in other products. They have a huge market presence and are known for their superior level of customer service as well as a large fan base.
Their GTS 450 FTW Edition represents the best EVGA has to offer with regards to this GPU. To quote EVGA Product Manager Jacob Freeman regarding the FTW edition’s advantage over ordinary reference model-based units:
Let’s take a look at what the consumer gets when they purchase an EVGA GTS 450 FTW:
The box is differently constructed than their higher-end units, being more compact in size.
One notable omission is the mini-HDMI adapter that was present in the EVGA GTX 460 and 460 boxes. However, given that most budget users will probably only hook their cards to their older or lower-resolution/spec DVI monitors, this omission may be a moot point.
As this is a model ending in “TR”, it is covered under EVGA’s Limited 2-year warranty. While not as robust as their lifetime warranty, this is still more than adequate coverage for the card.
Overall, this looks to be a cost effective bundle that gives the buyer their basic needs along with EVGA’s great warranty system and customer support.
The EVGA GTS 450 FTW and NVIDIA reference card appear to be almost exactly alike.
I did notice that some of the capacitors were slightly different part numbers. I didn't look up the model numbers so I'm not sure if they're just differently sourced, or of different values/tolerances/construction. The EVGA card also has a couple tiny resistors on the top right quadrant of the PCB on the front where the reference card has none. I can't be sure of the reason for these extra resistors, but I can only assume that it was a design choice by EVGA to improve reliability. stability, and/or clockspeed increase capabilities. Maybe EVGA will one-up this card down the road with something featuring a higher-rated power phasing system, 2 PCI-E connectors and a heatpipe-based cooler.
... Or maybe that’s the GTX 460’s job. :p
The GTS 450 looks a lot like the GTX 460 as well:
However, the PCBs are quite different, and the GTX 460's cooler is beefier with the addition of a copper heatpipe.
Another added bonus of the EVGA GTS 450 is access to EVGA's overclocking utility, EVGA Precision.
This tool features granular hardware monitoring capabilities, fan adjustment, and of course clock speed adjustment. I also recently noticed that EVGA Precision has the capability to display monitoring information on Logitech keyboards with LCD displays.
Next: Testing Environment
Testing (Torture) Environment
NV News is testing both the reference card and the EVGA FTW Edition in what I like to call a ďTorture Test BedĒ. Consistent with the last two EVGA video card reviews from NV News, an AMD DDR2-based setup will be used, but this time there are some differences. In this system, the case is older (read: ancient) and doesnít ventilate as good. There are two of the hottest hard drives Iíve ever touched humming along in a RAID 0 configuration, and lastly the power supply is more of a midgrade unit. It is the opinion of the author that this configuration represents the average gamerís system quite well. For what itís worth, as far as review platforms are concerned, this is the last go-around for non-SSD boot drives and Windows Vista for this author.
NVIDIA Reference GTS 450 at stock clocks (783/1566 core, 3600 memory) using NVIDIA driver 260.52
EVGA GTS 450 FTW Edition at stock clocks (925/1850 core, 4100 memory) using NVIDIA driver 260.52
Display output is through a Samsung B2430H 24" 5ms 1080p LCD, a fine value-priced choice in the 24Ē range. Operating system is Vista Home Premium x64 SP2, a recent install with a bare minimum of programs installed.
Obviously this system is a bit of a mix of old and new, and straddles the line between midgrade and high-end as far as performance is concerned. The x6 is at home in the AM3-certified Gigabyte motherboard along with come fairly quick DDR2, but the two Diamondmax 9s and case (and the OS) are a bit out-of place. If it werenít for the decent transfer speeds of the Maxtors and ease of use of the case (and the authorís happiness with an optimized Vista installation, theyíd have been replaced long ago.
For this review we will be comparing the performance of the NVIDIA Reference GTS 450 against that of the EVGA GTS 450 FTW Edition. Both are tested at stock speeds.
Benchmark results for both synthetic benchmarks and game tests are the results of averaged multiple runs.
Most gaming tests were performed at a resolution of 1680x1050 with 4x Antialiasing and 16x Anisotropic Filtering enabled, which is NVIDIA's target resolution and IQ setting.
Next: Performance Results
Unigine Heaven 2.1
This benchmark has become a standard for DirectX 11 video card tests, as it features modern rendering effects such as tessellation and SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion).
Settings: 4xAA/16xAF, shaders high, textures high, filter trilinear, anistropy 16x, occulsion enabled, refraction enabled, volumetric enabled, replication disabled, tessellation normal
The EVGA FTW card performs 22% better in this benchmark. If the reference card's performance could be called "solid" then the EVGA's would be "exceptional".
Stone Giant is a new DirectX 11 benchmark that utilized heavy amounts of tessellation, and also requires that the video card rendering the scene can push large amounts of geometry.
Settings: 4xAA/16xAF, tessellation medium
Settings: 4xAA/16xAF, tessellation high
Again, the EVGA FTW card performs 17.4% and 14.8%, respectively better in this benchmark. Are we seeing a trend here? Regardless of the improvement, however, these numbers don't seem too bad at all for a 128-bit card with only 1920 CUDA cores.
ShaderToymark is an OpenGL benchmark that tests GLSL shaders.
Resolution: 1280x720, 1680x1050, 1920x1080
Settings: AA/AF off
As far as frames per second are concerned, the EVGA FTW performs 18% better at 1280x720, 14% better at 1680x1050, and 20% better at 1920x1080. Since this is such a shader heavy benchmark, one should not expect huge numbers out of these cards, but it does help in identifying performance improvement between two clock speeds.
Like Unigine Heaven, TessMark test tessellation capabilities of a GPU. Moderate and normal tessellation settings for this tests are levels found in current gaming applications.
Resolution: 1280x720x 1680x1050, 1920x1080
Settings: AA/AF off, Tessellation normal, Post-FX on
Both cards put on a strong showing in this benchmark, with the EVGA card providing improved performance of 11% at 1280x720, 9% at 1680x1050, and 10% at 1920x1080. As benchmarking progressed it was nice to see that the GTS 450 could actually handle tessellation. I'm reminded of other video cards released in the past that were value-oriented but could not handle advanced API features. It appears, however that the GTS 450 actually has a handle on DirectX 11 features. Of course, actual gaming experiences wil truly show its mettle.
3Dmark Vantage is an industry-standard GPU benchmarking tool which tests the DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 capabilities of hardware. It also includes several CPU tests and PhysX support.
Settings: CPU PhysX, Preset High (2x multisample, texture filtering anisotropy, maximum anisotropy 8, texture quality high, shadow shader quality high, shadow resolution quality high, shader quality high, post processing scale 1:2
A 17% overall score improvement and an 18% GPU score improvement with the clock increase going from reference to EVGA FTW. Quite impressive.
Settings: GPU PhysX, Preset High (2x multisample, texture filtering anisotropy, maximum anisotropy 8, texture quality high, shadow shader quality high, shadow resolution quality high, shader quality high, post processing scale 1:2
With PhysX being handled by the GPU, The added clock speeds give the EVGA FTW Edition GTS 450 a 24% advantage over the reference card in the overall score, and a 25% better GPU score. The rest of the figures see large improvements as well.
After completing the synthetic benchmarks, it's apparent that although the reference GTS 450 puts up some decent numbers, the increased clock speeds of the EVGA FTW Edition provide a really healthy boost in performance. Let's see if this carries over to actual gaming performance.
Next: Gaming Performance
Mafia II (CPU and GPU PhysX)
Settings: CPU PhysX, 0xAA/16xAF everything set to medium, Ambient Occlusion on
Settings: GPU PhysX, 0xAA/16xAF everything set to medium, Ambient Occlusion on
Playing this game with a single GTS 450 at 1680x1050 with GPU PhysX enabled shows that while the GTS can handle GPU PhysX, it is hampered in its ability to provide completely playable framerates. Not that this isn't a strong showing, as this does seem like a lot of work for a 128-bit 192 CUDA core equipped video card. With PhysX off the game was very playable, ran smooth and looked great. Something interesting happened while testing GPU PhysX on the EVGA FTW card after my initial runs. I tried a lower resolution (1280x720) and turned all IQ settings to lowest. I also turned AA, AF and Ambient Occlusion off. GPU PhysX was set at medium. The results were almost exactly that of the higher resolution/IQ level (27.5 FPS @ stock speeds, 26.8 when clocked down to reference speeds). I had hoped for an increase in framerate, but as it stood, the higher-IQ/higher resolution settings provided the same results.
Settings: Preset "Low", AA: 4X, 16xAF
Settings: Preset "Low", AA: 4X, 16xAF
It'd be nice if you could easily turn off antialiasing in this game to get some extra performance out of cards like these. Though the game was playable by both cards, some may have objections to having an average framerate in the high twenties. Thankfully this game has a slightly slow pace, so the low-ish framerate doesn't seem to be much of a problem. However, in an effort to get better performance I tried 1280x720 and was rewarded with much smoother gameplay. For what it's worth even at low settings at a lower resolution the game looks great, partially due to the antialiasing being applied.
The EVGA card performed 23% better than the reference unit in this test.
Lost Planet 2 Benchmark
Settings: MSAA 4x, 16xAF, highest settings, DirectX 11 features "medium"
This turned into more of a torture test than a gaming benchmark. Obviously at these settings the game (engine) is not smooth at all. With the EVGA card, I did try some lowered settings. I turned antialiasing off, DX11 effects down to "low" and shadows to medium. Average framerate for test suite A was 42.2 FPS, and the average for test B was 45.5. The game still looked great, so switching a few settings to lower the IQ a little bit really paid off.
Settings: custom benchmark, London Battersea Air track, no opponent cars, all settings at highest, 4xAA/16xAF
Both cards performed great in this game, with the EVGA card performing 8% better.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Settings: single player, mission 1, all settings at highest, HBAO on, 4xAA/16xAF, FOV set to "78"
An interesting aside - multiplayer framerates are higher than single player framerates in this game. I enjoyed some multiplayer with both cards and got framerates in the forties as opposed to the thirties I got while testing single player. I did however try some reduced-IQ settings in single player with the EVGA card. With 2xAA instead of 4xAA, I got 39.7 FPS. At 1xAA I got 45.1. Furthermore, while testing mutiplayer I also tried some lower-IQ settings. In a full 24 player Atacama desert Rush map, I got 56.1 FPS with 1xAA (HBAO was still on). And for those of us favoring AA over HBAO, I tested the same gameplay with 4xAA enabled and HBAO off, and got 57.9 fps. Overall, this game is very playable at this resolution with some very small IQ compromises.
Mirror’s Edge (with PhysX Enabled)
Settings: 4xAA/16xAF, all settings at highest
I tested an early level in this game in which a lot of glass is broken, both by enemies firing at the player and by the player busting through windows. Both cards handled this game flawlessly, and it was nice seeing this game being played with PhysX enabled (and not requiring a separate card).
Kayne and Lynch 2 Demo
Settings: all settings at highest, SSAO on, 4xAA/16xAF
I don't have any information as to what special effects are used in this game demo, but it is apparent to me that it is pretty system and GPU-intensive. This game was playable at the tested settings, but I'd definitely turn AA off to get some more FPS.
Far Cry 2
Settings: 4xAA/16xAF, Demo(Playback (Demo Ranch)), 1680x1050 (60Hz), D3D10, Fixed Time Step(Yes), Disable Artificial Intelligence(Yes), Full Screen, Anti-Aliasing(4x), VSync(No), Overall Quality(Ultra High), Vegetation(Very High), Shading(Ultra High), Terrain(Ultra High), Geometry(Ultra High), Post FX(High), Texture(Ultra High), Shadow(Ultra High), Ambient(High), Hdr(Yes), Bloom(Yes), Fire(Very High), Physics(Very High), RealTrees(Very High)
Although the Demo ranch playback figures don't look too bad, they're around half of what the GTX 460 could produce at a higher resolution, and the framerate was a bit jerky. I retested time and time again after several restarts with teh same result. Furthermore, these results are lower than the NVIDIA reference results, which either indicate that Far Cry 2 doesn't like my x6 CPU, or there is some sort of problem with my install. I'll be investigating the issue further and will report back ASAP with my findings.
Settings: 4xAA/16xAF, all settings at highest, multiplayer gameplay, full Camp Gibraltar Conquest server
This is an older game that not a lot of people play online any more, but in my opinion represented games that gamers play that are not on the radar any more. Obviously the GTS 450 can handle this game at the highest IQ settings.
Settings: 4xAA/16xAF, all settings at highest
A free game available on Steam which uses a new build of the Source Engine, Alien Swarm ran great with both cards. This is another title which probably could be played smoothly at 1920x1080.
It is clear that the GTS 450 GPU puts forth a valiant effort to provide acceptable gaming performance at the 1680x1050 resolution, and for the most part it performs great, but in some of the newer titles like Metro 2033, Lost Planet 2 and the Kayne and Lynch 2 demo it has some difficulty in providing high FPS. It looks like in some situations, one might need to switch to a lower resolution, lower game settings, or turn off AA and AF. The 128-bit memory interface and relatively low 192 CUDA core count works as hard as it can to meet NVIDIA's target gaming settings of 1680x1050 with 4xAA and 16xAF, but it appears as though the sweet spot for this GPU might be a little lower, possibly the same resolution with AA and AF turned off. For what it's worth, the results in this review match NVIDIA's reference results for the most part, with the notable exception being Far Cry 2, which for whatever reason performed a bit lower than expected.
Regarding the EVGA GTS 450 FTW Edition, the core and memory speed increases really did give the GTS 450 a noticeable improvement in most games. Furthermore, at the higher speeds the temperature of the core was not much different at these elevated clocks either.
The two cards in this review are good representatives of stock and overclocked speeds. For the purpose of this review, I am not publishing detailed overclocking results of the reference card. Unofficially speaking, I did however attain an overclock of 920mhz core, 3900mhz memory on the reference card. That result matches the core speed of the EVGA FTW Edition, but the memory speed is a bit slower. Overall though, it was a decent overclock.
Since the EVGA FTW Edition is EVGA's top-of-the-line pre-overclocked card, one would think that there would be no overclocking headroom left. In the author's experience, this is actually partially true. With PhysX set to "CPU", I was able to attain higher overall clocks of 955 core, 4800mhz memory. That is a slight bump for the core and a huge increase for the memory. I was able to run 3Dmark vantage at these clocks, and the score went from H7544 to H8229. However, with PhysX switched to the GPU, I was not able to overclock much, if at all. 3DMark and Fluidmark failed at even modest overclocks, or showed a performance decreased until I backed the speeds down to 940mhz core and 4200mhz memory, and at those speeds the performance increase was negligible.
I've never been aware of PhysX limiting overclocking, but this is something I will speak to NVIDIA about, and I will report back here with my findings as soon as I know anything.
Temperatures and Noise
Both the reference card and the EVGA FTW Edition stayed reasonably cool and quiet. During heavy gaming with fan speed set to auto, the reference card peaked at 69 degrees, while the EVGA FTW Edition peaked at 73. The fan was relatively quiet during testing using Stone Giant, remaining at 1100 rpm until 70 degrees and gradually increasing to 1560 rpm (40%) as temps rose to 73. Although this heat level isn't bad at all, I wouldn't mind having the fan turn up a little, as it's quiet enough so that running it at 60-80% in an enclosed case is audible not at all bothersome, and doing so in Stone Giant for example cooled the GPU down to 60.
Next: NVIDIA's 260-series graphics drivers
Notes on NVIDIA's new 260-series drivers
NVIDIA is proud of their new 260-series graphics drivers. Of course, any GPU maker should be happy when they tweak their software successfully to add features and performance increases.
First of all, the new driver installer is a lot faster and easier to use. It features both a one-click Express installation option as well as a Custom option.
Gaming/benchmarking Performance Increases for GTX 400 Series:
Testing with a GTX 460, NVIDIA experienced the following performance gains with the new 260-series drivers:
StarCraft II SLI: 19%
Crysis Warhead SLI: 12%
Far Cry 2 DX10: 13%
HAWX DX10 SLI: 12%
3DMark Vantage Performance Preset: 9%
AvP DX11: 9%
AvP DX11 SLI: 7%
Battlefield BC2 DX11 SLI: 15%
Dirt 2 DX11: 11%
Metro 2033 DX11: 7%
STALKER CoP DX11: 12%
STALKER CoP DX11 SLI: 11%
Riddick Dark Athena (OpenGL): 22%
Riddick Dark Athena (OpenGL) SLI: 29%
It looks like a free overclock! Granted results may vary, but these performance increases are positively welcomed, and we thank the NVIDIA driver team for implementing these improvements.
As far as features are concerned, the new 260-series drivers have added support for Blu-Ray 3D as well as Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio through HDMI. This makes the audio processor onboard the GTS/GTX 400 series even more attractive for home theater PC users.
NVIDIA Surround also received some tweaks. A new UI makes the application easier to use, and several features have been added or improved (portrait mode setup, addition of help page and bezel correction setup improvement).
3D Vision is now easier to install, as it installs with the display driver now. Game support has been improved (examples of new games with 3D Vision support: Mafia II, StarCraft II and Trine), and support has been added for Sony's Sweep Panorama picture format to the NVIDIA 3D Photo Viewer.
Overall, this is a welcome facelift and energy drink for NVIDIA's drivers. I can't be certain that some nagging specific scenarios have been rectified, but overall this new package is something gamers can be happy about.
Next: Final Thoughts and Conclusion
Is this NVIDIA's most exciting product release this year? No, that title belongs to the GTX 460 which has proven its mettle as the best bang-for the buck GPU on the market at this time. But, gamers who have lower-resolution displays and lower-spec power supplies will be pleased to learn that NVIDIA has given them a new choice in GPUs in the $129 segment.
This product is not out there to please enthusiasts. Its limited architecture prevents it from performing acceptably at high resolution and high image quality settings. But if you turn the resolution down, and scale back the effects a little bit, the GTS 450 performs admirably.
For those looking for a home theater PC card that is capable of some serious gaming (especially at 720p), this is a great option. Furthermore, the GTS 450 could also serve as a great PhysX card, especially when someone releases a single-slot version.
The EVGA GTS 450 is an interesting card to say the least. For a slight premium over the $129 base price of the GTS 450, you get a GPU with almost 10GB/s more bandwidth, better gaming performance, and EVGA's superior warranty system and customer support.
The Radeon HD 5750 and 5770 now have some competition. Will we see prices fall? Time will tell. But for now, the $130-$150 price segment has just become very competitive, and the GTS 450's performance and features should make it a very popular choice for lower-resolution gamers.
If I were to have to rate these two cards, I would rate the Reference GTS 450 as 3 1/2 out of 5 stars, as it is a good card that satisfies the needs of lower-resolution gamers and offers some interesting features. I would give the EVGA GTS 450 FTW Edition a 4 out of 5 stars, as it comes with EVGA's customer support and warranty reputation behind it, and enjoys the benefits of an aggressive factory overclock. Given the performance of the FTW Edition GTS 450 (and surely other aggressively-pre-overclocked GF106 cards), it does make it a little hard to want one of these GPUs at reference clocks. That 10-20% improvement really makes the faster variants much more attractive.
I'd like to thank Jacob Freeman of EVGA and Bryan Del Rizzo of NVIDIA for providing review samples as well as valuable insights into this GPU.
- John Grabski, Sept. 13, 2010
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