Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 & Asus DirectCU II TOP - BeHardware
>> Graphics cards
Written by Damien Triolet
Published on May 17, 2011
As we thought might be the case with the arrival of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti in January, a model without this suffix was also being prepared by NVIDIA, who nevertheless waited almost four months before ushering it in. This equivalent of an overclocked GeForce GTX 460 will have plenty of competition with numerous attractive models already available in the €150 to €220 range. To observe how it does we looked at one of the highest performance GeForce GTX 560s of the launch: the Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP.
Reference card: deliberately low profileSome of the execs at NVIDIA have a very strange view of the technical press, to whom they seem think they can spin any yarn they wish, without any comeback. At the presentation of its GeForce GTX 560, NVIDIA refused to reveal the reference card specs, making out they didn’t understand what questions were being put to them and instead giving the clocks of a few of the overclocked cards planned by various partners.
It seems as if NVIDIA thinks that a brass neck and thick skin will be enough to get the technical press to ignore the specs of reference cards, “which won’t be widely available", by putting the accent on overclocked cards “which are likely to make up the majority of sales”. NVIDIA’s partners have a different vision of course and had no qualms about releasing the reference clocks to us as these models do make up the biggest proportion of sales after all, just as they do for any other model. As NVIDIA consequently met with a good deal of discontent, they ended up officially announcing the reference card specs…
The GF114 GPU used on the GeForce GTX 560, identical to the GF104 used on the GTX 460.
Behind all these goings on is the fact that the GeForce GTX 560 is none other than a GeForce GTX 460 based on a new minor revision of its GF104 GPU that has opportunistically been called the GF114. The reference clocks of 810 MHz for the GPU and 1002 MHz for the memory are similar to those of a highly overclocked GeForce GTX 460, which NVIDIA is trying to differentiate the new card from. What’s more, we have found that this card gives a very similar level of performance to the Radeon HD 6870. Is this a face-off NVIDIA is trying to avoid?
In comparison to the overclocked GeForce GTX 460s, the GeForce GTX 560s will of course introduce new room for overclocking: though NVIDIA has refused to provide any sort of photo of the reference card to back itself up, they have said that the power stage has been increased in size to handle the higher clocks, which should provide a solution for the overheating problem that we noticed in our tests of the GTX 460.
Note that there has also been unofficial talk of a GeForce GTX 560 OEM, the clocks on which are said to be lower or even identical to those for the GeForce GTX 460…
Specifications, the test
With a GPU cut down in exactly the same way as the one used for the GeForce GTX 460, the GeForce GTX 560 only differs by its higher clocks: +20% for the GPU and +11% for its GDDR5 memory, which is identical to that used for the GeForce GTX 560 Ti.
With a GPU clock up by 15%, the processing power of the Asus DirectCU II TOP is very close to that of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, as well as a slightly higher memory bandwidth.
The testFor this test we decided not to include H.A.W.X. and Crysis Warhead, as H.A.W.X is too light and Crysis Warhead covers the same ground as Crysis 2. Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed has however been introduced. The tests were carried out at 1920x1080 with and without MSAA 4x. All the graphics options were put at high but not maximum in the most demanding games.
We also decided no longer to show decimals in game performance results so as to make the graph more readable. We nevertheless note these values and use them when calculating the index. If you’re observant you’ll notice that the size of the bars also reflects this.
The Radeons and the GeForces were tested with texture filtering at the “quality” setting. All the Radeons were tested with the Catalyst 11.5 driver and all the GeForces were tested with the beta 275.20 drivers which give small gains in several games. Note that these drivers suffer from a bug which limits performance in some cases when the monitor isn’t being used in native resolution. During some scenes in some games, there’s a limitation with the refresh rate. Without having been able to confirm this, it looks as if this phenomenon comes about when the fps is close to (10, 15%) the refresh rate. As NVIDIA has revised the upscaling part of its drivers, we imagine that the bug is linked to this. We relaunched all the tests on a screen at native resolution to get around this problem.
Test configurationIntel Core i7 980X (HT deactivated)
Asus Rampage III Extreme
6 GB Corsair DDR3 1333
Windows 7 64 bit
Forceware 275.20 beta
Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP
Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOPFor this test, Asus supplied us with its highest performance GeForce GTX 560 model:
For its most overclocked GeForce GTX 560s, Asus obviously goes for its DirectCU II cooling system. This is what they've done for the OC (850 MHz) model and the TOP (925 MHz) that we tested here, but not for the more basic model, clocked at the reference clocks and using a DirectCU type cooler with one single fan. Note moreover that the PCB + DirectCU II cooler are entirely identical to the versions of the DirectCU II cooler used on the GeForce GTX 560 Ti.
As is often the case with Asus, the manufacturing quality of this GeForce GTX 560 DirectCU II is better than average. The PCB is matte black and there’s a metallic bar to ensure rigidity as well as a metal casing that gives the card a high end overall feel. It looks quite different to the plastics used on low end cards that you’ll often find on competitor models.
Nevertheless as you’ll see in the tests which follow, it does seem that Asus has prioritised the look over noise level control when designing the Direct CU II casing.
Under the casing, the cooler is made up of a wide aluminium base from which three copper heatpipes lead to link up to a small radiator. There are two 75mm fans for cooling, one of which is placed above the base and the other above the radiator. There’s also a small radiator in aluminium for the sensitive power stage components.
The power stage has 6 phases to supply the GPU and an additional phase for the memory. Two 6-pin power connectors are required and the small diodes at the back of the PCB indicate whether they are correctly linked up when the system is off. While the PCB is only 23cm long, the cooler sticks 2cm out the back of the card.
In pushing the GPU clock up from 810 to 925 MHz, Asus has of course used most of the overclocking potential. We therefore had to make do with a very slight overclocking, only able to take it up to 950 MHz, or a gain of a little under 3%.
Asus delivers its card with an installation guide, a CD with drivers, a DVI to VGA adaptor, a mini-HDMI to HDMI adaptor and 2 double molex to 6-pin PCI Express power supply cable convertors.
The OC and TOP models come in at €203 and €213 respectively with a three year guarantee.
Energy consumption, noise
Energy consumptionWe measured the energy consumption of the graphics cards on their own. We took these readings at idle, in 3D Mark 06 and Furmark. Note that we use a version of Furmark that isn’t detected by NVIDIA. To recap, NVIDIA activates OCP, a driver system for monitoring energy consumption, on the GeForce GTX 580/570/560, when software such as Furmark or OCCT is detected. The driver then lowers the clocks when given energy consumption limits are detected.
With very high clocks, energy consumption levels on the Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP are pretty high in load, which seems to indicate that the additional units draw less power than a proportional increase in clock.
NoiseTo observe the noise levels produced by the various solutions, we put the cards in an Antec Sonata 3 casing and measured noise at idle and in load. We placed the sonometer 60 cm from the casing.
While the Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP remains very quiet at idle, it’s noisier than the reference GeForce GTX 460 and 560 Ti in load. Given that more noise comes from the flow or air from the fans than is usual, we suppose that the metallic casing is partially responsible for the higher noise levels. We should say that levels aren’t excessive, but that the reference models are quieter.
For information, on this new Asus model, the fans run at 1140 RPM at idle (17%) and 2550 RPM in load (49%).
TemperaturesStill in the same casing, we took temperature readings for the GPU with an internal sensor:
Like the other GeForces we compared, the Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP is well cooled in idle and also does pretty well in load.
Here’s what the infrared thermography imaging shows:
Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP at idle
Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP in load
These images show that the power stage is what heats up most. The temperatures in the order of 100 °C are within acceptable levels for cards that are factory overclocked significantly but pose no particular problem.
The Asus card doesn't expel any hot air from the casing, in contrast to the reference GeForce GTX 560 Ti, which does expel some. Also, you can see that the highest temperatures are in the area situated above the graphics card, at the level of the northbridge and CPU on the platform used here.
To test Starcraft 2, we launched a replay and measured performances following one player’s view.
All graphics settings were pushed to a maximum. The game doesn’t support antialiasing which is therefore activated in the control panels of the AMD and NVIDIA drivers. Patch 1.0.3 was installed.
The GeForces have a small advantage here at AA4x while the Radeons are slightly less limited by the CPU.
The Mafia II engine passes physics handling over to the NVIDIA PhysX libraries and takes advantage to offer high physics settings which can be partially accelerated by the GeForces.
To measure performances we used the built-in benchmarks and all graphics options were pushed to a maximum, first without activating PhysX effects accelerated by the GPU:
The Radeons fall off less than the GeForces when antialiasing is on.
Shift 2 Unleashed
Shift 2 Unleashed
The latest in the Need for Speed series, Shift 2 Unleashed uses a DirectX 9 graphics engine. We pushed all options to a maximum and measured performance with Fraps.
Advantage to the GeForces here though the Radeons make up some of the ground lost with antialiasing activated. The Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP is on a par with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti here.
Bulletstorm is one of the best in the current crop of games. Although only in DirectX 9 mode, the rendering is pretty nice, based on version 3.5 of Unreal Engine.
All the graphics options were pushed to a max (high) and we measured performance with Fraps.
The Radeons do very well in this game, above all with AA4x. The Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP is on a par with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti.
Crysis 2 uses a development of the Crysis Warhead engine optimised for efficiency. The game has few graphics options with just three main profiles: high, very high and extreme. For tests without antialiasing, we went for the very high mode and with 4x antialising we went for extreme, as it activates the 4x antialiasing filter. Note however that this filter also activates other graphics improvements.
We measured performance with Fraps on version 1.1 of the game.
With options set to very high (without AA as in this graph), the GeForces have a small advantage while in extreme mode there’s no difference between the two direct competitors.
Far Cry 2
Far Cry 2
This version of Far Cry isn’t really a great development as Crytek made the first episode in any case. As the owner of the licence, Ubisoft handled its development, with Crytek working on Crysis. No easy thing to inherit the graphics revolution that accompanied Far Cry, but the Ubisoft teams have done pretty well, even if the graphics don’t go as far as those in Crysis. The game is also less resource heavy which is no bad thing. It has DirectX 10.1 support to improve the performance levels of compatible cards. We installed patch 1.02 and used the ultra high graphics setting.
The GeForces do particularly well with Far Cry 2 and the GTX 560 moves ahead of the Radeon HD 6950 1 GB.
The first game with DirectX 11, or more precisely Direct3D 11 support, we couldn’t not test BattleForge. An update added in September 2009 gave support for Microsoft’s new API.
Compute Shaders 5.0 are used by the developers to accelerate SSAO processing (ambient occlusion). Compared to standard implementation, via the pixel shaders, this technique allows more efficient use of the available processing power by saturating the texturing units less. BattleForge has two SSAO levels: High and Very High. Only the second, called HDAO (High Definition AO), uses Compute Shaders 5.0.
We used the game’s bench and installed the latest available update (1.2 build 298942).
Without antialiasing, the GeForces are here limited by the low fillrate of their GPUs, which allows the Radeons to take the lead.
Pretty successful visually, Civilization V uses DirectX 11 to improve quality and optimise performance in the rendering of terrains thanks to tessellation and in implementing a special compression of textures thanks to the compute shaders. This compression allows it to retain the scenes of all the leaders in the memory. This second usage of DirectX 11 doesn’t concern us here however as we used the benchmark included on a game card. We zoom in slightly so as to reduce the CPU limitation which has a strong impact in this game.
All settings were pushed to a max and we measured performance with shadows and reflections. Patch 1.2 was installed.
The GeForces do very well here and easily outdo the Radeons. Once again, the Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP is on a par with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti here.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat
This new S.T.A.L.K.E.R. suite is based on a new development of the graphics engine which moves up to version 01.06.02 and supports Direct3D 11 which is used both to improve performance and quality, with the option to have more detailed light and shade as well as tessellation support.
Maximum quality mode was used and we activated tessellation. The game doesn’t support antialiasing 8x. Our test scene is 50% outside and 50% inside and inside several characters are present.
The Radeons have a small advantage here with 4x antialiasing.
The latest Codemaster title, F1 2010 uses the same engine as DiRT 2 and supports DirectX 11 via patch 1.1 that we installed. We pushed all the graphics options to a max and we used the game’s own test tool on the Spa-Rancorchamps circuit with a single F1.
In F1 2010, the Radeons are particularly at ease. Note that here the Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP leads the GeForce GTX 560 Ti which itself struggles against the reference GeForce GTX 560, which seems to indicate that in this game the GeForces are limited neither by the number of processing units nor the memory bandwidth.
Probably the most demanding title right now, Metro 2033 forces all recent graphics cards to their knees. It supports GPU PhysX but only for the generation of particles during impacts, a rather discreet effect that we therefore didn’t activate during the tests. In DirectX 11 mode, performance is identical to DirectX 10 mode but with two additional options: tessellation for characters and a very advanced, very demanding depth of field feature that we didn’t activate.
We tested it in DirectX 11, at a high quality level and with tessellation activated, with 4x MSAA.
The Radeons suffer less than the GeForces when antialiasing is on, but the Radeon HD 6800s fall behind without this filter. The Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP is on a par with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti here.
Performance recapAlthough individual game results are obviously worth looking at when you want to gauge performance in a specific game, we have also calculated a performance index based on all tests with the same weight for each game.
We attributed an index of 100 to the GeForce GTX 460 at 1920x1080:
Hold the mouse over the graph to view a classification by performance at 1920x1080 AA4x.
As we suspected the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 struggles to outdo the Radeon HD 6870 and, as is becoming common on models that are in direct competition, gives similar performance. The cards are on a par without antialiasing but the Radeon is slightly in front with this filter on.
What is more surprising is to see the Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP so close to the GeForce GTX 560 Ti. The 15% higher GPU clock on the Asus GTX 560 Direct CU II TOP therefore compensates perfectly for the 14% deficit in processing units.
ConclusionWhile the GeForce GTX 560 doesn’t revolutionise anything on the graphics card market, it is logically positioned and far from being without interest in the GTX 500 range. Opposite its direct competitor, the Radeon HD 6870, previously witout any equivalent on the GeForce side, the GeForce GTX 560 is identically priced at similar performance levels. Of course, as the Radeon HD 6870 has already been out for a few months, you will be able to find it at a lower price but overall, the two products are equivalent.
It is difficult to see why NVIDIA made such an effort to hide the specs of its reference GeForce GTX 560. Without dominating the competition, it offers a worthwhile alternative, especially as the reference Radeon HD 6870 suffers from being relatively noisy. Was NVIDIA perhaps being too greedy to accept a tie? Or perhaps they wanted to leave the field free for partners who still have lots of overclocked GeForce GTX 460s in stock?
Of course these overclocked GeForce GTX 460s can no longer garner many sales as they are sold at too high a price and do not have much of an overclocking margin. It will therefore make sense for consumers to opt for a GeForce GTX 560 at reference clocks instead, unless the GTX 460s are reduced in price. The most basic GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards, as well as the Radeon HD 6850s are still however very good models, especially if your screen is limited to 1680x1050, while the GeForce GTX 560s and the Radeon HD 6870s will be better adapted to 1920x1200 or 1920x1080.
The positioning of the factory overclocked GeForce GTX 560s is also somewhat debatable as they give a similar level of performance as the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, as we have demonstrated with our tests of the Asus GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP. While Asus sells it at a similar price and therefore an identical price / performance ratio as the reference GeForce GTX 560 Tis, the GTX 560 Tis retain two advantages which, for us, make all the difference: lower noise levels and still unexploited overclocking potential.
This situation confirms once again that with a relatively short renewal cycle in place and many decent models from both AMD and NVIDIA in the mid range, it has become very difficult for partners to differentiate their offer with original and well priced models or versions with better noise and temperature levels.
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