Armed with a new test protocol, we decided to look at the high-end variants of the GeForce GTX 580 range on offer from NVIDIA's various partners: the Asus GTX 580 Matrix Platinum, EVGA GTX 580 Classified, Gigabyte GTX 580 SOC, MSI GTX 580 Lightning and Zotac GTX 580 AMP²! Edition take on the reference card with an additional comparison with the Gainward Phantom.
Do better than the reference card
Following the GeForce GTX 480 that was much-criticised for its cooling system, NVIDIA worked hard to make sure that the revision model didn't come in for the same criticism. The cooler they came up with has proven very effective, thanks to the use of a vapour chamber and fairing designed to reduce noise levels.
While an effective reference cooler is good news for users, it makes the task of partners looking to mark themselves out or reduce costs, that much more difficult as it’s hard to improve on the reference solution without making the card cost a lot more, or equal it at a lower tariff.
To keep production costs on their high-end variants down, the biggest manufacturers have elaborated more or less generic cooling systems that can be used across as many models as possible so as to benefit from economy of scale and lower R&D costs. Other partners use generic coolers from third-party producers such as Arctic or Zalman.
The cooling system isn’t all that matters on a high-end model. You should also have a sturdy power stage to extend overclocking potential and various other settings for more advanced users. Note that when it comes to overclocking, it’s still something of a lottery, even on these exclusive models, as their GPUs may or may not have been handpicked.
With the Matrix Platinum, Classified, SOC and Lightning, Asus, EVGA, Gigabyte and MSI are offering highly evolved and customised models. Zotac haven’t gone to the same lengths and have settled for a Zalman cooling system for the AMP²! Edition. We also included the Gainward Phantom, a very popular model though we weren’t really convinced by its cooling system. We see it as a low-cost model, less effective than the reference design, which however has been very aesthetically designed. This roundup was also an opportunity to see how the Phantom does in the new test protocol in comparison to the old one.