ConclusionAt the end of this report, we can give you some clear purchasing advice, but above all, remember the results of our recent piece on the impact of the 3 GB GeForce GTX 580 models, or lack of it rather and the fact that they make no real difference for most usage situations. If you were paying the same for your 3 GB model then we'd say, 'Why not?’, but paying extra or opting for a lower quality card so as to be able to afford a 3GB GeForce GTX 580 model seems pointless to us.
If you’re looking for a "budget" GeForce GTX 580, we wouldn’t advise you to go for the Gainward Phantom, but rather the reference model, which is of better quality, more efficient when it comes to noise and temperature levels and can give better value for money, depending on the manufacturer.
The priority for this report however was to highlight the differences between the high-end GeForce GTX 580s. Asus, EVGA and MSI did best with their Matrix Platinum, Classified and Lightning models, all of which have big cooling systems, very sturdy power stages and numerous options to target the most advanced users and even the pro overclocker niche. These models are of course more expensive, but give you a maximum margin for overclocking as long as the GPU itself cooperates (not all samples have the same potential).
These three GeForce GTX 580s are however very big and the Asus Matrix Platinum, with its three slots, will make setting up an SLI system impossible in most situations while the original bios of the MSI Lightning prioritises GPU temperature in its calibration of fan speed, at great cost to your ears.
The EVGA Classified suffers from having a substandard cooler. The standard version of the card is far too noisy both at idle and in load, leaving just the expensive watercooling model: the Hydro Copper.
We thought we’d found the ideal compromise between size and overclocking potential in the Gigabyte GTX 580 SOC but unfortunately a badly conceived design means the power stage heats up too much. Thanks to a significant factory overclocking, this model could suit those looking for a high performance GeForce GTX 580 without having to overclock it.
Finally, we advise those of you looking for a quiet card to take a look at the Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP²! Edition, making sure you take note of the little "²" which makes all the difference... if you manage to find one that is, as it looks as if Zotac has now stopped distributing this model. Its Zalman VF3000F cooler is the GeForce GTX 580 cooling system which best contains the noise of its high consumption GPU. Once again, the cooling for this model’s power stage suffers from a poorly conceived design, which makes the card unsuitable for overclocking.
To conclude, we’d like to say something about a problem that is unfortunately all too common when it comes to the energy consumption of high-end graphics cards: going over limits defined by the security spec for power supply via the PCI Express bus. This can damage some motherboards either instantly or over time, especially if they aren’t high-end versions and are put through overclocking sessions or stress tests. While exceeding the official limit via the power supply connectors isn’t a huge problem as powerful power supplies are more than capable of taking the load on, we think that it's important for manufacturers to make sure that their products won't damage others and that the spec of the power supply via the bus is respected. Only EVGA and MSI have made the effort to make sure of this with the GeForce GTX 580 Classified and the Lightning.