ASUS ENGTX260 TOP 896MB (NVIDIA GTX260) Page: 1
Introduction & Specs
 
GTX260 CoreBack in the middle of June, NVIDIA released their highly anticipated GTX200 series GPU's. With a 65nm manufacture process and a whopping 1.4 billion transistor count, the flagship GTX280, as reviewed by Overclock3D, was without doubt one of the most technically advanced GPU's we'd seen in quite some time. However, despite the rather large jump in performance from the previous generation 8800GTX /9800GTX cards, it still didn't quite have enough grunt to take on the dual-GPU monster known as the 9800GX2. This, combined with the rather eye watering £420 price tag attached to the GTX280, hasn't given people much incentive to upgrade.
 
At the same time, one card which didn't receive quite so much attention as the GTX280 was the GTX260. Essentially a cut-down version of the 280 aimed at the enthusiast not willing to re-mortgage their home or sell several vital organs in order to increase their framerate, the GTX260 was designed as a preemptive strike to the more affordable next generation GPU's from AMD.
 
ASUS ENGTX260 TOPWith a slightly smaller frame buffer (896mb vs 1024mb), slower core (575mhz vs 602mhz), slower memory (2.0GHz vs 2.2GHz), lower shader unit count (192 vs 240) and a slower shader clock (1250MHz vs 1300MHz), the GTX260 does sound slightly crippled in comparison to its bigger brother. However, with a RRP almost £100 less than the GTX280, the 260 is a prime candidate for NVIDIA AIB's who want to offer their end users premium performance at a reasonable price point by means of overclocking. ASUS are one of these AIB's and today we'll be taking a look at their heavily overclocked GTX260 "TOP" edition card.
 
 
Specifications
 
Keeping in mind the aforementioned figures, we can see from the table on the left that ASUS have performed some serious overclocking of their GTX260 "TOP" card. Firstly, the core clock speed has been increased by a very decent 75mhz, taking it higher than the stock clock for the GTX280. The same can also be said for the shader and memory clocks, with each once again being raised above that of the GTX280.
 
Obviously there are certain hardware aspects of the cards that ASUS cannot change, such as the Memory bus and number of shader units, so it will certainly be interesting to see how these hold back the card when placed head-to-head with a GTX280.
 
However, before we get down to the nittly gritty, let's take a look at the ASUS ENGTX260 in all its glory...


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Packaging & Appearance
 
ASUS graphics card packaging has always been quite elaborate, with boxes for cards such as the 9800GX2 being almost big enough to live in. However, ASUS have toned things down slightly this time, opting for a much more reasonably-sized box, complete with ASUS' female CGI character and a very 'NVIDIA' black and lime green theme.
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Front ASUS ENGTX260 Back
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Open ASUS ENGTX260 Inner Box
 
With the front of the box lacking in any real information, ASUS have opted to tuck away all of the card's features underneath a flap. This is not uncommon for ASUS, with all of their motherboards featuring this packaging design.
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Box Open ASUS ENGTX60 Card
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Accessories ASUS ENGTX260 Accessories
 
The inner box adds a luxury feel to the packaging, with each of the three compartments being constructed of black cardboard  and printed with a gold ASUS logo. Inside the accessories compartments you will find: A leather ASUS mouse mat, Leather CD pouch, Driver CD's, S-Video cable, Molex to PCI-E converter cable and a DVI to VGA converter block. Quite a decent collection of goodies for a mid-range card in all honesty.
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Card Top ASUS ENGTX260 Card Bottom
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Card Side ASUS ENGTX260 SLI
 
Erm...yeah, that was quite unexpected. ASUS have decided to decorate the top of the card entirely in a camouflage pattern with a picture of their sexy CGI female character taking up a considerable portion of the card.  In my opinion, this makes the card look quite awful (especially when compared to the subtleness of the stock NVIDIA cards), and could well drive away a large portion of potential buyers who don't want the inside of their PC's looking like an army training camp.
 
Thankfully, this pattern isn't continued on to the back of the card, so most users will only get a small glimpse of the camo attire from the side of the card when peering into their windowed cases. I just cant help but feel sorry for the upside-down-motherboard BTX case users though...
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Fan ASUS ENGTX260 Fan Vent
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Cooling ASUS ENGTX260 Cooling
 
The ENGTX260 features the same hybrid copper/aluminium cooler as seen previously on the GTX280. This works extremely well, managing to keep the card temperatures under control at all times with relatively low noise levels. Looking into the performance settings of the NVIDIA control panel, it seems that ASUS have set the fan speed at 40%. This can obviously be increased (recommended if overclocking), but things do get rather noisy as the speed approaches 100%.
 
ASUS ENGTX260 Power ASUS ENGTX260 Front
 
With two 6-Pin PCI-E connectors as opposed to the 1x6-Pin and 1x8-Pin configuration of the GTX280, the GTX260 does seem a little bit more friendly on the PSU and should hopefully be a more viable option for those of us who haven't forked out the cash for one of those 1kw monster PSU's.
 
Let's move on now and check out what system we're going to be using to test the card..


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Test Setup
 
A common mistake made when benchmarking graphics cards is that the rest of the PC system isn't sufficient enough to test the GPU to its limits. This results in a bottleneck situation, where the system can only run at the speed of its slowest component. For this reason, the test configuration chosen below has been specially selected to give each of the graphics cards on test the headroom they require in order to produce the best results.
 
System Specs
 
A selection of games and benchmark suites has also been chosen to test each of the cards with several game engines. Each of the cards will be run at both low and high resolutions with varying levels of texture filtering to represent the use of the card with both small and large screen sizes.
 
3DMark05
1024x768 / 0xAA / 0xAF (Default)
1920x1200 / 4xAA / 0xAF
 
3DMark 06
1280x1024 / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / 4xAA / 0xAF

3DMark Vantage
1280x1024 / Performance Mode
1900x1200 / Extreme Mode
 
Quake4
1280x1024 / Ultra / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Ultra / 4xAA / 4xAF
 
Unreal Tournament III
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
Call of Duty 4
1280x1024 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
 
F.E.A.R
1280x1024 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Max / 4xAA / 0xAF
 
BIOSHOCK
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
Crysis
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
At present, the GTX260 only really has competition from the red side of the fence in the form of AMD's HD4870. However, as samples have been extremely tight since its release, the nearest cards we have for comparison is the AMD 4850. Obviously, this isn't the fairest of competitions, as there is a significant price difference between both cards, but it will certainly be interesting to see if the GTX260 is worth the extra cash over the 4850 when placed on our CPF (Cost Per Frame) scale.
 
Another area of interest as mentioned over the previous pages is just how well the factory overclocked ASUS ENGTX260 TOP performs in comparison to a GTX280. With a higher clock and memory speed, can it match the performance of the GTX280 at a more reasonable price?
 
During the benchmarking phase, we will be using the following prices extracted from aria.co.uk on 09/07/08 to produce our CPF graphs. Please remember that these graphs are static and only represent a snapshot of the market at the time of this review.
 
ASUS 3850x2 - £220.00
ASUS 3870x2 - £246.69
MSI 9800GTX - £184.99
ASUS 9800GX2 - £317.19
MSI GTX280 - £422.94
ASUS 4850 - £123.90
ASUS GTX260 - £223.19
 
 
Overclocking
 
Using the NVIDIA nTune utility along with its inbuilt stability tester to test for artifacts, the maximum overclock we managed to achieve on the ENGTX260 was 701mhz /1265mhz /1510mhz for the GPU, Memory and Shaders respectively.
 
GTX 260 GPU-Z
 
This gave a reasonable 7% increase in our 3DMark Vantage score (9555 to 10224) at "Performance" settings and a fairly similar increase of just over 8% at "Extreme" settings. Maybe not enough to top the GTX280...but still quite close.
 
3DMark Vantage Overclock
 
Now let's get on to the benchmarks...


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3DMark05, 3DMark06, 3DMark Vantage
 
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
3DMark05 Results
 
Concentrating on just the GTX260, GTX280 and HD4850 for just one moment, we can see that all three cards are pretty evenly matched when it comes to 3DMark05 at the stock 1024x768 resolution with no anti-aliasing. However, as soon as the resolution is bumped up to 1900x1200, the results disperse with around 1000 points between the GTX280 and GTX260 and a further ~3000 points between the GTX260 and the HD4850.
 
3DMark06 Results
 
3DMark06 sees the GTX260 almost side-by-side the dual-GPU 3850x2 in both the stock and 1900x1200 results. This is quite an interesting outcome considering that the 3850x2 is often one of the bottom three cards in our previous tests, so it will certainly be interesting to see if these scores translate to anything in the real game benches over the next few pages.
 
 3DMark Vantage Results
 
3DMark Vantage is a brand new application to the OC3D testing suite, and for this reason we were only able to test the cards currently in our possession. As we can see from the results above, even with the ASUS ENGTX260 TOP running at a higher clock and memory speed than the GTX280, it still can't compete with its wider memory bus and additional shader units.


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Call Of Duty 4
 
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast gameplay. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long gameplay demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
Call of Duty 4 - FPS
 
Call of Duty 4 - Cost Per Frame
 
Sitting just 6-7FPS behind the GTX280 at both 1280x1024 and 1900x1200 resolutions, the factory overclocked ASUS ENGTX260 certainly puts out some decent numbers. This also converts well to the CPF scale, with the ENGTX260 being over £2.00 cheaper than the GTX280 at 1900x1200 and £1.69 cheaper at 1280x1024.
 
Over on the red team, ATI's mid-range HD4850 may not be able to compete in the performance stakes, falling roughly 30FPS behind at both resolutions, but it certainly gives the best value out of all the cards on test, including the dual-GPU versions of its predecessors.
 
 
BIOSHOCK
 
BioShock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine, it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
BIOSHOCK - FPS
 
BIOSHOCK - CPF
 
BIOSHOCK mixes things up a bit, with only a few FPS between the HD4850 and the GTX260 at 1900x1200. The GTX280 and 9800GX2 take the top two performance spots here, but their high prices don't bode very well on the CPF scale. Once again, the GTX260 offers much better value than the GTX280, costing almost £2.00 less per frame at 1900x1200, but the HD4850 represents the best value, costing just £1.03 per frame at 1280x1024.


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Crysis
 
Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
Crysis - FPS
 
Crysis - CPF
 
With only 4FPS between the GTX280 and ASUS' overclocked ENGTX260 TOP at both both resolution settings, the GTX260 takes the upper-hand once again when we switch to the CPF scale. Costing a full £4 less per frame at 1900x1200 and over £3 cheaper at 1280x1024, it's clear what the better choice is when going for the green team on a budget.
 
 
F.E.A.R
 
F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S, with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
F.E.A.R - FPS
 
F.E.A.R - CPF
 
Once again, the GTX260 doesn't have quite what it takes to beat out the GTX280 despite the generous ASUS overclock. However, with only 15-20FPS between the two cards  and frame rates just shy of 200FPS, the difference does become quite negligible. Interestingly, the GTX260 also comes within £0.30-0.40 of the HD4850 at both resolutions, showing that its £100 higher price tag is almost made up for with extra performance.


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Quake 4
 
Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording. The benchmark was set to run a total of 5 times, with Quake4Bench automatically calculating an average result at the end of the run.
 
Quake 4 - FPS
 
Quake 4 - CPF
 
Very close results between the two GTX200 series cards yet again, with the GTX260 falling only 3FPS behind at 1900x1200 and 1280x1024 resolutions. This results in the GTX260 coming in as the 2nd best card on the CPF scale for performance vs cost, with the HD4850 predictably taking the gold.
 
 
Unreal Tournament 3
 
Unreal Tournament 3 is the highly anticipated game from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest Unreal engine, which combines fast gameplay along with high quality textures and lighting effects. All benchmarks were performed using UTbench with a fly-by of the DM-BioHazard map. As usual, all benchmarks were performed 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
Unreal Tournament 3 - FPS
 
Unreal Tourmanet 3 - CPF
 
With both Unreal Tournament II and BIOSHOCK using the same UE3 engine, it's no surprise to see each of the cards used in this test managing to stay above 100FPS even at high resolutions. Looking first at the 1280x1024 results, we can see very little difference between the GTX260 and GTX280 - less than 5FPS in fact. The gap only widens once the resolution is bumped up to 1900x1200, with a 12FPS advantage being seen for the GTX280.


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Conclusion
 
ASUS ENGTX260 TOPWhile the GTX280 may still be king of the latest gen when it comes to performance, ASUS have certainly closed the gap with the release of their pre-overclocked ENGTX260 TOP. Coming within only a few insignificant FPS in most games and showing good potential to take things even further with a bit of manual overclocking using nTune, the performance of the card is really quite stunning.
 
Shifting these FPS results over to our "Cost Per Frame" scale reveals that the ENGTX260, with its £220 retail price, does sit comfortably at the lower end of the scale, offering a good balance of performance to price. Ideally, we would have liked to place the card head-to-head with a pre-overclocked AMD HD4870 considering this card has been touted as its rival, but as supply of these cards is fairly thin on the ground for most AIB partners, this is something that is going to have to wait until a later date.
 
Everything else is pretty much what you'd expect from ASUS: a sturdy box with plenty of protection from clumsy couriers, added-value extras such as the mouse mat and CD wallet and all the other bits and bobs you need to get up and running. As mentioned earlier, the card does look slightly rancid in its camo attire and is most definitely subject to personal taste, but to be fair most of us probably won't see it once installed inside a PC. So we'll let ASUS have their fun just this once!
 
NVIDIA did a pretty good job with the stock cooling on the GTX200 series, and ASUS haven't seen any reason to change this. Under both idle and load conditions, the fan remains quiet and the GPU temperatures under control. Moving the fan slider past its stock setting of 40% does make things increasingly noisy, but at the same time gives extra headroom for further overclocking.
 
Overall a decent card with performance that can, in some games, come close to the results produced by a GTX280 thanks to ASUS' factory overclocked settings. While the card may be a bit more expensive than its AMD rival, the performance is there to back it up.
 
 
The Good
- Factory overclock gives performance not far off the GTX280.
- Price to Performance ratio is pretty well balanced.
- Mouse mat and CD wallet are a nice touch
 
The Bad
- No freebie games to get you started.
 
The Downright Ugly
- Camouflage is so 80's you crazy foools
 
 
 
Thanks to ASUS for providing the ENGTX260 TOP for review. Discuss this review in our forums.