The successor to the original mental card, the MARS, has been a long time coming.
Back when we first previewed it over a year ago it was a twin GTX480. Since then not only have we seen a twin HD5870 nutter called the ASUS ARES, but equally the GTX480 didn't exactly endear itself to either the public, or those who have to keep the things cool. ASUS, never one to rest upon their laurels took the brave, but wise, step of going right back to the drawing board and designing a card that took advantage of nVidias rapid update.
So now, after much gestation, the MARS 2 is here and in its final form it comes bearing two GTX580s, the far cooler/quicker evolution of the Fermi GF100.
Of course a card with this much power has to be released under the Republic of Gamers branding and with a suitable £1000+ price-tag. The question is, how good is it?
As befits a card with eye-opening capabilities, the twin GF110 GPUs are backed up by 3GB of GDDR5. Otherwise it's fairly standard stuff, if the combination of two GTX580s on a single board can ever be considered standard.
|Graphics Engine||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580x2|
|Bus Standard||PCI Express 2.0|
|Video Memory||GDDR5 3GB|
|Engine Clock||782 MHz|
|Memory Clock||4008 MHz ( 1002 MHz GDDR5 )|
|Memory Interface||384-bit x2|
|Resolution||D-Sub Max Resolution : 2048x1536|
DVI Max Resolution : 2560x1600
|Interface||D-Sub Output : Yes x 1 (via DVI to D-Sub adaptor x 1)|
DVI Output : Yes x 2 (DVI-I)
HDMI Output : Yes x 1
Display Port : Yes x 1 (Regular DP)
HDCP Support : Yes
|Accessories||1 x Extended SLI cable|
2 x Power cable
1 x DVI to D-Sub adaptor
|Software||ASUS Driver and Utility|
|ASUS Features||DirectCU Series|
Super Alloy Power
|Dimensions||13 " x 6.2 " x 2.5 " Inch|
Let's get a good look at her shall we.
Unlike the last mega graphics card from ASUS, the ARES, this comes in a plain ROG box. Opening the lid though finds the limited edition numbering which is the only clue that this is something a bit special.
The card itself is gorgeous. The design is exceptional with the normal ROG Red and Black colour scheme in full effect. As you can see from the side shot, the card is certainly designed in a way that means the circuit board will never warp under heat.
As always with the ROG product range, it's full of lovely little touches such as the red G we've previously seen on motherboards from the ROG line. The thickness of the top has to be seen to be believed. This is one sturdy card.
Despite the triple slot design things are fairly standard at the business end with enough outputs for triple-screen goodness. Power is sucked in through three 8pin PCIe connectors. Above each one is an LED which indicates red if there isn't sufficient power or the connector isn't properly installed, and green if it is.
Two fans, one above each GPU, help keep the whole card cool. It's a beautiful bit of design.
Under the Skin
Removing the cover reveals two huge heatsinks ready to cool each GPU. One of the smartest bits of design is having the heatsinks separate rather than one combined piece of aluminium.
The heatpipes themselves are huge as one would expect. The quality of the workmanship befits such a premium product.
Rather than go for some specialist design things are kept simple with a variation of the DirectCU cooler we've previously seen from ASUS.
This is circuitry to the point of artistry. The R&D team have clearly crammed every spare inch of the board, but it is aesthetically pleasing even though nobody is likely to see it. Well, except us of course because we don't mind prying the cooler off of a £1000+ graphics card. It's worth noting the extremely high-quality 900uf NEC Tokin OE907 capacitor, one for each GPU.
And on the left we have a full-fat GTX580. And on the right, a full-fat GTX580. ASUS are the only company who go that extra mile by designing things that aren't just a reference board with a different sticker.
With the latest drivers on board and enough PSU power to light London, we're ready to put the MARS 2 through its paces.
ASUS ROG MARS 2
Intel Core-i7 950 @ 4GHz
Gigabyte G1 Assassin
6GB Mushkin Redline
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Overclocking and Temperatures
Straight away we have to start with a bit of a complaint. This is the premium of all premium graphics cards, and so as such little things like the second GPU coming with a higher core voltage out of the box just shouldn't happen. We can understand if we had two different single GTX580s, but for something that's the price of a Tri-SLI GTX580 setup we expect our chips to be cherry picked from the very finest.
Of course if we have a difference in starting voltages this makes a big difference in ending speeds, and so it proves with the second of our two GPUs capable of a much higher clock speed and voltage to the first. It's wise to sync them and so you end up with a £1000 card that only overclocks 30MHz. Not good enough.
Thankfully though the extended development time and subsequent switch across to the GF110 GPU has meant the coolness benefits that chip brought. Even with two chips stressing the cooler the MARS 2 doesn't go above 79°C.
3D Mark Vantage
Obviously the primary comparison is against the GTX580 SLI setup. Despite a plethora of driver updates between our two tests the MARS 2 is only a hundred points or so ahead. It's good, but not where we'd expect it to be.
3D Mark 11
Things remain similar in 3D Mark 11. In Extreme mode the MARS 2 is a few points ahead of the stock GTX580 SLI setup, but in Performance the two card solution still holds the record.
The exacting Unigine Heaven benchmark clearly gives the lead to the HD6970CF setup, as we'd expect given the excellent way the Radeon handles this test. In the nVidia camp the MARS 2 is a fair second to the plain GTX580 SLI setup in both zero anti-aliasing and with it ramped up to 8x.
Time for some games.
Alien vs Predator
Starting with the gorgeous Giger-inspired Alien vs Predator the MARS 2 is clearly capable of handling the highest detail. The Water-Cooled HD6990 is just ahead, but it's close between the HD6690, GTX580SLI and MARS 2.
We've got the DX11 results on another page, but for now the 'out of the box' version of Crysis 2 presents no challenge for the MARS 2. It's worth noticing that the minimum and maximum frame-rates aren't quite up there with a GTX590. That's a definite shock to us considering the relative pricing of the two.
Far Cry 2
While we wait for Far Cry 3 to appear, the Dunia-engined Far Cry 2 still provides a decent test. As is becoming a pattern the MARS 2 is on a par with the GTX580 SLI setup, although not quite capable of besting it.
Apparently it's stupidly good in Metro 2033. We're not convinced.
Of course if you've got a grand to splash out on a graphics card it would be pointless not to push it to the limits with a triple screen setup, so the next couple of pages are extreme testing levels.
Once again the MARS 2 isn't quite giving the scores we'd hope to see. When it's just keeping up with a GTX590 we can't help but feel a little disappointed. It's stunning performance for sure, but it isn't re-writing what's possible.
Utilising the insane levels of eye-candy available from v1.9 of Crysis 2 and the Hi-Res texture pack we really have a feast for the eyes. Surprisingly the MARS 2 is even further behind the GTX590 than it was in Warhead, being 4 FPS behind on average and a whopping 11 lower at minimum.
Far Cry 2
Of the two cards we've tested on this setup both can easily handle Far Cry 2 in such extreme resolutions. Certainly if Far Cry 2 is the game for you then the MARS 2 out-performs a HD6990.
The Witcher 2
Another game where we've currently got limited data is The Witcher 2. The MARS 2 can make even the Uber Sampling mode playable giving us just over 50 FPS. Moving onto three screens things take a hit as we'd expect. You probably need two of these to make it remotely playable, and this punishing requirement that means it's likely to be in our test suite for a long time to come.
Finishing up with Metro 2033 the MARS 2 finally seems to be making strides as it's up there with an SLI GTX590 setup.
So, the Republic of Gamers MARS 2 then.
It's two GTX580s on the same board and the performance very much indicates this. Throughout our testing it was no quicker than a pair of stock GTX580s in SLI and, in those tests where we didn't have a GTX580 SLI setup available and so used a GTX590, it wasn't much better there either.
It looks fantastic, that can't be denied. ASUS have worked their magic with the cooler which is capable of coping with the heat generated from two GF110s working hard. The decision to have two DirectCU heatsinks, rather than one big one, definitely has results. The temperatures stayed under 80°C and at no point did it become annoyingly loud either. From a design point of view it's tough to fault it. The top is chunky and bolted to the bottom to make sure that even under the highest levels of stress the circuit board wont warp. We reckon you could run over it with a car and it wouldn't flex, although we wouldn't recommend it.
Testing this we were reminded very much of the previous ASUS high-end effort the ARES. It's prohibitively expensive and, in the end, the performance just doesn't justify it. It's impossible to talk about it without mentioning the price, so let's get that out the way straight away. £1100. One thousand, one hundred pounds.
That sounds like a lot of money and it is. For the same cash you could get three GTX580s or two GTX580s and water blocks, pumps, rads and all the gear to keep them frosty and quiet. Not only would they overclock better, and the lack of overclocking is one of our two big disappointments with the MARS 2, but they'd look nicer, be cooler and if one of your chips died you wouldn't be left without a display.
If it sounds like nothing but negativity it's because when you get a card that is clearly aimed at the enthusiast with a huge bank account you have certain expectations. Of all the things we expected, getting exactly what the specs would indicated, GTX580 SLI performance, wasn't really one of them. After all if we wanted that we'd buy a pair of GTX580 and spend the £400 we saved on something else. A huge SATA 6 SSD for example. The MARS 2 doesn't even have the saving grace of the ARES in that it comes with ludicrously high-end packaging and frippery.
So if you want a single card version of a GTX580 SLI setup and don't mind paying £400 to basically be able to put "ASUS MARS 2" in your forum signature, then this is the card for you. If you want performance, or value for money, or almost any other measurable then stick with the two card option.
Thanks to ASUS for providing the MARS 2 for review. Discuss in our forums.