Anyone who can recall the last generation of GPUs will remember that far and away the absolute value for money choice was to have two ATI HD4770s in Crossfire. It gave enormous performance without breaking the bank and, by virtue of being two cards, was something you could purchase in stages rather than having one massive outlay.
Nonetheless the single-card power choice was the GTX280, and its follow-up the GTX285, which had great performance and a big price-tag.
With the introduction of the GTX480 we had a card that, to be blunt, was a disappointment. The performance was good, but not so good the huge price was justifiable. The heat was the thing that really drove a nail into it, as it almost single-handidly could melt the polar ice-caps.
We held out hope that the cut-down versions would be better but the original ones had all the problems and none of the benefits. Thankfully that has recently been changing, to such an extent that the 'lesser' models in the nVidia GTX range are the ones to go for.
It was only natural that curiosity got the better of us and we wanted to pair a couple up to see if GTX460 SLI could be this generations King of the Performance Per Pound.
EVGA, one of the major nVidia partners, make lots of versions of the GTX460 but, as we recently saw with the Zotac AMP!, higher performing factory versions always come with a price-premium that makes them too expensive for serious consideration.
They kindly agreed to send us two of their absolute base models of the GTX460. So today we have two stock clocked 768MB ones to play with. We can't wait.
As you can see these aren't factory overclocked or supplied with a lot of bells and whistles. These are pretty much as cheap as a GTX460 gets. Which is entirely the point of todays testing.
In keeping with the stripped-down nature the box is very simple. After all there is nothing really to advertise as this isn't a FTW edition, or custom cooled. The back is the typical multi-language tiny-text fest.
In keeping with EVGAs commitment to the environment the internals are in recycled cardboard. Like an egg-box. It actually works very well and is as good a solution as any.
The card itself is understandably simple in design, although the inclusion of a big fan in the middle should help keep the chip under control. If anyone knows why the reference designs use a tiny fan up one end, do let us know because it makes zero thermal sense.
As this is only the 768MB version the rear of the card is fairly simple. But yes, we have two of the blighters with their copper heat-pipes shining through the fan.
Alongside the twin DVI ports is a mini-HDMI. Plenty of output options. Although today we're only going to be using one of them.
Two PCI-e power inputs should ensure that the card is kept supplied with all the juice it can draw.
Intel Core i7 930 @ 3.6 GHz
6GB Kingston Hyper-X T1
ASUS Rampage 3 Extreme
Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit
Prolimatech Armageddon with Arctic MX-3
2 x EVGA GTX460 768MB in SLI
We're also comparing against a single GTX460 so you can get a feel for what you would get until you could afford a second, should you choose to go down that route. Naturally we're sticking the GTX480 in too. Is two small cards better than one big one?
Overclocking and Temperatures
The reference GTX460 has become quite an overclocking beast and we managed to increase the core speed all the way from 675MHz up to a very respectable 862MHz.
There are still going to be obvious architectural limitations but the increase in core and shader speed should give us a nice performance boost so we'll be testing with them both at this speed.
The most surprising thing is that even overclocked and backed up against each other in SLI they still remained relatively cool. A far cry from the big GTX480 anyway.
So is this trying to make a silk purse out of two sows ears or a hidden gem waiting to be discovered? Let's get testing.
3D Mark Vantage
Wow. That is a shock. We hoped at best that the SLI setup would be close to the GTX480, but even at stock it's comprehensively better. It also scales very well being 6000 ahead at Performance, 4000 at High and 2000 at Extreme. Our overclock also manages give impressive results too, although at Extreme we can see the point at which the limitations of the architecture combine with the high anti-aliasing and detail levels to slow the gains down.
If 3D Mark was impressive, then Unigine made us stop in our tracks. The average frame-rate is nearly double that of the GTX480 when we overclock the 460s. In anybodys book that is a great result especially given how demanding Unigine is.
Once the settings are bumped up to the maximum though we see the limitations that the card has when it comes to shaders and cores. The frame-rate drops dramatically, even the overclocked 460s falling underneath the GTX480.
Is this limitation replicated in gaming?
Starting with the old faithful Crytek engined Crysis Warhead. Although we don't use anti-aliasing because of the woeful optimisation from Crytek, the EVGA SLI setup still rocks hard here, giving 71 FPS in both configurations.
Dirt 2 comes with a heavy dose of anti-aliasing but unlike our Unigine tests it actually does affect the results negatively. Our overclock gives a great result too being 50% faster than the GTX480. Even at stock though it just eats through the frames.
Metro 2033 is the Crysis of the current generation in that very little gives what we consider to be smooth frame-rates. However because of this it's a great way to test how much power is available to us. Here the EVGA GTX460 SLI is neck and neck with the GTX480 at stock, and takes a 4 frame lead when overclocked. 4 frames when you're only dealing with 40, is a nice increase.
Let's cut right to the chase here, because the conclusion is obvious and I know you can't wait to watch the video.
A bottom end GeForce GTX480 will set you back around £360 these days, which is much better than it was when it first launched but still a chunk of change.
One of these EVGA GTX460s will set you back £135, and therefore £270 for the pair. £90 cheaper for something that performs significantly better, is much cooler and, thanks to being cooler, even two of them are quieter than a single GTX480.
As far as 'no-brainer's go, this is almost the definitive example. Who wouldn't want something that out-performs a GTX480 that is cheap enough to leave you enough money to buy a 40GB SSD??
So what are the downsides?
Well at very high resolutions and image quality settings the cut-down nature of the underlying architecture can limit the frame-rate so if you're after absolute performance then you might need to look elsewhere.
But for most people this is plenty powerful enough, and plenty cheap enough, to very much be the weapon of choice and the only nVidia setup we'd happily recommend.
- Huge performance
- Great overclocking potential
- Value for money
- Limited at extreme IQ settings
Thanks to EVGA for supplying the GTX460s for todays review. Discuss in our forums.