It's an old story by now but just in case you've been under a rock for a year, when the GTX480 was released we were all very disappointed at how cut-down it was compared to the original plans, how delayed it was, and most of all how ridiculous the power draw and heat output was. It was completely unrecommendable unless you owned a power station and lived in an igloo.
Just before nVidia admitted to the World they knew they'd made a mistake by rushing out the next model, the brilliant GTX580, we saw what we considered to be the zenith of the GTX480 possibility, the MSI Lightning.
Now Gigabyte have stepped up to the plate with their own highly modified GTX480, the "Super Over Clock". Boasting almost everything you could desire and at a more attractive price than a vanilla GTX580, does the GTX480SOC bring anything to the party, or is it a day late and a dollar short?
It certainly earns its Super Over Clock title being a monster 120MHz faster than the reference GTX480. As with any major technology the rest of the chip is pretty much 'as spec', but it's the BIOS that makes the difference.
Courtesy of the Gigabyte press release you can see that they've taken the same ideas as we saw on the MSI but moved them from Hardware into Software, thus allowing easier control and greater flexibility.
There is no denying the major factor of the GTX480SOC in the artwork. We can't recall a more focussed box art that didn't just contain the product name.
The reverse is clearly dominated by the many improvements made over the stock card, including cherry picked GPUs, a better cooling system and increased quality of the voltage and memory parts.
Just in case the huge logo on the front didn't make it clear the box is also adorned with the Super Over Clock logo.
The box contents are pretty much what you'd expect with Molex to PCIe power, manual, driver CD and a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable.
And here is the card in all its glory, dominated by the WindForce 3X cooler. The cooler has three 80mm PWM fans, each of which with its own dedicated heatsink to ensure the swiftest dissipation without build-up.
The inputs and outputs of the card are the standard GTX480 ones of two DVI, a mini-HDMI outputs alongside a 6pin and 8pin PCIe power input.
Looking a Little Closer
Following the success of its Dual-BIOS system on the Gigabyte motherboards we now have one on the GPU. In standard position we have the normal Super Over Clock BIOS, but a quick press shifts to a secondary BIOS that is dedicated to the extremist LN2 brigade and cures cold-start issues.
Beneath the main three heatsink areas is a vapor chamber connected via three pure-copper heatpipes. As we all know genuine vapor cooling and heatpipes are the best method for air-cooling thanks to the heat loss from changing the liquid to a gas and back again.
There is undeniably little likelyhood of any heat being trapped within the cards surround. Although obviously this does take us back to the problem of heat being dissipated into the case, but that's something which occurs with nearly every non-reference design on the planet.
Power phases cannot be underestimated when it comes to the importance of providing stability and performance with any chips and that's a quality that hasn't been lost on Gigabyte. The GTX480SOC comes equipped with twice the power-phases of the stock card, having 12+2 rather than the 6+2 of the nVidia original.
The Gigabyte comes with a very useful overclocking tool, the OC Guru. This allows adjustments of GPU and Memory speed as you'd expect, but also includes color controls and, perhaps best of all, hot key swapping. This means you can have one highly reduced profile for your desktop and with a single button combo switch to a gaming profile.
Gigabytes dedication to green computing cannot be understated either as there is a specific green mode that helps tame the GTX480 when you're in a light-use situation. As you can see from the screenshots below the power-savings between the left-hand shot and the right hand "green" shot are significant.
Gigabyte GTX480 Super Over Clock
ASUS Rampage III Extreme
Intel i7 950 @ 4GHz
6GB Mushkin Redline RAM
Corsair AX1200 PSU
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
We will be comparing against the biggest challenger to the Gigabyte, the MSI GTX480 Lightning as well as the reference card. It would be pointless to compare to any AMD efforts as the GTX480 is clearly streets ahead as a single card.
Although the GTX480 Super Over Clock is miles ahead of its reference compatriot already we were still able to increase the Core still further up to 865MHz and the Memory from 950MHz to 1000MHz at stock volts!
Moving our attention to increasing volts it took just 1.083v to get the card stable at 900MHz to match the Lightning overclock, team this up with a 1150MHz memory speed and you have one very powerfull overclock for not a lot of volts! You would think with this overclock at such low volts would mean we could really crank it for an insanely high final clock. Sadly we ran into a lot of driver stability issues, not full on system freezes but just the display driver crashing. Normally if you have gone past the cards limits the whole system will freeze and you know its time to stop, but the issues we ran into with this really did make us feel it wasnt the GPU core holding us back. None the less the 900mhz core on a 480 is very impressive for an aircooled card.
3D Mark Vantage
As we saw when we reviewed the Lightning, its really two cards. When stock it's just cool and quiet, but once overclocked its an absolute beast. The Gigabyte in 3D Mark is between those two extremes being better out of the box but just a bit behind when overclocked. We still see some very gaudy numbers though.
Again we can see the performance of the GTX480SOC in 'stock' configuration beating out the Lightning fairly easily. With the overclock applied things are tight between the two cards with the SOC just edging ahead. Considering that it's 35MHz slower than our Lightning overclock it's impressive indeed.
With more image quality the graphs get stretched but the results remain the same. Synthetically at least the SOC is ahead at stock and overclocked. Impressive performance indeed from Gigabyte.
Alien vs Predator
Once we're out away from the more synthetic type benchmarks to one that really pounds the whole system hard we see that although minimum and maximum frame-rates are very much on a linear diagonal which just about holds up in the average results, the difference is only a couple of frames between the two full-fat cards.
Warhead is much more variable and really demonstrates how good the GTX480SOC is at stock. 11 FPS ahead of the stock Lightning and only one frame behind the overclocked Lightning! Amazing performance thanks to the excellent power circuitry and chip selection.
The Dunia engined FarCry 2 follows our earlier results in that the GTX480SOC is better than the Lightning at stock and overclocked. The differences are slight, but they are consistent enough that it's not just by chance.
It's difficult to be too down on any of the cards here as they all bust past the ridiculous 200 FPS mark on average. Despite the ease at which they all run HAWX 2 the differences in horsepower remain as visible as they were in the harder tests. At the risk of endlessly stating the same thing, the Gigabyte Super Over Clock out-performing the MSI Lightning.
Always a tough test of any graphics card, Metro 2033 stresses all of the GTX480s in a way HAWX 2 certainly doesn't. The GTX480SOC repeating its performance of the previous tests even if just by a single frame.
Due to the faster core speed of the stock card the Super Over Clock is a few degrees hotter than the Lightning under load, although still cool and quiet. Once the cards are overclocked the Gigabyte offering keeps up its performance being 3 degrees cooler than the MSI card.
Sometimes we have to eat our words, and today is one of those days.
When MSI released the GTX480 Lightning we were completely shocked by how amazing it was and what a turn-around MSI had managed to make on the beleaguered Fermi chip. From an under-performing heat-monster into just a monster, we couldn't imagine anyone bettering it, especially with whispers of the GTX580 due for release.
Gigabyte though have done exactly that.
At stock the Gigabyte GTX480 Super Over Clock is better than the Lightning in performance terms, often being near to the MSI when it was overclocked. The numbers across the board were gaudy. Considering the much improved and more expensive GTX580 gets 13000 3D Extreme Marks, then 12000 Extreme Marks from the architecturally inferior GTX480 is stunningly impressive.
It's not just stock though. If anything the Overclock performance is even better. Both cards were overclocked to overclocked to 900MHz and the GTX480SOC consistently outperformed the Lightning in every benchmark we ran.
The Cooler is equally impressive, keeping the card cooler than the Lightning at a slower fan-speed. It also seems more consistent as the difference between the Stock and OC temps of the Gigabyte was only 10°C compared to 19°C different on the MSI.
All this without mentioning the improved power-phases, the dual-BIOS system that allows you to overcome any cold-start issues if you're a fan of Liquid Nitrogen, or the outstanding OC Guru which vastly reduces the power-draw of the card.
Pricing is unavailable but looking at the US pricing and comparing it to the current UK pricing we should see the SOC hitting the market at around £350-360. So you get a card that might be based upon the "older" GF100 core but is blisteringly fast, cool, quiet, and has all the features you could possibly desire.
Even if the GTX580 has got you tempted, the GTX480 Super Over Clock is impressive enough to make you rethink and put something else top of your shopping list. The OC3D Gold Award exists for products like this and kudos to Gigabyte for absolutely nailing everything we look for.
Thanks to Gigabyte for letting us review the GTX480SOC. Discuss in our forums.