Last time we saw the Windforce cooler from Gigabyte it was as part of the GTX560Ti 448 Core Edition. Back then we found it to be extraordinarily quiet, as well as great at keeping the card cool. So it's not a surprise to find Gigabyte sticking with their Windforce cooler for their take upon the nVidia GTX680.
By now we all know what to expect from the current single-GPU crown in the nVidia line-up, so rather than take up your time with some exposition we shall dive straight in to the good stuff. So put down your daily paper with the report of the weekends Premier League fun and settle in to see what the Gigabyte GTX680 Windforce has to offer.
The base clock gets a little boost up from the 1006MHz of the standard card, but the biggest gain is the boost clock which has been increased from 1058MHz to 1137MHz. The Memory stays the same as the default card though, so it will be interesting to see how it compares to the excellent performance we saw from the Zotac AMP!
|Chipset||GeForce GTX 680|
|Core Clock||Base clock: 1071 MHz / Boost clock: 1137 MHz|
|Memory Clock||6008 MHz|
|Process Technology||28 nm|
|Memory Bus||256 bit|
|Card Bus||PCI-E 3.0|
|I/O||HDMI * 1|
DVI-I * 1
|Digital max resolution||2560 x 1600|
|Analog max resolution||2048 x 1536|
|Card size||H=38 mm, L=285 mm, W=126 mm|
|Power requirement||550 W|
It's clear that the Windforce cooler is designed with performance rather than aesthetics in mind, being as little plastic as Gigabyte can get away with the keep the fans in place and little more. But we cannot deny that the vision of a tri-fan card all ready to keep the card cool does get us watering at the mouth a little.
Blue PCBs are an acquired taste and whilst we'd expect no other colour from the company who are almost synonymous with blue, it still makes for a huge clash on your internals unless you're built around the blue colour scheme. The cooler is replete with an enormous amount of fins that should help ensure good airflow and heat dissipation.
At the business end of the card we find both sides of the coin of expectation. The outputs are as normal with two DVIs, a DisplayPort and an HDMI. However, this custom PCB equipped card has an 8+6pin power arrangement rather than the stacked 6+6pin affair we saw on both the reference nVidia card and highly overclocked Zotac AMP! cards.
Gigabyte GTX680 Windforce
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.6GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Noctua NF-F12 Fans
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Of course with all this power available to us, and the cooling power of the Windforce keeping everything stable, we can really see what the card is capable of. Despite having a mild overclock out of the box we increased it all the way up to 1139MHz base clock and 1204MHz boost clock. Only a shade lower than the Zotac AMP! and certainly enough to hopefully give us some good results.
The $64000 question though is, does that cooler really keep things frosty? When the card is idle it certainly does, being right down at 24°C, but once the card is stressed the temperatures do creep up, ending up 5° and 10° warmer than the Zotac AMP!. It's worth noting that by any yardstick the card is phenomenally quiet. Ridiculously so considering the amount of fans whirring away. You're very much balancing heat and noise at all times and the Gigabyte falls clearly on the quiet side of the fence.
3D Mark Vantage
As always 3D Mark Vantage is reliable at giving results that reflect the capabilities of the card and the relative clocks of identical models. The Windforce suffers a little at stock compared to the Zotac due to the lower clock speed, but when overclocked it's just edging ahead.
3D Mark 11
3D Mark 11 keeps up the trend with the stock speed being good, but the overclock result shading towards the Gigabyte card.
Alien vs Predator brings a little surprise with the Gigabyte being a handful of frames behind the Zotac, but when overclocked it is identical to an overclocked nVidia card.
Batman Arkham City
Whoa. Arkham City is notoriously hard on cards, but even still the Gigabyte Windforce makes very heavy going of things, being a long way behind, especially suffering with the minimum frame-rate.
Things stay looking bad for the Windforce in Battlefield 3. We'd expect the odd frame here or there, and even seven or eight wouldn't be beyond redemption, but the performance is a long way off what we'd hope to see.
Moving on to Crysis 2 improves things slightly, but given the stability of the GTX680 platform and the overclock available from the Gigabyte card, we'd expect it to be a lot better than it's shown so far.
A tale of two results in Dirt 3. The out the box performance is shabby at best and yet the overclock gives a massive improvement and the best GTX680 result we've seen. Things are looking up at least.
Far Cry 2
The Gigabyte is starting to claw back some of its early losses, or at least becoming respectable, as in Far Cry 2 it edges ahead of the Zotac card.
As we move back to the post-war Mafia 2, things return to the disappointing level we've seen so far. Even the reference OC nVidia card proves better frame-rate than the Gigabyte manages.
Metro 2033 is never kind to nVidia cards, so we wont be too harsh on the Gigabyte GTX680 Windforce for only matching it's reference counterpart. It still isn't close to the Zotac though.
Resident Evil 5 - DX9
Capcom's Resident Evil 5 doesn't provide a stern test to any modern card, but even so you can't help notice that both the Zotac AMP! and nVidia reference card manage to beat out the Gigabyte effort.
Resident Evil 5 - DX10
Switching over to the DirectX 10 version of Resident Evil 5 improves things dramatically and finally brings the Gigabyte neck and neck with the other GTX680s.
As we move back to the pure benchmark tests, Unigine brings the Windforce back in to play, beating the reference card handily and just staying shy of the Zotac monster.
Increasing the image quality with a hefty dose of anti-aliasing drops the Windforce away from the leaders and just edging to the head of the peloton.
The Witcher 2
The Witcher 2 was unavailable when testing the Zotac card, so our main comparison here is against the nVidia model, and at least it enables the Gigabyte GTX 680 Windforce to end on a semblance of a high.
There is an old saying that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. So let's start off with a spoonful of sugar.
The Gigabyte GTX680 Windforce starts of strongly with a truly stunning cooler, especially if silence is your thing. We've seen a swathe of quiet cards in recent times, but even compared to some excellent ones that have come before, the Windforce cooler still stands out. Normally when you increase the amount of fans you increase the amount of noise, but not so here. It's whisper quiet, even under load. You pay a small price in pure cooling ability, but if you value your ears then it's a no brainer. Secondly the performance is, compared to most other cards, very good. Even if you've got a GTX580, the GTX680 is enough of an improvement to be worthy of a look. Finally the card overclocks to very near the levels of the hardcore AMP!, so in pure megahertz terms you wont get short changed.
Having sweetened the spoon a little we have to give the medicine too.
Despite the card having a mild overclock out of the box, and nearly matching the Zotac AMP! with our manual overclock, the performance was disappointing throughout our testing. We only had a couple of games that the Gigabyte card even kept up with the other GTX680s, and although the benchmark tests (3D Mark and Unigine) showed good results the gaming tests most certainly didn't. Time and time again the Gigabyte was left trailing in the wake of the near equally clocked Zotac effort, and far too often for comfort it was behind the overclocked reference card.
Indeed it's this lack of performance that makes the decision to require a 8+6pin power arrangement even more baffling. If the reference card can suffice with 6+6 and the Zotac AMP!, which consistently spanks the Gigabyte in our graphs, also happily puts up with a 6+6 setup, why on earth does the middling performance of the Windforce need 8+6? It's not as if the overclock benefits. All in all it's rather baffling.
So it comes on a bright blue PCB, the performance is only okay, the temperatures aren't the coolest but aren't hot, but it's seriously quiet. All in all it's a bit of a mixed bag, but the power of the GTX680 shines through enough to leave the Gigabyte GTX680 Windforce deserving of our Bronze Award.
Thanks to Gigabyte for supplying the Windforce for review. Discuss in our forums.