Sparkle graphics cards have been quietly performing very well in recent years.
Whilst not necessarily the first brand you think of when choosing your next GPU, they nonetheless have been very solid, with some models being up there with the best.
Today we're taking a look at a highly modified GTX560Ti which is part of Sparkle's Calibre range. Similar to the RoG models from ASUS, or the MSI Lightning range etc., the Calibre variant has a good overclock and the de rigueur twin fan cooler.
So does it sparkle brightly or merely twinkle and fade?
Compared to the standard GTX560Ti which comes with a 822MHz core you can see that the Calibre has a hefty overclock indeed, all the way up to 950MHz. The memory too has been upped from 4000MHz to 4600MHz. With these big leaps in clock speed there should be a decent amount of extra performance when compared to the standard model, which is already a good performer.
|Model Number||X560Ti DF|
|Graphics Processing Unit||GeForce GTX 560Ti|
|Core Clock||950 MHz|
|Memory Clock||4602 MHz|
|Memory Type||1024MB GDDR5|
|Stream Processors Cores||384|
|Bus Type||PCI-Express 2.0|
|Outputs||Mini HDMI x1|
Dual Link DVI-I x2
Time to take a look at what's in the box.
The packaging is a masterpiece of understatement that nicely backs up the "professional graphics card" moniker on the front. We've often remarked how when you're at the higher end of the market, less is more.
The card itself neatly follows this trend of swathes of black with some minor white text to break things up. Two large PWM fans dominate the topside, and the vent holes near the outputs look very nice. Round the back we have a sturdy backplate to make sure that the card remains solid and the heat is spread evenly.
The Calibre branding is discreet although it's quite strange to see that in a standard tower case the Calibre logo by the power inputs will be upside down.
Outputs are the standard GeForce arrangement of an HDMI and two DVI-Ds. It's always nice to see the DVI colour matching the main card, and it's yet another one of those little touches which makes the Sparkle GTX560Ti DF Calibre a treat to look at and enjoy.
Aside from using the latest WHQL ForceWare drivers, this is our standard GPU test setup.
Sparkle GTX560Ti DF Calibre
Intel Core-i7 950 @ 4GHz
Gigabyte G1 Assassin
6GB Mushkin Redline
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Amazingly despite the already hefty overclock the Sparkle Calibre still has something to give, breaking through the magic 1GHz barrier on the core and therefore taking the dual-linked shaders past 2GHz. Hugely impressive stuff.
Despite this extremely high overclock the cooler managers to perform admirably, with the highest temperature we recorded being a mere 75°C. Outstanding performance.
3D Mark Vantage
Two impressive results for the Calibre. Firstly the P-score in 3D Mark Vantage is well ahead of the stock GTX560Ti. Perhaps more amazing is how good the H score is and how well the card responds to the overclock.
3D Mark 11
These results are replicated in 3D Mark 11 with the Sparkle card being a fair distance ahead of the reference model. In fact when overclocked it's pushing past the GTX570. Nothing short of amazing.
Although in average frame-rate the Calibre spanks the reference design, it's in the minimum frame-rate than the biggest gains are to be found. Rather than dropping down to the slideshow effect that the reference card had moments of, the Sparkle Calibre remains relatively smooth throughout, even with the 8xAA applied.
Once again the Calibre continues to be impressive. Sometimes when moving from the synthetic tests into the gaming world some scores drop off from their lofty heights, but the Sparkle card keeps on giving us great results. Indeed on the Gamer settings it's capable, when overclocked, of pushing the GTX570.
In Enthusiast we're aware that a lot of extra performance is gained in the multiple ForceWare updates between testing a lot of these cards and testing the Sparkle today, but regardless of how accurate the comparisons might be, an average frame-rate in the high 30s is still a seriously good result.
These impressive results just keep on coming. The vanilla version of Crysis 2 is easily playable on the GTX560Ti DF Calibre and our overclock has little to do.
However when we apply the High-Res texture pack and move the renderer into DX11 mode the Sparkle still performs excellently and in overclocked trim it is knocking on the door of the GTX570.
Alien vs Predator
Such is the level of performance from the Calibre that it's almost pointless to mention how heavily it beats out the reference design version. In AvP it is capable of beating the GTX570 too and isn't far behind the behemoth that is the GTX580. Outstanding.
The Witcher 2
The Witcher 2 is one of those seriously taxing games where we'd expect the architectural limitations of the GTX560Ti to drag the performance down. Not so. Once again, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, the Sparkle card can bust out some highly impressive figures, being half a FPS behind an overclocked GTX570. We're long past the point where we think it's an anomalous result.
Far Cry 2
The rather creaky old Far Cry 2 gives us our first taste of the Sparkle card not quite being on a par with a GTX570, but it's still a far way ahead of the reference design. Whilst the difference between 57FPS (reference) and 65 FPS (Sparkle) might not seem like a lot, it's enough to make VSync a usable option and the difference in visual quality that VSync makes certainly is reason enough to champion the Calibre.
Easily the most impressive performance from the overclock we achieved comes in Metro 2033. A game which is renowned for being limited in single GPU scenarios gives us a decent result with the card in out-of-the-box shape, but once again we pass the stock GTX570 when overclocked. There is nothing this card cannot do.
It's been a while since we've reviewed a Sparkle card here at OC3D and to say we're impressed is an understatement.
Starting with the looks, this is a gorgeous card. An all-black design isn't exactly new and to a certain extent your own mileage may vary with whether you like the almost heraldic logo, but it's small and inoffensive if you don't. However the combination of the pretty cooler and subtle packaging and logos really lends an air of class to the whole proceedings.
Overclocking was a breeze too. Out of the box the Sparkle Calibre is the fastest GTX560Ti on the planet, and we still had enough headroom to get an extra 70MHz out of the core, pushing it past the 1GHz barrier. This isn't "numbers only" performance either as the overclock gave us visibly higher performance in every single one of our tests.
Indeed, if the looks are understated, the performance screams from the rooftops. The difference between this Calibre version of the GTX560Ti and the reference design is so wide that it turns a card that is targeted at people who want a little bit of performance and light gaming, into something that can keep pace with a stock GTX570!
We're so used to seeing cards that can give us good numbers in 3D Mark but fall down when the gaming gets tough that to find a card which, if anything, underperforms in 3D Mark when compared to its gaming abilities is quite astonishing. It doesn't even come at a price to your ears or central heating either as the cooler is quiet and capable of keeping the GPU well under 80°C despite our 1GHz overclock.
In fact the only black mark on the Sparkle card is how hard it is to get hold of. One would assume that a card that has this huge level of performance would be available everywhere, yet it's extremely hard to find anywhere that is selling it. If you can find one the pricing doesn't reflect it's premium abilities being available, in the few places we've found it, for less than many other GTX560Ti's, at around £170.
Even if it was £200 we'd be raving about it, so to find that all these great qualities don't break the bank either means this has to go straight in as one of our highest recommended products for gamers on a budget and worthy of our Gold Award.
Thanks to Sparkle for providing the X560 Ti DF Calibre for review. Discuss in our forums.