XFX 280GTX XXX Edition Page: 1
IntroductionXFX Logo
 
With the advent of the mighty 4870x2, XFX have tweaked the GPU and memory clockspeed of NVidias flagship 280GTX to bring you its top of the pile XFX 280GTX 'XXX' edition. We reviewed the stock clocked MSI GTX280 back in June of this year so rather than re-hash reviews of the same old cards and benchmarks showing a predictable increase in scores, we will explore the 280GTX's capabilities with a series of benchmarks aimed more specifically at PhysX and endeavour to explore what PhysX is and how it works. 
 
Before we delve into the world of PhysX lets take a look at the card we will be using for todays review.
 
 
Specification
 
As previous stated, this 280GTX is no ordinary GTX, it is the premier overclocked 'XXX' edition. As it is overclocked you can guarantee that these overclocks have been stringently tested in house with the cherry picked cores and memory to bring you blistering speed along with rock solid reliability.
 
 Specification
 
As you can see, the GPU clockspeed has been increased just over 10% from a stock 602mhz to a toasty 670mhz and the memory has been hoisted up to to a head spinning 1250(2500) MHz from a stock 1107(2214)Mhz, meaning that the Shader clock speed has also increased to  1458mhz - an 11.2% increase from stock 1296mhz! Mouthwatering overclocking from XFX! However, we at OC3D will never be content with a manufactured overclock and we will see, later in the review, how much more performance we can squeeze from the card. For now though, lets take a look at the packaging and presentation.


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Packaging & Appearance
 
XFX have long been the leaders in packaging, so it should come as no surprise that the XFX 280GTX XXX edition, costing £356.69 from Scan, be packaged with the same high standards XFX have previously set. True to form, the product arrives in a very sleek matt and gloss finished outer package with neon green trademarks, along the Alpha Dog set as the backdrop. The only difference between this box and the stock 280GTX is a very subtle additional sticker, no doubt making it a nightmare for warehouse staff to identify! To the rear, we see the usual 'Key Features' along with the claim that the GTX280 is 50% faster than previous generations.
 
Box Front Box Rear
 
The sides of the packaging are nothing extra ordinary with the 'Nsist on NVidia' emblem to the left hand side and the recommended requirements along with a PSU advisory situated along the bottom of the box. A 630W PSU with a 12v current rating of 40A or more is the order of the day or if you are rich enough for SLI 280GTX XXX's, a 680W PSU will be required.
 
Side small Side large
  
Taking the outer sleeve off the package, we find a traditional but sturdy lime green box emblazoned with the XFX logo. Opening that box, we find a very securely packed GTX280 GTX XXX, contained in an anti-static bag. There is not a chance in hell, bar a nuclear blast, that the card would get damaged in transit with excellent packing like this. Beneath the card and the layer of foam, we find the driver CD, the excellent Assassins Creed game and manuals for the card
 
A cardboard separator houses a molex-6 pin adapter, HDMI Audio cable and VGA-DVI adapter. So everything you need to get started. There is a little minor point and that is there is no molex-8 pin adapter so please make sure your PSU has an available PCIe 8pin before buying as unlike the ATI cards which can be powered via 6pin, the GTX280 definitely needs an 8 pin supply or it will not post.
 
Inner Box Nvidia Inside
 
Accessories
 
The card itself measures 10.5" x 4.4" x 1.5" (LxWxH) so will fit in any case that an 8800GTX will. The actual card is fully encased in a plastic and metal frame that serves to both channel air through over the card and lower the possibility of static discharge. The case is then emblazoned with full length XFX 'stickery' that is going to be there for the duration. I was tempted to rip the sticker off to gain access to the GTX's innards but I doubt I would have been able to do so without destroying the look of the card, which I'm certain XFX wouldn't have been too happy about! Rest assured the stickers will not come off on their own accord.
 
Card front Card back
 
Side View Horizontal view
 
Taking a closer look at the card, we see that the fan is the same size and specification as it's sibling GTX260's, in fact, apart from the stickers and obviously the performance, you would be hard pushed to tell one card from the other. Nowhere on the card is there any notification that this is a XXX edition either which is a little surprising but given the clockspeed attained it would be doubtful that there are many yields capable of such a speed that would warrant a different design.
 
Card end 2 Card end 1
 
 A neat little touch on the 200 series of cards is an SLI tab. This removable tab gives access to the SLI keys should you wish to use them. If not, then the rubber tab keeps them hidden away out of harms way without destroying the sleek lines of the card.
 
Access denied access granted
  
Last of all, we come to the business ends of the card. Firstly and as stated previously, you will need both a 6pin and 8Pin PCIe power cables. Disappointingly, the PCIe power sockets do not light up red/green as with the 9800GX2 but it is really only cosmetic, as the card will refuse to allow your PC to post should you not supply it with the correct power cables.
 
The backplate is a pretty standard affair with 2x DVI ports (1 x VGA adapter included) and an S-Video port. There is also a tiny green LED that notifies you when the card is powered on. Below the connections is the main vent area.
 
Power requirements Backplate
  
So, a very strong showing from XFX with class leading packaging and a stunning looking card. Although the card is a  reference design, the stickers are top quality glossy affairs and not some dodgy, paper type ones that peel off after an hours use. The card feels solid, heavy (but not overly so) and because of the casing should last the test of time. I do have some concerns about the heatsink getting clogged with dust and the inevitable cleaning required. With no easy access to the card itself, the only way to clean the heatsink would be by the use of compressed air cannisters but even then you have no way of knowing that the heatsink is clean and dust free. Not really a concern initially and not XFX's fault as it is a standard design but something worth thinking about if you intend to keep the card for a few years.
 
Overall, I'm very impressed with the presentation and as stated previously, it is something we have become accustomed to with XFX who are without doubt, second to no-one in this department.
 
Lets take a look now at the main feature of the review, PhysX.


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PhysX Feature
 
Physx logo
Way back in 2005, PhysX was set to be 'the next big thing' in PC gaming. A dedicated card that could handle complex calculations using unique algorithms was seen as a the leap forward in GPU technology. This advancement would enable the add-on card to take some of the stress from the GPU and CPU by completing these calculation independently, freeing up more bandwidth for the GPU and CPU to do their own thing, thereby granting the user more FPS and perhaps more importantly, true Physics capabilities.
 
The initial showcase with 'Bet On Soldier' was, however, a dire affair and failed to capture gamers and developers imagination. 2006 saw a revised edition hit the shelves and once again, though slightly better recieved this time around, PhysX was ultimately deemed uneccessary. Perhaps the greatest enemy of Physx however was support. Too few titles supported the feature to offset the cost of the card. So how has this changed?
 
NVidia take control
Despite the perceived failure of PhysX, NVidia sought to acquire Ageia for an estimated $150 million in February of 2008 and in a stroke of genius have now incorporated PhysX processing in there GPU's so there is no longer a need for a dedicated PPU. If there is one thing that NVidia do well it is marketing. Where PhysX failed before, NVidia will be determined not to make the same mistakes and a rapidly increasing games catalogue of over 150 titles is ensuring PhysX is here to stay. AMD, despite originally classing PhysX a failure have now taken steps to ensure they are not left alone and are working with Havok to create there own PhysX engine to compete with NVidia but at this stage NVidia still hold all the aces.
 
How does PhysX work?
Games can be generalised into three separate 'engines' which make them 'work':
Why integrate with a GPU?
Considering that the whole idea of PhysX was to relieve the stress from GPU's in the first place, it appears NVidia have gone full circle and now re-integrated PhysX processing back into the GPU. While it may seem strange, this strategy serves three fold. You will no longer need a dedicated PPU to get the PhysX effects therefore games will be more widely supported and GPU's are the perfect processor to handle the complex calculations required for PhysX. NVidias CUDA based GPU's are the perfect match for PhysX in that the original PPU from AGEIA had ten cores the NVidia CUDA GPU's have 128! Not only that but the parallel computations a GPU performs will be much faster than going through a PCI bus back and forth to the GPU.
 
What games will be supported?
NVidia current supplies all major software developers with a PhysX software developers kit (SDK) so that they can easily and efficiently incorporate PhysX effects into all the major titles. It is also compatible with nearly all the major software development tools and also allows for cross platform compatibility. This is key, as more and more games are being developed on Playstation and Xbox, then ported to PC, so the inclusion of PhysX effect will add that extra polish to any game ported over from the PC's inferior 'games machines'.
 
So, whether you are looking for  those extra particles of dust or sparks from metal on stone, Cloth deforming realistically and rag doll effects that need to be seen to be believed, PhysX, on the outset at least, should be on every gamers list. Lets see what happens when we put the XFX 280GTX XXX in action with a few PhysX enabled benchmarks.
 


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PhysX Examples
 
I had a small play around with some PhysX demo's and games and I must confess I was impressed with the technology. Despite PhysX being in it's infancy, the effects were truly remarkable. Here are a few snippets I took while having a play (AGEIA demo accepted).
 
 
NVidia & AGEIA PhysX Tech Demos
 
 
 
 
The Great Kulu
 
The Great Kulu is an interactive technology demonstration featuring a captured sea creature brought to life using NVIDIA® PhysX™ soft body simulation technology. The demo allows users to interact with Kulu and watch how its soft flesh interacts with the environment as it chases you around your ship. The flesh movements and movements of other soft body objects are simulated in real-time using PhysX technology, to create this "soft and squishy" experience.
 
 
 
 
 
Warmonger
 
Using proprietary technology and Ageia PhysX hardware, Warmonger breaks down the old static gameplay of shooters. Create new flow, compromise cover and concealment, no place is safe. Destroy walls, floors and whole buildings to open up new paths, or close existing ones. Destructive power is more than eye candy here, its a tactical weapon in Warmonger. Dynamic environments are taken to a whole new level and beautifully rendered in Unreal Engine 3. 
 
 
 
 
Flash, perhaps isn't the best media to show off the stunning effects that PhysX is capable of but the above clips should at least give you some idea of how the effects can, and no doubt will, be incorporated into tomorrows games. I know couldn't get enough of them and had lots of fun shooting some poor guys decapitated head across the screen. Sadly, due to the age of some of our readers, I dare not show that clip!


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Test Setup
 
To ensure there were no bottlenecks for this review we used the highest specification CPU and memory we could get our hands on. A common mistake made when benchmarking graphics cards is that the rest of the PC system isn't sufficient enough to test the GPU to its limits. This results in a bottleneck situation, where the system can only run at the speed of its slowest component. For this reason, the test configuration chosen below has been specially selected to give each of the graphics card on test the headroom they require in order to produce the best results.
 
 Test Setup
 
Due to the limited amount of benchmarks and games available for testing with PhysX at present there will only be a small amount of testing in this review. Hopefully this will be added to in the near future as PhysX benchmarking and games no doubt increase in popularity.
 
PhysX FluidMark
1280 x 1024 0 x MSAA
1280 x 1024 x 8 MSAA
1280 x 1024 32 x MSAA
1600 x 1200 0 x MSAA
1600 x 1200 8 x MSAA
1600 x 1200 32 x MSAA
1920 x 1200 0 x MSAA
1920 x 1200 8 x MSAA
1920 x 1200 32 x MSAA
2560 x 1600 0 x MSAA
2560 x 1600 8 x MSAA
2560 x 1600 32 x MSAA

3DMark Vantage (No PhysX)
1280 x 1024 / Performance Mode
1600 x 1200 / High Mode
1920 x 1200 / Extreme Mode
 
3DMark Vantage (PhysX Enabled) 
1280 x 1024 / Performance Mode
1600 x 1200 / High Mode
1920 x 1200 / Extreme Mode
 
Unreal Tournament III (No PhysX)
1280 x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920 x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
2560 x1600/ DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
Unreal Tournament III (PhysX Enabled)
1280 x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920 x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
2560 x1600/ DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
A new addition to our benchmarking suite for this review will be used: PhysX FluidMark.
 
 
Overclocking
 
Pre-Overclocked GPU's never overclock massively so it was with some surprise that I managed to ramp up the core an additional 70mhz to a stonking 740mhz and the memory to a blisteringly quick 1300mhz.
 
 
Quite an impressive leap was to be had with the overclock, although temperatures started to creep towards the 90's after long periods of time. Let's now take a look at how the card performs with a series of PhysX benchmarks...


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PhysX FluidMark is a physics benchmark based on NVIDIA PhysX engine. This benchmark performs a fluid simulation by imitating the rendering of lava. Real physics parameters such as viscosity are used. SPH (Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics) algorithm is enabled to increase the realism of the simulation.
 
 
At the time of the review, the ATI 4870x2 did not have PhysX drivers available although this will soon be rectified with the Havoc PhysX drivers rumoured to be in production for ATI based cards.
 
 
 
3DMark® Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware. 3DMark® Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
 
  
As you can see, PhysX adds as much as 15% to the overall score of the GTX XXX. This however, is still 5% slower than the ATI 4870x2 which is currently the 'benchmark' for other cards in today's market. Interestingly, Physx seemed to have less of an impact the higher the resolution when one would expect the opposite.
 
Lets take a look at some of the standard benchmarks to see how the GTX XXX fairs.
 
 
 
3DMark® 06 is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's taking advantage of today's multi CPU and GPU performance. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
It is plainly obvious that with the XFX GTX280 XXX card clocked much higher than stock, the scores follow suit with the XFX card almost matching the 4870x2. Considering the X2 has two cores, this is an astounding effort from the single GPU based XFX GTX280 XXX. The higher the resolutions went, the closer the scores got and one would assume the trend would continue with the GTX280 possibly overtaking the 4870x2 at higher resolutions. Sadly, the stock GTX280 fell away from the running as the resolutions increased.


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Unreal Tournament 3 the latest game in the long running Unreal series from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest UE3, which combines fast gameplay along with high quality textures and lighting effects. All benchmarks were performed using UTbench with a fly-by of the DM-BioHazard map. As usual, all benchmarks were performed 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
  
Quite clearly PhysX has had a drastic effect on FPS, boosting the GTX280 XXX's score well above the rest. If this is a sign of things to come then NVidia could well wipe the floor with ATI, even the almighty 4870x2 cannot keep pace. It's nice to see that not only are the synthetic benchmarks increased by the new technology but games as well. The GTX280 XXX also is the cheapest of the 3 cards on test when valued against FPS.
 
 
 
Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
 
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast gameplay. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long game play demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
  
Predictably, non-PhysX enabled games are still owned by the 4870x2 but the overclocked GTX280 still puts in a decent effort, finishing higher than it's stablemate stock GTX280 while also being better value for money.


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ConclusionXFX GTX280 XXX
 
Before writing this review, I did a little reading about PhysX to refresh the memory and the signs were not good. PhysX of old appeared to be a flashy add on that did little to appeal to the gamers palate. Online competitive players will no doubt tweak the game config until it no longer resembles the original title anyway and have little time to stand back in awe at the special effects PhysX has to offer. However, as the results show, frames-per-second can actually be increased, quite dramatically, by the use of PhysX and until ATI get Havoc on the scene and release some reliable drivers to complement it, NVidia may have the upper hand once more. With over 150 titles due for, or already released, PhysX it seems, is slowly being incorporated into today's games world.
 
As for the XFX GTX280 XXX, there is little doubt this is the fastest single GPU on the market today. With blistering GPU and memory overclocks, there is simply no single GPU to touch it at the moment. These overclocks however, come at a small cost - roughly £28. Not a bad price to pay when you consider those overclocks are written into the cards BIOS, so it will run those clocks at 'stock', are warranted and require no fine tuning with utilities such as Rivatuner. You won't need to flash the BIOS yourself to gain such clocks (thereby invalidating the warranty and possibly killing the card), no volt mods are required either. What you pay for is what you get - the fastest single GPU on the planet.
 
So where should your money go? Before I got my hands on the GTX 280, it really was a 'no brainer'. The 4870x2 is the fastest card out there at the moment - FACT. Nothing, not even the GTX280 XXX can touch it in non PhysX games. It is on a par with the GTX280 XXX price wise but with the 4870x2 giving greater, raw performance, XFX are relying heavily on brand loyalty. The GTX's power consumption is considerably lower than the 4870x2. It also won't suffer from the dreaded 'micro-stutter' dual cards seems to be plagued with. The GTX, as it is a single GPU, does not need any fancy on-board crossfire/sli chip nor does it require Crossfire/SLI enabled games to perform at its peak. What it does need are more PhysX enabled games and although there are more games in the pipeline, no-one can say for sure whether PhysX is here to stay this time but by the performance increases available and the eye candy on display today, I certainly hope so. 
 
So, call me an optimist, call me a lunatic, call me anything you want because all things considered, the XFX GTX280 XXX is where my money would go at the moment. You may however, want to wait a little while until the '+' cards are unleashed upon us, or perhaps an XFX GTX 280 GX2 XXX+ edition (now that would be something worth getting tongue tied over!) but that's another story for another time.
 
The Good
- PhysX
- Presentation second to none
- Overclocked heavily from stock
- Quiet
 
The Mediocre
- Lack of PhysX enabled games
- The Price
 
The Bad
 - Still behind the 4870x2 on raw performance despite being overclocked.
 
 
Gamers Choice Innovation
 
 
Big thanks to XFX for providing us with the GTX280 XXX edition for this review. Discuss this review in our forums.