XFX GTX295 PCIe Graphics Card Page: 1
Introduction

In our latest reviews we have run the i7 at stock speeds as this, for the most part, has been more than enough to ensure we did not encounter CPU limitation. However, the rules have changed with the advent of NVidia's latest Dual GPU creation from XFX. Even 2.66ghz on Intels latest CPU cannot unleash the power of the latest range of GPU solutions from both ATI and NVidia.

The current undisputed king of performance is the mighty 4870x2. It has consistently held off the GTX280, most recently the GTX285 but now the scales are balanced, 2 cores vs 2 cores, mano a mano. In a no holds barred, head to head stand off we pitch the best against the best, card against card to see who holds the winning hand in an OC3D clash of the titans. The 4870x2 served as a trumpet call for Nvidia to up there game a notch who, despite a delay in response, have finally retaliated with their own dual GPU card.

Ok, thats enough of the cliches, time to get down and dirty with our challenger (sorry), the XFX GTX295. Nvidia, as with all there previous dual GPU cards, have taken a different approach to ATI in that each GPU has its own PCB rather than having both GPU's on the same PCB. While some may argue it is two cards sandwiched together, others will state it is still a single card. Whichever your preference, there is no doubting that 'SLI on a stick' now works much better than previous incarnations, proven by the phenomenal 9800GX2. Quad SLI still has some issues that required attention so it will be interesting to see how the 295 performs with another card in Quad SLI, something we will be covering in a future review.

Here's what XFX had to say about their latest card:

Everybody wants to be a winner, but if you’re serious about your victories, you know the winning equation: excellent equipment + outstanding skills = predictable outcomes. In other words: Winners back their skills with the best equipment. Which means you’re in the market for our new XFX NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 295 graphics card.

KEY FEATURES

* 2nd Generation Unified Architecture
* DirectX 10 support
* Quad SLI capable
* PureVideo HD technology
* NVIDIA PhysX-ready™
* NVIDIA CUDA technology
* PCI Express 2.0
* Dual-link HDCP capable
* HDMI Certified
* OpenGL 2.1 support

Specification


Model: Model GX-295N-HHFF
Interface: Interface PCI Express 2.0
Chipset: Chipset
Manufacturer: NVIDIA®
GPU: GeForce® GTX 295
Core clock: 576MHz
Stream Processors: 480
Shader Clock: 1242 MHz
Memory Clock: 2000MHz
Memory Size: 1792MB
Memory bus: 896
Memory Type: GDDR3
RAMDAC: 400 MHz
Features: 3D API, DirectX DirectX 10, OpenGL OpenGL 2.1,
Ports: DVI 2, HDMI 1, TV-Out No, VGA No
Max Resolution: 2560 x 1600
RoHS Complian:t Yes
SLI Supported: Yes
Features: CUDA Technology, PhysX Technology
Weight: 2 lbs
Dimensions: 10.5“ X 4.36“ X 1.5“
Profile: Dual Slot
Package Contents: GX-295N-HHFF, DVI Adapter, S-Video Component Adapter, 6 Pin Y Power Cable, SPDIF Cable
Game Bundle: Far Cry 2

As the card is a vanilla version based on the Nvidia reference design, all the clock speeds are set to stock levels but no doubt XFX will be releasing a number of overclocked editions if history is anything to go by.

Let's take a look at the packaging and presentation of the graphics card...



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Packaging & Appearance
 
OC3D have long recognised XFX to be the best in the business when it comes to packaging. So then it comes as no surprise that XFX have not changed what isn't broken. The box sleeve is adorned in typical XFX style with the GTX emblem taking pride of place with the Alpha dog looking on, The rear of the package goes on to explain that this is a premium graphics card and lists the features and specifications of the card.

Front back

The side of the package goes on to describe the power requirements and what XFX recommend: 730W PSU for a single card and 1000w+ for Quad SLI. Removing the outer sleeve we come to a lime green internal box which is solid in construction.

side inner box

Opening the internal box we see an anti-static bag containing the GTX295 which itself is surrounded by stiff foam packaging. Save for a delivery guy going ballistic, the product should reach you in perfect condition.

Moving on to the accessories we see a standard array of S-Video adaptor, DVI adaptor, SP/Diff cable, PCIe (6 pin) to 2x molex 'Y' adaptor but NO 8 pin adaptor so please make sure your PSU can provide 8pin PCIe support. A quick installation guide, an in-depth installation guide, 'Do not Disturb' door hanger along with driver/Utility CD and a bundled copy of Far Cry 2 complete the accessories. Strangely, there is no S-Video port on the card so the inclusion of the S-Video adaptor was a little confusing.

An HDMI adaptor would be much more suitable given that the GTX295 supports this feature.

open box Accessories

The main card is quite plain in comparison to other GTX cards. Gone is the cheap plastic cover of old replaced instead with a very stealthy, black, perforated metal cover. The paint job on the cover is very strange as it is Matt in appearance and feels rubberised, almost velvet to the touch. The rear of the card no longer has a full cover which is disappointing as this gave some added protection against static and damage however, as there are no longer ram chip on the back of the card this cover was no longer deemed appropriate.

Card Front card rear

The I/O area has the now standard 2x DVI ports and an HDMI port. There are also 2 LED's on the backplate which signify power (Green = good, Red = bad) and DVI output selection when used in SLI. The rear of the card is nothing amazing with just a plate shielding the fan assembly.

card back card side

lights Side 1

The visible side of the card shows of the heatsink fins (or gills if you prefer) which look very swish indeed and should aid in the dissipation of heat. Unlike the GTX285, the GTX295 requires a single 6 pin and 8pin PCIe cables. As each PCB is essentially a hybrid of a GTX260 and GTX280, Nvidia have worked a small miracle in keeping the power requirements down.

fins power
 
The fan draws cool air in from the top, bottom and side of the card and ejects the hot air to the rear backplate. From looks the fan appears to be the same as the one used in the previous 200 series cards. However, in testing the fan was certainly audible, even at stock levels and while not far from invasive it was certainly noticeable.

fan 1 fan back

Finally we arrive at the business end of the card. The PCIe slot is PCIe 2.0 specification and as it is a dual card a full 16x PCIe slot is recommended for best performance. A single SLI slot is proof that the GTX295 is not 3-way SLI capable which is a shame but considering this card costs £400+ I doubt there would be many wanting that much performance and by judging from previous reviews 3 to 4 cards shows little scalability anyway, never mind 5 to 6 cards which in essence you would have with 3 way GTX295 SLI. For now at least, Quad SLI should be more than enough even for the most power hungry gamer.

PCIe SLI
 
Let's whip out the trusty screwdriver and see how this card is assembled...



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A closer look

As you would expect from our reviews at OC3D, we like to go that one step further into territory other sites fear to tread. Like any object of desire, it's no good looking fine with your clothes on, it's what you look like naked that counts. So then, screwdriver in hand we set about undressing the card which was like unclasping a womans bra for the first time, fiddly, time consuming and frustrating. After unscrewing what seemed to be hundreds of tiny screws we prised the two PCB's away from the main cooler and here's what we found:
 
cards apart cooler 1
 
The contact on the GPU was very good and the paste used was adequate without being excessive. Thermal pads were used on the memory sinks, SLI chip and bridging chips. All surfaces had good contact throughout and the copper base of the cooler in both the GPU and bridging chip areas.

cooler fan cooler back
 
The cooler 'filling' of the GPU sandwich has two aluminium plates with welded fins holding the two plates together. I was surprised at the weight of the PCB's which were light as a feather without the massive cooler. Already there are some full cover waterblocks in production for the GTX295 which will no doubt cost a pretty penny, adding to the already lofty price.

cards memory
 
The same Hynix memory chips are used on the GTX295 as with the GTX285 we reviewed previously so it's a sure sign that the memory should overclock well. Below right we see the two SLI bridge ports. These are fiddly at best and a sausage fingered reviewers nightmare at worst. We have some major issues getting the card back together without the SLI ribbons becoming detached. With time, patience and a lot of cramp later, we managed to get the card back together in preparation for our suite of benchmarks.

gpu sli bridge

Taking apart a £400 card is nothing to be sniffed at and will invalidate your warranty should you try it. I certainly would not advise anyone to do this as, even though the card was relatively easy to take apart, despite the numerous screws, it was very difficult to get back together thanks to the SLI ribbons. It is certainly worthwhile giving this a lot of thought should you get curious and decide to give it a go.

Well that's it for the pretty pictures, now it's time to see if the card can perform as we pitch it against ATI's finest and the current king of GPU's, the ATI 4870x2...


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Test Setup

To ensure that all reviews on Overclock3D are fair, consistent and unbiased, a standard set of hardware and software is used whenever possible during the comparative testing of two or more products. The configurations used in this review can be seen below:

i7 Rig

CPU: Intel Nehalem i7 920 Skt1366 2.66GHz (@3.835 Ghz)
Motherboard: DFI X58 UT T3eH8
Memory: 3x2GB Corsair DDR3 1600mhz @ 8-8-8-24
HD : Hitachi Deskstar 7k160 7200rpm 80GB
GPU: XFX GTX295
Graphics Drivers: GeForce 181.22
PSU: Gigabyte ODIN 1200w
 
During the testing of the setups above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used before the benchmarking began, with a full defrag of the hard drive once all the drivers and software were installed, preventing any possible performance issues due to leftover drivers from the previous motherboard installations. For the 3DMark and gaming tests a single card configuration was used.

To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
 
3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage

3D Games
• Crysis
• Far Cry 2
• Oblivion

• Race drive: GRID
• Call of Duty IV
• Unreal Tournament III


Power Consumption

Power consumption was measured at the socket using a plug-in mains power and energy monitor. Because of this, the readings below are of the total system, not just the GPU. Idle readings were taken after 5 minutes in Windows. Load readings were taken during a run of Crysis.
 
 

As you can see from the graph above, the GTX295 consumes up to 50w less power than the 4870x2. This is a stunning achievement by Nvidia made even greater when you consider that the card is actually 2 cards in one.


Temperatures

Temperatures were taken at the factory clocked speed during idle in Windows and after 10 minutes of running Furmark with settings maxed out (2560x1600 8xMSAA). Ambient temperatures were taken with a household thermometer. As we use an open test bench setup consideration should be given to the fact that the temperatures would likely increase further in a closed case environment.
 

 
 
As expected, being a dual PCB design, the card runs hot, topping 90c when under load. The fan was left on auto throughout the testing which was noticeable when idle but did not become too loud even when put under extreme load. It certainly wasn't as loud as the vacuum cleaner 4870x2. I should point out that the GX2 seemed to exhaust the majority of the heat out of the back of the card whereas the 4870x2's memory sinks got very hot and would dissipate that heat freely into a case. Something you may want to consider when choosing either of these cards if, as I suspect, you will be using them in a closed case environment.


Overclocking

stock overclocked


The card overclocked effortlessly past the 650MHz core speed mark but here is where things began to get a little tricky, most likely due to linking the shader clock to the core clock. We did manage to squeeze a further 40MHz out of the card but anymore and the card began to show faults. Much the same story was to be had with the memory where we managed a maximum clock speed of 1250MHz. This improved the COD4 FPS by an average 12% thereabouts which is nothing to be sniffed at, especially when gaming at max resolutions with plenty of AA.

Let's move on to our suite of benchmarks where we pitch it up against the ATI 4850x2, GTX285 and stock GTX280...





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3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. 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.
 





 
Results Analysis

Clearly, both 3DMark 05 and '06 prefer the raw grunt of the 4870x2 at lower resolutions. Once the AA is increased and the resolutions maxed out however, it becomes clear which is the more powerful card. 3DMark Vantage, thanks to it utilising PhysX processing, favoured the GTX295 by a country mile. Even without PhysX processing, Vantage GPU scores gave the GTX295 the nod.

Let's see if this transfers over to our real world gaming benchmarks.



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Unreal Tournament 3 is the highly anticipated game from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest Unreal engine, 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.
 
 


GRID
 
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that presents a challenge to any graphics system. Results were recorded using FRAPS to log the average FPS over a 2 minute race. To ensure consistency, the same track, car and general path of travel was used in each of the 5 benchmark runs for each graphics card, with an average FPS being calculated from the median three results.
 


 
 
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 game play. 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.
 
 
 
Results Analysis

Much the same story was to be had with our first run of benchmarks. All the games above, even the PhysX enabled UTIII favoured the 4870x2, that was until the resolution was increased and AA applied. This is when the GTX295 took hold of the 4870x2 and gave it a solid beating. Thus far we are starting to see a pattern of results that show the GTX295 performing better as the resolution is increased, surprisingly, in spite of it having less memory available than the 4870x2.

Let's move on..



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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.
 
 

 
 

Oblivion from Bethseda is now an 'old' game by today's standards, but is still one of the most visually taxing games out there. The benchmark was run in the wilderness with all settings set to the maximum possible. Bloom was used in preference to HDR. The test was run five times with the average FPS then being deduced.





Ubisoft has developed a new engine specifically for Far Cry 2, called Dunia, meaning "world", "earth" or "living" in Parsi. The engine takes advantage of multi-core processors as well as multiple processors and supports DirectX 9 as well as DirectX 10. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmark tool the test was run 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being omitted and the average calculated from the remaining 3.
 

 
Results Analysis

In typical fashion I spoke too soon. The 4870x2 performed better in Crysis at the highest level in contrast to our previous results. I do feel that the GTX295 had some driver issues at 2560x1600 with 4xAA/AF though as the foliage flickered on occasion and the benchmark stalled at odd points which may have had some effect on the result. At all other resolution the card easily outperformed the 4870x2. Oblivion showed the GTX295 to be superior as did Far Cry 2 (bundled with the XFX GTX295), out pacing the 4870x2 at all resolutions and under all conditions.

Let's head over to the conclusion where I will shed some thought on the XFX GTX295...



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Conclusion

The 4870x2 has been dethroned. Despite a shaky start to our benchmarks with the 4870x2 having the upper hand at lower resolutions in the 3D Mark benchmarks, it became clear as our suite of gaming benchmarks progressed, the XFX GTX295 was the performance king.

When we first reviewed the ATI 4870x2, it was safe to say it blew us away. Much the same could be said of the GTX295 but to a lesser extent as the increase over the 4870x2, while big, was not as ground breaking as we had hoped for. It's ability at high resolutions that astounds most, breezing through all but Crysis without skipping a beat. If you have a large monitor than it is clear which GPU you should aim for.

Thats not the whole story though as the GTX295 does all this but consumes less power. An amazing achievement indeed and although the GTX295 kicks out a little more heat than the 4870x2, the GTX295 will be cheaper to run, especially if you game in a small room as you won't need that electric heater with this card installed! Joking aside, the GTX295 does the impossible in running faster, quieter than the 4870x2 while consuming less power. It's a shame it runs hotter but 3 out of 4 isn't bad.

Put simply the GTX295 is an amazing card. I encountered no micro stutter which is the weakness of dual GPU cards and I encountered very few driver anomalies. The noise was easily bearable, it looks great and as a package is nothing short of perfect. I do find it hard to recommend a £400 graphics card though but for gaming at this level, for a GPU of this magnitude, price always comes second to performance. Now where did I put that leaflet for 'Sharky's loans'....


The Good
- Unrivalled Performance
- Great Packaging
- Fantastic looks
- Sublime overclocking

The Mediocre
- No included HDMI adapter
- Difficult to add a waterblock
- Audible when idle
- Price

The Bad
- Nothing



Thanks to XFX for providing the GTX295 graphics card for todays review.  Please discuss in our forums.