XFX GTX 260 XXX SLI Performance Page: 1
Introduction
 
It has been a very interesting couple of months in the GPU market with the emergence of new releases from the graphics card giants in this sector, ATI and NVIDIA. With the 9800GTX failing to live up to expectations and the 9800GX2 being ridiculously priced, NVIDIA sought to further increase its lead over ATI with the unleashing of its GTX200 series of GPU's. The new cards however had the traditional 'your card for a kidney' price tag with the flagship GTX280 costing an wallet crushing price well above £400. Even its little brother, the GTX260, cost in excess of £300 which in days gone by would have easily purchased you a flagship model so it was with no surprise, enthusiasts were slow to take advantage of the new technologies on offer.
 
ATI in the meantime had been busying themselves with the 4800 series of cards which, if you believed the rumours, were about to trump NVIDIA in both power and price. Add to that the worldwide economic slump meant that NVIDIA had their backs to the wall with many PC enthusiasts finding little reason to buy expensive graphics cards that offered little gain for a lot more cost.  
 
Time, as they say, stands still for no man. With the release of the fantastic ATI 4800 Series of cards, Nvidia have had to drastically reduce the price of the 200 Series in retaliation. Which is nothing but good news for the consumer as it means the GTX260 can be had for much less than the original RRP, currently weighing in just above the £200 mark. XFX, being a top tier NVIDIA partner, have both stock clocked cards and overclocked editions available and it is the latter of the two we will be looking at today in the form of the 'XXX' edition.
 
Specs
• 192 Processing Cores
• 2nd Generation NVIDIA® unified architecture
• Full Microsoft DirectX 10 support
• NVIDIA SLI® technology
• NVIDIA PureVideo® HD technology
• NVIDIA PhysX™-Ready
• NVIDIA CUDA™ technology
• PCI Express 2.0 support
• Two dual-link DVI-I and one HDTV output
• Dual-link HDCP-Capable
• OpenGL 2.1 support
 
Immediately noticeable is the massive overclock applied to the core. From a stock 576mhz, the boffins at XFX have increased this value to a mouth watering 640mhz and the memory clockspeed has also been enhanced by a whopping 302mhz to 2.3Ghz.
 
These values now exceed that of the GTX260's bigger brother, the GTX280. With this increase in speed it becomes obvious that some speed binning has been performed which inevitably attracts a higher price point but at around £245 this is still more than £50 less than a GTX280 but £60 more than an ATI HD 4870 so it will certainly be interesting to see if that extra cash is worth the premium you are going to pay for a XXX edition of the GTX260.
 
Lets take a look at the card itself...
 


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Packaging & Appearance
 
I have long been an admirer of XFX packaging as it is not only pleasing to the eye but, perhaps more importantly, the contents are very tightly packed ensuring that the product reaches you in perfect condition.
 
The exterior is adorned in NVIDIA green and is typical of XFX packaging of late. The Alpha Dog still makes an appearance albeit more of an afterthought than previous incarnations. The outer sleeve is matt in appearance with the features glossy and embossed. The product is much classier than a lot of the competitors designs who rely on scantly clad elves or demons with ridiculously oversized weapons - while I have nothing against scantly clad women, even those with pointy ears, I feel less of a 'geek' buying a more sublime packaged product. The exterior of the outer sleeve takes you through the various features the GTX260 has to offer as well as boasting a 50% increase over previous generation cards. 
 
XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition Box Front XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition Box back
 
XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition Interior Box XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition Open box
 
The box in a box à la Matryoshka doll effect is once more apparent with XFX packaging as the faux exterior is just a sleeve, the real box is inside and very sturdy box it is. Opening the box we eventually find the GTX260 sandwiched between two eggshell foam inserts. This is the type of packing I love as you can be assured that, bar a nuclear blast, the GPU won't come to any harm during transit. 
 
XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition Contents
 
Above we see the contents (minus the GPU) of the package. Apart from the usual manuals, driver disk and VGA/DVI adapter we see XFX have also thoughtfully included a molex to 6-pin PCIe power adapter should your PSU only have one PCIe power cable. Also included is an S-Video cable as well as a free copy of Assassins Creed. It's unusual to find companies bundling games that are actually good so a big thumbs up to XFX for that.
 
 Double Trouble Front and back
 
XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition Side 1 XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition Side 2
  
The card itself is adorned in a full length sticker that (once again) has very thoughtfully been protected by a removable plastic film to ensure the card isn't scratched during (un)packing. A solid black metal frame with a plastic outer cover protects the vital components and as well as looking very sleek but also serves to stave off any unwanted static damage that may occur (static precautions should, however, still be taken when handling any hardware!).
 
The card is quite heavy because of this but heavy in a reassuring way. The length of the card is on a par with previous generation 8800GTX so please check that this card will fit in your case as it will overhang the motherboard slightly. The angled fan section is a great idea from NVidia ensuring that the fan is not blocked should you wish to SLI the card. In testing the 1800 rpm fan was both quiet and powerful, only noticeable on initial boot up and under heavy loading conditions. Heat dissipation was very good with the majority of the hot air being exhausted through the rear of the card. The 'front' of the card however was also hot to the touch which is the norm for all current NVidia cards of this design.
 
XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition  Card end XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition Card backplate
  
At the rear of the card we see the now standard DVI ports along with an S-Video port. Of notable absence is the missing LED power indicators which I'm sad not to see as these were a very useful feature of the GX2 and 280 cards.
 
 XFX GTX 260 XXX Edition SLI revealed 4x 6 Pin PCIe required
 
A neat idea from NVidia is the SLI cover plate ensuring that the SLI tabs (of which there are two) are not damaged and are also hidden from view when SLI is not required keeping the streamlined look of the card intact. Unlike its bigger brother the GTX 260 eradicates the need for an 8pin PCIe power connector instead using the more widely available 6 pin version. You will however need 2x 6pin PCIe connectors to run the card,  Next to the PCIe connectors is the tiny HDMI audio output port if required. 
 
SLI 790i Ultra GTX 260 SLI
 
As you can see these are long cards that overhang the edge of the motherboard. Externally they are almost identical to the GTX280 bar the missing LED's on the PCI backplate. Visually the cards look stunning, especially in an SLI setup but but looks are nothing without performance so without further delay lets put them through their paces with our standard benchmark suite.
 


XFX GTX 260 XXX SLI Performance Page: 3
Test Setup
 
As we will be testing the GTX260 in both single and dual (SLI) configurations we decided to use the 790i Ultra motherboard utilizing DDR3 modules to ensure that bandwidth of the memory would not be cause for throttling the results. Both ATI and NVidia setups were configured to be as balanced as possible and to give a true representation of each of the graphics cards capabilities.
 
 
A selection of games and benchmark suites has also been chosen to test each of the cards with several game engines. Each of the cards will be run at both low and high resolutions with varying levels of texture filtering to represent the use of the card with both small and large screen sizes.
 
3DMark05
1024x768 / 0xAA / 0xAF (Default)
1920x1200 / 4xAA / Optimal

3DMark 06
1280x1024 / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / 4xAA / Optimal

3DMark Vantage
1280x1024 / Performance Mode
1900x1200 / Extreme Mode

Quake4
1280x1024 / Ultra / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Ultra / 4xAA / 4xAF

Race Driver: GRID
1280x1024 / DX10 / Max/4xAA
1920x1200 / DX10 / Max/4xAA

Call of Duty 4
1280x1024 / Max / 4xAA
1920x1200 / Max / 4xAA

F.E.A.R
1280x1024 / Max / 4xAA
1920x1200 / Max / 4xAA

BIOSHOCK
1280x1024 / DX10 / High
1920x1200 / DX10 / High 

Crysis
1280x1024 / DX10 / V.High / 4xAA 
1920x1200 / DX10 / V.High / 4xAA
 
A new entry into our lineup of games is the very popular racing Arcade/Sim Racer Driver:Grid from Codemasters. At OC3D we like to test our GPU's on review with as many current graphics engines as possible and as we don't currently have a simulator in our line up and due to the popularity of this game it only seemed right that it was included in our series of benchmarks.
 
To judge how well the GTX260 performs, we will be pitching it against the much loved HD4870 from ATI. While the XFX GTX260(s) in our possession will be tested in the stock (factory overclocked) state it should be noted that the ATI card(s) are stock clocked. Apart from the usual FPS results, we like to give you, the reader, an accurate representation of what you are getting for your hard earned cash so along with the FPS results we will also be including Price/performance charts.
 
 
Overclocking
 
Never ones to be satisfied with any given clockspeed we attempted to push the already overclocked XFX GTX260 a little further and are pleased to report that we managed and extra 34mhz on the core (99mhz over stock) and 41mhz on the memory clock. Any further clocking resulting in tearing and artifacts but considering the card is already overclocked, any extra is a bonus.
 
 
To test the cards stability we ran a full suite of Futuremark Vantage which gave us an extra 500 points over factory clock settings. I decided to have a little 'extra' playtime with the GTX260's and ran a 'max overclock' run, clocking the CPU upto 4.25ghz and added the physx driver to see how far the GTX260's could go :
 
 
Vantage
 
Not a bad showing at all but the result is massively influenced by the CPU overclock and obviously the PhysX driver so the standard official Geforce driver alone will be used for the benchmarks. Still, it goes to show that, with the right setup and even on air cooling, some great benchmark results are possible with the XFX GTX260 XXX cards!


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3DMark
 
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.
 
3DMark05
 
ATI have always been strong in Futuremark Benchmarks and it therefore comes as no surprise that once again ATI have the upper hand comprehensively beating the GTX260 XXX at both resolutions. The ATI cards thus far also benefit from better scaling when paired up into a dual card configuration.
 
3DMark06
 
A similar story was to be had with 3DMark06 but the GTX260 XXX was slightly ahead when used as a single card at both resolutions.
 
3DMark Vantage
 
3DMark Vantage is where NVIDIA take the advantage. I should point out that the difference would no doubt be larger had I made use of the Physix driver for NVidia but as ATI currently have their own Physix driver in the making I thought it best to compare the cards like-for-like on a level playing field. Despite the lack of the Physix advantage, the XFX card still took a healthy overall lead in both single and SLI configuration at both resolutions tested.


XFX GTX 260 XXX SLI Performance Page: 5
 
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 gameplay 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.
 
 COD4 - FPS
 
COD4 - CPF
 
As a single card setup, Call of Duty 4 preferred the Nvidia based rig but once dual cards were added, ATI's superior scalability shone through beating the GTX260 XXX by quite some margin.
 
 
 
BioShock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine, it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
Bioshock - FPS
 
Bioshock - CPF
 
Bioshock also seemed to favour the ATI card(s) over NVIDIA. The single card benchmarks were very close but once more, the ATI cards scaled much better than NVidia gaining more than 40fps at a lower resolution. Interestingly the XFX GTX260 XXX cards in SLI were slightly better than the Crossfire configuration once the resolution was increased.


XFX GTX 260 XXX SLI Performance Page: 6
 
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.
 
 Crysis - FPS
 
Crysis - CPF 
 
Crysis was very even across the board with the Nvidia solution just bettering the ATI setup in all tests. If Crysis is your poison then the GTX260 XXX would appear to be the better choice.
 
 
 
F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S, with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
F.E.A.R - FPS
 
F.E.A.R - CPF
 
It is clear from the FEAR results that the Jupiter engine prefers ATI over NVidia. Once more though we see that the ATI cards scale better yet suffer more when high resolutions are used. One can only assume the situation gets worse the more filters are added and the higher the resolution gets.
 


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Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording. The benchmark was set to run a total of 5 times, with Quake4Bench automatically calculating an average result at the end of the run.
 
Quake4 - FPS 
 
Quake4 - CPF
 
Houston, we have a problem. Quake 4 turned the tables on the results. Rather than seeing ATI have the better scaling we see the GTX260 XXX take the advantage this time around. The ATI rig actually lost FPS in a dual card setup, something that should be addressed with driver updates but nonetheless the NVIDIA solution takes the Quake crown if you are looking for dual cards but in single card format, the HD 4870 shows the GTX260 XXX the door.
 
 
 
 
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that perhaps represents a challenge to any graphics system. The benchmark was run a total of 5 times using Fraps with the highest and lowest scores removed leaving  the remaining 3 runs to calculate the average fps.
 
 GRID - FPS
 
GRID - CPF
 
Once more NVIDIA has the upper hand with regards to GRID. With no Crossfire profile available at the time of the review the ATI solution was blown out of the water in a dual card setup in comparison to the NVIDIA rig. In single card format the results were almost identical so one can only hope that ATI can solve the Crossfire problem with this game. 


XFX GTX 260 XXX SLI Performance Page: 8
Conclusion
 
XFX GTX260 XXX SLII endeavoured to write this review without any preconceptions of the outcome. Ask on most forums which card is 'best' and the reply will most likely be HD 4870. Best is, however, a figure of speech. If you are talking bang per buck then I have to agree that the HD 4870 is perhaps the better buy than the GTX260 XXX. If you are talking overall power then I would have to edge towards the GTX260 XXX, especially if you are gaming at a higher res and prefer to slap on some AA/AF filtering. The main advantage the GTX260 XXX has over its rival is the additional memory which enables the GTX260 XXX to take less of a hit once the trimmings are applied. With the GTX you are getting a cherry picked card from a top tier manufacturer that has been speed binned for performance. XFX have also included a very good game, which inevitably adds to the cost of the overall package.
 
The ATI HD 4870 has made some very significant advances in the way it handles AA/AF and no longer appears crippled when those settings are applied which is in stark contrast to its 3870 sibling. NVidia however, has continued their slow advance, so while the ATI has made up a lot of ground with the HD4870 and price performance it is clearly better than the GTX260 XXX, I feel the GTX260 XXX is ever so slightly the better performing card, if judged on performance alone.
 
Potential buyers however, would do well to look at the price per frame comparison charts we have in this review before making a final decision. It is clear that the ATI blows the NVIDIA card out of the water in this department and at this price point, in the current economic climate, every ounce of performance per pound counts.  Perhaps the major disadvantage the XFX GTX 260 XXX has is its price. Weighing in at a little under £235 it is certainly not cheap (although considerably cheaper than before and you get a free game with the XXX version!). For another £50 or so, the higher spec GTX 280 could be had. Even the 9800GX2, which has tumbled in price, can be had for around a similar price point, if you can still find one. So it seems NVIDIA has become a victim of its own success and unless further price cuts are made or leaps in performance then the immediate future could be a bleak one.
 
If it were my money on the table then I would have a very hard time deciding between the two. Their can be no doubting the ATI 4870 is a fantastic card for the money. The XFX GTX260 XXX on the other hand has a very slight performance advantage but for that slight advatange you are paying a £50+ premium. The decision therefore would perhaps be decided on how much you value that little extra performance.
 
The Good
The Mediocre
The Bad
 
Overclock3D Performance Award
 
Big thanks to XFX for providing us with two GTX260 XXX cards aswell as the 790i Ultra board for review. Discuss this review in our forums.