Zotac GTS250 'AMP' 1GB PCIe Graphics card Page: 1
Introduction
 
The G92 GPU core has been used in a number of GPU's in varying guises thanks to NVidia's strategic renaming policy. Way back in 2007, the phenomenal and very popular 8800GT was the first of a long line of graphics card to make use of this very versatile core, albeit in a crippled fashion as Nvidia wanted to keep the full fat version of the G92 for the 8800GTS which came to fruition in December 2007. This card was not to be confused (although it was) with the older G80 based 320MB and 640MB 8800GTS variants.
 
Leap forward a 6 months and we see NVidia's dastardly plan come to the forefront with the G92 based 8800GTS renamed to the 9800GTX and then after a fabrication revision to 55nm, we had the 9800GTX+ resulting in what was in effect an overclocked 9800GTX. Confused yet? Well stay with me because we are almost there as the Zotac GTS250 1GB AMP is the natural transition of the 9800GTX+ consolidating all the advantages the 55nm process brings such as a reduction in heat, power consumption and an increase in overclocks.
 
Zotac have been around for a few years now and are more commonly associated with their fine range of cherry picked overclocked GPU's such as the one we have today, the GTS250 AMP 1GB graphics card. As the history lesson above as taught us, the G92 core has seen many revisions up to this point and we have not been disappointed with any of the revisions so, assuming this is now the pinnacle of the G92 core one would hope that, along with a magic sprinkling of Zotacs overclocking prowess, this graphics card will stomp over it's nearest competitors and arch rivals, the ATI 1GB HD4850 and 4870 GPU's.
 
As the GTS250 AMP is retailing around the £145 mark it nestles quite nicely between the two GPU's and should provide some stiff competition. However, we are edging ever closer to a major ATI revision with the impending arrival of the 5 series of GPU's now being 'guesstimated' around the world wide web so it will remain to be seen just how this latest revision of the GTS250 compares not only to the current crop of GPU's but to the storm of ATI cards brewing on the horizon. For now though we will throw the GTS250 AMP into the maelstrom of current GPU's from the low end to the current kings of power to see how well it performs.
 
Here's what Zotac had to say about their version of the GTS250 :
 
Supercharge your gaming experience with the ZOTAC GeForce GTS 250 AMP! Edition, tuned and tweaked with higher engine, memory and shader clock speeds for unprecedented gaming performance. Powered by high-speed GDDR3 video memory, the ZOTAC GeForce GTS 250 AMP! Edition delivers unmatched performance and value.

NVIDIA PhysX technology takes the ZOTAC GeForce GTS 250 AMP! Edition beyond 3D gaming with graphics plus capabilities. PhysX technology enables the ZOTAC GeForce GTS 250 AMP! Edition to calculate realistic physics in real-time for realistic environmental interaction and effects for an immersive gaming experience that blurs the line between reality and the virtual world.
 
 
Specification
 
The following specification was taken from the Zotac product page.
 
Model: ZT-20102-10P
Interface
: Interface PCI Express 2.0 x16 (Compatible with 1.1)
Chipset Manufacturer:
NVIDIA®
GPU
: GeForce® GTS 250
Core clock:
750MHz
Stream Processors:
128
Shader Clock:
1890 MHz
Memory Clock:
2300MHz
Memory Size:
1GBB
Memory Interface:
256-bit
Memory Type:
GDDR3
DirectX:
DirectX 10
OpenGL:
OpenGL 2.1
Ports:
DVI 2, HDMI with adapter, TV-Out HDTV / S-Video / Composite out with adapter, VGA with adapter
RAMDAC:
400 MHz
Max Resolution
: 2560 x 1600
RoHS Compliant
: Yes
SLI Supported
: Yes(3-way)
Dual-Link DVI Supported:
Yes
Weight:
2 lbs
Dimensions:
13.26“ X 10.23“ X 2.67“
Warranty
: 2 Years (extended to 5 with upon product registration).
 
 As you can see from the specification above, this is the overclocked 'AMP' edition of the GTS250. With the core clockspeed increased by 12MHz from stock and the memory also adjusted from 1836MHz to 1890MHz it remains to be seen if this is the maximum the card will allow. This is something I will be investigating later in the review as the increase in speeds is pretty low by Zotac standards so hopefully they have erred on the side of caution and have left some of the reserves to the overclockers out there.
 
Before we arrive at the overclocking section though, let's see how Zotac have presented the product...


Zotac GTS250 'AMP' 1GB PCIe Graphics card Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance
 
Swathed in the familiar company colours of black and orange, the GTS250 Amp box is attractive from the outset. Despite me not being a fan of beasts/elves/warriors etc adorning the front of any product, the dragon spewing fire on the front of this box is somehow fitting to the black and orange theme so I will let it go on this occasion. The same mythical creature is to be found on the GPU itself if the window cutout is anything to judge by. A sticker across this window shows us that  the included game with this package is the XIII Century 'Death or Glory' - a game I have not tried so I cannot comment on how good/bad this inclusion is I'm afraid. Below this sticker we find the main title of the card along with a few features and a small AMP emblem. Switching to the rear of the box we find Zotac have gone into great details to explain the video and graphics advantages this card will afford the end user.
 
front box rear
 
Upon opening the box, I was greeted with a plastic shield which protected the contents of the box as well as preventing them from falling out of the box window! I am becoming a great admirer of Zotacs packaging as everything is neatly stowed away yet easily accessible thanks to the Styrofoam cut-outs holding everything in place. Perhaps my one criticism is that the card was not protected by it's own anti-static bag but it seems Zotac feel this is an unnecessary addition.
 
The accessories included with the graphics card are as good as you are going to find anywhere. A driver and utility disc are complemented by separate Game(XIII Century) and benchmark (Futuremark 3D Vantage) disks. Two adaptors allow the connection of VGA/DVI and HDMI should you have the need and to power the card, a 2xMolex to 8-pin PCIe power cable. An S/PDiff cable and manuals round the list of nicely. Perhaps the only item missing is an SLI bridge but these bridges are normally included with motherboards which support SLI so you should have everything here to get you started.
 
open box accessories
 
The card itself is slightly longer than the 512MB variant, having the same dimensions of the 8800GTX/280GTX. The cooler is however slightly different in that it has an additional set of vents that will help the card 'breathe more easily' near the back plate. Apart from that the stock cooler is pretty much a clone of other high end Nvidia coolers. Flipping the card over we see that Zotac have chosen to use an exposed blue PCB which is perhaps not the best colour to match the rest of the cards orange and black theme. As there are no memory chips on the back of the card to cool, a rear plate was deemed not necessary on this variant. The spaces for an additional 1GB of memory do however signify the possibilities of 2GB version of this card should Nvidia feel the need to expand the G92 range more.  
 
GPU front GPU rear
 
A nice touch of the card was to include 2x colour co-ordinated DVI ports. This effect was however, not mirrored with the standard black TV-out port situated left most to the orange DVI ports. Note that there is space for a power LED on the back plate but sadly, no such LED exists on the GTS250. TRI SLI is however possible with the GPU judging by the 2 SLI tabs situated in the normal place adjacent to the white S/PDiff port.
 
DVI Xfire
 
Another change from the 512MB card is the inclusion of an 8-pin PCIe power port rather than the standard 6 pin. This is the first card we have tested with a single 8-pin port so it will be interesting to see the power consumption of this card. While there is also space for an additional 6-pin port, the power requirements of the card are such that Zotac deem two power connectors unnecessary. The coolers fan is a standard affair found on most mid/high end GPU's with this cooler design and as such it is quiet in operation, even under moderate load. It isn't until the card is put under extreme load that it becomes intrusive.
 
8 pin fan
 
Removing the cooler was a moderately easy affair with just 8 spring loaded screws holding the full length cooler to the card itself. Thermal pads are the order of the day fro transferring heat from the memory to the aluminium heatsink. As with all heatsinks, copper would be a much better material to use but with all things copper, there comes an additional price which would inevitably effect this cards potential market.
 
heatsink top
 
I was happy to see that this G92 did not have an integrated heatspreader over the GPU. The paste used on the core was very good if somewhat applied in an excessive amount. However, the mount was very good with a thin sliver of non-conductive paste covering the exposed core. Note that the cooler does not afford active cooling to the VRM's with all ten Mosfets simply being cooled by airflow rather than the heatsink. This is also the case for the SLI chip, which again receives no contact with the cooler itself.
 
GPU POWER
 
I must say I am becoming very impressed with the Zotac range of GPU's and the manner in which they are being presented. Despite the odd choice of PCB colour, this is one fine looking GPU and one which should arrive safely on your doorstep thanks to the very good method of packaging.
 
Let's move on to the test setup section of the review where I will also analyse the operating temperature, power consumption and overclocking potential of the GTS250 AMP edition...


Zotac GTS250 'AMP' 1GB PCIe Graphics card Page: 3
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 (@3.8 Ghz)
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Memory: 3x2GB Corsair DDR3 1600mhz @ 8-8-8-24
HD : Hitachi Deskstar 7k160 7200rpm 80GB
GPU: Zotac GTS250 AMP 1GB
Graphics Drivers: Supplied by Nvidia
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 Furmark.


 
Despite having the benefits of 55nm fabrication, the GTS250 AMP still draws plenty of power from the socket. While the figures above are from total system draw, the G92 based GTS250 still consumes a large amount, especially when under full load.
 
 
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.
 
 
 
It has to be said that the Nvidia cooler is very quiet, and while it's perhaps not the most efficient of coolers, it keeps temperatures under control. The GTS 250 is a hot card and even though this card does not have an IHS, the exposed core still puts out enough heat to raise the temperature to a scorching 83c under load. This, as with all the tests above was with the fan set to AUTO so temps would no doubt improve should you set the fan manually. 
 
 
Overclocking
 
For our overclocking tests I used the RivaTuner utility which worked perfectly with our setup. To test stability I ran 3D Mark 06 and a few runs of Call of Duty 4.
 
stock overclock
 
As this card is already overclocked as standard it came as no surprise that the gains to be had from overclocking the card were not great. I still managed an extra 53MHz on the core clockspeed and a further 72MHz on the memory. The affects of this minor overclock can be seen below:
 
 

So then, the GTS250 AMP is clearly a card on the edge. Working to it's limits has had an affect on both power consumption and temperatures as no doubt the stock clocked version of these cards would draw less power and run cooler. The overclocking, while minor, did have add a few FPS to COD4. It would have been nice to have greater overclocking freedom one needs to consider this card arrives in a pre-overclocked state and as with most overclocked cards, any additional clockspeed to be had from tweaking cannot be guaranteed. 
 
Let's see how the card performs in OC3D's suite of 3D benchmarks...


Zotac GTS250 'AMP' 1GB PCIe Graphics card Page: 4


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

The GTS250 AMP made a good start in 3DMark 05, fending of it's nearest rivals, the HD4850 and the 4870 (both overclocked editions themselves). The 4870 pulled ahead in 06 and surprisingly Futuremark Vantage but the GTS250 still managed to put in good performances by beating the HD4850 by a clear margin in all the synthetic tests I ran..

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


Zotac GTS250 'AMP' 1GB PCIe Graphics card Page: 5

 
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
 
GRID performance was a disappointment for the GTS250, scoring bottom of the pile with even the 4770 giving the much more expensive Nvidia card a good beating. The tables were turned though on COD4 with the GTS250 AMP and the HD4870 neck and neck throughout the testing. UTIII perhaps summed up the performance of the cards placing the GTS250 in between the two ATI cards.

Let's move on..


Zotac GTS250 'AMP' 1GB PCIe Graphics card 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.
 

 
 
 
 

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
 
Surprisingly, the HD4870 outperformed the GTS250 AMP in Crysis with even the HD4850 giving it a run for it's money until the resolutions and filters were increased. Far Cry 2 again placed the GTS250 in between the HD4870 and 4850 cards while Oblivion saw the GTS250 AMP put in it's best performance of the day. stomping over most of the competition bar the high end NVidia cards and the formidable dual GPU setups.
 
Let's move on to the conclusion...


Zotac GTS250 'AMP' 1GB PCIe Graphics card Page: 7
Conclusion
 
The Zotac GTS250 AMP is clearly a very capable card and while it couldn't quite surpass the HD4870XXX, it did easily outpace the HD4850XXX in the majority of benchmarks run today. That said I would wage the benchmarks would have been much closer had the HD4850 been a 1GB version. Nevertheless, most of the cards on test today, particularly the HD4850 and HD4870, were overclocked editions and thus the comparisons between those and the Zotac GTS250 AMP seemed fair.
 
The packaging of the graphics card was very good and could have been near perfect has there been an included SLI bridge and should the card have been placed in an anti-static bag. I didn't get chance to play the game but any game is good as long as it doesn't add to the price. 3DMark Vantage is a great inclusion and will save the user $20 should you want to run the benchmark more than once.
 
The additional clocks obtained on the card during the brief overclocking session were disappointing but as the card is pre-overclocked anyway this is a null point. I would have liked the card to run cooler than it did and I was shocked to see just how much juice it took from the PSU. Considering that the card only needed a single 8-pin PCIe power cable and as the card is based on the 55nm fabrication,  I didn't expect such readings. That said, because the card makes use of a slightly modified version of the stock Nvidia full card cooling solution, the noise was kept to a minimum and it was certainly much quieter than the cards it is competing with.
 
In short, here's a card that nestles itself  neatly between the HD4850 and HD4870 both in terms of price and performance. The GTS250 AMP retails at around the £150 mark which may be a little rich for some when you consider the 1GB overclocked 4870's retail for not a lot more. Nvidia sadly, have always demanded a higher price premium  and here is perhaps the only fault I can really aim at the GTS250 AMP. However, if you are dead set on a mid range graphics card that can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it and want that performance without having to overclock yourself or to bear the terrible din ATI cards throw out then I can whole heartily recommend the Zotac GTS250 AMP edition.
 
The Good
- Performance
- Quiet running
- Great packaging
 
The Mediocre
- Price could be more competitive
- Power consumption a little high
- Questionable PCB colour
 
The Bad
- Nada
 
 
Thanks to Zotac for providing the GTS250 AMP edition for todays review. Discuss in our forums.