We enjoy many things here at OC3D. Of course one of the things we like most of all is serious hardware. After all, who wouldn't want to test many hundreds of pounds of kit?
But we also have guilty pleasures, and that's products that are extraordinary value. The motherboard that's under a ton but has the ability of a much more expensive unit. A £20 cooler that keeps your CPU running cool. A graphics card that's priced for the student/family man market, but can get it done.
With that smooth segue we have in our hands the 'Zotac GTS450 AMP!' which is our first look at the new range of low-end cards from nVidia. Soon to be joined by a 430 and a 440, does the Zotac GTS450 AMP! follow on from the Gainward 460 we reviewed last month as being a surprisingly good performer?
If the GTX460 was a cut-down version of the GTX480, but still with the potential to be great, the GTS450 is so cut-down as to almost be a different breed entirely.
When compared to the GTX460 the CUDA cores have been reduced from 336 to only 192. The GTS450 has 4 Polymorph engines instead of the 7 of the 460, and shader units are also greatly cut from 56 down to 32.
However with less performance comes less power-draw and less heat. So instead of two 6-pin PCI-e power and a 160W TDP, we have a single 6-pin and 106W TDP. We all know that heat is the major drawback of the Fermi based chips, so this definitely should run much cooler than the other models in the range.
When it comes to clock speed Zotac have really pulled out all the stops and then some for the AMP! model. The GPU runs at 875MHz, a huge increase over the stock card. With the shaders being linked to core speed this gives us a shader speed of 1750MHz.
Time to have a look.
The GTS450 comes in the standard Zotac packaging which we like especially because it's not so damn big. If, like me, you keep your packaging in great nick then having plenty of huge boxes around can become a bit of a storage nightmare, not to mention the environmental cost of producing something bigger than necessary.
The colouring is also pleasant with the Zotac yellow/gold being a glorious change from the blues and reds we see on a daily basis.
The contents are the fairly standard driver CD + adaptors gubbins. The card itself has elements that make it seem more pricey than we expect it to be, and some that definitely nod towards it's value price-point.
The cooler is a decent sized hunk of aluminium with a smoked perspex cover. The Zotac logo is embossed and well painted and the whole thing really looks very nice indeed. The big fan in the centre matches perfectly and will help to direct the maximum airflow in exactly the place we want it.
Up the business end we have plenty of connectivity with dual DVI, HDMI and, surprisingly, a DisplayPort adaptor. Little touches like the use of two yellow DVIs really help too. Sure it's a 5p bit of plastic in a place no-one will see. But we all know how important those little touches can be.
The rear of the card is a little chip-heavy thanks to the short nature of the GTS450 AMP!. However if you keep in mind that the GTS450 AMP definitely isn't aimed at those with immense tower-cases then this makes perfect sense and is once again a nice feature. A value card that's a foot long wouldn't be much help to anyone.
If the Zotac logo end of the card is quality, then the 'AMP! Edition' end definitely shows up the value nature. We don't mind corner cutting but a sticker? Really? Hmmm.
Despite it not being quite a full sized shroud, there is enough of the smoked-grey plastic to ensure more of the heat gets exhausted out the rear than doesn't.
For our testing today we're using our standard X58 setup. Alongside the Zotac GTS450 AMP! we are also testing a stock GTX460 and a reference ATI HD5770
Intel Core i7 930 @ 3.6 GHz
6GB Kingston Hyper-X T1
ASUS Rampage 3 Extreme
Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit
Prolimatech Armageddon with Arctic MX-3
Zotac GTS450 AMP!
As you can see from the GPU-z, this Zotac comes pre-overclocked to a stunning 875 MHz, so we're not expecting enormous performance overheads available for overclocking.
So it proved. Despite our best efforts we could only eke a further 30 MHz out of the core, although the memory managed to accept a whole 100MHz overclock which should really help the GTS450 breathe at the higher settings.
Perhaps the most important aspect is how cool it all remains. Overclocked and using the Furmark burn test the GTS250 AMP! still only hit 63°C. So it's definitely cool. Time to see how it performs.
3D Mark Vantage
Starting at the beginning and where better than 3D Mark Vantage. Given that we expect this card to come in around the £110 mark it does very well to beat out the £15 more expensive HD5770, but is beaten quite handily by the £15 more expensive GTX460. Although the Extreme result isn't staggering, we've got to remember that nobody paying £100 for a GPU will expect it to do 4xAA at 1920x1200. Or at least they shouldn't be.
Unigine Heaven 2.1
The incredibly intensive Unigine benchmark reels the GTX460 back in and all of the cards on test have very similar performance levels. Given their very close prices it's good to see that you can have a choice of what you want and still get very close results. Although again the GTX460 makes use of its extra grunt to keep at the front of the pack.
Turning on 8xAA should really punish these cards with none of them designed to run such a performance sapping benchmark. A loss of only 10FPS with so much anti-aliasing in place is definitely good performance and a long way from the old days when 2xAA would halve your frame-rate.
Folding @ Home
Folding is hugely popular (join our Redline @ OC3D Folding team, plug plug) and the GTS250 has a good showing here being just under a stock 460, and when overclocked getting up near 9000 PPD.
Given how much Crysis enjoys the PhysX provided by the nVidia GPUs it's a bit of a surprise to see the GTS450 falling behind the HD5770 as well as the GTX460. There are only one or two frames in it though so it's certainly not a deal-breaker.
So far the GTS450 AMP! has been looking like a gaming bargain, being very close to the GTX460 in all our tests so far. Dirt 2 definitely has a massive drop off from the GTX460 to the GTS450 AMP!. Unquestionably the HD5770 remains nailed to the GTS450, but the GTX460 is a long way ahead.
STALKER Call of Pripyat
Stalker has given us a few strange results in its time and so we've dropped it off the review list. However the latest update for Metro 2033 has given stability issues and so Stalker is dusted off one more time. It's probably wise to ignore the stock result as being anomylous. The other results follow the pattern we've seen in our previous tests with the GTS450 AMP! giving a good account of itself and certainly nailing itself as a good choice in the value end of the market.
Despite the good showing at our standard testing resolution, we didn't want to leave you having to work out an adjustment for a lower resolution. Working on the understanding that if you're considering this for a new system or as an upgrade then you're not likely to want to run at the full 1920x1200 display.
Keeping the Anti-Aliasing on at 8xAA because we all like image quality, we dropped our resolution down to 1440x900 to see how the GTS450 AMP! performed.
As you can see the drop from needing to render 2.3m pixels to only 1.3m pixels really helps the average frame rates to leap from the odd stutter and stammer to very smooth and playable indeed. Never underestimate the benefits of lowering your resolution.
There are always two parts to reviewing something. Pure performance, and recommendation.
On performance the Zotac GTS450 AMP! definitely has a lot going for it. It can give fairly playable frame-rates at the high resolution and image quality settings we test at, and once we drop the resolution down to below the level of a 24" monitor then it goes from fairly playable to absolutely fine.
If that isn't a perky enough result then you also have to consider the type of game that you are going to be playing. Because we need to stress everything from toasters to NASA we use games that are stressful upon hardware. There would be no point in using Quake 3 because scores over a thousand FPS aren't much use to anyone.
However, if you play less stressful games such as The Sims, Viva Pinata, Football Manager etc, then the GTS450 AMP! has more than enough grunt to run them as hard and as smooth as you could desire.
Temperatures are also kept sensible with even the hefty overclock that the Zotac AMP! comes with. It's quiet and cool.
So that's the pure performance part out of the way. If you're not expecting something that puts the Sapphire 5970 Toxic to shame, and if you are seek help, then the Zotac GTS450 AMP! has a great blend of good power at a good value price point.
Recommendation is harder though. The Zotac suffers from the same problem that all special edition lower-end graphics cards suffer from. At this end of the price spectrum the difference between a very cheap card and a middle-of-the-road one is very little indeed, maybe £30 or £40. Unfortunately all pre-overclocked cards come with a price premium that bumps them up against the next model in line.
Therein lies the big stumbling block. Overclocking allows us to gain "free" performance from our hardware. But when a manufacturer does the overclocking for us, we pay for it. So the GTS450 AMP! suddenly becomes the price of a basic GTX460. A basic GTX460 out-performs our GTS450 and can be overclocked for even higher performance.
At this moment in time ZOTAC have not yet confirmed pricing, we all here at OC3D hope that this review drives the price down even further as if we are brutally honest if its anything over £100 then its not something we can recommend.
Nvidia had it nailed with the GTX460, they really should have stopped there as this is just a cut too far.
Official pricing for the GTS450 AMP! was released this morning at £107.70, although this is better than some other brands we still feel the GTS450 is priced too high when compaired with some GTX450's now being available for around £120 from many of the larger etailers like CCLonline.
Thanks to Zotac for allowing us to review the GTS450 AMP!. Discuss in our forums.