ZOTAC GTX480 Review
If ever a product, and indeed a review, had a split-personality then this is it.
Our experience with it has changed so vastly, covering the full range of emotions, that it took us some time and many discussions to finally agree what we thought.
So what makes the ZOTAC GTX480 so difficult to pin down?
It certainly isn't ZOTAC themselves, as they have very kindly supplied us a GTX480 to test when many others were nervous of how Overclock3Ds unflinching commitment to accuracy and unwillingness to be swayed by promises of milk and honey.
It also isn't the performance. The "Fastest Single GPU on the Planet" tag just about holds up. It's by no means as comprehensive as the hyperbole would have you believe, but in stock trim it's the fastest we've tested.
Overclocked it's something else entirely. With some decent horsepower under the hood it's far and away the fastest card around with some mind blowing numbers being churned out.
Unfortunately this is where the GTX480 falls apart somewhat. That reference cooler is, to be blunt, rubbish. Completely incapable of dealing with the fearsome heat that the GTX480 puts out. We were loathe to adapt our testing methodology to accommodate it, but obviously having some results that come with a huge asterisk is better than no results at all.
We can best explain the volume of heat with this small anecdote. When we were trying to get the fan as near to our desired 50% as possible, whilst not causing thermal shutdown, we thought we'd got it nailed at 65%. However the GTX480 puts out so much heat that although it was touch and go when we started testing, within 20 minutes the temperature in the room had increased so much due to the head expelled from the card, that we experienced thermal cutoff because the card had warmed the room up so much the air it was sucking in was too warm to keep it under 110°C.
In SLI we imagine you'll never need to heat your house again, as one of these cards can heat a 15'x15' room by 2°C in half an hour.
The second major problem is noise. This isn't a quiet cooler when idling, but as under load the card needs to be kept around 80% fans it becomes intolerably loud. In these modern times when swathes of companies have demonstrated that cool and quiet need not be mutually exclusive, it is beyond us how nVidia have designed a cooler that it hot and loud. Again we have to stress that this is not a problem with Zotac themselves, rather the nVidia reference design.
Finally there is that price. The thick end of £450 is far too much for such a small performance gain over the significantly cheaper ATI 5870 and especially when the noise and heat is taken into consideration. If this was an ATI, nobody would buy it. We all understand that nVidia comes with a price premium but this is ridiculous.
There is some good though. The underlying chip is so outstanding that under water-cooling, or with the worlds biggest air cooler, it's a must buy. Unfortunately right now, if you're deaf, rich and live in Siberia then do it. Otherwise, wait for the evolution version.
- Insane performance
- Huge overclocking headroom
- Too Hot
- Too Loud
- Too Expensive