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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580

Date: November 10, 2010
Author(s): Rob Williams

NVIDIA launched its first Fermi-based GPU earlier this year in the form of the GeForce GTX 480, and it was met with mixed reception. Until now, it’s been the fastest single-GPU offering on the market, but certain downsides kept it from being the first-choice of many. Does NVIDIA’s first proper follow-up fix all that was wrong?



Introduction

NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 580 might just be one of the least secretive GPU launches that has ever occurred, and it’s clear that NVIDIA itself didn’t mind. Even it accidentally leaked the card on its own website a couple of weeks ago, and around the same time, ASUS did the same on its Chinese site. There, it even leaked a rumored price (which turned out to be wrong).

This launch is a little interesting, because chances are good that almost everyone reading this is going to be familiar with the card and understand what purpose it’s set out to serve. This is NVIDIA’s follow-up to the first Fermi card it released earlier this year, the GeForce GTX 480, proving to be more power efficient, cooler, faster, and priced identically.

Is that enough to get excited about? According to some, the GTX 580 is what the GTX 480 should have been… a true follow-up to the company’s GTX 200 series of cards that gamers could brag about. As we mentioned in our launch article, however, the launch wasn’t quite ideal. NVIDIA even backed up our points months later – a true rarity.

AMD a couple of weeks ago released its Radeon HD 6800 series of graphics cards, and in no way is the GTX 580 out to compete with those. Both target different markets, with NVIDIA looking skyward and AMD giving mainstream gamers some good choices. What this is though, is NVIDIA’s way of preempting AMD’s HD 6900 launch later this month – a series that will feature both high-end single and dual-GPU cards.

Based on these facts alone, is there reason to jump for your wallet? It depends. If you’re looking for the fastest single-GPU card out there, the GTX 580 is without question it. That fact is verified by the fact that the GTX 480 in which it replaces also was. The potential problem, though, is with pricing. At $500, the GTX 580 is priced much higher than AMD’s line-up, and for those who are willing to go the CrossFireX or SLI route, a better value could likely be had.

Closer Look

The GTX 580, despite its name, does not feature a new architecture, but rather a tweaked one. The process size remains the same, so to help improve things, NVIDIA spent a lot of time fixing things that weren’t ideal with launch Fermi cards and aimed to deliver a card that drew less power, had better power handling, and of course, was made faster. As we’ll see, it certainly did all those.

For those interested, here’s a quick overview of NVIDIA’s current GPU line-up (note that the GTX 480 is for the most part deprecated, but is here for comparison’s sake).

Model
Core MHz
Shader MHz
Mem MHz
Memory
Bus Width
Cores
GeForce GTX 580
772
1544
4008
1536MB
384-bit
512
GeForce GTX 480
700
1401
3696
1536MB
384-bit
480
GeForce GTX 470
607
1215
3348
1280MB
320-bit
448
GeForce GTX 465
607
1215
3206
1024MB
256-bit
352
GeForce GTX 460
675
675
1350
1350
3600
3600
768MB
1024MB
192-bit
256-bit
336
336
GeForce GTS 450
783
1566
3608
1024MB
128-bit
192

A major focus for NVIDIA with this card was to achieve the best performance per watt ratio, and in its examples, it compared those results to the GTX 480 and not the competition. It can be assumed that power is improved, but not to the extent of current Radeon’s. In a similar vein, to help make up for the leaf-blower audio from the GTX 480, NVIDIA wanted to make the GTX 580 quieter, and it did manage that, dropping from 52dBA to 46dBA at full load.

Because NVIDIA sent us photos of the exact same card we received, I am choosing to use its photos instead for the sake of time (much quicker to use its photos than to tear the cooler off!). As you can see, the card isn’t a far stretch from the GTX 480, though it does feature a slightly different aesthetic design and completely rids the heat-pipes. How could that be?

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580

In lieu of traditional heat-pipes, NVIDIA worked with some undisclosed vendor to design a “vapor chamber” cooler that has a similar overall execution. Water boils and rises to the top, and heat dissipates through the fins. It seems like a simple idea, but as we’ll see later, it’s actually pretty effective, and a big improvement over the GTX 480 design.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580

With the cooler off, you’d almost swear that this was the GTX 480, not the GTX 580. The design remains largely similar, but unfortunately I’m not sure at this time if that means that after-market coolers designed for the GTX 480 will also fit this card.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580

Like before, the GTX 580 features two DVI ports and also a mini-HDMI. For a triple-display setup, you will be required to use two GTX 580’s due to NVIDIA’s design.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580

Also like the GTX 480, this card requires an 8 and 6-pin PCIe power connector, but is rated at a much more modest 244W. That’s in part to the various tweaks made to the design, and also the improved power management. Now, let’s see what NVIDIA’s latest is capable of… but not before taking a quick look at our testing methodology.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

Test Machine

The below table lists our testing machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all GPU testing, minus the graphics card. Each card used for comparison is also listed here, along with the driver version used. Each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective category on our site for that product.

Component
Model
Processor
Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition – Quad-Core @ 4.05GHz – 1.40v
Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-EX58-EXTREME – F13j BIOS (08/02/2010)
Memory
Corsair DOMINATOR – 12GB DDR3-1333 7-7-7-24-1T, 1.60v
ATI Graphics Radeon HD 6870 1GB (Reference CrossFireX) – Catalyst 10.10
Radeon HD 6850 1GB (Reference CrossFireX) – Catalyst 10.10
Radeon HD 6870 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst Oct 5, 2010 Beta
Radeon HD 6850 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst Oct 5, 2010 Beta
Radeon HD 5970 2GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.10d
Radeon HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5850 1GB (ASUS) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5830 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5770 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 10.8
NVIDIA Graphics GeForce GTX 580 1536MB (Reference) – GeForce 262.99
GeForce GTX 480 1536MB (Reference) – GeForce 260.63
GeForce GTX 470 1280MB (EVGA) – GeForce 260.63
GeForce GTX 460 1GB (EVGA) – GeForce 260.63
GeForce GTX 450 1GB (Reference SLI) – GeForce 260.63
GeForce GTX 450 1GB (ASUS) – GeForce 260.63
Audio
ASUS Xonar D2X
Storage
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
Cooler Master HAF X Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Corsair H50 Self-Contained Liquid Cooler
Et cetera
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows 7 from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing inaccurate test results. For example, disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.

The most important services we disable are:

The full list of Windows services we assure are disabled is large, but for those interested in perusing it, please look here. Most of the services we disable are mild, but we go to such an extent to have the PC as highly optimized as possible.

Game Titles

At this time, we benchmark with three resolutions that represent three popular monitor sizes available today, 20″ (1680×1050), 24″ (1920×1080) and 30″ (2560×1600). Each of these resolutions offers enough of a variance in raw pixel output to warrant testing with it, and each properly represent a different market segment: mainstream, mid-range and high-end.

Because we value results generated by real-world testing, we don’t utilize timedemos. The possible exceptions might be Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage and Unigine’s Heaven 2.1. Though neither of these are games, both act as robust timedemos. We choose to use them as they’re a standard where GPU reviews are concerned.

All of our results are captured with the help of Beepa’s FRAPS 3.2.3, while stress-testing and temperature-monitoring is handled by OCCT 3.1.0 and GPU-Z, respectively.

For those interested in the exact settings we use for each game, direct screenshots can be seen below:

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

Colin McRae: Dirt 2 - Settings

Colin McRae: Dirt 2 - Settings

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 - Settings

Mafia II

Mafia II - Settings

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 - Settings

StarCraft II

StarCraft II - Settings

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

It’s not that often that faithful PC gamers get a proper racing game for their platform of choice, but Dirt 2 is one of those. While it is a “console port”, there’s virtually nothing in the game that will make that point stand out. The game as a whole takes good advantage of our PC’s hardware, and it’s as challenging as it is good-looking.

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

Manual Run-through: The race we chose to use in Dirt 2 is the first one available in the game, as it’s easily accessible and features a lot of GPU-pounding effects that the game has become known for, such as realistic dust and water effects, a large on-looking crowd of people and fine details on and off the track. Each run-through lasts the entire two laps, which comes out to about 2.5 minutes.

Because Dirt 2 typically favors Radeon cards more than GeForces, these results are about what I expected, but I’m a little surprised that the GTX 580 kept up quite this well. It even performs favorably to our CrossFireX setups, although when pricing is involved, the $360 it costs for two HD 6850’s does seem a little more desirable.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
AMD HD 6870 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
76
96.555
AMD HD 5970 2GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
73
87.451
AMD HD 6850 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
69
81.853
NVIDIA GTX 580 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
67
79.349
NVIDIA GTX 480 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
53
61.850
AMD HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
52
60.85
AMD HD 6870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
42
53.592
AMD HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
42
50.325
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (SLI)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
44
53.584
NVIDIA GTX 470 1280MB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
42
49.032
AMD HD 6850 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
39
45.135
AMD HD 5830 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
24
40.385
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA
38
44.090
AMD HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, 4xAA
44
58.439
AMD HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, 4xAA
39
50.327
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, 4xAA
35
45.422

Dirt 2 might still be a great-looking game, but it happens to work well on a variety of GPUs at topped-out settings, and the GTX 580 of course is no different.

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 might not belong to a well-established series of games, but with its launch, it looks like that might not be the case for long. The game offers not only superb graphics, but an enormous world to explore, and for people like me, a countless number of hidden items to find around it. During the game, you’ll be scaling skyscrapers, racing through jungles and fighting atop snow-drenched mountains. What’s not to like?

Just Cause 2

Manual Run-through: The level chosen here is part of the second mission in the game, “Casino Bust”. Our runthrough begins at the second-half of the level, which requires us to situate ourselves on top of a car and have our driver, Karl Blaine, speed us through part of the island to safety. This is a great mission for benchmarking as we get to see a lot of the landmass, even if some of it is at a distance.

Dirt 2 might favor Radeon cards to some degree, but Just Cause 2 does even moreso, putting the GTX 580 even under an HD 5870. Nothing compares to dual-GPU setups, though.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
AMD HD 6870 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
49
65.53
AMD HD 5970 2GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
46
58.998
AMD HD 6850 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
40
55.17
AMD HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
27
38.29
NVIDIA GTX 580 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, SSAO Low, 0xAA
34
43.608
NVIDIA GTX 480 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, SSAO Low, 0xAA
29
39.137
AMD HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, High Water, High Objects, 0xAA
27
38.468
AMD HD 6870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, High Water, High Objects, 0xAA
26
40.787
NVIDIA GTX 470 1280MB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, Medium Shadows, Medium Water, Medium Objects, SSAO Low, 0xAA
33
37.932
AMD HD 6850 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, High Water, High Objects, High-Res Shadows Off, SSAO Off, 0xAA
31
48.391
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (SLI)
2560×1600 – Max Details, Medium Shadows, Medium Water, Medium Objects, High-Res Shadows Off, SSAO Off, 0xAA
39
46.988
AMD HD 5830 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, Medium Shadows, Medium Water, Medium Objects, High-Res Shadows Off, SSAO Off, 0xAA
31
38.230
AMD HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, High Water, High Objects, SSAO Medium, 0xAA
31
42.332
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (EVGA)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, Medium Shadows, Medium Water, Medium Objects, High-Res Shadows Off, SSAO Low, 0xAA
43
48.724
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, Medium Shadows, Medium Water, Medium Objects, High-Res Shadows Off, SSAO Off, 0xAA
39
45.059
AMD HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, Medium Shadows, Medium Water, Medium Objects, High-Res Shadows Off, SSAO Off, 0xAA
35
43.306

Like the GTX 480, we had to drop the detail levels with the GTX 580 just a bit at 2560×1600 to retain ideal framerates.

Mafia II

For fans of the original Mafia game, having to wait an incredible eight years for a sequel must’ve been tough. But as we found out in our review, the wait might be forgotten as the game is quite good. It doesn’t feature near as much depth as say, Grand Theft Auto IV, but it does a masterful job of bringing you back to the 1940’s and letting you experience the Mafia lifestyle.

Mafia II

Manual Run-through: Because this game doesn’t allow us to save a game in the middle of a level, we chose to use chapter 7, “In Loving Memory…”, to do our runthrough. That chapter begins us on a street corner with many people around, and from there, we run to our garage, get in our car, and speed out to the street. Our path ultimately leads us to the park, and takes close to two minutes to accomplish.

NVIDIA’s GTX 580 struts its stuff here, only being surpassed by AMD’s powerful dual-GPU offerings. The gains compared to the GTX 480 are not quite as high as I’d expect, but are still notable.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
AMD HD 5970 2GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX High, 2xAA
28
55.292
NVIDIA GTX 580 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX High, 2xAA
26
47.695
AMD HD 6870 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX High, 0xAA
28
82.029
AMD HD 6850 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX High, 0xAA
28
69.177
NVIDIA GTX 480 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX High, 0xAA
23
61.922
AMD HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX Medium, 0xAA
39
60.947
AMD HD 6870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX Medium, 0xAA
33
54.626
NVIDIA GTX 470 1280MB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX Medium, 0xAA
30
50.955
AMD HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX Medium, 0xAA
27
38.468
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (SLI)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX Off, 0xAA
35
49.230
AMD HD 6850 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX Off, 0xAA
34
44.377
AMD HD 5830 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX Off, 0xAA
33
39.252
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, PhysX Off, 0xAA
27
38.625
AMD HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Medium Shadows, Medium Geometry, SSAO Off, 0xAA
30
44.030
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, PhysX Off, 0xAA
38
46.118
AMD HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Medium Detail, PhysX Off, 0xAA
32
47.660

The GTX 580 can handle Mafia II at top-end settings, even with anti-aliasing high, so that becomes our best playable. Surprisingly, despite having no PhysX acceleration, the HD 5970 still manages to surpass the performance of NVIDIA’s latest card.

Metro 2033

One of the more popular Internet memes for the past couple of years has been, “Can it run Crysis?”, but as soon as Metro 2033 launched, that’s a meme that should have died. Metro 2033 is without question one of the beefiest games on the market, and though it supports DirectX 11, it’s almost a feature worth ignoring, because the extent you’ll need to go to in order to see playable framerates isn’t likely going to be worth it.

Metro 2033

Manual Run-through: The level we use for testing is part of chapter 4, called “Child”, where we must follow a linear path through multiple corridors until we reach our end point, which takes a total of about 90 seconds. Please note that due to the reason mentioned above, we test this game in DX10 mode, as DX11 simply isn’t that realistic from a performance standpoint.

Metro 2033 is so AMD-bound, it’s almost a little insulting. At the same time, it’s also insulting that DirectX 11 mode is still unplayable at decent settings with even the GTX 580. At the settings above though, NVIDIA’s latest broke through the 40 FPS mark which is key.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
AMD HD 6870 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – High Detail, 0xAA
46
64.47
AMD HD 5970 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – High Detail, 0xAA
40
60.182
AMD HD 6850 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – High Detail, 0xAA
41
57.134
NVIDIA GTX 580 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – High Detail, 0xAA
31
40.94
NVIDIA GTX 480 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
46
62.563
AMD HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
39
60.947
AMD HD 6870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
38
54.442
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (SLI)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
32
50.060
NVIDIA GTX 470 1280MB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
35
49.220
AMD HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
30
47.746
AMD HD 6850 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
34
44.377
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (EVGA)
1920×1080 – High Detail, DX10, 0xAA
45
66.894
AMD HD 5830 1GB (Reference)
1920×1080 – High Detail, DX10, 0xAA
30
44.030
AMD HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
1920×1080 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
32
52.555
AMD HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
32
47.660
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Medium Detail, DX10, 0xAA
30
47.608

40 FPS is about the limit as far as “best playable” goes, and the GTX 580 hit that fine. Metro 2033 is a strange first-person shooter where 40 FPS almost feels like 60 FPS, so 40 FPS here is very much playable – especially in order to retain the higher detail settings.

StarCraft II

Of all the games we test, it might be this one that needs no introduction. Back in 1998, Blizzard unleashed what was soon to be one of the most successful RTS titles on the planet, and even as of today, the original is still heavily played all around the world – even in actual competitions. StarCraft II of course had a lot of hype to live up to, and it did, thanks to its intense gameplay and superb graphics.

StarCraft II

Manual Run-through: The portion of the game we use for testing is part of the Zero Hour mission, which has us holding fort until we’re able to evacuate. Our saved game starts us in the middle of the mission, and from the get-go, we build a couple of buildings and concurrently move our main units up and around the map. Total playtime lasts about two minutes.

StarCraft II is a good-looking game, but it doesn’t require a powerhouse to run. In fact, at most resolutions, cards like the GTX 580 just can’t be touched. It’s the higher resolutions when that card begins to strut its stuff, settling in beside our HD 6870 CrossFireX configuration.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
AMD HD 5970 2GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
55
89.972
NVIDIA GTX 580 1280MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
40
82.005
AMD HD 6870 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
48
81.989
NVIDIA GTX 480 1536MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
25
72.674
AMD HD 6850 1GB (CrossFireX)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
40
71.905
AMD HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
31
57.28
NVIDIA GTX 470 1280MB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
20
55.961
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (SLI)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
32
52.565
AMD HD 6870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
34
52.115
AMD HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
32
48.787
AMD HD 6850 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
26
44.456
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
25
41.306
AMD HD 5830 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
20
32.986
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
19
32.561
AMD HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Ultra Detail, 0xAA
17
30.515
AMD HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – High Detail, 0xAA
23
37.297
NVIDIA GTS 450 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – High Detail, 0xAA
22
33.331

It goes without saying, on a card like the GTX 580, you can run any settings you please, at any resolution. If only more games were like this!

Dead Rising 2; F1 2010

Dead Rising 2

For those looking for the ultimate fill of zombie killing, look no further than Dead Rising 2! The game looks great, has a lot of “realistic” zombie’s, and is a lot of fun to play. To test, we take a quick run through the mall accessible not long after beginning the game which lasts about 2 minutes and follows the same path each time.

Dead Rising 2

NVIDIA’s GTX 580 is looking quite good here, coming out far ahead in Dead Rising 2 ahead of the HD 5970 – a card I had expected to be the faster of the two.

F1 2010

From the creators of Dirt 2 comes one of the classiest racers around, F1 2010. This game features unbelievable graphics, super-fast speed and intense realism. It’s hard to go wrong. For our test, we chose to race one lap around the Monte Carlo track, lasting about two minutes.

F1 2010

Being that Dirt 2 favors Radeon cards, and F1 2010 is built on the same engine, these results are no surprise. Overall, both cards deliver wicked performance.

ArcaniA: Gothic 4; Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2

One of the most popular PC-exclusive RPGs received an update recently, in the form of ArcaniA: Gothic 4. The game is gorgeous, immersive, and is one I really, really want to play. Our runthrough here takes us on a quick stroll through the starting village, which is bursting at the seams with eyecandy.

ArcaniA: Gothic 4

Once again, NVIDIA pulls ahead here. It’s far from being a wide margin, but it’s still substantial enough when dealing with framerates these “low”.

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2

The original H.A.W.X. game delivered the best of both worlds for Tom Clancy game fans, gorgeous graphics, fight, and intriguing gameplay. H.A.W.X. 2 follows up on that, and amps up each of those aspects. This time around, it brings good use of tessellation to the table.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Because NVIDIA’s current GPU architecture includes optimizations for tessellation, major improvements in performance can be seen… there’s just no comparison. On the other hand, though, I don’t think anyone is going to be unhappy with 67 FPS at 2560×1600, either. Both cards handle the game beautifully, but NVIDIA’s tessellation strength stands out.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.

Similar to a real game, 3DMark Vantage offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, High and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test. The benchmark doesn’t natively support 2560×1600, so to benchmark with that, we choose the Extreme profile and simply change the resolution.

3DMark Vantage is a highly scalable benchmark, taking full advantage of all available shaders and literal GPU cores, along with copious amounts of memory. Given that, our results above fairly accurately scale each card with its real-world performance.

Unigine Heaven 2.1

While Futuremark is a well-established name where PC benchmarking is concerned, Unigine is just beginning to become exposed to people. The company’s main focus isn’t benchmarks, but rather its cross-platform game engine which it licenses out to other developers, and also its own games, such as a gorgeous post-apocalytic oil strategy game. The company’s benchmarks are simply a by-product of its game engine.

Unigine Heaven 2.1

The biggest reason that the company’s “Heaven” benchmark grew in popularity rather quickly is that both AMD and NVIDIA promoted it for its heavy use of tessellation, a key DirectX 11 feature. Like 3DMark Vantage, the benchmark here is overkill by design, so results here aren’t going to directly correlate with real gameplay. Rather, they showcase which card models can better handle both DX11 and its GPU-bogging features.

NVIDIA said it improved tessellation performance on the GTX 580, and it shows here, with the card far surpassing the performance of the GTX 480.

Power & Temperatures

To test our graphics cards for both temperatures and power consumption, we utilize OCCT for the stress-testing, GPU-Z for the temperature monitoring, and a Kill-a-Watt for power monitoring. The Kill-a-Watt is plugged into its own socket, with only the PC connect to it.

As per our guidelines when benchmarking with Windows, when the room temperature is stable (and reasonable), the test machine is boot up and left to sit at the desktop until things are completely idle. Because we are running such a highly optimized PC, this normally takes one or two minutes. Once things are good to go, the idle wattage is noted, GPU-Z is started up to begin monitoring card temperatures, and OCCT is set up to begin stress-testing.

To push the cards we test to their absolute limit, we use OCCT in full-screen 2560×1600 mode, and allow it to run for 15 minutes, which includes a one minute lull at the start, and a four minute lull at the end. After about 5 minutes, we begin to monitor our Kill-a-Watt to record the max wattage.

In the case of dual-GPU configurations, we measure the temperature of the top graphics card, as in our tests, it’s usually the one to get the hottest. This could depend on GPU cooler design, however.

Note: Due to power-related changes NVIDIA made with the GTX 580, we couldn’t run OCCT on that GPU. Rather, we had to use a run of the less-strenuous Heaven benchmark.

Because NVIDIA changed the way power throttling occurs on the GTX 580, running a program like OCCT or Furmark isn’t appropriate, because both the temperatures and power consumption results are going to be incorrect. As an example, while running OCCT, the card recognized that it was being stressed too hard and throttled its voltages, resulting in an overall system draw of 319W. By comparison, a Heaven run resulted in 418W as seen above.

The results are not exactly comparable to the cards that had OCCT run, but even so, the results we see here are quite good, and NVIDIA obviously did some good work with both the cooler on this card and also its power efficiency. The card is faster than the GTX 480, but more efficient. That’s what we like to see.

Final Thoughts

After taking a hard look to see what NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 580 is made of, I can’t help but think that this is what the GTX 480 should have been. From our launch article of that card, I’m sure it was made clear that it wasn’t a product I was too thrilled about, but the truth is, had the GTX 480 been what the GTX 580 is today, I have no doubts that most of my cons would have been non-existent.

The GTX 580 is on average 10 ~ 20% faster compared to the GTX 480, runs far quieter (I haven’t done specific testing, but it’s no louder than most of the GPUs we’ve tested), draws much less power overall, and best of all, doesn’t run quite as hot. While the GTX 480 could get scary close to 100°C, the GTX 580’s use of the vapor chamber helps it stay at about 80°C.

For these efforts, NVIDIA should be commended. There were many doubters out there that much could be done with the GF100 chip to reverse some of the downsides, but NVIDIA for the most part fixed a lot that was wrong, and at the same time, made it faster, and downgraded the heat-pipe equipped cooler. Overall, the GTX 580 is exciting from that standpoint.

Another plus is that the GTX 580 helps retain NVIDIA’s position as being the company to offer the highest-performing single GPU out there. The GTX 480 was the previous champ, so the company is on a relative roll here. Whether that will change later this month once AMD releases its HD 6900 series of cards, we’re not sure. That uncertainty just makes this launch all the more interesting.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580

As attractive as the GTX 580 looks in some ways, there’s a rather significant issue… its pricing. At $500, the card isn’t going to appeal to too many people – primarily those who happen to be NVIDIA fans and want its most powerful offering out there, or those who plan to go the dual or triple SLI route and want a reliable solution (as they should for that kind of price).

CrossFireX isn’t perfect, but the performance gains seen in most games are hard to ignore. The HD 6850 x 2 setup didn’t quite outpace NVIDIA’s card, but combined, two of those cards comes out to about $360, much, much less. Or for around the same price, $480, you could equip yourself with HD 6870 x 2 and get even better performance in most cases.

The Radeon HD 5970 dual-GPU card is also worthy of consideration, but to me it’s not the perfect solution either. It’s super-fast, and retails for about the same as the GTX 580, but it’s also long and not as convenient. It also doesn’t feature the robust tessellation performance that the GTX 580 does. Depending on what you’re looking for, though, it might still be a suitable choice for you, and it’s far from being a bad one.

The fact of the matter is, the current available choices are good, and though NVIDIA’s card is priced higher than it needs to be, it’s not a bad choice for those who want a super-powerful single-card solution. If you don’t mind the dual-GPU route, then the HD 6870 x 2 setup is currently a bit more attractive due to the even higher performance and ability to hook up three monitors (you can hook up three monitors with the GTX 580 as well, but it requires two cards).

NVIDIA’s GTX 580 is a difficult card to settle on right now, and the primary reason is that we have no idea what to expect from AMD’s upcoming HD 6900 series of cards. It could be that in mere weeks, AMD could release an even more powerful card than the GTX 580 for the same price, or perhaps a more expensive card that happens to be far more powerful. The most unfortunate thing right now is being a gamer ready to buy, and the uncertainty of it all.

As it is, though, NVIDIA’s GTX 580 is the most powerful single GPU card on the market, and it fixes a lot of niggles that the GTX 480 brought with it. That’s the good. The bad is that other solutions also look very attractive, and AMD’s upcoming cards do nothing but complicate the situation. Despite being priced a little too high (in my opinion), the GTX 580 is a great replacement to the GTX 480.

But for the sake of not making a purchase now and regretting it later, we recommend holding off for a couple of weeks to see what Cayman is capable of. How NVIDIA handles that launch might also be quite interesting.

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