ASUS ENGTX260 Matrix Review
ASUS ENGTX260 Matrix
Dual fan cooling
Making a Matrix
If video cards were race cars, ASUS' Matrix line of graphics cards would be Formula 1 racers.
As a member of their Republic of Gamers line, ASUS tailors their Matrix boards towards the high-end gaming/hardware enthusiast crowd. ASUS outfits all of their Matrix cards with two of the most important basic ingredients you’d want in a good graphics card: OC’ed clock speeds and powerful cooling. On top of that, ASUS then includes custom software for pushing Matrix cards even further. Besides fan control, their most distinguishing feature is voltage adjustment, which in turn helps users crank up the clock speeds without compromising system stability.
Back in January we took a look at two Matrix cards, the EAH 4850 and EAH 4870 Matrix and found them to be kickass products that were only held back by their 512MB frame buffer and limited out-of-the-box clocks. Today we’re here to look at ASUS’ latest Matrix offering, the ENGTX260 Matrix. The card relies on the same successful formula ASUS has employed on their Matrix cards in the past, only now it has been applied to the GeForce GTX 260 GPU…
ENGTX260 Matrix and reference GeForce GTX 260
ENGTX260 Matrix (top) is longer than the EAH4870 Matrix (bottom)
At the heart of the ENGTX 260 Matrix is its dual-slot cooling unit. ASUS refers to it as the Hybrid Cooler+. The cooler gets its name from its ability to dynamically adjust RPMs based on temperature/3D usage. Like a hybrid car can switch from its gasoline engine to an electric motor, the Hybrid Cooler+ can switch from all-passive (silent) cooling to active cooling with one of the card’s twin fans operating. This all takes place automatically at the 2D desktop without intervention from the end user.
The benefits of this approach are pretty obvious. As long as the GPU is running cool, the graphics card generates no noise whatsoever. Then, if temps hit a certain level, the card will quietly activate one of the fans until the temps are restored to low levels. The card will also activate both fans whenever a 3D app is loaded.
This effectively gives you the benefits of a silent GTX 260 card (which outside of the ENGTX 260 Matrix, doesn’t exist), while still retaining the power of the GeForce GTX 260 and the Matrix card’s better-than-stock cooler.
The board’s cooler is a real looker too. The cooler sports two fans, one slightly larger than the other, and four copper heatpipes. An aluminum heatsink is then used to cool the heatpipes. Interestingly enough, ASUS also cools the NVIO chip with a separate heatsink, but the memory modules themselves aren’t cooled on the Matrix card. Of course, technically RAM cooling isn’t necessary, as the Samsung GDDR3 memory modules used are officially rated for speeds up to 1GHz, but the heatsink used on NVIDIA’s GTX 260 reference design does cool the GPU as well as the graphics memory, so the Matrix card does take a step back from the NVIDIA stock cooler in this regard.
Although it’s hard to see in some of the pictures, the cooler isn’t completely enclosed. As a result, hot air from the GPU doesn’t completely exhaust outside your PC’s case like it does on the stock GeForce GTX 260 cooler. Most of the air actually spills out the sides of the cooler, with only a light stream of air exhausting out the back.
What really separates the ENGTX 260 Matrix card from other GeForce GTX 260 boards (including previous offerings from ASUS) is its iTracker software. Without the software installed, there’s really no point in purchasing the ENGTX260 Matrix.
Don’t believe us? Remember that dynamic fan control we just mentioned in the previous paragraph? It doesn’t function until you install iTracker. Instead both of the card’s fans run at all times, generating 53.2 decibels of noise whether you’re gaming or sitting at the Windows desktop. In addition, if you don’t install iTracker the Matrix card sticks to the bone stock GeForce GTX 260 clock speeds.
iTracker can be used for more than just monitoring fan speeds and OC’ing your Matrix card. The software also dynamically adjusts the GPUs 4-phase power based on load, so when you’re running less intensive 2D apps the card can drop down to fewer power phases to reduce the board’s overall power consumption. The software will even underclock and undervolt your GPU and memory if you’d like to reduce power consumption even further.
Or if you’re an enthusiast looking to push your Matrix card to the limits, you can do the opposite, and use iTracker to OC your GPU, stream processors, and memory. iTracker even supports GPU and memory overvolting. Thanks to this feature in particular we managed to OC the GPU on our card to just over 800MHz, a speed we’ve never hit with previous GeForce GTX 260 cards we’ve tested. We even managed to crank up the stream processors to 1600MHz. That speed is over 100MHz higher than NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 285 GPU.
iTracker ships with four preset profiles: Gamer, Power Saving, Default, and User Defined. Under power saving mode, iTracker will drop down to just 1 power phase, while voltages and clock speeds are also reduced. For gamers who crave performance, ASUS offers the “Gamer” profile. Under this setting the card is automatically OC’ed to 601MHz core/1296MHz shaders (stock GTX 260 speeds are 576MHz core/1242MHz shaders), while the memory sticks to the stock GTX 260 speed of 999MHz.
iTracker will also manually adjust when the fans kick in based on which profile you select. Under the gaming profile the card will run completely silent as long as the GPU remains under 70 degrees Celsius. Once the GPU hits 70, the smaller fan will kick in and remain on until the temps drop down to 61 degrees. At this point the fan will shut off again. It will remain off as long as the GPU remains below 70 degrees. If the temp threshold is hit again, the fan will turn on again. This cycle repeats itself as long as you’re running at the 2D desktop (under 3D games the fans remain on at all times).
Under the default and power saving modes, the temp threshold for when the fan kicks in is higher.
User defined mode is the profile most enthusiasts will want to select. Here you can tweak the Matrix board to your hearts content. Sliders allow you to crank up the GPU voltage up to 1400mV and 2030mV for the memory (default settings are 1162 and 1920mV respectively), while you can also manually define the temp thresholds for when the fans will kick in.
The final feature iTracker supports is profiles. Say for instance you want an HTPC profile, a desktop profile, and a gaming profile, or you want to setup profiles for different games. Up to 3 profiles are supported.
Clock speeds and accessories
As we mentioned earlier, by default the ENGTX260 Matrix sticks with the stock GeForce GTX 260 clock speeds; if you pull the card out of the box and load up NVIDIA’s latest reference driver, the card will perform just like any other GeForce GTX 260 out there. In order to push the card further, you’ll need to install the iTracker software suite included with the ASUS driver CD.
Speaking of the driver CD, it’s the only piece of software bundled with the ENGTX260 Matrix. To keep costs down ASUS skips the traditional game bundle. Instead the card ships with the driver CD and a copy of the owners manual on CD. Hardware accessories bundled with the card include a DVI adapter, HDMI adapter, PCIe power adapter, passthrough cable for running audio over HDMI, and a component video output cable. The accessories themselves are bundled in packaging that is pretty glitzy in comparison to other ASUS cards we’ve tested, but of course that’s expected considering this boards ROG roots.