Summary: Sporting higher clock speeds and a new 55-nm manufacturing process, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 285 GPU runs cooler yet faster than its predecessor, the GTX 280. EVGA then cranks things up another notch, OC'ing their SSC card to over 700MHz! See how this card stacks up against the GeForce GTX 280 and GTX 295 as well as the competition from ATI in both single-card and SLI configs in this article!
Getting their entire GPU lineup down to 55-nm has been an important goal for NVIDIA. Since the introduction of ATI's Radeon 4800 series last Spring, NVIDIA's been forced to slash prices on all of their GPUs; from top to bottom not a single GPU has been excluded. In fact, most of NVIDIA's GPUs have seen their price reduced multiple times throughout the last seven months. As a result of these cuts, multiple GPUs have seen their price cut in half as of today.
As you can imagine, these price cuts have had a significant impact on NVIDIA's profit margins. By getting their GPUs down to 55-nm, NVIDIA is able to reduce their manufacturing cost, and therefore able to save their margins from shrinking any further. The smaller process also reduces the power consumption of their GPUs, and thus should also help reduce heat output.
This is what gets enthusiasts excited about die shrinks, as this potentially opens the door to higher GPU clock speeds.
NVIDIA's managed to do precisely that with the GeForce GTX 285. The chip sports a lower power consumption figure that's just 1W more than the GeForce GTX 260 – NVIDIA lists a max board power figure of 183W – while also running at higher clocks. At 648MHz, the graphics core clock of the GTX 285 is 46MHz higher than the GTX 280. Let's chart up the differences between the various GeForce GTX 200 GPUs:
Not depicted in the chart above is NVIDIA's new 55-nm GeForce GTX 260, which has been on the market for a little over a week now. The newest GTX 260 is NVIDIA's third iteration of this GPU, featuring the exact same core configuration and clock speeds as the revised 216-shader GeForce GTX 260 on the far right, only it obviously boasts a lower power consumption figure thanks to its smaller 55-nm manufacturing process.
In terms of power, the other major change between the GeForce GTX 285 and the GTX 280 besides the max board power figure is the new power connector requirements: as you can see the GTX 285 only needs two 6-pin PCIe power connectors versus the GTX 280's requirement of a more powerful 8-pin PCIe 2.0 power connector. NVIDIA's minimum power supply recommendation is a 550W PSU with a current rating of 40A on the 12V rail. Of course, as always with these guidelines they're just a general recommendation; your actual power needs will vary depending on your specific system components (i.e. dual-core versus quad-core CPU, number of drives installed, etc).
Like all of NVIDIA's recent GPUs, the GeForce GTX 285 supports features like CUDA, Hybrid Power, PhysX, and NVIDIA's newest solution, 3D Vision. 2-Way and 3-Way SLI is also supported.
Those of you with GeForce GTX 280 cards who were hoping you could mix your GTX 280 with the GTX 285 will be disappointed to hear that we tried this and SLI didn't work, despite the fact that both GPUs essentially share the same basic core configuration. If you did upgrade, you would be able to run dedicated PhysX on one card though (although in previous tests we've found that the 9600 GT delivers the best price/performance ratio when running dedicated GPU PhysX).
EVGA isn't content to run at the stock GeForce GTX 285 clocks however. Their GeForce GTX 285 SSC Edition features supercharged clock speeds that are dramatically higher than NVIDIA's reference specifications. How does 702MHz core sound?
So how high does EVGA go with this card? How does 702MHz on the graphics core sound? That's 54MHz higher than stock, or an improvement of 8%. The board's stream processors are then clocked at 1584MHz. This is 108MHz higher than the stock GeForce GTX 285 (7%). Finally, the board's memory is also overclocked, running 81MHz higher than the stock GTX 285 at 1323MHz (+6% over stock).
These are the fastest speeds of any GeForce GTX 285 card that's available on the market today. Obviously other NVIDIA board partners will be gunning for the SSC clocks with their future GTX 285 cards, but if you want the absolute best clocks and performance right now, the SSC is your card.
Officially the MSRP for the EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC is $439.99, although Newegg is already carrying it for $10 less at $429.99. At $430, that puts the SSC awfully close to EVGA's faster GeForce GTX 295 Plus which we reviewed last week, but you're always going to pay a premium for this kind of performance. If you want to save a little money, EVGA offers two additional GeForce GTX 285 SKUs that run at lower clock speeds, the bone stock 648MHz GeForce GTX 285 (Part Number 01G-P3-1281-AR) and the GeForce GTX 285 SC Edition (Part Number 01G-P3-1285-AR), which runs at 675MHz on the graphics core, while its memory operates at 1269MHz.
These GeForce GTX 285 boards are currently selling for $389.99 and $409.99 on Newegg right now.
Of course, neither of these cards are guaranteed to run at the SSC's clock speeds. As always with OC'ing, your mileage is going to vary from card to card. Like all EVGA cards, the GeForce GTX 285 SSC is also backed by EVGA's very comprehensive lifetime warranty.
So basically EVGA's binning their cards with the best chips going into SSC cards. They're taking the guesswork out of the equation for you. Is this worth the price premium? For some gamers, the answer is definitely yes, but if you're looking to stay beneath the $400 threshold, fortunately there are alternatives out there for you.
If you want to push your EVGA card even further, the company also includes their Precision utility with the card's driver CD. Precision provides built-in tools for overclocking and hardware monitoring your graphics card.
Inside Precision you'll find sliders for adjusting the GPU, stream processors, and memory speeds. Precision also includes a slider for manual fan control. You can see the current settings for all of these to the right of the sliders. There you can also see a “Link” button. When clicked, this allows you to set the clock speed of the stream processors independent of the graphics core speed.
Precision also provides helpful descriptions that describe what each setting does. Simply hold your mouse over a setting for a few seconds, and a nifty description of the setting will pop up.
Precision also provides built-in hardware monitoring functionality. On the left side of the app you can see aspects such as GPU temperature and core/shader/memory clock speeds. You can setup Precision to monitor these aspects over time at whatever polling rate you'd like, and you can even have Precision monitor your current frame rate (similar to FRAPS). Those of you with LCD-equipped Logitech keyboards can have all of this data exported to your keyboard's LCD screen while gaming.
Precision supports custom profiles and if you get tired of the same look all the time, adjustable skins. A couple of different options shipped with our card, including a custom GTX 285/295 skin, which is the default setting when you install Precision.
Our only gripe with Precision when compared to NVIDIA's own System Tools utility (which provides similar functionality), is that Precision doesn't currently support independent clock speeds when running multiple cards in SLI. You can only tweak the clock speed settings for one card. With NVIDIA's utility you can set each of the cards to run at different speeds, so if one card can OC further than the other, you can bump up its clocks a little more and get the added performance. For instance, a Quad SLI setup using NVIDIA System Tools would have four different GPUs available for OC'ing. With Precision you'd just have one.
Fortunately this is something EVGA could easily address in a future update of Precision EVGA users could then download off the website.
Bundle and accessories
EVGA skips bundling a game with the GeForce GTX 285 SSC, instead you'll find the usual assortment of hardware accessories and the driver CD.
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
EVGA X58 SLI
3GB Qimonda DDR3-1066
EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 (stock GTX 260 clocks)
EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT
Sapphire Radeon 4850 X2 2GB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
Catalyst 8.561.3-081217a-73402 (Updated Catalyst 8.12)
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Call of Duty 4
Fallout 3 – DirectX 9
Call of Duty 4 – DirectX 9
Crysis – DirectX 10
Crysis – DirectX 10
Left 4 Dead – DirectX 9
STALKER: CS – DirectX 10
With the latest patch, STALKER Clear Sky actually supports DX10.1 for ATI cards. Therefore we naturally enabled this setting for ATI hardware. We run the rest of the game’s settings at the default high quality preset, with DX10 enhanced full dynamic lighting. The “high” preset isn’t the maximum graphics option in the game, it actually keeps AA off, all sun settings at medium quality, antialias alpha-tested objects off, etc. We do however go ahead and turn on AA to the 2x setting, which is a little higher than the settings we used last week in the GTX 295 article.
Far Cry 2 – DirectX 10
BioShock – DirectX 9
On the power side of the equation, the GTX 285 did consume less power than the GTX 280, with the range varying from 4-9 watts at load, while idle power consumption improved by 16 watts. The idle power number improvement is higher because the GTX 285 idles at the same speed as the 65-nm GTX 280, while under load the GTX 285 runs at higher speeds than the 280, thus negating some of the power savings. We observed a two degree reduction in temp at idle; at load the GTX 285 ran just one degree Celsius cooler than the GTX 280. The load temp is basically close enough to call it a draw.
However, one thing we did observe when watching the GPU temps over time was how quickly the GTX 285 was able to reduce its temperature when going from load to idle. After a long gaming session it can take the GTX 280 5-10 minutes to cool back down. The GTX 285 on the other hand cools much quicker.
Between the two EVGA GTX 285 cards, we managed to squeeze out up to 750MHz core/1332MHz memory/1584MHz shaders when OC'ing. That's within a few MHz of other 65-nm GeForce GTX 280 cards we've overclocked in the past, so the new 55-nm process doesn't seem to break any new ground here.
Based on all this, we'd say the GeForce GTX 285 is a nice improvement over the GTX 280, but it isn't a game changer for NVIDIA. The chip does run cooler and consume less power than its predecessor, GTX 280, all while running up to 10% faster at 2560x1600. Priced at an MSRP of $379 though, its price/performance ratio isn't as high as a card like Sapphire's Radeon 4870 X2, which is currently selling for $400 after a $50 mail-in rebate on Newegg, or the Sapphire Radeon 4850 X2 2GB, which sells for $300 on Newegg. Even GeForce GTX 280 boards are being sold as low as $300 on Newegg after mail-in rebate now.
Both of the ATI cards delivered better performance overall than the GTX 285 (although there were a few cases where the GTX 285 outran the 4850 X2) thanks to their dual GPU architecture. Of course at the same time both cards are also going to generate more noise and suck up more power than the GTX 285 based on testing we've conducted in the past month, while the X2 cards will also need CrossFire profiles to deliver optimal performance.
That's the key downside to dual-GPU setups like the X2. If a new game comes out and it doesn't have an SLI or CrossFire profile, it performs the same as its single GPU equivalent, in the case of the 4850 X2 it would be a Radeon 4850 1GB, while the 4870 X2 would perform like a 4870 1GB. In the past year ATI has done a much better job of getting CrossFire profiles into their graphics drivers when new games come out, even providing hotfix drivers mid-month when needed, but their track record isn't as good as NVIDIA's.
Basically if you're a gaming junkie who likes to pick up new titles and play them on release day you may want to consider this, but if you crave performance above all else, the Sapphire 4850 X2 delivers a better price/performance ratio.
Fortunately for NVIDIA, Sapphire's the only company offering the 4850 X2 right now.
EVGA's GeForce GTX 285 SSC is the fastest GTX 285 card on the market today thanks to its incredible clock speeds. The SSC card performed 6-7% faster than the stock GTX 285 in most of our benchmarks. Priced at $430 the card is by no means cheap, but if you have to have the absolute best performing GTX 285, this is the card to get right now.
UPDATE 7:00AM: While it can't be found for sale online yet, BFG has just announced their GeForce GTX 285 OCX sporting slightly higher clocks than the EVGA SSC. Once it hits retail, it would technically be slightly faster than the SSC.
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