Summary: With today's arrival of the GeForce GTS 450, NVIDIA brings their Fermi architecture down to the $129 price point. Derived from the same revised SM architecture as the GeForce GTX 460, NVIDIA says that the GTS 450 is "laser-targeted" at gamers who play at 1680x1050. How does it stack up against the Radeon 5700 series? And what about OC'ing? Find out inside!
Practically on the eve of the release of AMD’s next generation of Radeon graphics, NVIDIA is still playing catch-up. With the newest addition to the GTS family of GeForce GPUs, they continue to propagate the 400 series across the market spectrum and build upon their own momentum.
The GeForce GTS 450 (code-named GF106) comprises the latest offering from NVIDIA as they adapt the Fermi architecture to various price points. This time, they’re focusing more toward the budget-minded gamer, those who would have previously opted for the 9600 GT or GTS 250 in years past. It is essentially half of the GF104 used in the GTX 460, and as such shares many of the same attributes – energy efficiency, low heat output, etc. – in a less expensive package.
In marketing this new chip, NVIDIA has made a big deal of the fact that, according to the Steam Hardware Survey, the majority of gamers play at medium-sized resolutions. These include dimensions between 1280x1024 and 1680x1050 on displays no larger than 22”. The GTS 450 has been designed to offer the best possible combination of price and performance for those 57% of users; as they say, it’s “laser-targeted at budget-minded gamers.”
The GTS 450 is replacing the GTS 250 at $129, and is a direct competitor to the similarly-priced Radeon HD 5700 series. If you’re curious to see how it stacks up to its rival, as well as other GPUs in the sub-$200 price range, read on!
In keeping with their gaming character class theme (GTX 480 is the Tank, GTX 460 the Hunter), NVIDIA has dubbed the GTS 450 the “Sniper”. Unable to rely on sheer offensive force, the Sniper must practice precision and discipline to be effective. By focusing his limited weaponry in a specific application, it’s possible to achieve the same kill/death, err… price/performance ratio. That application here is, of course, DX11 gaming on a tight budget.
The GTS 450 utilizes a new Fermi-based chip called GF106, derived from the GF104 used in the GTX 460 (which you can read about here). Using the same 40nm process and with a transistor count of about 1.17 billion, GF106 is technically one-half of a GF104. That isn’t to say that the GTS 450 performs only half as well as the GTX 460 – when you see the benchmarks, you’ll know that is not the case.
As we know from the GTX 460 launch, a fully-functional GF104 actually has 8 streaming multiprocessors, but all GTX 460s have one SM that is disabled from the factory. This was so NVIDIA could maximize yields and provide enough supply of the chips for a smooth launch, though it undoubtedly worked to prevent some cannibalization of the GTX 465/470 market, as well.
With that said, the GTS 450 has 4 SMs, while the GTX 460 has 7. The memory interface is halved from the 256 bits featured on the 1GB version of the GTX 460; it makes up for that with a bump to its core clock speed, though. Put all of this together and you have a graphics card that performs substantially better than you would infer from it being called “half of a GTX 460.”
As you can see, the GTS 450’s numbers line up as being a little more than half of the GTX 460’s – one graphics processing cluster, four SMs, 192 CUDA cores, 32 texture units, 16 ROPs, etc. It does, however, have a substantially higher core clock speed, at 783 MHz compared to 675 MHz (a difference of 16%). There is also an additional 256MB of memory, but the memory bandwidth suffers due to a narrower bus. On the bright side, this reduction in horsepower brings a proportional bonus to power consumption; with a TDP rating of 106 watts, the recommended power supply is a mere 400W.
GeForce GTS 450 reference design
The GTS 450 looks nearly identical to the GTX 460; it is the same length at 8.25”, has the same number of display outputs, and shares the same style of dual-slot cooling. Upon closer inspection, though, you will find that there are a few differences.
It does have the three display outputs in common with the GTX 460: two DVI and one mini-HDMI. Even at this lower price point, the GTS 450 supports Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio through HDMI. Combined with the ability to play Blu-Ray movies in 1080p 3D, that makes it an uncompromising, yet cost-effective addition to a home theater PC.
The SLI connector is also present on the GTS 450; as you’ll see in the benchmarks, the performance scaling when using two of them is quite impressive, at upwards of 90%. Of course, if you had the extra money to spend, it would be wiser to go with the GTX 460 1GB or even the GTX 465. However, the GTS 450 would net you respectable performance now, and then allow you to nearly double it once you’ve got the money for another one later on.
The GTS 450 should be widely available by the time you read this (September 13th). Several have been listed on Newegg for a couple days now, though at one point they were marked as unavailable. The MSRP is $129, but you can expect variations in pricing among the different SKUs that board partners come out with. Ones with custom cooling or higher clocks will of course cost a little more, but it’s possible there may even be barebones models that will run you a little less.
Intel Core i7-920 Bloomfield @ 3.6GHz (Turbo Off)
EVGA X58 3-Way SLI
6 GB OCZ Gold Triple-Channel DDR3-1600 @ 1440 MHz
NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 1GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 768MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB (used as PPU in PhysX tests)
ATI Radeon HD 5750 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB
1TB Western Digital Caviar Black
Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Unigine Heaven 2.1
High shaders, Normal tessellation
Bokeh filter Off, GPU-simulated water Off
Apex PhysX off
Motion blur Off
We’ve experienced some déjà vu in handling the GeForce GTS 450… Shades of the GTX 460 can be seen all over, which is not a surprise when you consider its derivation. It operates in the 60-degrees C range under most conditions and the cooler literally cannot be heard. But really, you couldn’t expect any less from a more compact version of the GF104, which already was impressively cool and quiet. Overclockability remains in spades; we reached a core speed of 925 MHz and a memory speed of 1,100 MHz without any trouble, which are gains of around 20%. All of this comes with an even further reduced level of power consumption, practically making you forget the outrageous deficiencies the GTX 480 exhibited in that regard.
In terms of performance, it isn’t quite the show-stopper the GTX 460 was, but the GTS 450 is still a nice little package. Our testing did not show the Radeon HD 5750 to be dominated like the 5830 was back in July, rather the 450 held its own and traded blows fairly evenly. For as many games where it was beaten, there were games where it kept pace or even pulled ahead. In particular, DX11 applications seemed to tilt more often in favor of the green team.
Specifically, the GTS 450 beat the HD 5750 in the Unigine Heaven benchmark, Metro 2033, STALKER, Far Cry 2, Just Cause 2, and Aliens vs Predator. However, the margins were razor thin in some cases (less than 5%), so those contests could be called a tie on the basis of statistical error. The major losses were limited to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and DiRT 2, while smaller, practically insignificant discrepancies could be seen in Crysis: Warhead and Resident Evil 5.
Overall, you could call it a narrow win, NVIDIA’s theoretical advantage in DX11 processing (tessellation) notwithstanding. On the other hand, the GTS 450 can do many things a Radeon card cannot, such as 3D Vision and PhysX. Sure, only the AMD cards have EyeFinity, but we’re talking about lower-budget setups here where multi-monitor gaming isn’t as common. Pair two GTS 450 cards up together for SLI, and the GTS 450 also supports NVIDIA’s 2D Surround.
All in all, the GeForce GTS 450 is a solid contender if you’re looking for a graphics card in the $130-150 range and absolutely cannot go over budget. We realize every dollar counts at this price point, but if there is any possible way you could scrounge up another $20-40, the GTX 460 768MB would definitely be the way to go. After the recent MSRP adjustment, the 460 simply offers a lot more bang for the buck than the 450 does at $130. Both overclock like crazy, stay very cool, are whisper quiet, and use very little power, but there’s no beating the price-to-performance of GF104, and that’s the bottom line.
It’s also worth considering that the new AMD graphics cards, the HD 6000 series, are right around the corner. They’re sure to come out swinging, and while it’s anyone’s guess as to whether they’ll be able to beat the GTX 460, it’s a possibility. That’s ever the worry with upgrading your computer – something bigger and better is always on the way -- but if you don’t absolutely need a new GPU right this second, it might be worth it to wait and see what the HD 6000s will have in store. Besides, that’ll give you some time to find a couple more Andrew Jacksons.
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