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Lucid Hydra Performance Review on the AMD Platform

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Asus
Tagged:

Testing Conditions and the Asus DirectCU GTS 450

Asus provided the motherboard and a whole stack of cards representing a significant portion of their NVIDIA lineup.  I already had two HD 5870s on hand, so we can see the performance benefits/ drawbacks between native Crossfire provided by the 890FX chipset and the A-Mode in Hydra.

Four brothers from sorta different mothers... sorta.  Note how the most budget member gets the smallest box.

The AMD Phenom II X6 1090T was the processor used throughout testing, along with 4GB of DDR-3 1333 memory.  Initially a Corsair TX 750W power supply was used, but when GTX 480 testing was implemented I was seeing upwards of 720 watts being pulled from the wall.  I then utilized the new Antec HCP-1200 for the GTX 480 results.

Windows 7 64-bit edition was used, along with the Catalyst 10.10e hotfix drivers and the NVIDIA 260.99 WHQL drivers.  The Hydra drivers were dated November 30, 2010.

All games were updated with the latest patches, as well as the latest multi-GPU profiles where necessary.

I want to take a quick look at each of the video cards being used throughout the review, so we can get a good sense of their performance and features.  Asus did invest a lot into this review, so it is really only fitting to give these cards a good once-over to see how they stack up against reference designs.

Asus ENGTS 450 Direct CU/D1/1GD5

The launch of the GTS 450 was almost entirely overshadowed by the previous launch of the GTX 460 series of cards.  That is unfortunate, as it is a pretty impressive chip in its own right.  I don’t know why, but I have a soft spot in my heart for budget graphics cards.  Perhaps it is because they are overlooked by most sites due to the focus on the halo and mainstream performance parts, or perhaps because I lived in near poverty for so long that these were the only cards that I really could afford.  As such, budget cards are certainly not sexy, but they can still give more than adequate performance for most applications.

The GTS 450 has the most basic of packaging, but considering the price point and the overall mass of the card... excessive packaging is not needed.

The GTS 450 is a pretty significant improvement over the previous budget monster chip from NVIDIA, namely the G-92.  This entirely overused part survived for many years, and was a solid foundation for many machines.  The GTS 450 improves upon the design pretty dramatically.  First off it is a full DX-11 part, unlike the DX-10 compliant G92.  It is based on TSMC’s 40 nm process, while the G92 was fabbed at both 65 nm and 55 nm.  Both designs feature 16 ROPS, but the GTS 450 increases the shader count to 192 cores vs. the 128 of the old G92.  GTS 450 also utilizes only a 128 bit memory bus, but it matches and exceeds the memory bandwidth of G92 cards by using GDDR-5.  G92 based boards typically had around 51 to 57 GB/sec of bandwidth, while the GTS 450 features upwards of 58 GB/sec.

Oddly enough, the GTS 450 is a longer card than the GTX 460.  It still has no problem fitting in the vast majority of cases though.

Finally we get to the core clocks of these parts.  This particular card runs at a 783 MHz core, with the hot clock (shader cores) running at 1566 MHz.  Asus utilizes the Direct CU cooling, which features two nicely sized copper heatpipes in direct contact with the GPU die.  Hence “Direct CU”.  The board design itself is actually quite large, even larger than the higher end GTX 460 boards that I have for this test.  The overclocking on this particular design is pretty phenomenal.  We are talking 1 GHz for the core, and 2 GHz for the stream units.  The memory bandwidth does not have a huge amount of headroom, but for raw rendering and shading power, this makes for a surprisingly beefy video card when tweaked in such a manner.  Without much effort I achieved 950 MHz+, and with some extra attention then 1GHz+ is certainly something most people can reach with these cards.

In terms of bang for the buck, these are pretty robust units.  Not much attention is given to the low end these days, but it shouldn’t be ignored altogether.  These boards are far more capable than the previous 8800 GTS/9800 GTX series.  Not only are they faster, but the addition of DX11 gives a pretty nice upgrade path for those wanting that functionality, but simply do not have the cash to buy something much more than $129.

The output setup leaves a bit to be desired in my opinion, but it could work well for those still struggling with CRT and LCD monitors using the standard VGA connection.

The Asus version of the card with the Direct CU cooling is really quite good.  The board itself seems of good quality with well placed components and solid construction.  The cooling works exactly as advertised.  The chip never really got hot, the board was never unstable even at a decent overclock, and the fan was never annoying in its tone or loudness.  The card can be bought for around $110 US, and it is a very nice investment for those looking at usable DX11 performance.  The 1 GB of memory allows it to run most modern games at decent quality levels.  Anti-aliasing levels will have to be adjusted depending on the game and its requirements, but for most slightly older applications using 4X, or up to 16X CSAA, should be fine with resolutions upwards of 1680 x 1050.

Two 8 mm heatpipes round out the cooling for this particular card.  Heat was never a problem for this card.

This really is a gem of a card for those who cannot afford going to the GTX 460 level and above.  This particular implementation by Asus is also very impressive.  The board is stable even at highly overclocked settings, it never really gets hot, it stays very quiet, and it features a very reasonable power draw for Fermi based graphics.  Asus does not charge and arm and a leg for it, and it has a fairly complete bundle.  I was not terribly fond of the display output connections, but that is more of a matter of taste rather than functionality.  If a user was attempting to run 3 monitors, they would want to look at GTX 460s and above.  But for the budget enthusiast or gamer, this is a very good starting point for building a basic gaming machine.

Asus ENGTS450 CU/D1/1GD5 Editor's Choice Award for a Budget Video Card

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