The new GTX 550 misses its price point

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 15, 2011 - 11:47 AM |
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It is nice to see NVIDIA refreshing its lower end, the GTS 450 never really shone among AMDs lower end cards so the arrival of the GTX 550 seems like a good thing.  Even with such an odd memory configuration, a 192-bit memory interface split into three controllers, two with 256MB of memory available and the third with 512MB, the performance is decent and sits a little slower than what you would expect from a 768MB GTX460 and better than an HD5770 or the older GTS 450.  The problem, as The Tech Report points out, is the price.  At a $149 price point it is not competing with the HD5770 or GTS 450, at that price you can find an HD6850 or a GTX460 with a full 1GB of RAM and both cards are significantly faster than the new GTX 550.

"At $149, is Nvidia's latest DirectX 11 GPU a compelling step up from cheaper solutions? And could it be a nearly-as-good step down from pricier ones like the GeForce GTX 460 1GB and Radeon HD 6850? TR investigates."

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Manufacturer: MSI
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Another Fermi debuts

It is the inevitable march of technology - we see a new GPU released at the high-end of the price spectrum and some subset of it will find its way to the low-end. The slow drizzle of cards in this series started with the 580 and 570, based on the same Fermi architecture as the GTX 400 cards (with some improvements in efficiency), continued with the GTX 560 Ti in January and with the GTX 550 Ti that we are seeing today.Introduction

It is the inevitable march of technology - we see a new GPU released at the high-end of the price spectrum and some subset of it will find its way to the low-end.  It could be merely days apart, or it could be months, as we see here with the GTX 580 release coming way back in November of 2010.  The slow drizzle of cards in this series started with the 580 and 570, based on the same Fermi architecture as the GTX 400 cards (with some improvements in efficiency), continued with the GTX 560 Ti in January and with the GTX 550 Ti that we are seeing today.

But does this new low cost option from NVIDIA stack up well against competition from AMD or from their own previous designs?  Let's first find out the basic specifications of the GPU and dive into the benchmarks.

The GeForce GTX 550 Ti GPU

The GeForce GTX 550 Ti (previously dubbed GF116) continues with the trend NVIDIA has perfected of taking large GPUs and shrinking them down to fit into different price segments, in this case the ~$150 mark.  While the GTX 580 is a beast of silicon with 512 shader cores and a 384-bit memory bus to keep it fed, the GTX 560 Ti was shrunk to 384 cores and a more manageable 256-bit memory bus.

The new GTX 550 Ti GPU will feature half as many cores at 192 with a matching 192-bit memory bus.  You might remember that the GTS 450 card (that was resting in a similar price point) also came with 192 shader processors but only a 128-bit memory interface with its 1GB of GDDR5 memory.  This time around the added width and high clock speeds will give the GTX 550 Ti a much improved memory system.

In terms of pure memory bandwidth, the GTX 550 Ti will provide 70% more than the previous generation which is always good news for gamers on a budget; the memory runs at 1025 MHz in the reference designs compared to the 900 MHz of the GTS 450. 

Speaking of those reference specifications, here they are.  At 900 MHz core clock, the GTX 550 Ti will without a doubt be faster than the GTS 450 (that ran at 783 MHz) - but if there was any other outcome we would be completely perplexed.  The real questions is how it is will fare against other similarly priced components that exist today. 

The 116 watt power consumption of the GTX 550 Ti comes in at 10 watts higher than what the reference GTS 450 cards were rated at.

NVIDIA is confident that the performance edge that the GTX 550 Ti offers will make it the new best option for gamers looking for a ~$150 graphics card.  Above you can see the performance improvements that are associated with the clock increases from the GTS 450 to the GTX 550 as well as those associated with the 192-bit memory bus interface. 
 

Getting a pair of the second best GPUs instead of one of the best

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 14, 2011 - 12:12 PM |
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With the HD6990 and the up and coming GTX590, the two top single slot GPUs are going to be closer to $1000 than to $500.  That might make the enterprising tech enthusiast wonder if perhaps it makes sense to pick up two of the second best HD6970 or GTX570's (the GTX580 is already $500) instead, especially as you don't have to necessarily buy them at the same time. X-bit Labs explores the difference in performance between these cards in single and dual GPU setups as well as contrasting the two manufactures in over a dozen games. 

 

"In our today’s article we are going to learn which of these multi-processor technologies provides maximum performance gain compared with a single graphics accelerator and what obstacles the users may face in either case."

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Source: X-Bit Labs

Tired of waiting on a dual-GPU NVIDIA card? EVGA GTX 460 2WIN

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 11, 2011 - 12:25 PM |
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Sure, AMD impressed everyone with the recent release of the Radeon HD 6990 4GB dual Cayman GPU graphics card, but we all know that NVIDIA is going to respond with the GTX 590 dual-GPU card at some point.  But it looks like the gang at EVGA are tired of waiting as well and went ahead and built a combo-card that puts a pair of GeForce GTX 460 GPUs on a single PCB.  Yes, 460s not 560s - obviously this a project that was made cheaper by using the widely available previous generation components.

EVGA is promoting the card as the first NVIDIA solution to support 4 monitors and NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround technology with just a single card.  The "GTX 460 2WIN", a name that I can't quite decide is humorous or shameful, is not yet available, doesn't have a price but still tickles our fancy.

The PCB design is 11.5-in and is just a half inch short of the HD 6990 and HD 5970 cards from AMD in terms of length.  The cooler looks like it is using a set of three fans and hopefully they are able to run at a low noise level.

The output configuration consists of three dual-link DVI connections in order to support triple panel gaming in both 2D and 3D formats.  A single mini-HDMI connection completes the support for four total monitors on the card.  The small output for air flow exhaust does kind of concern me as I know that running a pair of GTX 460 GPUs is going to create some significant heat likely meaning much of that heat will be sent back into the case rather than out the back of your computer.  We'll have to wait to get some hands on time with a card in the near future to see how it actually performs.

Speaking of performance, the EVGA GTX 460 2WIN card will come with 2GB of GDDR5 memory running at 3600 MHz and a core clock of 700 MHz which is just over the original 675 MHz reference speed.  So these are NOT underclocked components to make temperatures fit into a smaller form factor. 

There a couple of quick performance numbers on the EVGA product page, including this one above that shows the performance of the GTX 460 2WIN against a single NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580.  The graph definitely is made to enlarge the appearance of the gap between these two options, since at ~5750 for the GTX 580 and ~5950 for the GTX 460 2WIN, the delta is only about 3.5%.

Without a doubt, whatever the upcoming GeForce GTX 590 turns out to be, it will be faster than the GTX 460 2WIN EVGA has designed.  Still, we are glad to see new products that aren't simply reproductions of reference models and we hope that EVGA can price the card properly to make it a compelling card in the grand graphics card market.

Source: EVGA

MSI Releases the R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition Graphics Card

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 10, 2011 - 05:36 PM |
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City of Industry, CA – March 3, 2011 – Internationally renowned graphics card and mainboard manufacturer MSI proudly launches the R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition today. The all-new graphics card is not only equipped with the latest Twin Frozr III dual fan cooling module, it also incorporates MSI's exclusive Propeller Blade technology for 20% more airflow than conventional fan blade designs. Under full loads, the GPU core runs 11C cooler than the reference thermal solution and noise output is up to 13.9 dB lower. The popular PCB architecture from the R6850 Cyclone 1GD5 Power Edition has been retained as well, with Triple Over-Voltage support and a 6+2 phase power delivery system that ensures overclocking potential and stability, achieving up to 21% more performance than the reference HD 6950! By meeting the needs for increased cooling efficiency, an enhanced power supply, improved overclocking potential, and constant stability— the R6950 Frozr III Power Edition is undoubtedly the best HD6950 graphics card on the market today.

20% More Airflow with Exclusive Propeller Blade Technology
The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition is equipped with the latest Twin Frozr III dual fan thermal solution. The MSI-exclusive Propeller Blade technology features air channels on the edge of the blades to expand total airflow by up to 20%! The twin 8cm PWM fans, heat pipe technology, large surface-area nickel-plated copper base and high fin density all serve to rapidly draw excess heat away from the graphics card. Under a full load, the R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition GPU runs 11˚C cooler than the reference design, and noise emission is reduced by 13.9 dB— validating the superior cooling performance and silent running advantages of the Twin Frozr III.

Since active users may use their graphics cards for a variety of applications, MSI developed the exclusive P/S Switch function for controlling the speed of the fans. The Performance Mode is used to achieve an optimal cooling performance, helping to keep the GPU cool even under high loads. For applications or settings where noiselessness is preferred, the Silent Mode can be utilized as the appropriate mode for gaming or movies, ensuring that fan noise is kept to a minimum while still receiving outstanding cooling performance.

21% More Performance than Reference Board with Triple Overvoltage and 6+2 Phase Power System
The R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition graphics card retains the architecture of its predecessor, the R6850 Cyclone Power Edition. In addition,, Triple Overvoltage is implemented to greatly improve overclockability by allowing users to utilize the popular MSI –Exclusive Afterburner overclocking utility to adjust the GPU-Memory-VDDCI voltage. To achieve maximum performance, the 6+2 Phase Power System design delivers 37% more power than the reference design for stability at high loads. Under overclocking, the R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition offers up to 21% more performance than the reference card!

Handpicked Components for the Best Quality
MSI's Military Class graphic cards became the favorite with enthusiasts that associate military-grade components with superior quality and stability. To get closer to perfecting board design, MSI has now introduced the next-generation Military Class II Components, including the Tantalum Core Hi-C capacitor that lasts 8 times longer, SFC capacitors that deliver 30% more power, and Solid Cap capacitors that get up to 10 years of service life. All combined, together they ensure superior graphics card quality and stability.

Source: MSI

4GB of RAM, 2 GPUs and 1 performance crown; welcome HD6990

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 8, 2011 - 11:50 AM |
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Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the HD6990 is no longer than the already huge HD6970, not surprising is that the GPUs are the newer Cayman architecture and not the Evergreen that we saw on the 5xxx series.  The power draw is impressive, even more so if you plan on overclocking the card or go completely insane and try to set up a Crossfire system.  The performance is even more impressive, taking on SLI and Crossfire systems with ease in most scenarios though Ryan is quick to point out that some of those dual card setups will run you less cash that the current king of the single slot graphics card.

 

"As an enthusiast myself, it is hard to argue with the raw performance that you see when playing with the Radeon HD 6990 4GB graphics card. In a single PCI Express slot you can get the fastest GPU computing solution in the world and support for as many as five monitors and you can't say that from any other AMD or NVIDIA options on the market today. NVIDIA has not tried very hard to hide the fact that they are coming out with a dual-GPU option to compete very soon and if they can get two GTX 570 class GPUs on a single PCB, they might have a strong competitor."

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Antilles Architecture and Design

The AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB card has been known by the media and even gamers since the first announcements from the Cayman launch last year but finally today we are able to discuss the technology behind it and the gaming performance it will provide users willing to shell out the $700 it will take to acquire. Stop in and see if your mortgage is worth this graphics card!

"Look at the size of that thing!"
-Wedge Antilles, in reference to the first Death Star

Graphics card that are this well endowed don't come along very often; the last was the Radeon HD 5970 from AMD back in November of 2009.  In a world where power efficiency is touted as a key feature it has become almost a stigma to have an add-in card in your system that might pull 350-400 watts of power.  Considering we were just writing about a complete AMD Fusion platform that used 34 watts IN TOTAL under load, it is an easy task to put killer gaming products like the HD 6990 in an unfair and unreasonable light. 

But we aren't those people.  Do most people need a $700, 400 watt graphics card?  Nope.  Do they want it though?  Yup.  And we are here to show it to you.

A new take on the dual-GPU design

Both AMD and NVIDIA have written this story before: take one of your top level GPUs and double them up on a single PCB or card design to plug into a single PCI Express slot and get maximum performance.  CrossFire (or SLI) in a single slot - lots to like about that. 

The current GPU lineup paints an interesting picture with the Fermi-based GTX 500 series from NVIDIA and the oddly segregated AMD HD 6800 and HD 6900 series of cards.  Cayman, the redesigned architecture AMD released as the HD 6970 and HD 6950, brings a lot of changes to the Evergreen design used in previous cards.  It has done fairly well in the market though it didn't improve the landscape for AMD discrete graphics as much as many had thought it would and NVIDIA's graphics chips have remained very relevant. 

With the rumors swirling about a new dual-GPU option from AMD there was some discussion on whether it would be an HD 6800 / Evergreen based design or an HD 6900 / Cayman contraption.  Let's just get that mystery out of the way:

With the VLIW4 microarchitecture we absolutely are seeing a dual Cayman card and with a surprisingly high clock speed of 830 MHz out of the gate with lots of headroom for the overclocker in all of us.  There are 1536 stream processors per GPU for a total of 3072 and a raw computing power of more than 5 TeraFLOPs.   This is analogous to the HD 6970 GPU that shares the 1536 shader count but runs at a clock rate of 880 MHz.

The memory architecture runs a bit slower as well at 5.0 Gbps (versus the 5.5 Gbps on the HD 6970) but we are still getting a full 2GB per GPU for a grand-spanking-total of 4GB on this single card.  Load power on the board is rated at "<375 watts" and just barely makes the budget for PCI Express based solutions with the provided dual 8-pin power connectors. 

You might remember that AMD introduced a dual-BIOS switch with the HD 6900 cards as well that would allow users to easily revert back to the original BIOS and settings should their overclocking attempts take a turn for the worse.  For this card though, they are taking a slightly different approach by having the switch pull duties as an overclocking option directly, pushing up the clock frequency from 830 MHz to 880 MHz.  That might not seem like that dramatic of a change (and it isn't) but more noticeable is the change in voltage on the GPUs (going from 1.12v to 1.175v) and what that does to the power consumption and PowerTune options on the card for further tweaking.  More on that below.
 

A liquid cooled HD6970 from Powercolor

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 7, 2011 - 06:49 PM |
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The LCS in PowerColor Radeon HD 6970 LCS indicates that this card is liquid cooled, thanks to EK Waterblocks.  The base speeds are above reference of course, 925MHz GPU and 1425MHz GDDR5 out of the box and once Overclockers Club got a hold of it those clocks went to 1021MHz and 1520MHz.   Even with that overclock the temperatures stayed reasonable and ran silently.

"This block when used in a liquid cooled system will deliver exceptional cooling performance with the card never breaking the 50 Celsius mark at 45C. What has to be the biggest advantage of the card is not what it has but what it does not have. That ungodly loud fan noise when the fan is pushed to the 100% level. No howling beast to make you wonder why you bought the card. The overclocks achieved on this card were 1021MHz on the GPU core and 1520MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Easily better than any HD 6970 I have tested, something I have to attribute to the exceptional cooling delivered by the Ek block."

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The difference a gigabyte makes, HD6950 2GB versus the 1GB version

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 25, 2011 - 03:42 PM |
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The new Radeon HD 6950 1GB was released by vendors looking to bring the price down on AMD's card, it is exactly the same design barring the missing gigabyte of GDDR5.  The price difference is minimal, seeing HD6950 1GB models at $255 with the full 2GB model costing a mere $22 more.  More imp

Source: [H]ard|OCP

New Afterburner V2.1.0 available today

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 25, 2011 - 01:06 PM |
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New Predator Feature Enables In-Game Video Capture at Any Time

Source: MSI