Asus ENGTX260 Matrix Review

ccokeman - 2009-04-11 18:40:21 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: May 26, 2009
Price: TBD

Introduction:

The GTX 260 216 SP is a tried and true performer that offers excellent results for your performance dollars. With prices dropping and everyone becoming more value conscious, the video card manufacturers are releasing updated models of 2008 cards to fill the price performance gap between the big dogs and the now mid range performers. Some manufacturers just slap a new cooler on a reference PCB and call it 'new', while other manufacturers take a different approach and redesign the whole thing from scratch. This is the approach ASUS seems to have taken with the ENGTX 260 Matrix. Asus has put together a good looking card that does indeed have an improved cooling solution, but it's what's underneath that seals the deal and makes this a little bit better than the average GTX 260. As part of the ROG (Republic Of Gamers) series of products, the expectation is that this card will deliver stunning performance. However the card is sent out the door with reference clock speeds of 576/1000/1242 MHz that just don't lead you to think the card is much more than a cooling and software package. Lets see what kind of result the ASUS ENGTX260 Matrix delivers.

Closer Look:

The front panel of the ASUS ENGTX 260 Matrix shows the video card as part of a sword on top of a shield showing the Matrix as the weapon of choice. The fact that this is part of the Republic of Gamers is highlighted at the top of the front panel. The rear panel lists some of the features the software included as well as the minimum system specifications.The front panel flips open to display the special attributes of the ENGTX 260 Matrix. These features include the Super Hybrid Engine with multi level voltage adjustment and auto phase switching. The Hybrid Cooler+ works with Advanced Dynamic load detection to help determine the cooling capacity to use. iTracker is a new monitoring and overclocking utility that is used to get the most from the Matrix, be it energy saving or seeking out the last bit of performance through voltage and fan speed adjustments.

 

 

Inside the box you get something a little different with a black box containing the ENGTX 260 Matrix. The only marking on this inner box is the ASUS logo in gold. Popping this box open you are greeted with much of the same as the logo continues to the inner packaging. This box contains the documentation and driver disk while the smaller box to the right holds all of the connectivity hardware. Digging a little deeper you get to the Matrix sealed in an anti-static bag.

 

 

 

What you get for bundled accessories are a manual, driver disk, a disk containing the manual, power adapter, HDTV-out dongle, S\PDIF input for sound out via HDMI, DVI to D-sub adapter and a DVI to HDMI adapter. All in all, a pretty decent amount of accessories to get you connected so you can enjoy the Matrix.

 

 

Let's take a little closer look at the Matrix before I put it through its paces to see if it belongs in the ROG line up.

 

Closer Look:

Right from the start the Matrix looks to be a little something special. The Hybrid Cooling solution is the biggest tip-off externally. The Matrix is designed to be used in a 16x PCIe slot and is PCIe 2.0 compliant. The card comes in at 10.5 inches in length. The PCB used on the Matrix is black, which gives the card that sinister look. 2 fans are used on the Hybrid Cooler that uses 4 heatpipes dispersing heat into aluminum fin arrays to keep the card and component temperatures in check. The clock speeds read just like any run of the mill GTX 260, 576MHz on the GPU, 1000MHz on the GDDR3 memory and 1242MHz on the Shader processor cores. Surely this is more than just a software and cooler package?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front end of the Matrix is pretty much standard fare with 2 dual link DVI ports and an HDTV out. The retention bracket is vented to allow airflow through the fin array for discharge outside the chassis. The rear end is dominated by one of the two cooling fans and sits right over the power regulation circuits.

 

 

Power to the ENGTX 260 Matrix is again pretty much standard on the GTX 260 216SP cards with two six pin PCIe power connections. Next to the power connections is the S\PDIF in connection for use when sending sound out via HDMI. The ASUS ENGTX 260 Matrix is Tri SLI capable as evidenced by the dual SLI bridge connectors.

 

 

The cooling solution used on the Matrix is a Hybrid copper aluminum piece that contains two YStech fans. The contact patch on the heatsink assembly really looks bad when you compare the cooling capacity it delivers. Just about everything on the PCB is passively cooled by the airflow coming through the cooler. This cooling solution uses four heatpipes that attach to two circular and one square fin array. The solution looks like it could be quite effective.

 

 

 

Once you remove the cooling solution you can see the revision of the GPU. When compared to the core on an ATI GPU the core is just massive. The GDDR3 memory used on the Matrix is from Samsung and carries part number K4J52324QH-HJ1A and are rated for use at 1000MHz. With that said, these modules have delivered speeeds in excess of 1200MHz many times. Surprisingly the power regulation circuits and memory are all passively cooled and do not have any heatsinks, so they rely on the air flowing past them to stay cool.

 

 

Enough looking - let's she what she can do when pushed.

 

Closer Look:

Just because you put that shiny new graphics card into your computer does not mean that it will work as intended right off the bat. For that to happen you need to install the drivers to make it work correctly. To do this, insert the supplied driver disc, or better yet, go on over to nVidia's website to download the latest drivers for your specific operating system and hardware. This way you have the latest game and performance fixes. Start the install by choosing the auto run feature if using the disc or double clicking the file you downloaded from nVidia and it will run. Make the choices that are applicable and then click finish and you will need to restart the computer to finish the installation process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the drivers are installed you have access to the nVidia control panel. Here is where you can adjust the performance and visual quality settings to the level you like. The first tab is labeled "3D Settings." The first section "Adjust image settings with Preview" offers pretty granular adjustments for performance vs quality. The second section allows for fine adjustments by and adjusting by application. A new feature in this section is Ambient Occlusion. This feature is added with the 185 series drivers. What this feature does is simulate shadows where ambient lighting should be blocked by an object. Something as simple as a pay phone on a wall will have its shadow cast on the wall when rendered with this option enabled. You can see examples of this in use on the Extras page. The last part of this section is the option to enable or disable PhysX.

 

 

The second section is strictly about managing the display. Setting the resolution, flat panel scaling, custom resolutions and managing the color profiles are all done here.

 

 

 

Last in line on this installation is the video and television settings. If you had the Geforce 3D Vision installed on your system this option would be available to you.

 

 

Asus has included a couple of handy applications to make the experience of owning the ENGTX2260 Matrix a little more satisfying. The first is iTracker, which allows you to not only monitor temperatures, but power consumption. Another of its uses is for overclocking the Matrix. For this it is well equipped, allowing clock speed adjustments for the memory, shader cores and the GPU. Fan speed adjustment can be set up using defined temperature profiles or you can manually adjust the speed. Additionally there are several predefined overclocking profiles but these offer little in the way of a really measurable performance increase. One thing that we all do is up the voltage to stabilize the overclocks on the CPU and system memory so it makes sense that the GPU can benefit as well. Under the user defined tab you can adjust the clock speeds fan control and adjust the voltage to suite your needs.

 

 

 

Gamer OSD is a handy little tool to let you record in game video or screen shots. There are three distinct tabs. The first is capture mode that allows you to capture or record a video in game. The second tab allows the user to setup hot keys for common tasks used with the app.The last tab is used to view the movies and screen shots you have captured.

 

 

 

There are a few technologies that can be used with nVidia graphics cards to take advantage of the massive performance potential designed into the company's cards. First off there is CUDA, a programming language that takes advantage of the parallel computing power of the nVidia GPU. There are already many applications that take advantage of this technology. Badaboom from Elemental Technologies uses the technology to reduce the time it takes to convert media files between different formats. There is Arcsoft's Total Media Theatre that uses CUDA technology to upscale video to HD levels by leveraging the performance of the GPU to increase the frame rate to a steady 30 plus FPS. When run in the compare mode, CPU usage peaks in the high 80+ percent range and offers reduced performance. When using CUDA technology to get the GPU to do the work, the CPU load drops to the 2 to 3% range, resulting in far superior performance.

 

 

One of the other application that uses the technology is one that is near and dear to our hearts, Folding@Home. What this program does, is use the parallel computing power of the nVidia GPU to simulate protein "folding." What is this, you ask? Well, when proteins don't fold correctly the result is some really heinous diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, BSE (Mad Cow), and Cystic Fibrosis. By simulating how chains of amino acids fold or misfold, researchers hope to find cures for these diseases and more. You can find more information here. If you decide to join the ranks of the people looking for a cure, make sure you select team 12772.

 

One enhancement that nVidia has had success with is PhysX technology. This technology is used to enable a more realistic gaming experience. Glass that shatters and stays in the environment instead of just fading away into the floor, curtains and cloth that move realistically and react to impacts and the wind, realistic smoke and bullet fragments and ricochets that do more than just flash on a wall. All of these things are visual enhancements that PhysX acceleration brings to the table. As of the end of 2008, there were three major game manufacturers committed to developing games using PhysX technology. These manufacturers are Take Two Interactive, Electronic Arts and THQ. As time goes by there are even more jumping on the Physx bandwagon. One of the latest is Cryostasis from 1C games. Developed by Action Frames and distributed by 505 games, this game takes Physx effects to a new level with water that is simulated using smoothed particle hydrodynamics.

 

 

 

Specifications:

Graphics Engine

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260

Bus Standard

PCI Express 2.0

Video Memory

DDR3 896MB

Engine Clock

576 MHz

Shader Clock

1.242 GHz

Memory Clock

2.0 GHz ( 1.0 GHz DDR3 )

RAMDAC
400MHz

Memory Interface

448-bit

CRT Max Resolution   

2048 x 1536

DVI Max Resolution

2560x1600

D-Sub Output

Yes x 1 (via DVI to D

DVI Output

Yes x 2 (DVI-I)

HDMI Output

 Yes x 1 (via DVI to HDMI adaptor x 1 )

HDTV Output

(YPbPr)Yes

HDCP Support

Yes

TV Output 

Yes (YPbPr to S Video and Composite)

Adapter/Cable Bundled

1 x DVI to D-Sub adaptor
1 x DVI to HDMI adaptor
1 x HDTV-out cable
1 x Power cable
1 x S/PDIF cable

Software Bundled 

ASUS Utilities & Driver

ASUS Features

Matrix Series

Note

The card size is 4.376 inches x 10.5 inches

Features:

 

 

All information courtesy of ASUS @ http://www.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=UcYfkNA6tbq7MmgQ&templete=2

 

Testing:

Testing the ASUS ENGTX 260 Matrix will consist of running the card through the Overclockersclub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks to test the performance of the Matrix against many popular competitors to gauge its performance. The games used are some of todays popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to each other. The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing where Physx will be disabled in the Nvidia control panel. Clock speeds on each card are left at the as delivered speeds.I will test the ASUS ENGTX 260 Matrix at both stock speeds and then overclocked to see how much additional performance is available.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

There are several ways you can overclock the ASUS ENGTX 260 Matrix. You can use currently available tools like Riva Tuner, the controls in the control panel, or the iTracker software utility that ASUS has packaged with the Matrix. I used both Riva Tuner and iTracker to see which method would yield the best clock speeds. The Matrix starts of with the stock clock speeds of 576MHz on the core 999MHz on the GDDR3 memory and shader clocks of 1242MHz, pretty much standard fare. This in itself was a bit confusing. The first round I found the maximum stable clock speeds for the GPU, Memory and Shader cores. Then came the task of finding the best combination of clock speeds. After some trial and error I ended up with GPU clock speeds of 749MHz, memory clock speeds of 1237MHz and a Shader Clock speed of 1501MHz. All of these were pretty substantial improvements above the stock speeds the Matrix is delivered with. The second round I used the iTracker software. After a few failed attempts at increasing the clock speeds I went right to the voltage controls and started upping the voltage to reach higher clock speeds. I was only able to increase the clock speed on the GPU by an additioanl 5MHZ but the Shader clock speeds responded well to the voltage and gave up another 92MHz worth of clock speed, giving me final numbers of 754/1235/1593. These are the highest clock speeds I have ever gotten on a GTX 260-216sp card hands down. Fan speeds were kept constant at the 100% mark throughout the overclocked testing as the Matrix was not audible over the Scythe Kaze fans used on my heatsink.

 

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty World at War
  5. Dead Space
  6. Fallout 3
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

 

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Asus Matrix GTX 260 performed between the stock GTX 260 and the Palit Sonic GTX 260. When overclocked the Matrix really shines by equaling or besting some of the upper-end cards in the comparison group. Overclocking nets anywhere from a 12% to 16% performance bonus in Far Cry 2 if you take the time to push the Matrix. Not a bad start!

 

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overclocking the Matrix GTX 260 brings the level of performance closer to that of the GTX 275 and HD 4890.

 

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies" It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment as well as the story line will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The performance of the Matrix is similar to that of the stock GTX 260, as it should be with the Nvidia specified clock speeds. Once again when overclocked the performance of the Matrix scales nicely with FPS increases of almost 20% at 1680x1050. This gives it the power needed to run with the big dogs in this comparison.

Testing:

Activision's Call of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought CoD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a high resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare the performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With stock clock speeds equal to that of the standard GTX 260 the Matrix performs right where it should. Now, when overclocked, it plays outside its price range topping all comers at 2560x1600.

Testing:

In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse, starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At stock settings the Matrix performs as expected, no surprise there. When pushed thee Matrix delivers a substantial performance increase across the board.

 

Testing:

Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years, and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is not much of a performance difference separating the video cards in this comparison. The GTX 260 Matrix holds its own and delivers performance slightly better than the stock version in all four resolutions.

 

Testing:

Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Matrix delivers performance above that of the stock card in each of the four resolutions and when overclocked outshines the GTX 275.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When overclocked, the Asus GTX 260 Matrix delivers performance above the HD 4890 in all four resolutions and out steps out ahead of the GTX 275 at the top end. It performs as it should at stock clock speeds.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When run at stock speeds the Asus Matrix really does not distinguish itself from the GTX 260 pack. When overclocked the Matrix however does exceed the stock scores by a large margin allowing it to deliver performance equal to or better than the GTX 275.

Conclusion:

Asus has built a winner with the ENGTX 260 Matrix. At stock speeds there is not to much to distinguish itself from the GTX 260 crowd other than the fact it is quiet under load. When you put the screws to it and start overclocking the Matrix it really starts to shine. Improvements ranged from 12 to almost 20 percent over the stock results. This put the performance delivered, up into stock GTX 275 territory for the price of a GTX 260. You can't ask much more from a card than being able to play in a deeper pool than they were meant to. There is no doubt that the ASUS ENGTX 260 Matrix overclocks like mad. The core clock speed showed an increase of 30% or 177 MHz, while the shader clock speed showed an increase of 351Mhz or a 29% increase, with last but not least, the GDDR3 memory gave an increase of 23% or 238Mhz. All of these increases were just huge compared to any of the other GTX 260 cards I have worked with. That alone is worth the price of admission. Once you factor in the cooling performance, the package just delivers. For overclocked temperatures I would idle between 37 and 38 degrees Celsius and load at 52 degrees Celsius. The non-stock heatpipe cooling obviously works and helps push this card to excel, while still remaining cool. Usually, great cooling comes with the price tag of increased noise. Not so with the Matrix GTX 260 as it was not audible over the rest of my case fans.

What helps make all of the overclocking possible is the design of the Matrix. The Super Hybrid Engine allows for better voltage control so that the Matrix provides the power to the GPU and memory as efficiently as possible. Dynamic load detection is used to predict the GPU temperatures and adjust the fan speeds to ensure that the Matrix is kept cool and quiet. This it does quite well. If you really want to get the most from the Matrix you will need to use one of the bundled utilities called iTracker. This little utility has predefined profiles you can use for a slight performance increase or you can go whole hog on the user defined settings where you can control the cloxk speeds, fan speed or profile and best of all the voltage control much like the utility included with EVGA cards. Playing with the voltages did not help much on the GPU core speed or memory, but helped tremendously on the shader clock speeds with an 92MHz jump over what I could get with traditional overclocking methods. The only thing I can find on this card that I was disappointed with, was the fact that the GDDR3 memory modules were cooled only by the airflow exiting the heatpipe assembly.

If you are looking for a card that offers excellent performance when pushed to the limits with exceptional cooling as delivered, the ASUS ENGTX 260 Matrix has got to be on top of or close to the top of your shopping list. When overclocked, it performs to the level of hardware that surely will be much more expensive than the ENGTX 260 Matrix.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: