ASUS GTX580 MATRIX ReviewGeekspeak411 - August 25, 2011
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Pulling the hard plastic overlay off the graphics card packaging offers me my first unobstructed look at the Matrix GTX580. It is very well protected in a custom cut foam enclosure. It's actually not possible to pull the card out at this point as there is an added safety feature here to protect the card — the PCI-E connection is actually underneath a flap of foam, meaning the entire encasing comes out of the box, and the card must be removed upside down as seen in these photos.
Now that I have the card out of the package, the looks do not disappoint. Citing inspiration from various sources, the design team did a very nice job with the card and the build quality feels superb. The card sports a black plastic heatsink cover with ribbed red accents. Toward the I/O edge of the card sits a ROG logo in a similar red print; a larger version of that seen on the case badge. The two large fans that use new dust buildup prevention technologies dominate the face with the back of the card protected by a metal plate. The back plate of the card is very sturdy and offers good protection while still offering ventilation. As with previous ASUS cards recently, the NEC power chip has prime placement directly underneath the GPU, drastically reducing EMI emissions and interference.
Moving next to the PCI-E side of the card, I really like the vent styling ASUS put in on the shroud. It adds depth where most cards are barren, which matters a bit more on this card seeing as how this is a monstrous three-slot GPU. From these pictures, you can get a good sense of the size of this card in relation to the size of the PCI-E connection. On the other side of the card, the true Matrix design claim to fame is displayed: a light up "Matrix" logo that actually changes colors based on the usage of the GPU. Before anyone calls foul, think about this feature, as it can be used beyond a mere gimmick. I would personally find this feature useful while benchmarking with multiple GPUs, as I can see how effective the SLI can distribute tasks, and I can see just how PhysX-heavy a scene is by checking out the coloring on a dedicated PhysX GPU. In single card applications, I can see this feature being useful when running benchmarks, or parallel processing AFK — when the GPU goes idle again, you know whatever you were doing is done and ready for the next task. Oh, the logo also looks pretty damn cool lit up in all its glory. Of course, SLI connections and the dual 8-pin plugs are also to be found here, allowing for all the crazy performance you can dream of. The power ports have an added feature here as well — LEDs are positioned on the opposite side of the PCB and light up green when their respective power connection is properly hooked in.
The vented I/O side of the card has pretty standard connections, including dual DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort. The style is very similar to the DirectCU II cards except for one addition, a safe mode button. The Safe Mode button on the Matrix GTX580 is to be compared in functionality to a Clear CMOS button or jumper on a motherboard. If it is pushed, the vBIOS is wiped to stable settings and allows for a stable boot. This is very useful for people trying to do some heavy overclocking with little headache. On the opposite end, the shroud details continue, along with the card's tweaking buttons that allow for hardware voltage modding. Directly next to the voltage tweak buttons are LEDs that indicate the level of manual voltage modding being applied. The red button allows the user to manually override the software fan controls and set to 100%. This is useful if you're testing settings and are having issues at boot. Alternatively, you can write new BIOS settings with the bundled GPU Tweak utility to have the card automatically default to 100% or any percentage at boot until different settings are received as opposed to the default 'auto' setting the card boots with.
I feel like I've seen all I need to with the heatsink mounted, so it's time to take it off and see what else the ASUS engineers have in store. The heatsink is attached via four screws positioned in a square around the GPU. As with the GTX570 DirectCU II, I would like to point out the fantastic build quality here in the screw mountings themselves. It is extremely hard to capture on camera, but the screw holes lie perfectly flush with their surroundings, not sticking up or providing any rough edges. In addition, they feel very premium and well made. For a card of this caliber, it is important that it is designed to last a lifetime. The next area of importance is the fan header, which must be removed to fully detach the heatsink from the PCB. In this case, there are two connections that must be removed — the extra wires allow for the individually adjustable fans and the load-based lighting.
Once removed, the next project is to tackle the heatsink keeping the power management at appropriate levels. It is also removed by four screws and reveals the front of the graphics card in its entirety. The 19-Phase power system here is a huge bump up over standard graphics cards and the setup could probably be seen from space! There is a sufficient amount or thermal paste applied to the GPU and the thermal tape used for the power system feels of high quality. ASUS used Samsung modules here for the 1.5GB of dedicated graphics RAM and used its custom "Super Alloy Power" technology for the power, which eliminates noise from the card, increases efficiency, and offers a much higher thermal threshold. iROG chips are all on board here, enabling the superior tweaking capabilities of the card and allowing for complete control over all functions of the card while it is running live. Here are some nice close-up shots of the equipment on board.
The thermal paste on the chip is pretty standard and there's a good amount supplied so there's no need to apply your own.
Once all the thermal paste is removed, you can faintly see the NVIDIA print on the chip and the machining on the heatsink. ASUS could have definitely improved the quality of the finish, but it's adequately smooth.
Here you can see the 'Super Alloy Power' area of the PCB. These are made with a special alloy blend designed to increase efficiency and reliability, while they are also filled with concrete to prevent vibrations that can cause very irritating high pitched humming under load. The thermal tape on the dedicated heatsink is of very high quality. I also included a close-up of the Samsung GDDR5.
These chips are a few of what help make everything happen, regulating the card and contributing to the card's additional features. Republic of Gamers features are strong throughout the card. Whether they'll make a difference remains to be seen, but the hardware's all here.
That is all premium hardware right there, but does it actually make a difference? I'll check that out in the testing section. Since the card looks good in person, let's take a look at how it looks on paper.