BFG GeForce GTS 250 OC 1GB Review

ccokeman - 2008-12-15 18:56:18 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: March 3, 2009
Price: $129-$149

Introduction:

When you are finally ready to step up to a newer video card or make the selection for your new PC build, the quandary we all face is which one do I get? The numbering schemes should spell it out for you but for some reason the higher numbers are not always the better products. nVidia's video card naming structure can be somewhat confusing for Joe Six Pack down at the local big box store. This is by no means an nVidia exclusive problem. Is that 9400GT better than the 8800GT? Not really when it comes to gaming performance! Understanding the generations and the performance levels inherent to each series of cards is a must to know what you are getting in the current world of video card naming. Making a purchase just because the number is higher does not provide the full picture. nVidia has been listening to customer feedback on this problem and has begun renaming its cards to create a more streamlined video card hierarchy. By doing this it will eliminate some of the confusion when it comes down to making a purchase. There will be two distinct lineups, one being the GTS line that is targeted at the performance market, and the GTX line set squarely in the sights of the enthusiast market. While renaming is nothing new, there seems to be some serious bad blood with some people out in the community over it this time around. Oh well, it happens. Think about this, Ford renamed the Pinto as the Mustang II and gave it a new look with a little flash and design changes to make it look like a Mustang when up under the skin it was all Pinto.

So where does this leave us with the BFG Geforce GTS 250 OC 1GB? Well, for all intents and purposes, it is a G92 based video card that is the successor to the 9800GTX+. As the successor to the 9800GTX+, the GTX 250 shares many of the same characteristics such as clock speed, memory speed, the same 256-bit memory bus, same amount of shader cores and all. Where this card differs from the 9800GTX+ is the price point it is being offered at as well as the fact that models are available with both 512MB and 1GB memory configurations at $129 and $149 price points, respectively. The power connections required drop from two 6-pin PCI-E connections on the 9800GTX+ down to a single 6-pin requirement as well as a change in the heatsink design. No longer is the design shared between the GTS and GTX series of cards. While the stock clock speeds come in at 738MHz on the core and 1100MHz on the memory, the BFG Overclocked version comes in at a core speed of 750MHz and the 1GB of memory at 1120MHz. Wil the increase in clock speed and memory size make for a dominating performance over the HD 4850, this card's main competition? Let's find out and see what this revision of the G92 workhorse can bring to the table.

Closer Look:

The front panel of the package shows a small picture of the GTS 250 OC, the name of the card, as well as the specifications of the GTS 250. There is also a list of items included with the GTS 250. Highlighted along the bottom is the fact that BFG offers free 24/7 support and a lifetime warranty on the GTS 250. The rear panel shows in picture form the difference between integrated graphics solutions and an nVidia based graphics solution. The support and warranty are again prominently highlighted.

 

 

Pulling the insert out of the retail box shows that the product is well packaged, preventing a card that is DOA. Instead of the foam block that has become a popular method for reducing shipping damage, BFG uses a cardboard frame that is tightly bound around the GTS 250.

 

 

The list of accessories that comes with the card includes the manual, a driver disc, dual 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCI-E power adapter, DVI to D-Sub adapter and a few good looking stickers to show off your loyalties. The package is slim but on a $149 card you have to conserve somewhere. While slim, the bundle will get you started.

 

 

Let's see what the GTS looks like up close and personal.

 

Closer look:

The GTS 250 is designed to be used in an x16 PCI-E slot and is PCI-E 2.0 compliant. The GTS 250 uses a dual slot cooling solution, much like its predecessor. This means you will need two slots worth of space while only occupying one physical x16 slot. The GTS 250 OC 1GB from BFG ships with clock speeds on the G92 GPU of 750MHz, shader clocks of 1863MHz and memory speeds of 1120Mhz. These are all slight increases above the factory speeds, hence the Overclocked designation on this card. One big change to the GTS 250 is the size of the card. While the 9800GTX comes in at ten inches in length, the GTS 250 comes in at nine inches long. This should make it a better fit in those smaller cases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front of the GTS 250 contains the connectivity option. This card is limited to two dual-link capable DVI ports. Additional connectivity is available if an adapter is used. If HDMI is your chosen connection method, the GTS 250 OC is able to accommodate this method of connectivity with an HDMI to DVI adapter. The rear end of the card is a bit more open than the 9800 series, so hopefully this translates into better thermal performance.

 

 

One big difference that is noticeable right away is the lack of a second 6-pin power connector on the GTS 250 OC. Kind of odd when the specifications show the 9800GTX+ having a lower power requirement than the GTS 250 (141 versus 150watts). Up near the SLI bridge connection is an S/PDIF connection for use with high definition sound to be output via a DVI to HDMI connector. Like the 9800GTX+, the GTS 250 is Tri-SLI capable and the GTS 250 can be used in conjunction with a 9800GTX+ in an SLI configuration.

 

 

Closer Look:

Just because the GTS 250 fits nice and snug in that x16 slot doesn't mean that your job is finished. Once you start up the system and have it running, you have to get the drivers installed so that the card knows how to function properly to give you the best combination of gaming performance and visual quality. You will want to start by inserting the driver disc and installing the drivers; the better solution is to download the latest drivers directly from nVidia so that you are assured of getting the latest performance and game compatibility improvements. This option is the recommended method as there is no telling the time that the card has been on the shelf. Once the installation GUI opens up, follow the prompt and before you know it the drivers are installed and you are ready for action after the required system reboot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the driver installation is completed and you restart the system, you can make your way to the nVidia control panel. In the control panel you can make adjustments to the visual quality and performance characteristics of the GTS 250. These adjustment can be coarse or fine depending on the area that is chosen. Under the 3D settings tab you can make a coarse adjustment to optimize for performance or quality or let the 3D application decide. You can fine tune the performance with managing 3D settings and last, but not least, you can enable or disable PhysX optimizations. If by chance you are running dual video cards, the SLI configuration is done here as well. On the display tab you manage all of the display functionality such as the display size and color settings. The third section, Video and Television, deals with the color and image quality settings. There are a couple of add ins that bring more functionality as well as a greater game experience. If you use the nVidia 3DVision system there will be an additional tab specifically for that so you can enable and disable the functionality.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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 PhsyX 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 commited to developing games using PhysX technology. These manufacturers are Take Two Interactive, Electronic Arts and THQ. One PhysX heavy title already out is Mirror's Edge

 

 

Specifications:

 

Fabrication Process

55 nm

Graphics Clock (texture and ROP units)

 738 MHz

Processor Clock (Shader units)

 1836 MHz

Memory Clock (Clock rate / Data rate)

1100 MHz / 2200 MHz

Total Video Memory

512 or 1024 MB

Memory Interface                                     

256-bit

Total Memory Bandwidth

 70.4 GB/s

Processor Cores

 128

ROP Units

16

Texture Filtering Units

 64

Texture Filtering Rate

 47.2 GigaTexels/sec

Connectors

2 x Dual-Link DVI-I

Form Factor

 Dual Slot

Power Connectors

1 x 6-pin

Max Board Power (TDP)

 150 watts

GPU Thermal Threshold

 105° C

 

Features:

 

Testing:

Now down to what we all have been waiting for. To test the BFG GTS 250 1GB OC, we will be putting it through a series of benchmarks designed to push the card to its limits. Then, to compare the performance of the GTS 250 to other current cards on the market, we will place those scores against them and see where it stands. All hardware will be run at stock speeds, timings and voltages to avoid any errors in the scores. The nVidia cards will be run using driver version 182.08 and the ATI cards will be running the 9.2 Catalyst release.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Pushing clock speeds upwards on a pre overclocked video card is always a challenge. Usually there is not a lot of head room left for the enthusiast without resorting to extreme cooling or voltage mods, neither of which I have done with this card. The lack of a second power connector means that the power consumption should be lower than the previous generation of this card, the 9800GTX+. This also concerned me when I started to push the clock speeds and promptly hit walls on the memory, shaders and core pretty quickly. 65MHz on the core, 84MHz on the memory, and 42MHz on the shaders were all that the GTS 250 would yield. Anything higher and it was corruption city. I have to wonder if the lack of that second power connector limited the overclock seeing how the 9800GTX card in this review was able to clock. Don't get me wrong, the card does overclock, it's just that simply being satisfied is not in my vocabulary and I always want more.

 

  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 specially 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 GTS 250 performed slightly better than the HD4850 and the 9800GTX+ across all four resolutions. Pretty much the expected performance in this lineup. Considering both the GTS 250 and HD4850 are both factory overclocked cards, there is a little more of a performance hike over the 9800GTX+.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crysis Warhead is just a card killer at the settings we have tested this lineup at. Again, the GTS 250 pulls ahead in all four resolutions. At 2560x1600, all of the cards fell down, with the HD4850 and 9800GTX+ delivering the worst frames per second.

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 Daddys". 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:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATI cards normally perform a bit better than the green camp in Bioshock. That plays out in all four resolutions. Still, the performance is smooth in-game all the way to 2560x1600.

 

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 large 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 performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While dropping to 33 FPS at 2560x1600, the gameplay was still fluid at this level. The GTS 250 was either equal in performance or better throughout the testing, with the maximum differential of 5 FPS at 1280x1024.

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 as 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What, no 2560x1600 resolution? The monitor I use seems to have an issue with one manufacturer's driver and I cannot even use this resolution, so I chose not to show scores for both manufacturers in the interest of a fair comparison. The GTS 250 and nVidia cards in general just outperform the ATI cards in this game.

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 1280x1024, there really is not a lot of difference in the tested video cards. Once the resolution scales upward, the cards start to fall off at different levels. The GTS 250 is ahead of the HD4850 across the board.

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! Below are several screenshots to show some in-game action.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GTS 250 is ahead of the HD 4850 and 9800GTX+ in three out of four resolutions but pulls away at 2560x1600 by four and five frames per second. The 1GB of frame buffer helps out on the top end.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across all four resolutions the GTS 250 was ahead of its main competition as well as the card it has replaced. At the standard test resolution of 1280x1024, the GTS 250 equals the performance of the HD4870 when overclocked.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The HD4850 finally outperforms the GTS 250 in this benchmark. If PhysX is turned on, the story would change but those results are still not accepted on the Orb, so these runs are made without PhysX enabled. When running at the fastest clock speed I could pull from the GTS 250, it barely outperformed the HD4850.

 

Conclusion:

So what's in a name? What nVidia hopes to do with the introduction of the GTS 250 is offer a video card to the masses that offers high mid-level performance at a bargain basement price. This is something that the BFG GTS 250 does even though it is based on the G92 GPU. Some may give nVidia grief about another rename of an aging card but it is still a viable option and the rename is meant to reduce that confusion at the retail level. With the 9800GTX+ currently selling anywhere from $125 to $175, the GTS 250 is right in line price-wise and falls below many of the cards currently offered for sale. With two flavors to choose from, differentiated from each other by the size of the frame buffer at 512MB and 1GB, they are priced accordingly at $129 and $149. Performance wise, the BFG GTS 250 outperformed the overclocked HD4850 in the majority of our benchmarks. That being said, you have a card that performs well in resolutions up to 1920x1200 and still is playable up to 2560x1600 in some of the games. This for a price below that of the competition. What sets the GTS 250 apart from the others is that you have the technologies to back up the card so it is not just a one trick pony. You have CUDA that allows you to use the GPU to do things such as transcode video, run distributed computing projects such as Folding @ Home if you want to help in the search for a cure and Seti @ Home if you just want to find some aliens. You have PhysX processing that gives a more realistic gaming experience by having the environment react to inputs such as wind and bullets. Unfortunately, enabling PhysX has a detrimental effect on FPS in game when run on a single card, but this card would be the answer to that problem. You could use the GTS 250 as your PhysX processing card and let your GTX series card do all of the real work, thereby increasing your frames per second in PhysX enabled games such as Mirror's Edge. With three big name manufacturers signed on to develop PhysX enabled games, the technology can only improve. Couple that with a set of 3DVision goggles and you have an amazing experience.

If you own a 9800GTX+ and want to run SLI, you could pick up a GTS 250 for less coin than the same card you have. But aren't they two different cards and therefore aren't compatible in SLI? Well, yes they are Johnny. You see, the GTS 250 is basically the 9800GTX+ in a smaller, more energy efficient package that does not make as much noise as the other cards in its class. Even as a renamed card with a few updates, this old dog has still got it. The GTS 250 will fill a price point and hopefully eliminate some of the confusion at the big box stores and e-tailers. Backed up by multiple technologies and a never ending series of driver improvements, the GTS series of cards will provide a rich experience for those that have champagne tastes with a Black Label budget. Look for these to hit stores around the 10th of March. How could you go wrong!?

 

Pros:

 

Cons: