Palit GTX280 Review

ccokeman - 2008-05-24 14:16:13 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: July 28, 2008
Price: $429.99

Introduction:

With the GPU wars still raging on, who will actually win out? Who knows - but in the long run the performance improvements definitely benefit the gamer and enthusiast. Performance video offerings so far this year include the introduction of the HD3870X2, HD4850, and HD4870 from ATI, as well as the GeForce 9-series (9600GT, 9800GTX, 9800GTX+, and the 9800GX2) from Nvidia and their partners. The 9-series was not quite the performance improvement over the G80-based 8800GTX and Ultra that the gaming community was looking for. Even though the 9800GTX offered a performance improvement over the previous generation, was it enough for the 8800GTX crowd to rush out and get one? Not Quite. With the performance of the GTX280, those who bought 8800GTXs have finally got an upgrade worth migrating to. Built on a 65nm process, with 240 processing cores running at 602 MHz, and 1GB of GDDR3 memory at 1.1GHz running through a 512-bit memory bus this card offers amazing performance. As the largest GPU currently made, it features 1.4 billion transistors, and is roughly four times the size of a quad-core CPU die. With that kind of processing power - 933 gigaflops - just think of the possibilities. As a comparison, a quad-core CPU churns out roughly 96 gigaflops - the difference is huge!

Palit is still a newcomer to the North American market, and is still not well known by many - but this does not mean they are a new company. They have been manufacturing motherboards and video cards for 10 years now. Palit is known for overclocking of their video cards, and providing innovative cooling solutions to the cards they build. Lets see if the Palit GTX280 lives up to its reputation.

 

Closer Look:

The front panel of the packaging lists the basic specifications of the Palit GTX280, and showcases the Borg-like "Fighting Frog" mascot. Among the GTX280's features are the 1GB of GDDR3 memory, Dual-Link DVI, and HDMI-out capability. The rear panel briefly covers more of the specifications in 12 languages. The side panels contain little information, but highlight the fact that the GTX280 is SLI ready and certified for use with Windows Vista. The frog mascot or "Frobot" is shown as well, with the Palit web address.

 

 

 

Popping open the package, you are greeted with a pop-up door and a box that contains the GTX280. Under the pop-up door, you will find its documentation and accessories. The bundle looks a little slim, but will be enough to get the card installed and working in most instances.

 

 

The bundle of accessories is limited to the driver disk, a quick installation guide, a DVI to D-sub adapter, a DVI to HDMI adapter (not usually included with many manufacturer's' cards) and a full version of the game "Tomb Raider Anniversary."

 

 

Let's see what the Palit GTX280 has to offer.

 

Closer Look:

The GTX280 is a large video card, slightly smaller than the 9800GX2. To cool this beast, Nvidia has used what looks to be the same heatsink assembly used on the 9800GTX, but with a slight modification. That being the addition of a vented metal backplate to keep the card from flexing, and reducing any heat buildup in the housing as well. The stock cooling solution is a two slot design that occupies two physical slots on your motherboard. If running an SLI or Tri-SLI configuration, the chances of using a PCI-based add-in card are slim to none, and slim just left town! Having a GPU core speed of 602MHz on its 240 processing cores, 1107MHz on the 1GB of GDDR3 memory running through a 512-bit bus, and shader clock speeds of 1296MHz, the GTX 280 offers a significant processing power increase over the 8- and 9-series cards. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The business end of the GTX280 features two DVI ports that can be used in a Dual-Link configuration, or with the appropriate adapter, HDMI-out with high definition audio. The card comes with an S/PDIF connection to the motherboard, a high-definition video-out port, and a power LED just to the left of the air vent. This LED shows whether or not you have the correct power connections attached to the card. The vent on this card allows plenty of air to flow through the housing and out the back of the chassis. The rear of the GTX280 carries the fan and the intake vent to cool the power regulation circuits on the PCB. The intake vent on the back end serves as the main source of intake air when the card is in an SLI configuration. When run in a multi GPU setup, these cards are incredibly close to each other, so another avenue for air intake had to be used.

 

 

The GTX280 requires an 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-E power connection to the card for proper operation. The small plug next to the power connections is for the HDMI sound input from the motherboard. A small two wire harness is used to bring the sound to the card from an on board S/PDIF-out header. This allows the sound to be carried to the display device along with the picture through the included DVI to HDMI adapter.

 

 

The GT200 series of cards are Tri-SLI capable; each carries not one, but two SLI bridge connections. When not run in SLI, there is a handy cover that provides protection to the bridge connections. With the performance of the GTX280, and how well SLI and Tri-SLI are scaling, the performance potential is enormous.

 

 

Let's see how much the Palit version of the GTX280 has to offer in the way of overclocking and performance.

 

Closer Look:

Getting that shiny new graphics card to do what you need it to do is not just an "install and go" affair. You need to have the instruction set - or drivers - to control the video card and tell it when, how, and why, so it does things in the most efficient way possible. In addition, there are utilities that help manage the performance of the video card. If these tools are not used, the money you spent on that performance GPU upgrade was just wasted.

Start out by inserting the driver disk into the optical drive, and let the Autorun feature bring up the installation GUI. Once the GUI is up, there are several options you can choose - install the drivers, install Direct X 9.0C, browse the disk, use the help menu, or exit from the disk. Of course, installing the drivers would be the next option. This disk seems to be just a generic disk with no utilities or value added programs, something that many manufacturers have done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing the Install Driver box will start the installation of the Nvidia drivers for this specific card. Follow through with the installation, choosing the options best suited to your system, and then reboot to finish the installation.

 

 

Choosing the Install Direct X 9.0c box does just that. Agree to the EULA, and the installation will commence; follow through and choose the appropriate responses to complete the installation. The Help box opens a help center to try and help diagnose any issues that you may experience. Browsing the disk will allow you to explore the disk and complete a manual installation of the drivers. As an added bonus, Palit has included the game "Tomb Raider Anniversary", that has our heroine Lara Croft doing what she does best.

 

 

 

If the default level of performance or visual quality is not what you want, you can use the Nvidia Control Panel to manage performance and visual quality. There are many different tabs where adjustments can be made, but I will show just a few that are important to the gamers among us. The Manage 3D Settings tab allows the Global (all situations) settings to be tailored to your liking. Under this tab are the game specific settings as well. There are prebuilt profiles that can be adjusted to get all the eye candy to work, or to minimize the settings to get higher frames per second. The choice is yours.

 

 

Now that the final steps of the installation have been completed, it's time to see just what kind of performance the Palit version of the Nvidia GTX280 can deliver. What kind of head room is there for the overclocker? Let's find out.

 

 

Specifications:

GPU
GTX 280
Fabrication Process
65 nm
Number of Transistors
1.4 Billion

Graphics Clock (Including dispatch, texture units, and ROP units)

 
602 MHz
Processor Clock (Processor Cores)
1,296 MHz
Processor Cores
240

Memory Clock (Clock rate / Data rate)

1,107 MHz / 2,214 MHz
Memory Interface
512 bit
Total Memory Bandwidth
171.5 GB/s
Memory Size
1 GB
ROPs
32
Texture Filtering Units
80
Texture Filtering Rate
51.8 GigaTexels/sec
HDCP Support
Yes
HDMI Support
Yes (Using DVI-to-HDMI adaptor)
Connectors
2 x Dual-Link DVI-I 1 x 7-pin HDTV Out
RAMDACs
400 MHz
Bus Technology
PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor
Dual Slot
Power Connectors
2 x 6-pin
Max Board Power
183 watts
GPU Thermal Threshold1
105° C

 

Features:

Testing:

At OverclockersClub.com, we use a series of benchmarks to stress the graphics card. We will use a series of newer gaming benchmarks, as well as some that are more seasoned, to show how well the Palit GTX 280 compares to some of the other enthusiast video cards on the market. We'll be using both single and dual GPU models to show the performance that can be gained from a dual card solution, if any at all.  All driver settings and clock speeds will be left at factory defaults for both the CPU and GPU, in an effort to minimize or eliminate any variables that could impact the results. The test system used in this review is listed below. After testing the card at stock speeds, I'll overclock it to see what kind of performance can be gained. All testing is done with the default settings in the respective Control Panels, as well as default settings in the BIOS of the motherboard used in this test.

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Each and every video card is not going to overclock to the same level, just as the same CPU will not always overclock to the same level for any number of reasons. This holds true with the Palit GTX 280. When overclocking a video card, heat can become an issue in the same way that heat can impact your ability to overclock a CPU. Fortunately, I was able to push this card slightly higher than the XFX model that I reviewed. An increase of 126 MHz on the GPU core and 176 MHz on the memory are pretty stout overclocks. These speeds represent an increase of almost 18% on the GPU core and almost 14% on the memory. While not as over the top as the 9800GTX, there is definitely significant head room to play with. Does this increase in GPU and memory clock speed equate to similar performance increases? I think it's time to find out.

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional

 

Testing:

Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time, there has yet to be a single or multi GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game. Will the GTX 280 be that card? The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Palit GTX280 comes in a close second to the highly overclocked GTX260 in most of the resolutions tested, finally tying it at the highest resolution. The HD4870 takes its beating down low, but at the 1920 x 1200 resolution, the performance is almost identical between the GT200 and R700 based cards.

 

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of Real Time Strategy and Simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies, and prove your mettle on the open seas.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GTX200-series cards are at the top of the heap here; the Palit GTX280 falls right in line with performance expectations. The HD48XX cards are mauled at the highest resolution.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games out in the wild. 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:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Palit GTX280 is on par with the GT200 based cards, and has the HD48XX cards covered until the 1920x1200 resolution, where the ATI powerhouse pulls even. The only two cards even close to unplayable levels at 1920x1200 are the 9600GT and HD3870.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.

 

Video Settings:

   

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

If Call of Duty 4 is your game, the GTX280 outperforms the ATI HD4870 - more so at the lower resolutions than at the 1920x1200 mark. 10 FPS is still 10 FPS.

Testing:

World in Conflict Released last year, World in Conflict is a Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe with limited opportunities to replenish your troops.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 
 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The Palit GTX280 is ahead of the ATI HD4870 by as much as 9 frames per second at 1024x768, and as little as 5 frames at 1920x1200. Performance between the GTX280 cards is very similar.

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DX10, First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played in both single player and multiplayer modes. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ATI cards had a field day with the crown jewel of the Nvidia lineup. The Palit GTX280 is outperformed in this benchmark.

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. Play as the British or Germans. This Real Time Strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

In all four resolutions tested, the Palit GTX280 outgunned the HD4870. Performance against the XFX GTX2280 is just what it should be, an even comparison.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of those benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest breaks out. 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:

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more even comparison in 3DMark06 is the comparison between the overclocked GTX260. The Palit GTX280 just does not tail off nearly as much as the rest of the comparison cards as the resolution increases.

Extras:

Folding@Home is a distributed computing project run out of Stanford University. This project uses the spare CPU cycles (GPU Folding has been available on the Red side of the fence with ATI cards for a while), as well as GPU cycles to simulate the folding of proteins. When the proteins in our bodies misfold, things can go horribly wrong, and result in many diseases that are not yet curable. Examples include Alzheimer's, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington's, Parkinson's disease and many Cancers and cancer-related syndromes. This project has been going on for some time now. With the performance increases in CPU and GPU computing technology seen in the last few years, the time needed to run the simulations has dramatically dropped. For more information on the F@H project, visit the F@H main page - and don't forget Team 12772 is the one you want to fold for! While monitoring the F@H client, I was amazed at the speed at which it completed the assignments. Initially, it was about 5 work units in less than two hours at stock clock speeds! Now that the client has matured some, the point values have increased as well as the time to complete the work units. Now about two work units in three hours is what the card can currently do while running the CPU SMP client. Running the SMP clients took about a day to process one+ unit with a quad-core CPU. There is definitely a substantial performance increase with the CUDA technology and the GTX280's 240 processor cores. Some things I found out while playing with the client - when the client is run in the viewer, the CPU usage skyrockets. As soon as it is minimized back to the system tray, the CPU usage drops dramatically. Because the resource demand to render the image back to the screen is high, the client's performance does decrease, but there's an easy fix - just minimize the client!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The processing power and processor design of the GTX200 series GPUs allows the video card to be used for things that people do not normally associate with GPUs. Using Nvidia's CUDA technology to harness this power, things like distributed computing and video transcoding can be accomplished in much less time than it would take a high-end CPU. The Folding@Home client is just one of these examples. Elemental Technologies has a transcoding application called BadaBoom that harnesses the massive parallel computing potential of the GTX200 series GPU. CPU usage between the BadaBoom app and the one used for testing showed that CPU usage was fairly close, but the GPU-specific BadaBoom version did the work in less than half the time it took the CPU to complete the task.

 

 

Just to see how well this works, a sample film clip of 184MB in size was transcoded first with the CPU, and then again with the GPU - and the results were pretty astonishing. The measurement is in seconds, and best quality was selected. Hey, it really does work!

 

 

Conclusion:

With 1.4 billion transistors and 240 computing cores, the Palit GTX280 is one monster of a video card - for the most part beating all of the cards tested. In 27 out of 32 benchmark tests run the GTX280 was ahead of its latest competition from the red camp, the HD4870. In Call of Duty 4, at 1920 x 1200, the score was even between the two cards. In Call of Juarez (a game ATI cards do well in), the GTX280 was beaten by the HD4870 in all four resolutions tested. That was kind of unexpected, but it does happen. Palit has been known to provide video cards that overclock well, something this card did. I was able to increase the core speed by 126MHz, the memory by 175MHz, and the shader clocks by 273 MHz. All of this while still keeping the GTX280 air cooled! With some additional work done to the cooling, I'm sure that the potential is there to push even further. By allowing the driver to control the fan speeds, the maximum temperature I witnessed was 72 Celsius in a 26 degree Celsius room. When manually controlling the fan speed, the temperature was reduced to 59 Celsius in that same 26 Celsius room. When the fan is controlled by the driver, the fan is barely audible - but when ramped up by manually adjusting it to 100%, the fan can get annoying. If your chassis is under a desk, it may prove to be a non-issue, but of course having it two feet from your ears makes all the difference.

One thing the GTX280 does to help save you on your energy bills is that when the GPU is running in non-demanding 2D mode, the GPU core and memory clock speeds will dramatically decrease. In doing so, the amount of energy consumed is greatly reduced. One step further would be using this card in a HybridPower/SLI setup, reducing the energy footprint even further by allowing the IGP to be used for 2D mode, and shutting down the GTX280 discrete card. Of course, this requires a motherboard that has the requisite features. If the performance of one card is this outstanding, then running two or three of the Palit GTX280s in an SLI configuration has got to be close to taming the killer of all video cards - Crysis.

By using CUDA technology to harness the power of the 240 processing cores, things such as offloading the transcoding of video files from the CPU to the GPU will dramatically reduce the time needed to complete this task. I found an improvement of 145% when this capability was tested. The PhysX capabilities of the GTX280 allow for much more lifelike details to be rendered, including things such as collateral damage, flowing cloth, and the improvement in the detail of facial features. With 150 games already supporting PhysX, it's just a matter of time before more games take advantage of this. The old saying is "you gotta pay to play". Initially, this meant shelling out $650 of your hard earned dollars for the fastest single GPU card on the market. But with the recent price drops on Nvidia's flagship GT200-series video cards, this analogy still rings true - now you don't have to pay as much. This particular video card I have seen as low as $399 after rebate. A $250 drop in price makes the performance per dollar much more palatable. The GTX280 is still the most expensive single GPU video card for the enthusiast, but it is the fastest as well. The choice on how much performance you want is up to you!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: