Palit GTX 260 Sonic Review

ccokeman - 2009-02-17 21:52:52 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: February 20, 2009
Price: $250


With each new generation of video cards, there will be the initial offering that is basically the reference design cards from the manufacturers. A while later, the cards that have been modified with custom cooling or completely redesigned to offer a product that can be clocked higher and run cooler start to make it to the market. One of these manufacturers is Palit Microsystems. Its Sonic lineup has proven to be popular as well as highly overclockable. The Palit HD 4850 Sonic clocked higher than any other HD 4850 I have tested, not by just a small margin but by a huge margin. The performance when overclocked was boosted up to the level of a stock GTX 260 192sp card. So what makes the Sonic so much different from the stock cards out there? It is usually the custom cooling, redesigned PCB and additional overclocking capabilities that push the performance to a higher level out of the box than their competitors. Couple this with a price point that is reasonable and you have a winning combination.

The Palit GTX 260 Sonic 216SP is indeed a card that should push the performance boundaries for a card readily available to the masses. This card comes pre overclocked with clock speeds of 625MHz on the GPU core 1348MHz on the 216 shader cores and 1100MHz on the 896MB of GDDR3 memory. The cooling solution used includes dual fans and a heatpipe based copper/aluminum heatsink to eliminate cooling as a barrier to performance. If this card clocks half as well as the Sonic Hd 4850 it should be an incredible graphics solution.








Closer Look:

The front panel of the package contains some basic information about the card. HDCP compliance, the fact that this is a Sonic edition card as well as the clock speeds and technologies it uses. The rear panel list the specifications in 12 different languages. The Frobot is the dominating character on the front panel and is the the way to distinguish the Palit brand from the others on the shelf.



Opening the package brings a nice surprise in the way that Palit has started shipping its cards. Instead placing the card in an anti static bag in a cardboard box surrounded by a series of cardboard braces that invariably bend and allow the card to shift and bounce around during transit, Palit have chosen to go with a foam insert cut to fit the card, reducing the possibility of damage.



The bundled accessories that are included are actually a bit better than what I have seen from Palit in the past. This bundle includes a DVI to D-sub adapter, DVI to HDMI adapter, S/PDIF sound input cable, HDTV dongle, a dual molex to 6-pin PCI-E power adapter and last, but not least, the driver disc and quick install guide. The adapter should allow the Palit GTX 260 Sonic to be connected to just about any display.


Let's dig a little deeper into what makes the Palit Sonic tick.

Closer Look:

The Palit GTX 260 Sonic is a card designed for the enthusiast and comes pre overclocked from the manufacturer. Clock speeds have been increased on the GPU (576MHz to 625MHz), shader processors (1242MHz to 1348MHZ) and the memory (1000MHz to 1100MHz). To combat the additional heat generated by the increase in clock speeds, Sonic uses a custom cooling solution that uses two fans and a three heatpipe based heatsink to cool down the 55nm GT200 core and board components. The Sonic GTX 260 is for use in a PCI-E x16 slot and will take up at least two expansion slots.











The front end of the card contains all of the connectivity options for the GTX 260 Sonic. What we have is pretty much standard fare with the two Dual Link DVI outputs as well as the HDTV output. The rear of the GTX 260 Sonic is open, allowing the heat generated by the core to be exhausted and to help cool the power regulation circuits.



Along the top side of the the GTX 260 Sonic are the SLI Bridge connections. This card, just like all GTX 260s, is Tri SLI capable. Power is supplied via two 6-pin PCI-E power connections. Nex to the power supply you have a small 2-pin connection that is the S/PDIF sound input connection point so that you can deliver sound through the HDMI connection.



The Palit GTX 260 216 SP Sonic is the first custom designed video card to make use of a dual fan cooling setup. The two fans used to cool the heatpipe based heatsink are interconnected PWM fans. The fans can be thermally controlled as well as manually controlled. When at 100% the fans create some noise but nothing that is objectionable. The heatsink makes use of three heatpipes to discharge the heat from the GT200 core.



The GTX 260 216SP Sonic is built upon a 55nm GT200 core with 896MB of Samsung .8ns GDDR3 memory running through a 448 bit bus. Since the GTX 260 216SP Sonic is a pre overclocked card, the clock speeds have been increased from the stock 576MHz to 625MHz, the shader processor clocks went from 1242MHz to 1348MHz, and with the memory scaling from 1000MHz to 1100MHz. All pretty big jumps from the stock numbers.



Let's get this monster installed and see what it can do. Custom cooled and pre overclocked should be a recipe for excellent 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 - 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 disc into the optical drive and let the Autorun feature bring up the installation GUI. Once the GUI is up, you have just a couple of options, Install the Drivers and DirectX 9, Browse the Disc, Look For Help, or exit the GUI.











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.



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 pre-built 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.





GTX 260 216 core
Fabrication Process
55 nm
Number of Transistors
1.4 Billion

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

625 MHz
Processor Clock (Processor Cores)
1,348 MHz
Processor Cores

Memory Clock (Clock rate / Data rate)

1,100 MHz / 2,200 MHz
Memory Interface
448 bit
Total Memory Bandwidth
123.2 GB/s
Memory Size
896 MB
Texture Filtering Units
Texture Filtering Rate
43.8 GigaTexels/sec
HDCP Support
HDMI Support
Yes (Using DVI-to-HDMI adaptor)
2 x Dual-Link DVI-I 1 x 7-pin HDTV Out
400 MHz
Bus Technology
PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor
Dual Slot
Power Connectors
2 x 6-pin
Max Board Power
182 watts
GPU Thermal Threshold1
105 C




Now down to what we all have been waiting for. To test the Palit GTX 260 Sonic, 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 Toxic edition 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 voltage to avoid any errors in the scores. The nVidia cards will be run using driver version 181.22 and the ATI cards will be running the 9.1 Catalyst release.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

With the custom cooling and pre overclocked status of this video card from Palit I was expecting a massive overclock. What I got was a decent overclock that fell a little short of the best clocks I have gotten on a GTX 260 216SP card. Don't get me wrong, this card clocks quite well for a factory overclocked video card. The first thing I did before pushing the clock speeds up was to increase the fan speed to 100% using Rivatuner 2.22. Once the cooling was as good as it was going to get, I started increasing the clock speeds at first to a level I thought would pass the testing and moved up from there, testing at each level for stability. The final clock speeds of 729MHz on the GPU core is an increase of 104MHz over the as-delivered clock speed on the Sonic card and 154MHz over the stock GTX 260. The memory clock speed I reached was 1201MHz and is 101MHz over the delivered speeds with the shader core speed increasing to 1480MHz from 1348MHz, a 132MHz jump. All three contributed to an increase in performance that can be represented as increased frames per second in games, more points per day with your favorite cuda enabled distributed computing project (Fold for team 12772) and a decrease in the time needed to transcode your favorite video and movies using applications like Badaboom. An increase in performance for nothing more than a time investment is always welcome and Palit has delivered a card with some headroom still left for the enthusiast to play with.


  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



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."








Both the Palit GTX 260 Sonic and the Sapphire HD 4870 Toxic are overclocked cards and perform neck in neck, with the Palit taking the lead in the 2560x1600 testing. The performance is just three frames per second shy of that delivered by the GTX 280.



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.














The Palit Sonic did not fare well in this benchmark. It is beat by the Sapphire HD 4870 Toxic at each resolution. The performance was close to that of the Diamond HD 4870 1GB.


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:











The Sonic GTX 260 takes on and beats the cards in its price point across all four resolutions. The margins are razor thin at 2560x1600 with only 1 FPS separating the HD4870 and the Sonic GTX 260.



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.














The Palit GTX 260 was easily the cream of the crop in its class. It finished ahead of the overclocked and stock HD4870 1GB cards as well as the standard GTX 260. When overclocked, it gave the GTX 280 a run for its money at 2560x1600.


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.













The Sonic finishes well above the ATI cards in this benchmark. The only cards to present a challenge were the 9800GX2 and GTX 280. Unfortunately, there is an issue with my monitor and the drivers for nVidia's cards on this game. The 2560x1600 resolution is just not available with the nVidia drivers.



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.













There really is not a whole heck of a lot of difference in the cards until you reach 2560x1600. At this point the cards are stratified in their performance envelopes, with the Toxic HD 4870 barely beating the Palit Sonic by 1 FPS.


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.
















At each resolution, the Palit GTX 260 Sonic is ahead of the HD4870 1GB Toxic. When overclocked, it is faster than the GTX 280 in the higher resolutions.


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.




















The Sonic GTX 260 is ahead of the HD 4870 Toxic at 1280x1024 and pulls ahead of the ATI card by larger margins as the resolution increases. At 2560x1600 the Palit lags only behind the dual GPU cards and the GTX 280.


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.












Performance in the higher resolutions shows that the only cards the Sonic is not pulling ahead of are the HD4870X2 and the GTX 280. The Sonic easily outperforms the HD4870 cards in all four resolutions.



The Palit GTX 260 Sonic did not disappoint. The expectations I had based on my experience with the HD 4850 Sonic was that the Sonic edition cards were very overclockable and delivered exceptional performance. That this card did. At times it fell behind but the majority of tests showed it to be a worthy competitor to the Sapphire HD 4870 1GB Toxic edition card used in the performance comparison. The cooling solution is a custom designed piece that works quite well. The maximum temperatures I saw in my testing under a heavy GPU load was 66 degrees Celsius with the fan speed controller by the driver. When the fan speed was moved to 100% the maximum recorded temperature dropped to 58 degrees. This cooling solution works and works well. The only thing is that I do not like is the fact that the hot air is dumped into the case, which can cause an increases in case temperatures with a case that has poor airflow. The big positive about the cooling solution besides the great temperatures is the fact that using two fans to cool the heatsink means the fans dont have to spool up as much and will allow them to run at a noise level that is much lower than you would expect. If the performance of one of these cards is not enough you can always go with a multi GPU setup all the way up to up to Tri SLI. The nVidia GPU is a wonderful thing when they can be used to help humanity by participating in a distributed computing project such as Folding @ Home. The fact that this card is pre overclocked means you get a higher level of performance. When it came time to push the clock speeds, the Palit GTX 260 Sonic responded with triple digit increases across all the clock speeds. Getting this from a pre overclocked card usually doesn't happen but because of Palit's design work it is almost too easy. If a GTX 260 is on your shopping list, you would be remiss if you did not give this offering from Palit a look. It's got the cooling and the performance!