XFX GTX 280 Review

ccokeman - 2008-03-12 20:25:42 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: June 16, 2008
Price: $649.99

Introduction:

Just how long has it been since the last big release of a new video card? For Nvidia, it was less than three months ago, with the 9-series that launched the 9600GT, 9800GTX and the 9800GX2. The most recent from AMD/ATI, was the 3870X2 released a short amount of time earlier. So what's the impetus behind the rash of GPU launches this year? In the past, new technologies were a once-a-year type of thing. Now, with the fickle enthusiast and gamers wanting more and more performance, it looks as though manufacturers are more than happy to speed up production. Rumored to be launching in July, the GT 200 series has been eagerly anticipated since the launch of the 9 series of cards. Maybe the lack of an earth-shattering performance increase over the previous generation cards was that impetus to move up the launch.

With that said, the latest GPU from Nvidia is XFX's GTX 280 and this will be followed closely by the GTX 260. So what makes the GTX 280 so special? Let's start with 1.4 billion transistors, 933 gigaflops of processing power churned out by 240 processors running in parallel - in comparison, a quad-core CPU has around 96 gigaflops of computing power. Just think about that for a second...the performance available from the GTX 280 is stunning. By using Nvidia's CUDA technology and running in computing mode, the XFX GTX 280 will deliver almost one teraflop of performance to help out with video transcoding, physics acceleration and advanced visual computing, as well as scientific simulations. With that kind of computing power, the GTX 280 should be the top contender for the video card performance crown.

Closer Look:

The packaging of the XFX GTX 280 could not be less subtle - out front and in your face is more like it. The traditional green and black from Nvidia and XFX are on display. The box lists several of the cards features, such as the 1GB of GDDR3 memory, PCI-E 2.0 compliance, the GPU clock speed of 602 MHz and a small tag noting the inclusion of the game Assassin's Creed. The rear panel goes into a little more detail about the cards attributes and talks about the new second-gen unified architecture, PhysX readiness, and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slipping the inner box out, we find the documentation, driver and game disks, as well as the door tag that alludes to the fact you don't want to be bothered when gaming. The XFX GTX 280 is encased in foam, providing protection on all sides. Not everyone ships their cards packaged this well, but no broken cards here! Under the cover at the front, we see the rest of the bundle.

 

 

The bundle of accessories from XFX is similar to what has been sent with their most recent releases. There's the documentation and door tag, the Assassin's Creed game disk, the HDMI sound cable, DVI to D-sub adapter and the HDTV dongle. If you can't get connected with this bundle, it's time to pack up and go home.

 

 

Let's get a little better acquainted with the GTX 280!

 

Closer Look:

The XFX GTX 280 is based on the Nvidia GT200 GPU. This video card is for use in motherboards that feature a PCI-E x16 1.0 or 2.0 slot. The GTX 280 clock speeds are: 602 MHz on the GPU core, 1107 MHz on the 1GB of GDDR3 running through a 512-bit bus and 1296 MHz on the Shader clock. The GTX 280 uses a dual-slot cooling design, meaning it will occupy two PCI card slots on the motherboard, while only physically interfacing with one slot. The fan housing on the card is plastic on the front and metal on the back, to provide the GTX 280 enough rigidity to prevent any flex. The covers are vented adequately and prevent severe heat buildup in the housing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The connectivity of the XFX GTX 280 includes two dual-link DVI ports and one HDTV-Out port for use with the supplied adapter. The mounting bracket looks like a carry-over from the 9800GTX, with its black chrome covering. The LED lights up to show that there is indeed power flowing to the GTX 280. If the second power connection is not plugged in, it will change color to signify a lack of power. The rear of the card allows air into the fan assembly, to keep the components underneath cool. The fan is a blower style that looks like a squirrel cage. It does, however, really move the air through the heatsink assembly. Rather than just a light breeze through the grill, the air is forced out more aggressively than on the 9-series video cards.

 

 

Across the top of the XFX GTX 280, are the power connections and the SLI Bridge connections. Required power connections include one 6-pin and one 8-pin (or 6+2-pin) PCI-E lead from the power supply. The XFX GTX 280 is Tri-SLI capable, as evidenced by the dual SLI Bridge connections. The performance potential is there for the taking, if this series scales as well as the 9-series does. Right next to the power connections, is a small rubber cover that hides the HDMI sound input connector; this is used with a motherboard that features this output, so that HDMI sound can be sent out of the DVI ports with the appropriate DVI to HDMI adapter.

 

 

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. From there you have several choices you can make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point, there are three options to choose from. The Drivers tab contains the drivers needed to make the XFX GTX 280 perform at its best. The Registration tab is where you can register the GTX 280 and the bundled software includes a copy of Acrobat Reader.

 

 

Go ahead and install the Windows drivers for the appropriate OS and follow that with a reboot. After the restart, you will be ready to play the DX 10 game included with the XFX GTX 280 - Assassin's Creed!

 

 

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.

 

 

Now that the XFX GTX 280 is installed and it knows what to do, let's see how it performs.

 

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
141.7 GB/s
Memory Size
1 GB
ROPs
32
Texture Filtering Units
80
Texture Filtering Rate
48.2 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
1 x 8 pin and 1 x 6-pin
Max Board Power
236 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 XFX 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. To see how an 8800GT fares in this comparison, take a peek at the review of the Asus EN8800GT TOP. 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:

I was curious to see just how far the latest and greatest from Nvidia could be pushed and I was able to gain 112 MHz on the GPU core, 147MHz on the memory and 237MHz on the Shader clock speeds. These represent increases of 16% on the GPU, 12% on the memory and 15% on the Shader clocks. 100+ MHz on all three seems like a lot, but the GTX 280 does not have the overclocking headroom that the 9-series GPUs have. Everyone's mileage may vary when it comes to overclocking, as you well know. In today's performance hungry world, the video card manufacturers have given us a little bit for free, so to speak, and these increased clock speeds did improve performance across the board during the testing phase of this review. With expectations of increased performance bouncing around the inside of my skull, let's see just how well the GTX 280 performs.

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 is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games to be released to the gaming community. The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GTX 280 outperformed all of the single GPU cards in the Crysis tests. It also gave the dual GPU cards a run for their money, as it tied or beat them in two out of the four resolutions tested. At the lower end of the resolution scale, the difference between the GTX 280 and the 9800 GTX was three frames per second and the gap widened to twelve once 1920x1200 was reached. As resolutions increased, the GTX 280 performance drop was not as steep as the other single GPU cards.

 

 

Testing:

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

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The performance drop off displayed by the 9800GTX once it reaches 1680x1050, is much more pronounced than that of the GTX 280. The GTX 280 performs as well as, or better than, the 9800GX2 in all four resolutions. It seems there's some serious GPU power there.

 

 

Testing:

BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played.

 

Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you smell it? The raw power of the 240 processor cores shows off in BioShock. The GTX 280 beat the 9800GX2 by almost 30 frames per second at 1024x768, and almost 20 at 1920x1200! 100+ FPS at 1920 with maxed settings sure does look nice.

 

 

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the latest installment of the Call of Duty series. 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 U.S. Marine or British S.A.S. trooper.

 

The settings used are listed below:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running this game maxed out and getting over 100 frames per second at 1920x1200 is just amazing. The other single GPU cards just can't deliver the performance of the GTX 280! The only card to top it was the 9800GX2. Even then, when the GTX 280 was overclocked, it came so close to beating the GX2.

 

 

Testing:

World in Conflict is a newly released DX10 Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war that the world hopes never happens. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game - you advance by conquering your foe.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The performance hit when we increased resolutions is not nearly as severe using the GTX 280. Performance is above that of the 9800GX2 in two out of the four resolutions tested, and at 1920x1200, it is only one frame per second slower. That's a single GPU folks!

 

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DirectX10 First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800s. The game is inspired in part by the movies of the Wild West genre, popular in the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dual GPU 9800GX2 outperforms the GTX 280 in three out of the four resolutions tested. The one that counts the most is 1920x1200, where the GTX 280 tops the 9800GX2 by 10 frames per second! The single GPU cards just can't compete.

 

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII, and 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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The performance of the 8800GTS at 1024x768 is just amazing, but settles down at the higher resolutions. The GTX 280 is just an animal at the higher resolutions. It keeps up with the GX2 until 1680x1050 and then the performance differential increases. The difference between the GTX 280 and the other single GPU cards is up to seven FPS at 1920x1200.

 

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no comparison between the GTX 280 and the single GPU cards tested. The G92-based 9800GTX and 8800GTS come close at the lowest resolution, but after that, it's a bloodbath. Unfortunately, the GTX 280 was beaten at every resolution by the dual GPU cards, but on a positive note, it was only 530 points behind the 9800GX2 at 1920x1200. The 3870X2 had a very strong showing and increased its performance with a newer driver. Overall, the GTX 280 just blows away the single GPU cards at higher resolutions and puts up a tough fight against the multi GPU cards. Pretty impressive for a single GPU card!

 

 

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 past few years, the time 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 - five work units in less than two hours at stock clock speeds! Running the SMP clients took about a day to process one plus unit with a quad-core CPU. There is definitely a substantial performance increase with the CUDA technology and the GTX 280'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 demands to render the image back to the screen are 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 GTX 200 series GPU allows the video card to be used for things that people do not normally associate with the GPU's functionality. Using Nvidia's CUDA technology to harness this power, things such as 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 GTX 200 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:

Other than a few freak scores that were repeatable by the G92-based 8800GTS, the XFX GTX 280 took 30 out of 32 tests in the single GPU comparison. Against the 9800GX2 and 3870X2, the GTX 280 took the top spot or was tied in 15 out of 32 benchmark tests. A pretty solid performance, if you ask me. Showing this kind of muscle so soon after the 9-series was released makes me think this is not the performance peak this series will hit in terms of raw performance. I can't wait to see two of the GTX 280's in SLI - 2-way or 3-way. Many games are now incorporating physics into the experience and it was just a matter of time before it was implemented on the GPU, having a more realistic gaming experience, with things like as collateral damage, natural flowing cloth, and facial features that can be made more life-like. Offloading the transcoding of large media files to the GTX 280, results in reduced time to complete the task - a 145% improvement in my testing. To do this, Nvidia uses CUDA technology to take advantage of the parallel computing capabilities of the GT 200 series of GPU's. SLI capabilities include 2-way and 3-way SLI, and if single card performance is this good, I can't wait to see how multi-card performance scales. During testing, the temperatures of the XFX GTX 280 never got out of hand; at 74 degrees Celsius, it seems to run a bit cooler than some of the other cards in Nvidia's stable. The airflow from the rear of the card is more than just a soft push to discharge the heat - the cooler on the GTX 280 pushes a huge volume of air to keep temperatures in check, more so than any other card I have used. Nice job on that one! While a little noisy at 100% fan speed in an open case, things quieten down when the sides are put back into place. The only knock I have on this card is the price - at $650, it is going to be an expensive animal to get. But, the old saying is "you gotta pay to play", and I seem to remember the 8800GTX selling for the same price when it launched. If you must have the fastest card at higher resolutions, the XFX GTX 280 is the way to go. The single card gaming performance is just amazing.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: