XFX GTX285 Black Edition Review

RHKCommander959 - 2009-02-03 13:57:53 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: February 17, 2009
Price: $399.99

Introduction:

The battle wages on between the rivals who are both fighting for domination, each side keeps pulling ahead for a while. No, it's not a new videogame but rather a new line of video cards from nVidia. With the high performance of the updated GTX260, nVidia had to update the GTX280 to fit in better with the GTX295 that was also recently released.

XFX is one of the top nVidia graphic cards suppliers, who now sits on the fence and produces ATI video cards. XFX was founded in 1989 and also produced motherboards. With the ownership of the Black Edition cards comes an exclusive membership with plenty of perks. Some of which are the Double Lifetime Protection Warranty (which can be transferred to the buyer if you sell the card), support, up-to-date downloads and guides, and a “Modder Friendly” company.

Originally, both the GTX280 and GTX260 were produced on the 65nm production process, but were recently given a die-shrink to 55nm (with the renaming to GTX285), which should increase clock speed, power efficiency, and overall efficiency. The shrink also saves nVidia money because it allows the company to make more GPU cores per silicon wafer. The whole line-up has been given a face-lift to 55nm now and XFX has pushed the limits of this new technology even further with the overclocked GTX285 Black Edition.

Closer Look:

The package is similar in size to a small shoebox, emblazoned with the Black Edition line, nVidia logos, Far Cry 2 logo (comes with the card free), 1GB of DDR3, and PCI Express 2.0 compliance. The back lists the features that the card has, and a picture of the top of the card. The card also comes with 5-Star support, which when the card is registered also acts as a double-lifetime warranty that is transferable if the card is sold and registered again. The back also has the logos of supporting technologies, such as PhysX by nVidia.

 

 

 

 

 

The side panel lists the recommended system requirements and also minimum and recommended power supply requirements. The basic requirements are Windows XP/Vista and an Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon XP or better CPU. The recommended power supply wattage is 550 watts, or at least 40 amps on the 12-volt rail(s). XFX recommends at least a 630-watt power supply for non-SLI, or 680+ watts for SLI. Also listed are the contents, including installation CD, User Guide, and Adobe PDF Reader. The other side lists the Far Cry 2 Mature Audience only information, along with stickers for CUDA and SLI support, and XFX being an Authorized Board Partner with nVidia.

 

 

The top is branded with XFX and nVidia logos and with the video card line. The reverse has the same logos, and serial number/part number information.

 

 

With the top open, we are greeted by the XFX logo. With a slight pull another box comes out, with XFX logos and website address.

 

 

 

Opening this box reveals the driver CD, manuals for card installation/drivers, and Far Cry 2 game.

 

 

Underneath the manuals is a cardboard slot labeled “play hard.” Lifting it reveals the accessories for the video card: DVI-VGA adapter, DVI-HDMI adapter with audio cable, Component Video-YPBPR adapter, and 6-pin PCI-Express adapter with male and female Molex connections.

 

 

Removing the tray reveals the video card, neatly protected by a fitting of green cardboard. The card is also protected by the anti-static bag from dust, moisture, other nuisances, and of course static discharge while removing it from the packaging.

 

 

Let’s get the bag off and see this beast in the wild!

Closer Look:

The GTX family all shares the same basic design, except the GT295 of course. The new design includes a die-shrink to 55nm, which should at least increase energy efficiency. The card is built on a 512-bit memory bus, which combined with 1GB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 1300MHz (2600MHz effective) leaves the card with a ton of bandwidth. The reference design requires two expansion slots. The top of the card has a similar image to the front box, with the celestial background and “BLACK EDITION” floating ethereal in front. The fan itself has a sticker with the BE logo. The back no longer has a back plate since the memory is moved to the inside, and is covered by the complex circuitry, twelve screws to mount the cooler, and nine for the core shim. The position of the rows of RAM can be seen from the clusters of transistors spaced evenly out, sixteen total. The central cluster is for the core.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GTX285 also shed the 8-pin connection for a 6-pin, although the circuit board still has the two unused ports. The GeForce logo is on the side near the two 6-pin connections. The other side has a small vent near the top. The fan on the cooler is angled to allow for more air to get into the card in a dual-card configuration, a problem that plagued SLI users in the past with the older square coolers.

 

 

The rear of the card gives a glimpse to the fan area, and two screw holes that back plates use to be mounted. The front has a grill for venting the card's hot air out the back. Two screws hold the cooler to the plate, as do the four hex screws that come with the DVI connections. A LED is installed in the corner for statistics and lights up green when the system is running. The plate is angled to help grab onto any support slots on a case's expansion area.

 

 

Near the two 6-pin power connectors is the audio connection for HDMI audio. The included cable hooks up here. The card has two SLI ports standard on most nVidia cards for full connection bandwidth. This card, like the GTX 280, is able to be used in a Tri SLI configuration.

 

 

With the heatsink removed, all of the many Hynix GDDR3 rows of chips and massive integrated heat shield are seen. The thermal paste is adequate, although too much is applied. The thermal tape feels like a better quality than most, using threads that hold a thermal paste-like substance together; it also feels better than the older rubbery pads that were previously used. Replacing the stock thermal paste usually gives a nice drop in temperatures. The fan is the Magic brand and is made in China, uses four wires, and runs on 12V 0.48A.

 

 

The integrated heat shield is branded at the bottom, B3 for the updated 55nm process, where A3 was used on the 65nm GTX280. Surrounding the core is a shim, which also keeps the region rigid and square. This is needed for many safety reasons. Since the core is so large, it could possibly lift from the printed board and cause damage if the board flexed, for example. The memory is Hynix GDDR3, and reads H5RS5223CFR N3C 851A VTHG23571. It uses 1.8v and is rated for 1300MHz and is RoHS compliant (the modules do not contain lead). Looks like there will be some headroom since the memory is running at stock.

 

Let's get it running and see what it can do!

Closer Look:

The box contained a driver CD but I suggest getting the latest drivers instead, though understandably not everyone has Internet access. The setup program on the CD is clean cut and basic. Using the program, it will search the hardware for which card you have and ask if you want the latest online drivers or use the ones off the disc. You can either install the older drivers, or register with XFX, and register your card (which also gives you your warranty if registered within 30 days).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When “Use the files from the disc” is clicked, manuals are accessible as well as drivers. Otherwise, the user is taken to the XFX website with matching layout to the program and allowed to either login or register an account.

 

 

Once registered, the user needs to register the video card with XFX to be able to then download the latest support files and drivers. Once registered, users gain access to other options like support tickets and help guides if any trouble occurs.

 

 

There are no programs included, but Far Cry 2 was bundled with the card! nVidia Control Panel allows for all sorts of settings to be adjusted. Color, resolution, in-game settings, PhysX, and overclock speed are just some of the variables that can be adjusted. There is also a stability test and system monitor. The overclocking program is a module that can be installed into the Control Panel. The program was not working properly with these drivers however, and caused blue screens whenever I attempted to try to open the overclocking tab. Though everything else worked flawlessly.

 

 

Now that we got it working, let's check out all of the features on it and see how it performs.

Specifications:

Fabrication Process
55 nm

Core Clock (texture and ROP units)

690 MHz

Shader Clock (Stream Processors)

1620 MHz

Memory Clock (Clock rate / Data

rate)
1300 MHz / 2600 MHz
Total Video Memory
1GB
Memory Interface
512-bit
Total Memory Bandwidth
224 GB/s
Processor Cores
240
ROP Units
28
Texture Filtering Units
160
Texture Filtering Rate
92.2 GigaTexels/sec
Connectors
2 x Dual-Link DVI-I
Bus Technology
PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor
Dual Slot 10.5" x 4.376" x 1.5"
Power Connectors
2 x 6-pin
Max Board Power (TDP)
183 watts

 

Features:

All information courtesy of XFX@http://www.xfxforce.com/en-us/products/graphiccards/200series/285GTX.aspx

Testing:

Video cards are tested by running them through a volley of benchmarks and then seeing where they fall. The results are then shown in comparison to other major competitive card configurations. The drivers are stock, with no settings modified, and the card is tested before and after being overclocked to see what performance can be gained. The test system seen below is just slightly overclocked, removing some of the bottleneck and allowing for the cards to speak for themselves. The speed of the i7 CPU is set to 3GHz, running with 6GB of triple channel DDR3. The GTX285 was tested with the newest available driver version, 181.22, while the ATI cards used Catalyst 8.12.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

The XFX GTX285 Black Edition is already factory overclocked, so not much more can be squeezed out generally. I pushed for 36MHz more on the core and 97MHz on the memory, resulting in a 5% overclock on the core and 7% on the memory. Stock GTX285s run at 648/1242, so overall the clocks were 11% higher on core and memory than what nVidia sends out the door for stock cards.

 

 

Video benchmarks:

 

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 XFX GTX285 is the fastest single GPU solution here, beating the older GTX280.

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 strains all of the cards at Enthusiast settings and 2xAA. The GTX285 overclocked dominates the single GPU setups here as well at the 1280x1024 resolution, losing only to the dual-GPU setups from nVidia and by the 4870x2 on the high resolution. At stock, the difference is only a frame or two.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Bioshock, the card performs similarly to the older GTX280, although it gains distance with resolution. Overclocked, the card pushes past to near 9800GX2 levels at 1280x1024. As the resolution increases the dual GPU cards pull far ahead of the performance delivered by the Black Edition.

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 high 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 the performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The card is beat by all dual-GPU options, minus the 9800GX2, and as the resolution increases the margin shrinks for the 4870X2. With these settings the game is very playable and looks great too.

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.  In one frame a Necromorph is visible right before an attack from behind.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GTX285 destroys the ATI camp here, and even cleans up pretty well on the nVidia side. The dual-GPU GTX setups still win.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performance here was oddly low. Overall, the XFX stayed with the pack, although operating more on lower-ATI levels. This test was ran several times to verify the results.

Testing:

Left For 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!

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left 4 Dead seems less speed dependent than it is on the card's architecture; overclocked gains were minimal.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The XFX GTX 285 Black Editon shows a nice performance boost over the GTX280, while the scores were similar to the 9800GX2, though the HD 4870X2 is king here.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At stock, the XFX GTX285 comes in fourth; overclocking brings it to the level of the 4870X2 where they trade off positions across the tests. The XFX GTX 285 Black Edition is the fastest single GPU card in this comparison.

Conclusion

The XFX GTX285 Black Edition was the fastest single GPU option in all of the tests, minus Fallout 3, and even put up a good fight with the dual-GPU options. The fan on this card was not loud, with an idle speed of 40% and maximum of 56% under load for measured fan speed. The card never ran over 80 Celsius at load, and idled in the high 30s. The heat dump was high; the air was warm but not toasty. Cranking the fan speed up got things loud and air moving good, helping with overclocking stability a bit after the point I had it set for. The temperature drop was good on the load-side with stock thermal paste. The removal of the back plate, combined with the fact that the screws use springs instead of the direct clamping pressure of regular screws, may also contribute to the temperatures, although this card had excellent idle and load temperatures.

The clock speed, power and overall efficiency were definitely increased with the die shrink from 65nm to 55nm, as this card does very well against the older GTX280. It even put up a good fight with the dual-GPU solutions, while using less energy. This card is also one of the higher clocked GTX285s out, and the memory is running at 1300MHz instead of the reference 1242MHz. 1300MHz is the stock speed of these chips however, so they are not overclocked.

Unfortunately, the card does cost a bit, and extreme overclocking is seemingly crippled since software voltage adjustment was dropped with the switch to 55nm, but an end overclock of 11% over stock reference clocks is still good. The card had a little headroom left, but required much more tweaking for full stability. The perks that come with a card this prestigious are worth the extra pennies, including the support and double-lifetime transferable warranty. The card also Folds excellently for you folders out there! For the best non-SLI/Crossfire performance, this is the card to have. The price is at a premium, but so is the quality and support.

 

 

 

Pros:

 Cons: