Zotac GTX280 AMP! Edition Review

ccokeman - 2008-08-04 01:14:09 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: October 27, 2008
Price: $439.99

Introduction:

Over just this past year, it's interesting to see how affordable high end video cards have become. I remember looking on some websites a few years back and finding some of the top end video cards priced close to a thousand dollars! Today, the best single graphics card from Nvidia that is available to consumers is the GTX280. How much better is the GTX280 than the previous-best 9800 class of Nvidia graphics cards? With this card being priced in between four and five hundred dollars, this card is definitely not for the average Joe. However, there are many users who need (= want) to have the best video card available. So if you're looking for the absolute single best video card available right now, read on to see if the GTX280 is the card you've been waiting for.

The particular GTX280 that I'll be testing today is manufactured by Zotac. This video card is pre-overclocked and features 1GB of 512-bit GDDR3 memory. Zotac specifies this card is being part of their "AMP!" product line which is a line dedicated essentially to pre-overclocked video cards. How will this Zotac 280GTX AMP! Edition video card perform against some of the best video cards from nVidia's nemisis, ATi? How will Zotac's latest creation fare while being pushed to the extreme? Join me as I thoroughly examine the Zotac 280GTX AMP! Edition video card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The Zotac 280GTX AMP! Edition comes shipped in a yellow box with a Fire breathing dragon on the front panel. On the top right corner of the box, you'll see some of the key features that separate this Zotac card from a lot of the other video cards out on the market today. One of the things that stands out is the "Extended Warranty " sticker. The back of the box breaks down some important features as well as multiple languages listing out what is included in the box for international users.

 

 

 

Inside the outer sleeve is the box that holds the Zotac GTX280. Opening this up revels the closed cell foam used to secure the card and bundled accessories during shipping. The card was removed with some effort so it definitely would not move on during the cross coutry trip to get to your door. Under the foam is where the documentation and game disk are kept.

 

 

Included with the Zotac 280GTX AMP! Edition is a driver CD, quick installation guide, user's manual, a DVI to D-Sub converter,an HDMI to DVI adapter, two power converters (one for 6-pin power cable and one for 8-pin power cable), an HDTV breakout cable, and the game "Racedriver GRID". The DVI to HDMI adapter and a current game are real pluses to this package.

 

Now that we've got the Zotac 280GTX AMP! Edition video card out of the box, let's take a closer look at it.

Closer Look:

The Zotac 280GTX is a massive card! It stretches about an inch past the end of my standard ATX motherboard and takes up two expansion slots total. The card plugs directly into the PCI-E x16 port of your motherboard. The card has the dragon on top of it but features nothing but black on the rest of the card giving it a sleek look. On the sides of this video card, you'll find some serial numbers, a "GeForce" logo, and other stickers. What the balance of this information does not tell you is that this card is a hopped up version of the standard GTX280, hence the Amp Edition graphic on the bottom edge of the card. So just what does this mean? Well, for starters it gives you a 700MHz clock speed on the GT200 core and 1150MHz on the 1GB of GDDR3 memory with 1400MHz on the shader cores. To put that into perspective that is a 100MHz increase on the GPU core and 40+MHz on the memory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

nVidia's 280GTX supports not only standard dual card SLI but TRI SLI so Zotac has placed SLI bridge connectors on this graphics card for users to take advantage of that technology. There is a rubber-like boot used to provide protection when not used.

 

 

The card is a beast and therefore, needs beast-like power! This card needs not just one six pin cable but one eight pin with it as well. There are power adapters included but the optimum power solution is to use a power supply that features both a six and eight pin PCIe power connections. Beside the power connections is a small two pin connection that is used to input the high definition digital audio stream onto the card so that when used the full high definition experience can be enjoyed. The Included HDMI adapter is a big step forward as not all manufacturers supply this adapter.

 

 

The business end of the Zotac Amp Edition GTX280 houses the display out connections. Pretty much standard fare for video cards at this time. The connectivity options include 2 DVI ports that support Dual Link DVI and one HD out for use with the supplied dongle. The heat generated by the GTX280 is exhausted from the rear of the card through the vent above the video out connections. There is a small light that provides an external indication of the state of the power going to the GTX280, Green = Good! The back end of the card has an air intake to help feed the card cool air when run in an SLI configuration. You will notice that the fan shroud also necks in to provide a path for air to reach the blower style fan.

 

 

Now that we've examined the card, let's get the drivers installed and take a look at some of the included programs.

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,You have several options to choose from, The driver installation, Viewing the Quick install guide, installing DirectX and an Adobe reader as weel as browsing the disk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Ome thing Video card manufacturers have been doing as of late have been including newer games with the bundle that comes with the video cards. Zotac has done this as well included the game Race Driver "Grid". This game is fairly entertaining and as you can see my driving skills leave a lot to be desired. But with more practice comes familiarity so I look for that to improve.

 

 

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.

 

 

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 with which it completed the assignments . Running the SMP clients took about a day to process one plus unit with a quad-core CPU. While now the same work can be done in roughly 130 minutes. There is definitely a substantial performance increase with the CUDA technology and the GTX 280's 240 processor cores.

 

 

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.

 

 

Now that the final steps of the installation have been completed, it's time to see just what kind of performance this GTX280 from Zotac can deliver. With a highly overclocked video card is there any more romm for the enthusiast to improve the performance of this card as it is delivered? 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)

700 MHz
Processor Clock (Processor Cores)
1,400 MHz
Processor Cores
240

Memory Clock (Clock rate / Data rate)

1,150 MHz / 2,300 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 set 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 Zotac GTX280 Amp Edition compares to some of the other enthusiast video cards on the market. We'll be using single GPU models with the exception of the HD4870X2 from Sapphire to show just how much performance the Zotac GTX280 Amp Edition is capable of delivering. 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. For this round of testing, our drivers have been updated to the 177.79 for the Nvidia cards and the Catalyst 8.8 for the ATI video cards used in this review. Since the Zotac GTX 280 Amp is an overclocked card the performance should be exceptional.

 

 

Comparison Video Cards:

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Pushing an overclocked card past the limits of the factory clocks can sometimes prove fruitful. The Zotac Amp Edition GTX280 is a well clocked card to begin with so the low lying fruit had already been plucked. That being said I was able to pull another 38MHz out of the GPU core and another 156MHz out of the memory. Both of these increases delivered improved results with one additional cost, an increase in the fan speed. That cost however, depends on how high your noise tolerance is. 100% is fairly loud from outside the case while around 65% is more along the level that is acceptable for me. Pushing past 65% did not show any clock speed gains so that's where it was left. The clock speed increases represent a 5% increase on the GPU and 12% increase on the memory. Not a huge increase on the GPU but the memory went over 1300MHz , a rarity for a non volt modded card.

 

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
  9. 3DMark Vantage

 

Testing:

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

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

he Zotac GTX280 Amp is the fastest single GPU card in this comparison. The 1GB HD4870 gets within 5 frames per second at 1920x1200 but no closer. The 4870X2 loses the first two resolutions but takes the 1920x1200 testing by the same FPS margin that the GTX280 has over the 1GB HD4870.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this benchmark the GTX280 AMP is the class of the field. The closest competitor is the GTX260.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games out in the wild, chronicling 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 Daddies" 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 storyline, will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the lower resolutions the Zotac GTX 280 had no equal but the HD4870X2 would not be denied the top spot in the 1920x1200 resolution. While the performance of the GTX280 fell off as the resolution rises it is still the fastest single GPU card by over 20 FPS.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no doubt that the performance of the HD4870x2 is superior to the GTX280 Amp from Zotac in this benchmark. If you compare only single GPU cards then the GTX280 is again far faster than the other cards.

 

Testing:

World in Conflict is a newly released DX10, 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.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The extra 512Mb of frame buffer helps the HD4870 single GPU card finally offer some competition to the Zotac GTX280 AMP edition.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a game where the ATI cards usually shine the GTX280 from Zotac beats the HD4870 1GB card by the smallest of margins from 1280x1024 upwards. The HD4870x2 just crushes the comparison cards.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The single GPU scores show the Zotac GTX280 AMP is the higher performing card in this lineup by a large margin at the highest resolution. Performance at 1920x1200 is 7FPS slower than the X2, not a huge margin but a margin nonetheless.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ther is not a single GPU card that is going to keep up with the HD4870X2. The GTX280 takes a shot but is just overpowered. The Card from Zotac does perform well in this test again easily outclassing the rest of the single GPU cards.

Testing:

Just added to the OverclockersClub suite of benchmarks is the newest from Futuremark, 3DMark Vantage. 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the CPU is taken out of the equation the GTX280 is outperformed by the beast from ATI. That performance differential is repeated when comparing the Zotac AMP edition GTX280 to the 1GB HD4870. This represents a substantial performance improvement against one of the best single GPU cards ATI has to offer.

Conclusion:

At this point in time the Zotac GTX280 Amp Edition is the highest performing "Single GPU" video card I have tested. Even the HD4870 1GB model fell short against this card. There were several benchmarks where the 4870 1GB models performance was equal but they were few and far between. On the other hand the HD4870X2 is still a monster but it should be with two GPU cores providing the performance. As an overclocked card I expected the performance to be at the upper end of the spectrum and I was not disappointed in any way. Pushing higher than the pre set clock speeds is sometimes difficult as there is usually not much room left unless you resort to volt mods and extreme cooling, something Joe six pack is not going to do. Increases on the GPU core clock speeds were at 5% and 12% on the memory clocks. What was amazing was that I was able to push 1300+MHz on the memory. One thing Zotac did not scrimp on was the bundle. The HDMI adapter, two power connections and Full version of Race Driver Grid were additions you do not see on most bundles. Some manufacturers more so than others. With the ability to take the Physx computing off of the CPU and push it to the GPU Nvidia has found a way to increase performance and allow for a more realistic experience in the gaming we so love. That is the reason we purchase cards of this caliber.

The GTX280 uses CUDA technology to enable the GPU to do massive parallel computing operations such as video transcoding and distributed computing. With the reduced time to code video you can spend more time enjoying the video instead of making the trips back and forth watching the CPU chug along slowly as it completes the work. With 240 processing cores compared to 4 on a quad core CPU you can see the potential improvement. Stanford University saw the light and created a distributed computing client that takes advantage of those 240 processing cores with their Folding At Home project that looks for cures to some of the incurable diseases we have to contend with. On launch day the GTX280 was selling for $649 dollars, then the HD48xx series dropped on the world at a much lower price point and delivered performance a level below but at a price more of the masses could take advantage of. To combat this, Nvidia and its partners have the GTX currently going for around $400 or lower if you catch the rebates just right. If you can only take advantage of one video card the GTX280 would be a good choice. But for those who can take advantage of using two or three of these cards with the correct 780i or 790i based motherboards the performance is just amazing. In the Zotac GTX280 you have a video card that offers incredible single GPU performance, comes with a great bundle and is currently priced below $400 with a rebate. Without a down side this card from Zotac would easily fulfill your gaming needs.


Pros:


Cons: