It has been two months since NVIDIA launched their GeForce GTX 480 Series. Now, ZOTAC has unveiled their GTX 480 Amp! Edition that uses a non-reference air cooling solution. At this time the PCB design remains unchanged, but ZOTAC has increased the clock speeds to 756 MHz GPU and 950 MHz memory. This change should bring a healthy performance increase. ZOTAC also claims to use a special binning process which selects better overclocking cards to be used as AMP! Edition. Together with the customized Zalman VF3000 cooler the triple slot card promises to handle the increased heat without issues - has Zotac tamed the GeForce GTX 480 with an equally beastly cooler?
GTX 480 Amp!
||2x 1024 MB
|Memory Bus Width
||2x 256 bit
ZOTAC's package has a little hole on the front through which you can see the top of the card. The back has further general information about the card with info in multiple languages.
You will receive:
- Graphics card
- Driver CD + Quick Install Guide
- NVIDIA Tech Demo CD
- Mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter
- DVI to VGA adapter
- 2x PCI-Express power cables
ZOTAC has chosen to use the Zalman VF3000 on their card featuring a customized design for ZOTAC. The PCB is unchanged from the GeForce GTX 480 reference design.
The GTX 480 Amp! Edition is the first GTX 400 card that uses three slots in your system. This approach enables the use of a bigger cooling solution promising better cooling performance.
The card has two DVI ports and one one mini-HDMI port. Unlike AMD's latest GPUs, the output logic design is not as flexible. On AMD cards vendors are free to combine six TMDS links into any output configuration they want (dual-link DVI consuming two links), from what we know so far, on NVIDIA, you are fixed to two DVI outputs and one HDMI/DP in addition to that. NVIDIA confirmed that you can use only two displays at the same time, so for a three monitor setup you would need two cards.
NVIDIA has included an HDMI sound device inside their GPU which does away with the requirement of connecting an external audio source to the card for HDMI audio. The HDMI interface is HDMI 1.3a compatible which includes Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, AC-3, DTS and up to 7.1 channel audio with 192 kHz / 24-bit. NVIDIA also claims full support for the 3D portion of the HDMI 1.4 specification which will become important later this year when we will see first Blu-Ray titles shipping with support for 3D output.
You may combine up to four GTX 480 cards in SLI for added performance or improved image quality settings. Given the three slot design of the GTX 480 it seems unlikely you can find a motherboard that will fit four of these beasts.
Here are the front and the back of the card, high-res versions are also available (front
). If you choose to use these images for voltmods etc, please include a link back to this site or let us post your article.
A Closer Look
The big cooler uses two fans and a copper surface to maximize heat dissipation. I noticed a little issue that happens when you handle the card to install it in the slot (thumb on the back and four fingers on top of the metal fan shroud). In that case it is possible that you press down on the fan shroud too hard and it bends inward very slightly. When the card is installed in the system now this causes the fan blade to touch the metal making a screeching sound. It is easily fixed by bending the metal outward again, but on a perfect design it shouldn't happen. My recommendation for this card is to handle the card with its PCB only.
After removing the Zalman heatsink there is still the big one-piece metal heatsink left on the card that cools memory and voltage regulation circuitry.
Just like the NVIDIA reference design, the ZOTAC GTX 480 Amp! Edition requires a 6-pin and an 8-pin PCI-Express power connector.
The GDDR5 memory chips are made by Samsung, and carry the model number K4G10325FE-HC04. They are specified to run at 1250 MHz (5000 MHz GDDR5 effective).
The CHiL CHL8266 supports voltage control via I2C and is well supported in most utilities.
NVIDIA's GeForce 100 graphics processor is made on a 40 nm process at TSMC Taiwan. It uses approximately 3.2 billion transistors which makes it the most complex GPU built to-date. Please note that the silvery metal surface you see is the heatspreader of the GPU which measures 42.3 x 42.3 mm. The actual GPU die is sitting under the heatspreader, its dimensions are not known. NVIDIA did not communicate a die size measurement to the press.
||Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.8 GHz
(Bloomfield, 8192 KB Cache)
||Gigabyte X58 Extreme
Intel X58 & ICH10R
||3x 2048 MB Mushkin Redline XP3-12800 DDR3
@ 1520 MHz 8-7-7-16
||WD Raptor 740ADFD 74 GB
||BFG ES-800 800W
||Windows 7 64-bit
GTX 470 & 480: 257.15
ATI: Catalyst 10.3
LG Flatron W3000H 30" 2560x1600
- All video card results were obtained on this exact system with the exact same configuration.
- All games were set to their highest quality setting
Each benchmark was tested at the following settings and resolution:
- 1024 x 768, No Anti-aliasing. This is a standard resolution without demanding display settings.
- 1280 x 1024, 2x Anti-aliasing. Common resolution for most smaller flatscreens today (17" - 19"). A bit of eye candy turned on in the drivers.
- 1680 x 1050, 4x Anti-aliasing. Most common widescreen resolution on larger displays (19" - 22"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.
- 1920 x 1200, 4x Anti-aliasing. Typical widescreen resolution for large displays (22" - 26"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.
- 2560 x 1600, 4x Anti-aliasing. Highest possible resolution for commonly available displays (30"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.
, a card based RTS, is developed by the German EA Phenomic Studio. A few months after launch the game was transformed into a Play 4 Free branded game. That move and the fact that it was included as game bundle with a large number of ATI cards made it one of the more well known RTS games of 2009. You as a player assemble your deck before game to select the units that will be available. Your choice can be from forces of Fire, Frost, Nature and Shadow to complement each other.
The BattleForge engine has full support for DX 9, DX 10 and DX 10.1, we used the internal benchmark tool to acquire our results.
Call of Duty 4
Call of Duty 4
is a first-person shooter that is built on the award winning Call of Duty Series. It is the first version to play in modern times. In a near-future conflict between the United States, Europe and Russia you get to play as a United States Marine and a British SAS operative. The engine is Infinity Ward's own creation and has true dynamic lighting, depth of field, dynamic shadows and HDR. Even though the game plot is scripted you will find yourself in intense battles, often working together with computer controlled team mates.
Call of Juarez 2
Call of Juarez 2: Bound in Blood
is a prequel to the first Call of Juarez game which was one of the first DX10 titles available on the market. This time the plot evolves around two brothers, before each mission you may pick one to play. Your choices affect the game play since both characters have different ways of handling situations and doing combat.
Call of Juarez 2 uses Techland's Chrome Engine 4 which adds Edge Anti Aliasing as one of the first engines on the market. Edge Anti Aliasing looks similar to normal AA but comes with a considerably reduced performance drop. However, due to the deferred shading design of Edge AA, normal AA can't be used on top of it.
Company Of Heroes
The real-time strategy game Company of Heroes
is set during World War II where you take two American companies through several fights all over France to liberate the country from German occupation. Company of Heroes is the first game to use Relic's next-generation engine "Essence Engine" which includes support for HDR lighting, Shader Model 3.0, normal mapping, dynamic lighting and shadows. You are able to zoom in from the tactical view of the battle field to see the individual units fighting. Often you catch yourself admiring the detailed animations of the soldiers while the fight around you is raging.
After the tremendous success of Far Cry, the German game studio Crytek released their latest shooter Crysis
in 2007. The game was by far the most hyped and anticipated game in 2007, the forums were full of "Can my system run Crysis?" threads because of the high hardware requirements of this game. Just like in Far Cry the plot evolves on a small island with a thick and richly detailed jungle world. A lot of attention has been given to small details like correct physics. For example when you fire on a tree trunk, it will shatter and the tree will fall over leaving a stump behind. Enemies in a car can be stopped by shooting the tire of the car. The game graphics are by far the best ever seen in a PC game so far, yet the game still runs well on most computers.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
by Relic Entertainment is an RTS game based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Unlike other Dawn of War titles there is no base-building element in the game, you simply command units on the battlefield. Due to the non-linear mission design, the choices which mission and objective you pick to pursue have considerable impact on game play and mission difficulty. A "hero" unit concept adds RPG elements to the game, allowing you to advance the unit in terms of levels and abilities. Dawn of War 2 uses the Essence Engine 2.0, version 1.0 was used in the Company of Heroes Series.
DiRT 2 is the first game to offer basic DirectX 11 features, even though they are very limited, the title has been used extensively by AMD to market their DX11 products. The game features a large number of different racing events all over the world with tracks ranging from off-road, over stadiums to complex city courses. We chose not to benchmark DX 11 at this time since this would result in incomparable scores for many of the cards. It should also be noted that SLI does not work at this time which explains the low score of the GeForce GTX 295.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
The first-person shooter Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
is set in the science-fiction universe of Quake and requires several classes to work together to achieve certain goals on a map. In the campaign mode you gain experience which you can use to buy upgrades for your class. The player gets to pick from five classes of either the Global Defense Force or the Strogg faction. As underlying game engine, the successful id Software Doom 3 engine has been licensed, but several features like MegaTextures have been added, giving the outdoor world a much more detailed appearance.
was released in early 2004 by the new development studio Crytek. It quickly became a massive success because it was one of the first titles to take you in a beautiful 3D outdoor world. Far Cry was one of the most demanding games at its time. Even with today's video cards you can still see big differences in frame rates, especially at the higher resolutions.
Far Cry 2
Four years after the success of Far Cry, Ubisoft has published the sequel called Far Cry 2
. While the first part was set on an island, Far Cry 2 takes you deep into Africa with game play that resembles Grand Theft Auto much more than the original Far Cry, which was a classical 3D shooter. Ubisoft engineered a completely new 3D engine called "Dunia" which offers a large amount of popular features like DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 support, destructible environments, physics and non-scripted AI while not being as much of a resource hog as Crytek's CryEngine.
Tom Clancy's HAWX
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
is one of the very few recent flight simulator games on the market. Being a console conversion it emphasizes "flight" more than "simulator". It is set in a near future in which private military companies have begun fighting conflicts for nations with their own military gear. You are playing an elite pilot who was recruited by such a private company. During the game you get to fly over 50 different aircrafts, ranging from the MIG 21 to the mighty F22 Raptor. One notable feature of its engine is the use of GeoEye satellite imagery for terrain generation which offers one of the most realistic incarnations of battlefield terrain available today.
is based on a highly modified 3D engine made by id Software. This first person shooter brought a completely new way of gaming to the genre. In many levels you find yourself walking upside down or on the walls. This adds a completely new aspect to the gaming experience in this genre.
The Quake titles are among the most successful first person games. Developed by id Software, the famous game studio that brought you DOOM, you find yourself in a sci-fi world that is full of aliens and shocking effects. The main focus of the game is the single player story line. Quake 4
puts you on the home planet of the Strogg. In a number of missions you and your fellow marines will encounter all sorts of enemies, including some really huge aliens.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
is a first person shooter game set in a far future. You are Riddick, a notorious space criminal played by Vin Diesel in the movies. Dark Athena continues where Escape from Butcher Bay ended. A major aspect of the game is its tactical use of shadows and stealth so that enemies can't detect you. Vin Diesel's voice acting also adds greatly to the game experience.
The 0.0 FPS scores for NVIDIA cards at 2560x1600 are caused by driver crashes which seem to be related to card with 512 MB memory and below. Since it works fine on ATI this is not a game problem but an NVIDIA driver issue.
Before its release in 2007, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
was one of the most hyped games of the last years. This RPG/FPS hybrid game is set a few years in the future, after a nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The release of radiation causes strange things like mutations in the nearby area. You take the role of a Stalker who seeks fame and riches in the contaminated area around Chernobyl. The game engine features all the latest buzzwords like HDR, bullet physics, skeletal animation, soft shadows and weather effects. Stalker's vast outside world is richly modeled, you can interact with a large number of objects in the game thanks to the physics engine.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky
STALKER Clear Sky
is GSC Gameworld's prequel to the 2007 hit "STALKER". Just like in the first part the game is set around the Russian area of Chernobyl and Pripyat, most well known for the nuclear accident that occurred there. You play the role of a mercenary who spends his days in The Zone trying to make a living. The Zone is an area which is affected by so-called anomalies which cause mutants to appear and laws of physics to change. While you investigate these anomalies the plot leads up to the events that happened right before the first game starts. A new in-game faction system encourages you to befriend various groups in The Zone in exchange for information or items. While the graphics of Clear Sky are based on the first Stalker game engine, there are numerous improvements, including support for DirectX10 and depth-of-field/volumetric effects.
Unreal Tournament 3
The fourth game in Epic's highly successful Unreal Tournament Series is simply called Unreal Tournament 3
. It is based on the all-new Unreal 3 engine which is a major step forward from the previous engine. The game principle is centered about an arena style gameplay where several contestants try to reach a certain kill count or capture a flag for example. As you would expect from a new 2007 title, the graphics are top notch, with large and detailed textures. One major drawback of the way the engine is designed is that there is no support for Anti-Aliasing.
World In Conflict
The realtime strategy game World In Conflict
by Massive Entertainment is set in 1989 taking the player through a fictional conflict during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unlike other RTS games, World in Conflict is not centered around building a base, you command units on the battlefield with a number of reinforcement points available to replace lost troops.
Massive's Masstech Game Engine makes heavy use of level-of-detail techniques which allow you to zoom in closely on the action displaying fights in high-fidelity with a large number of effects.
is the number one player in the world of synthetic benchmarking. The 3DMark series is the most popular test suite for video card testing and is used by gamers, overclockers and manufacturers alike to determine how fast their hardware is. Even though it is a few years old, 3DMark03 can easily stress today's video cards.
Another benchmark from Futuremark
is 3DMark05 which comes with four completely new game tests that make massive use of shaders and lighting effects. 3DMark05 is a great test for modern video card architectures - in some tests you are often close to the 30 fps mark, below which your games will feel sluggish.
Even though it's based on Futuremark's 3DMark05, the new 3DMark06 adds new tests for Shader Model 3.0 and HDR rendering. It is also the first 3DMark to incorporate a CPU score into the final 3DMark score. All tests have received an overhaul, for example in the Canyon Flight test you can now see beautiful sun glare effects with the help of High Dynamic Range rendering.
Cooling modern video cards is becoming more and more difficult, especially when users are asking for quiet cooling solutions. That's why the engineers are now paying much more attention to power consumption of new video card designs.
For this test we measure power consumption of only the graphics card, via PCI-Express power connector(s) and PCI-Express bus slot. A Keithley Integra 2700 with 6.5 digits is used for all measurements. Again, the values here reflect card only power consumption measured at DC VGA card inputs, not the whole system.
We chose 3DMark03 Nature as a standard test representing typical 3D usage because it offers: - very high power draw - high repeatability - is a standard benchmark that is supported by all cards - drivers are actively tested and optimized for it - supports all multi-GPU configurations - easy to obtain - fairly compact in size - test runs a constant duration and renders a non-static scene with variable complexity just like any normal game.
The four result values are as following:
- Idle: Windows Vista Aero sitting at the desktop (1280x1024 32-bit) all windows closed, drivers installed. Card left to warm up in idle until power draw is stable.
- Average: 3DMark03 Nature at 1280x1024, 6xAA, 16xAF. This results in the highest power consumption. Average of all readings (12 per second) while the test was rendering (no title screen).
- Peak: 3DMark03 Nature at 1280x1024, 6xAA, 16xAF. Highest single reading during the test.
- Maximum: Furmark Stability Test at 1280x1024, 0xAA. This results in a very high non-game power consumption that can typically be reached only with stress testing applications. Card left running stress test until power draw converged to a stable value.
- Blu-Ray Playback: Power DVD 9 Ultra is used at a resolution of 1920x1200 to play back the Batman: The Dark Knight disc with GPU acceleration turned on. Playback starts around timecode 1:19 which has the highest data rates on the BD with up to 40 Mb/s. Playback left running until power draw converged to a stable value.
Even though ZOTAC uses the reference GTX 480 PCB at higher clock speeds than the normal GTX 480, the power consumption is considerably lower. I did check whether this reduction in power draw is caused by the new driver, but this does not seem to be the case. For me this is quite a mystery. One possible explanation is that the Amp! Edition on average runs cooler than the reference design. Higher temperature is associated with higher power draw, but whether that can make such a big difference I don't know.
Update May 27: I just tested the card again and stopped the fan manually and observed an interesting thing, when the card reached 92°C, the power draw was a lot higher in Furmark, in line with what I would have expected to see from a card like this. So the answer to the mystery of the low power consumption is simply "heat". Since the card runs so much cooler than the reference GTX 480, the power consumption is a lot less, only because the temperature is lower
, there is no other magic happening here.
I did some additional measurements (using Furmark in a window so it's easier to control the fan speed) and found out that there is a linear relationship between temperature and power draw. The linear fit is y = 1.1975x + 215.29, so for every °C that the card runs hotter it needs 1.2W more power to handle the exact same load.
As a result the GTX 480 Amp! Edition shows very reasonable power draw numbers considering it's a GF100 based product. In order to beat ATI's latest offerings in terms of power draw NVIDIA still has some way to go though.
In the past years users would accept everything just to get more performance. Nowadays this has changed with people being more aware of the fan noise and power consumption of their graphic cards.
In order to properly test the fan noise a card emits we are using a Bruel & Kjaer 2236 sound level meter (~$4,000) which has the measurement range and accuracy we are looking for.
The tested graphics card is installed in a system that is completely passively cooled. That is passive PSU, passive CPU cooler, passive cooling on the motherboard and Solid-State HDD.
This setup allows us to eliminate secondary noise sources and test only the video card. To be more compliant with standards like DIN 45635 (we are not claiming to be fully DIN 45635 certified) the measurement is conducted at 100 cm distance and 160 cm over the floor. The ambient background noise level in the room is well below 20 dbA for all measurements. Please note that the dbA scale is not linear, it is logarithmic. 40 dbA is not twice as loud as 20 dbA. A 3 dbA increase results in double the sound pressure. The human hearing is a bit different and it is generally accepted that a 10 dbA increase doubles the perceived sound level.
Fan noise in idle is simply unacceptable. The GTX 480 Amp! Edition idles around 45°C , so I wonder why nobody implemented a proper fan speed setting for this case that lets the card run as reasonable noise levels.
Under load the Zalman cooler can show its power. It runs quieter and cooler than the reference design, but the combined noise and temperature difference is not as big as I had hoped given that this is a triple-slot card design.
To create this graph we took all performance results of the five resolutions we tested, threw them together and calculated the relative performance of each card, compared to our review sample. In a sixth graph we also combined all tests in all resolutions to calculate the total relative performance of the review sample.
Performance per Watt
This graph was created by taking the relative performance numbers and putting them in contrast to the average power consumption results.
Performance per Dollar
If you are looking for the best bang for the buck, then you will love this graph. We looked up the current USD price of each card on the popular online shop Newegg and used it and the relative performance numbers to calculate the Performance per Dollar Index.
To find the maximum overclock of our card we used a combination of GPUTool and our benchmarking suite.
The overclocks listed here were achieved with the default fan and voltage settings as defined in the VGA BIOS. Please note that every single sample overclocks differently, that's why our results here can only serve as a guideline for what you can expect from your card.
The overclocks of our card are 803 MHz core (6% overclock) and 1035 MHz Memory (9% overclock). Breaking 800 MHz with GF100 GPU is a good result on air, our first sample, using the reference cooler managed only 770 MHz. According to ZOTAC a special binning process is in place that selects only well-overclocking GPUs.
Using these clock frequencies we ran a quick test of Call of Duty 4 to evaluate the gains from overclocking.
The actual 3D performance gained from overclocking is 9.7%.
Idle temperatures are comfortably low, a lower fan speed in trade for higher temperatures would have helped with the idle noise. Under load the card is running roughly 20°C cooler than the NVIDIA reference design!
Modern graphics cards have several clock profiles that are selected to balance power draw and performance requirements.
The following table lists the clock settings for major performance scenarios and the GPU voltage that we measured. We measure on the pins of a coil or capacitor near the GPU voltage regulator.
Value and Conclusion
- According to ZOTAC the GeForce GTX 480 Amp! Edition will retail around $530.
- Considerably lower temperatures than reference design
- Overclocked out of the box
- Significantly lower power consumption thanks to lower temperatures
- Reasonably priced
- Good overclocking potential
- Native HDMI output
- GDDR5 memory
- Lower power draw than reference design
- Support for DirectX 11
- Support for NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround
- Support for CUDA, PhysX and 3D Vision
- Very noisy fan in idle
- Requires three slots in the system
- DirectX 11 won't be relevant for quite a while
||It looks like ZOTAC did the right thing partnering up with Zalman. At about 5% faster, the GeForce GTX 480 Amp! Edition offers a solid performance improvement over NVIDIA's reference design. Thanks to the VF3000 thermal solution from Zalman this doesn't mean that the card overheats or has to be noisy like a leafblower to handle the heat. When compared to the reference design, ZOTAC's latest card is about 20°C cooler. That alone is certainly impressive, but I would have liked to see some of that temperature improvement to go into reduced fan noise. It also seems to me that ZOTAC overlooked adjusting the idle fan settings for the new cooler. In idle the card is way too noisy, which is unacceptable in my opinion. The design choice to use three slots in the system makes perfect sense for a card like the GTX 480, but it also means that users planning to use SLI are more limited in their motherboard choice than with a card that uses two slots.|
Despite being overclocked out of the box, we could squeeze another 6% overclock out of the card and I'm sure more is possible with an increase in GPU voltage. Remember, you have 20°C of extra temperature headroom thanks to the Zalman cooler. Also, when looking at the maximum overclock vs. that of the reference design we saw a substantial increase in maximum clock. The reference design managed 770 MHz, the AMP! edition 800 MHz. While it might be possible that we got a lucky sample, ZOTAC tells us that AMP! Edition cards are screened for better overclocking potential.
Last but not least, ZOTAC asks a very reasonable $529 for their card, in a time where other companies want $549 or more for less potent offerings. All these little improvements can not conceal that a GF100 GPU is at work in the AMP! Edition. The card draws much more power than the latest cards from ATI, especially when idle or during media playback. When considering only price/performance there are also many cards that give you more bang for the buck. But overall, ZOTAC did a decent job with their AMP! Edition, and I still have hope that a BIOS update can optimize the fan speeds.