Today NVIDIA introduces the latest member of their DirectX 11 lineup. Their new GeForce GTX 460 is based on the all new 40 nm GF104 GPU which is based on the Fermi architecture introduced earlier this year. The GTX 460 is positioned at the lower end of the mid-range performance segment around the $200 price bracket. NVIDIA offers two variants of the GeForce GTX 460, one with 768 MB of GDDR5 memory and one with 1 GB. Due to the GPU architecture this change in memory size not only affects the actual memory but also other performance relevant figures. The reduction of memory size is achieved by installing less memory chips on the card which reduces the bus width of the GPU from 256-bit to 192-bit on the 768 MB version. Since the ROPs are coupled to the memory interface this also results in less ROP units. Combined all those changes reduce the fillrates and memory performance of the card by 25%. One important aspect of this review is how much of a difference this can make in real life.
We have five GTX 460 reviews for you today, making this the most covered VGA card launch in TPU history:
NVIDIA's GeForce Fermi (GF) 104 GPU comes with 384 shaders (CUDA cores) in the silicon but NVIDIA has disabled 48 of them to reach their intended performance targets and to improve GPU harvesting. Unlike with GF100, the GF104 has more populated streaming multiprocessors (SMs), 48 cores per SM vs. 32 cores per SM on GF100. I marked the disabled units in red in the diagram above, please note that any of the eight SM blocks can be disabled, not only the "last" one. On the 768 MB version, there are also less units as in the original architecture diagram, as indicated above.
|Memory Bus Width
MSI's package is easily recognizable as such. The front lists the product highlights while you find more details information on the back.
You will receive:
- Graphics card
- Driver CD + Documentation
- DVI to VGA adapter
- DVI to HDMI adapter
- 2x PCI-Express power cable
MSI uses a slightly customized PCB design together with their own "Cyclone" thermal solution. The large footprint of the cooler makes the two heatpipes stick out a bit above the top end of the card which might become an issue in some smaller cases.
The card occupies two slots in your system.
The card has two DVI ports and one mini-HDMI port (but no mini-HDMI adapter included). 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 two GTX 460 cards in SLI for added performance or improved image quality settings. I find it a bit surprising that NVIDIA did not include a triple or quad SLI option, but it doesn't seem unreasonable considering the strategic positioning of the product.
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
We have seen MSI's Cyclone cooler on other cards before and it worked well. It uses two heatpipes that connect the GPU contact area with a large number of fins where heat is dissipated in the fan's airflow.
The GTX 460 requires two 6-pin PCI-Express power connectors.
The GDDR5 memory chips are made by Samsung, and carry the model number K4G10325FE-HC05. They are specified to run at 1000 MHz (4000 MHz GDDR5 effective).
OnSemi's NCP5388 is a reasonable priced voltage regulator, unfortunately it does not support I2C interface for voltage control. NVIDIA however exposes an API for voltage changes via VID in their NVAPI.
NVIDIA's new GF104 graphics processor is made on a 40 nm process at TSMC Taiwan and is based on NVIDIA's Fermi architecture just like the more powerful GF100 on the GTX 480 for example. It uses approximately 1.95 billion transistors. Please note that the silvery metal surface you see is the heatspreader of the GPU. 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
||Windows 7 64-bit
GTX 460, 465, 470 & 480: 258.80
ATI: Catalyst 10.3
HD 5830, HD 5850, HD 5870: 10.6
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.
Metro 2033 is a first-person shooter game that is set in a post apocalyptic Moscow - as the name suggests inside the metro system. You will fight mutants or other humans who like to take away your shelter. The game has many gameplay elements similar to STALKER, also the engine has similar features. This is because two STALKER engine programmers left GSC Game World and started their own company who is now making Metro 2033.
The engine has support for all the latest eye candy like DirectX 11 and Tesselation. Unfortunately it leaves a less than optimized impression, making it a candidate to surpass Crysis for the highest hardware requirements. We tested in DirectX 11 mode with details set to "Very High". Cards without DX11 support were tested in DX10 mode.
Unigine Heaven 2.0
Unigine Heaven was one of the first demos that supported DirectX 11. Heaven is a technology demonstration for Unigine engine which supports DirectX 9 through 11 and OpenGL too. Version 2.0 adds more scenes and optionally more complex tesselation features. While there is some controversy surrounding the benchmark whether it is an accurate representation of what to expect from future games in regards to DirectX 11 we still chose it as test to get an insight into potential future gaming. Cards without DX11 support were tested in DX10 mode.
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.
Unlike the GeForce GTX 480/470/465, NVIDIA has managed to considerably reduced power consumption on their latest GPU. Overall it is on par now with ATI's latest offerings, a substantial improvement. In idle the new cards actually consume less power than comparable ATI cards, something I wouldn't have expected to happen this soon. Blu-Ray playback power consumption is also down a lot which makes GeForce 400 based products a real choice when building a low energy consumption full HD media PC system.
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.
If you read our other GeForce GTX 460 reviews today you will have noticed that NVIDIA's reference design cooler is very quiet. So I was worried a bit that MSI might have increased the noise by going with a different thermal solution. Luckily this is not the case in idle, here the card is considerably quieter than the NVIDIA reference design. Under load the MSI card is a bit noisier - by roughly the same amount it is quieter in idle. So if you spend most of the day in idle, the MSI card would be the better choice to reduce fan noise. During gaming you will already have an increased amount of fan noise, so it may not make that much of a difference to have a bit more.
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.
Due to a bug in GPU-Z the shaders are reported incorrectly as 224, the correct number is 336.
The overclocks of our card are 850 MHz core (17% overclock) and 1055 MHz Memory (17% overclock). Very nice results here. We have seen core overclocks well over 800 MHz from all the GTX 460 cards that we reviewed today. First, this means that it is easy to catapult this card into new performance regions with a few clicks and it also means that NVIDIA's production process is working well, opening up the possibility of future higher clocked versions of the GF104 GPU on faster cards.
Since MSI's card is already overclocked out of the box the increase in clocks is smaller, the maximum clock reached is similar to non-overclocked cards. MSI's cooler seems to handle memory overclocking a bit better than the reference design cooler, which results in a higher maximum memory overclock, but not by a big margin.
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 15.3%.
Temperatures are comfortably low, in my opinion it would make more sense to trade a little bit of temperature for reduced fan noise so that the card's noise levels match at least these of 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
- MSI's GeForce GTX 460 Cyclone 1024 MB retails for $239, about $10 more than the reference design.
- Good overclocking potential
- Overclocked out of the box
- Low power consumption
- Quiet in idle
- HDMI output
- GDDR5 memory
- Includes MSI Afterburner, world class overclocking tool
- Support for DirectX 11
- Support for NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround
- Support for CUDA, PhysX and 3D Vision
- No mini-HDMI adapter included
- DirectX 11 relevance very limited at this time
- Memory chips not cooled
||NVIDIA's new GeForce GTX 460 is Fermi done right. Whereas the GF100 based products were plagued by excessive power consumption resulting in high temperatures and noise levels, the GTX 460 delivers massive improvements here. Essentially NVIDIA managed to reduce idle power consumption below ATI's HD 5000 levels, and gaming power consumption to slightly higher but similar levels. This improvement in power consumption trickles down to temperatures and cooler noise helping NVIDIA's new card to be able to compete there.|
On all our tested cards we have seen awesome overclocking potential going well into the 800 MHz area which equates to around 25% higher clock. Memory overclocks are less spectacular which is partly due to the lack of cooling on the memory, and the selection of 1 GHz chips. I also have a feeling that NVIDIA's memory controller handles high clocks not as well as ATI's implementation. Nevertheless, if you are an overclocker and want to maximize the performance of your investment, the GeForce GTX 460 series is a great choice.
NVIDIA offers two GTX 460 variants at launch time, one with 768 MB and one with 1 GB. Aside from the obvious potential confusion with end users, the differences in actual performance are rather slim. On average we see only 7% performance difference between both cards which is very small considering the 25% difference in specs for memory size, memory bus width and number of ROPs. Essentially this means that the 768 MB version is the one to get unless you have a specific reason you think you need more memory, or speculate on the higher resale value of the card at a later time.
MSI has done a good job with their implementation of the GTX 460. The thermal solution they use does very well and manages to reach low temperatures. Fan noise is decent too, a bit quieter than reference in idle, a bit noisier under load. While this is certainly a pleasing result, my personal opinion is that MSI did not make the maximum out of the temperature/noise optimization potential. It is nice to see that MSI offers a card that is overclocked out of the box which makes it easy for less experienced users. All this comes at the price of $10 though, which is reasonable. On the other hand you could do the overclock yourself and save that money - the maximum overclock seems to be the same no matter if you buy a preoverclocked or reference design card. Thanks to 1 GB of memory and the overclock out of the box, the MSI GTX 460 Cyclone OC 1 GB is the fastest GeForce GTX 460 card that we tested so far. If you want to save some money, MSI has also released a 768 MB version which costs $209.