Summary: With 480 stream processors and nearly 1.8GB of memory, one GeForce GTX 295 card packs one incredible punch. EVGA spices the formula up even further by OC'ing their card for even more performance. But what about running two GeForce GTX 295 cards for Quad SLI? Does 4870 X2 Quad CrossFire stand a chance? Only one way to find out. Click!
In case you’re just now getting back from holiday break and didn’t know about the GTX 295, we’ll provide a quick refresher.
The GeForce GTX 295 is NVIDIA’s answer to the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2. Like the 4870 X2, the GTX 295 fuses dual GPUs together onto one graphics card in order to deliver breakthrough performance. This is actually NVIDIA’s third-generation dual GPU card, following the GeForce 7950 GX2 and last year’s 9800 GX2. The layout/design of the GeForce GTX 295 is actually pretty similar to the GeForce 9800 GX2, with the card actually featuring two PCBs, each sporting a GT200b GPU. One PCB is inverted so it faces the other, with a dual-slot heatsink/fan unit sandwiched in between responsible for cooling both GPUs. For added performance, the cooler is outfitted with copper heatpipes for each GPU. In fact, so much copper is used to cool this board it’s pretty heavy, even in comparison to other dual GPU cards like the 9800 GX2 and Radeon 4870 X2.
The GPU(s) used for the GeForce GTX 295 is a hybrid, mixing features from the GTX 260 and GTX 280. Like the GeForce GTX 280, the GPUs inside GTX 295 contain 240 stream processors apiece, for a grand total of 480 stream processors for the entire GTX 295 card. Unlike the GTX 280 however, the GeForce GTX 295 shares the same clock speeds as the GeForce GTX 260 – 576MHz for the graphics core, while the stream processors operate at 1242MHz. The memory subsystem is also carried over from the GTX 260, with the GTX 295 sporting a 448-bit memory interface with 1.792GB of GDDR3 memory (896MB per GPU) clocked at 1.0GHz (2.0GHz effective).
Based on these specs, the GeForce GTX 295 performs somewhere between the GTX 260 and the GTX 280. In our tests back in December, we found the GTX 295 ran roughly 4-5% faster than a pair of 216-shader GeForce GTX 260 cards running in SLI, although there were a few cases in Crysis where that margin opened up to 8%. For more details on the GeForce GTX 295, including a closer look at its board design/cooling and single card performance with cards ranging all the way back to the GeForce 8800 GTX, we highly suggest you check out our early performance test article from December.
In this article we’re going to be taking a look at the first retail board to grace our testbed, EVGA’s GeForce GTX 295 Plus. Since we focused on single-card performance in the first article, we’re also going to devote more of our time in this article to extremely high-end multi-GPU setups like 3-Way and Quad SLI, as well as 2, 3, and 4-Way CrossFire. We’re also going to test with a few additional games that we didn’t get a chance to look at last month. We’ve included STALKER: Clear Sky, because next to Crysis it’s pretty much the most graphically-demanding game out there. BioShock because we wanted to include a game based on Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, and Call of Duty 4, which replaces our tests with CoD: World at War. CoD 4 is the more popular game, so including it was an easy decision. NVIDIA’s up by a pretty large margin in Dead Space, so we’re just going to go ahead and call that game in their favor.
With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the EVGA card.
Because of this, regardless of the name on the front of the box, you’re physically getting the exact same hardware when you purchase a GeForce GTX 295 card. This is where other intangibles such as price, service/support, game bundle, and warranty come into play. As long time readers of FiringSquad know by now, EVGA scores exceptionally well in all of these regards, with the company offering lifetime warranty coverage on their graphics cards, 24/7 toll-free tech support for North America as well as excellent online support via their forums, and EVGA’s game bundles have been pretty slick in the past as well; with the company currently offering Call of Duty: World at War with select graphics cards (sadly the GeForce GTX 295 Plus isn’t one of them).
While the hardware itself is bone stock, the GTX 295 Plus isn’t clocked at stock speeds. As its Plus name implies, the card is overclocked from the factory for added performance. More specifically EVGA clocks the GTX 295 Plus graphics core at 594MHz, 18MHz higher than stock. While the stream processors operate at 1296MHz, an improvement of 54MHz over the stock GTX 295 specifications. Finally the board’s memory runs at 1026MHz (2052MHz effective), this figure is 26MHz higher than stock.
Okay, so it’s not exactly a blazing high OC, but it is better than nothing. And officially the EVGA GeForce GTX 295 Plus retails for the same $499.99 MSRP as the bone stock GTX 295 cards clocked at 576MHz. So EVGA’s essentially providing a free performance boost for Plus card owners, albeit a minor one. If you’re familiar with EVGA’s lineup of cards you no doubt know about their SSC and Superclocked SKUs, which are typically among the highest OC’ed cards in their price class.
Once they’ve had more time to actually validate and test the GTX 295 at higher speeds, we wouldn’t be surprised if EVGA released a higher-end GTX 295 Superclocked or SSC SKU, but we did ask and right now the company has no official plans to go beyond the Plus card.
For now this is the only GeForce GTX 295 SKU EVGA plans to offer for this GPU.
One neat utility EVGA’s been bundling with their graphics cards is named EVGA Precision. Precision provides an easy way for EVGA card owners to overclock their graphics card without having to resort to a third-party app.
Uh oh. Is that GeForce GTX 285 I see? While it won’t hit retail shelves for another week, it looks like EVGA’s already got Precision up and running with NVIDIA’s 55-nm GeForce GTX 285. The GTX 285 boasts slightly higher clocks than the GTX 280, but more importantly it features NVIDIA’s 55-nm GT200b GPU just like GTX 295 (the GTX 285 continues to utilize a 512-bit memory interface). We’ll have more on the GTX 285 this time next week.
In any case, Precision provides a nifty way for users to OC the GPU, stream processors, and memory speeds. Just like NVIDIA’s System Tools, Precision also includes a slider for manual fan control. You can see the current settings for all of these to the right of the sliders. There you can also see a “Link” button. When clicked, this allows you to set the clock speed of the stream processors independent of the graphics core speed.
One neat thing about Precision is it provides handy descriptions for what each setting does. Just hold your mouse over a setting for a few seconds and the description will pop up.
Precision also provides built-in hardware monitoring functionality. On the left of the app you can see aspects such as GPU1 and GPU2 temperature, and core/shader/memory clock speeds. You can setup Precision to monitor these aspects over time at whatever polling rate you’d like, and you can even have Precision monitor your current frame rate (similar to FRAPS). Those of you with LCD-equipped Logitech keyboards can have all of this data exported to your keyboard’s LCD screen while gaming.
If you’d like, you can even use Precision to setup custom profiles that are bound to hotkeys. Overall it’s a pretty handy utility, especially if you’re new to graphics card overclocking and reluctant to use one of the more involved overclocking apps like RivaTuner.
The only feature that seems to be missing when compared to NVIDIA’s own System Utility is the ability to independently clock the GPUs on the GTX 295 card independent of each other. With NVIDIA’s System Utility this is accomplished via a pull-down menu which you use to select which GPU you’d like to OC. Knowing EVGA they’re probably working on this though. We managed to OC the GPUs on our EVGA GeForce GTX 295 Plus board to speeds of 693MHz core/1164MHz memory/1512MHz shaders.
Bundle and accessories
EVGA ships the GeForce GTX 295 Plus with a fairly minimal bundle for their standards. Included inside the card’s packaging is one DVI adapter, two power adapters (including an 8-pin PCIe 2.0 power adapter), and SPDIF audio cable for passing digital audio over HDMI. Of course also included is the driver CD which includes EVGA Precision, a Quick Start guide and dedicated manual, and finally an EVGA case badge.
Of course on the back plate of the GeForce GTX 295 card itself you’ll find two DVI outputs and one HDMI out. The two DVIs can be used together while SLI is enabled, while you’ll need to disable SLI if you’d like to run dedicated displays off all three video connections.
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
EVGA X58 SLI
3GB Qimonda DDR3-1066
EVGA e-GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 (stock GTX 260 clocks)
EVGA GeForce GTX 295 Plus
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295
ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
Catalyst 8.561.3-081217a-73402 (Updated Catalyst 8.12)
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Call of Duty 4
Fallout 3 – DirectX 9
Because we’re CPU-bound at 1600x1200 and 1920x1200 with most of the GPUs in this test the only graph that really provides any useful information is the 2560x1600 results with 8xAA. Here the GTX 295 cards outperform ATI’s Radeon 4870 X2 by 7%, with Quad SLI also outrunning QuadFire by 5%. The Quad SLI system is basically CPU-bound in all of our tests with Fallout 3.
Call of Duty 4 – DirectX 9
We saw tremendous performance results with all our GPU setups in Call of Duty 4, with the Quad SLI rig consistently pushing 200+ fps at all resolutions. Like Fallout 3, this is a case where you can clearly crank up the AA beyond the 8x setting. The GeForce GTX 295 continues to finish ahead of Radeon HD 4870 X2, with the margin ranging from 16-19% by 2560x1600. Quad SLI also outperforms Quad CrossFire, with the Quad SLI setup running 12% faster than QuadFire. GTX 280 3-Way SLI pulls in third trailing GTX 295 Quad by 16%.
Crysis – DirectX 10
The GeForce GTX 295 takes the early lead in Crysis with high graphics settings, with ATI’s 4870 X2 finishing 18% behind GTX 295. Because of a performance bug in the current ForceWare driver, the tables turn at 2560x1600 though, with the 4870 X2 actually pulling ahead of GTX 295 by 16% in our tests at 2560x1600.
Crysis – DirectX 10
The GTX 295 continues to finish ahead of 4870 X2 under very high graphics settings, although the margins are slimmer at 1600x1200, with ATI now behind by just 6%. At 1920x1200 the margin is sliced in half to 3%, and by 2560x1600 both cards are dead even. Quad SLI continues to outperform QuadFire, as CrossFire just doesn’t seem to scale as well in Crysis once you go beyond three GPUs. We continued to run into performance scaling/stability problems with the Quad SLI setup at 2560x1600 however.
Left 4 Dead – DirectX 9
Under Left 4 Dead the Radeon 4870 X2 outruns GeForce GTX 295. All of the X2s as well as GTX 280 SLI and GTX 295 appear to be CPU-bound at 1600x1200, however the single X2 manages to hit a higher frame rate than GTX 295, running 8% faster. The gap narrows slightly as we increase resolution to 2560x1600, but the ATI card still maintains a 6% lead at that resolution.
STALKER: CS – DirectX 10
With the latest patch, STALKER Clear Sky actually supports DX10.1 for ATI cards. Therefore we naturally enabled this setting for ATI hardware. We run the rest of the game’s settings at the default high quality preset, with DX10 enhanced full dynamic lighting. The “high” preset isn’t the maximum graphics option in the game, it actually keeps AA off, all sun settings at medium quality, antialias alpha-tested objects off, etc. We’re still experimenting with finding just the right mixture settings with this game; turning on just a couple of the advanced lighting options can severely impact frame rate. Because of all the advanced settings, this is probably a game that we can use for years, and as you can see, it scales better than Crysis across the GPUs we tested.
Far Cry 2 – DirectX 10
The GTX 295 has a pretty clear lead over 4870 X2 in Far Cry 2. The card bests X2 by greater than 20% at all resolutions.
BioShock – DirectX 9
ATI’s Radeon 4870 X2 bests the GTX 295 under BioShock. The margins swung pretty wildly though, at 16x12 the X2 outran GTX 295 by 7%. This closes to 4% at 1920x1200. Then at 2560x1600 the GTX 295 suddenly finds itself behind by 20%. This could be a case where another performance bug is popping up at 2560x1600.
What we can tell you is that NVIDIA has a definite lead in Dead Space. Games based on the Call of Duty 4 game engine have also run faster with GTX 295 in our testing. Finally NVIDIA also enjoys a strong performance lead in Far Cry 2.
Falling in the lean NVIDIA category are Crysis and Fallout 3. Fallout 3’s performance is largely CPU-bound, but at 2560x1600 the GTX 295 managed to pull ahead of the 4870 X2 by 7%. The GTX 295 put up a good showing in our early Crysis tests, but ATI managed to pull even by 2560x1600 with very high graphics settings and 2xAA. There are also a couple of outstanding performance bugs for NVIDIA in this game, so it’s probably too soon to come to any definitive conclusions on Crysis performance.
BioShock was the one title where the 4870 X2 excelled, outrunning the GTX 295 by anywhere from 4-20% in BioShock, while L4D falls in the lean ATI category, with 4870 X2 running 6-8% faster than GTX 295.
For now we’re going to put STALKER in the toss-up category, but we still have a lot more testing we’d like to do with this game at the higher graphics quality settings. When we first tested this game a few months ago it really brought both ATI and NVIDIA GPUs to their knees. Thanks to recent driver improvements though things have changed significantly and it looks like we may be able to crank the settings up slightly more, perhaps even with a little bit of AA. We’ll have to wait for the benchmarks to come in first though.
Ultimately we have a feeling that picking between the GTX 295 and 4870 X2 would be akin to picking between two different Ferraris. Each is crazy fast and exotic with their own areas of strengths/weaknesses. But like the Ferraris, either card will definitely put a grin on your face. Right now though NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 295 is the Enzo Ferrari of the bunch. The GTX 295 is simply the faster card overall at this point.
The most intriguing move of the past 24 hours is ATI’s counter to the GTX 295. ATI is working with board partners and retailers on a 4870 X2 price cut. So far only one board partner, and one retailer have gotten onboard with the plan, with Sapphire’s 4870 X2 board selling for $450 on Newegg, plus a $50 mail-in rebate bringing the price down to $400. If ATI can get more board partners and retailers to play along with this price, they could have quite a coup on their hands, leading to more price cuts from NVIDIA.
Thanks to its slightly higher clocks, EVGA’s GeForce GTX 295 Plus is well positioned, regardless of what ultimately ends up happening. Because EVGA is pricing their board at NVIDIA’s MSRP, you’re essentially getting a free performance boost. And if NVIDIA happens to reduce the price on the GTX 295 in a few weeks, EVGA will obviously match the reduction. We’re crossing our fingers for a GTX 295 Superclocked though!
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