Summary: To reduce manufacturing costs, NVIDIA's 2nd-generation GeForce GTX 295 sports a new board design with just 1 PCB. But that's not all. The new card runs cooler and quieter. Join us as we dissect one of the first cards based on NVIDIA's new GTX 295 board design, the Gigabyte GV-N295-18I-B rev2.0. You may be surprised by how much cooler the new board runs in our review!
The strategy hasn’t really worked for the most part though. GPU shipments are down and everyone’s hoping that Windows 7 and DirectX 11 will finally stoke up demand, but in the mean time price cuts continue to be the primary solution to the problem. ATI and NVIDIA just cut prices last month.
This has put the GeForce GTX 295 in a tough position. As prices for GeForce GTX 260, 275, and 285 cards continue to fall, the GTX 295’s price has remained constant. Part of the reason GeForce GTX 295 prices haven’t fallen is because of the GTX 295’s limited quantities in comparison to the other GPUs.
Another culprit though is its higher associated costs. With dual PCBs, the board’s manufacturing cost doubles, as you need twice the capacitors, voltage regulators, resistors, and other board-level components needed to outfit the board, not to mention the cost of the second PCB itself.
For the past several months, NVIDIA’s been quietly concocting a solution to this problem – how do you make the GeForce GTX 295 cheaper to manufacture? Simple. You get rid of the second PCB.
Implementing a solution to this problem isn’t as simple as it sounds though. NVIDIA had to completely redesign the board to accommodate two GPUs and their associated components (rerouting traces from the GPU to memory, redesigning power delivery, etc) as well as having to develop a new heatsink/fan unit to keep everything cool. This is particularly challenging as one GPU can generate an enormous amount of heat, plopping two GPUs next to one another on a PCB you’ve now got two hotspots on the board which must be properly cooled. In fact, NVIDIA’s argued all along that dual PCB designs are superior from a cooling perspective as heat from one GPU and its power circuitry can be dissipated by its own dedicated PCB, rather than spreading heat from two GPUs across the same PCB.
On the original first-generation GeForce GTX 295 board design, a dual-slot heatsink with copper heatpipes was sandwiched in-between the two PCBs. The upper PCB was inverted so that the GPU was facing down towards the cooler. A large fan was then placed on one end of the card. This supplied fresh air to the cooler and both GPUs. The metal duct itself was also ventilated to allow hot air to escape.
It was all really rather remarkable considering the card’s 289W max board power.
NVIDIA’s second generation GeForce GTX 295 definitely looks a lot more conventional but in some ways it’s even more impressive than its predecessor. Why? Because this new GeForce GTX 295 board runs cooler and quieter.
Gigabyte sent us one of their GV-N295-18I-B rev2.0 GeForce GTX 295 cards for review. The GV-N295-18I-B rev2.0 is one of the newest second-generation GeForce GTX 295 cards to hit retail shelves. How does it compare to the original GeForce GTX 295? Let’s find out.
In terms of sheer performance, both cards should deliver identical frame rates. The graphics core, shader clock, and memory clock speeds are the same on both cards. NVIDIA sticks to the same 576MHz graphics core with 1GHz memory. The stream processors are clocked at 1242MHz.
Keep in mind that these speeds are a little slower than the GeForce GTX 275 GPU that the GeForce GTX 295 is essentially based on. Both chips ship with the same 240-shader architecture, with a 448-bit memory interface and 896MB of memory per GPU (1792MB total for the GTX 295). NVIDIA ups the graphics clock on the GTX 275 to 633MHz, with the stream processors clocked at 1404MHz and the memory speed is 1134MHz (2268MHz effective).
As a result, neither GeForce GTX 295 is going to be able to keep up with a GeForce GTX 275 SLI setup.
That’s where the similarities between both cards pretty much ends. The second-generation GeForce GTX 295 board has been redesigned to be cheaper for NVIDIA and their board partners to manufacture.
It all starts with the single-PCB board design. As we mentioned on the previous page, this is a cost-cutting move that’s a departure from previous dual GPU cards made by NVIDIA.
Considering the complexity of the original GeForce GTX 295’s board design, we naturally assumed integrating everything on one PCB was quite a feat by NVIDIA, but pulling off the board’s cooler reveals a fairly ordinary looking cooling implementation:
As you can see in the images, NVIDIA has devised a rather simple-looking heatsink/heatpipe combo to cool each GT200b GPU. Resting on top of both graphics chips is a cooler with two copper heatpipes that are cooled by an aluminum heatsink. Nothing more, nothing less. A copper base plate is responsible for drawing heat off the surface of the GPU’s heatspreader.
Each cooler is 100% distinct from the other. They’re not linked together in any sort of fashion and the heatsink/heatpipe units themselves are rather small considering the size of coolers found on the GeForce GTX 275 and Radeon HD 4890. Both of those GPUs sport coolers with much larger heatpipe/heatsink cooling.
How is NVIDIA able to successfully cool both GT200b chips so well with such a small cooler? Our guess is that the GT200b chips that go inside the GeForce GTX 295 are specially binned for low voltage, similar to how AMD or Intel bins their line of low voltage CPUs. NVIDIA has recently introduced “Green” editions of the GeForce 9600 GT and 9800 GT that consume less energy than their conventional counterparts.
We’d bet they’re doing the same for GT200b, only in this case the low-power chips are going into GeForce GTX 295 cards.
A large case fan then replaces the blower-style fan used on the GTX 295 and GTX 280 cards. With its location in the center of the card, this fan then blows fresh air out each end of the GTX 295 board – unlike other GeForce boards, the cooler on the second-generation GTX 295 isn’t completely enclosed.
In other words, all of the hot air from the GPU doesn’t exhaust outside your system case. Some air will exhaust out the right side of the plastic duct.
Of course, the cooler on the original GeForce GTX 295 wasn’t completely enclosed either. It had to double as a heatspreader for the second PCB, so it was made from aluminum and it had dozens of holes for ventilation.
To help cool the PCB itself, NVIDIA does employ a black aluminum spreader that rests around the twin GPU coolers. This heatspreader also helps to cool the board’s memory modules, the two NVIDIA NVIO display chips, and the PCI Express switch chip which provides 16 PCIe lanes to each GPU. Two heatspreaders are also placed on the underside of the GTX 295 for cooling the memory down there as well – they also act as protection for the memory modules from accidental damage that could occur during shipping.
Basically the cooler NVIDIA employs on the second generation GeForce GTX 295 is simpler than we’d thought it would be, but as you’ll see in the benchmarks on the next page, it’s quite effective at its job of keeping both GPUs cool.
As always we were eager to see how far we could push our Gigabyte GeForce GTX 295 card, but unfortunately we weren’t able to see how far the card could be pushed.
Officially Gigabyte doesn’t ship their GV-N295-18I-B rev2.0 board with a game bundle, although right now Newegg.com is running a special that bundles the card with a copy of Call of Duty: World At War. Keep in mind though that this is a special promotion being run by the retailer, not the card manufacturer (Gigabyte), so your mileage may vary when it comes to where (and when) you decide to purchase this card, as supplies of CoD: World at War are limited.
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
Gigabyte GA-EX58 Extreme
6GB (2x3GB) OCZ Reaper HPC 1600
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275
ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
ATI Radeon HD 4890 1GB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 2
Call of Duty 4
Fallout 3 Direct3D
Call of Duty 4 – DirectX 9
Crysis – DirectX 10
Far Cry 2 – DirectX 10
Since Gigabyte’s GV-N295-18I-B rev2.0 is based on NVIDIA’s reference design, the pros and cons below apply to all GTX 295 boards, not just the Gigabyte board.
Cooler, quieter cooler: As you saw in the benchmarks on page three, the new cooling unit NVIDIA employs on the GeForce GTX 295 appears to run cooler and quieter than its predecessor. Load temps were reduced dramatically, allowing the fan on the second-generation card to run with fewer RPMs and thus generate nearly 5 decibels less noise.
Price cuts?: Considering the cost-cutting moves NVIDIA has implemented in the new GeForce GTX 295 boards, it’s a bit disappointing that they haven’t resorted to lowering the price tag for these cards. Currently the cheapest GeForce GTX 295 boards sell for $499.99; that’s a pretty hefty premium over GeForce GTX 275, which is essentially the GPU these cards are based on.