GeForce GTX 280 Video Card Review
By Gabriel Torres on June 16, 2008


Introduction

GeForce GTX 280, which is being released today, is the new high-end graphics processing unit from NVIDIA. In this review we are going to compare its performance with other high-end video cards we had available, namely the GeForce 9800 GX2, the GeForce 9800 GTX, the Radeon HD 3870 X2 and the Radeon HD 3870. Is this new video card really the fastest on the market today? Check it out.

We posted a separated article explaining in details the new architecture used on the GeForce GTX 200 series. So please read this article if you want to learn what is below the hood.

Let’s first take an overall look at the physical aspects of GeForce GTX 280.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 1: GeForce GTX 280.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 2: GeForce GTX 280.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 3: GeForce GTX 280.

GeForce GTX 280 requires one 6-pin and one 8-pin auxiliary power connectors, as you can see in Figure 4. The maximum power consumption of this beast is 236 W.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 4: Power connectors.

Introduction (Cont’d)

As you could see, the new GeForce GTX 280 has an external looks similar to GeForce 9800 GX2 and GeForce GTX 9800, see Figures 5 and 6.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 5: GeForce 9800 GTX, GeForce 9800 GX2 and GeForce GTX 280.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 6: GeForce 9800 GTX (at the top), GeForce 9800 GX2 and GeForce GTX 280 (at the bottom).

We removed the video card cooler to take a look at the board, see Figures 7 and 8.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 7: GeForce GTX 280 printed circuit board.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 8: GeForce GTX 280 printed circuit board.

As you can see in Figure 7 the graphics processing unit (GPU) is really big. We show a close-up in Figure 9, see its codename “G200-300.”

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 9: GeForce GTX 280 GPU.

In Figure 10, you can see the massive cooler used by this video card. As you can see it uses a big copper base, which is connected to the cooler aluminum fins by copper heat-pipes.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 10: Cooler.

More Details

To make the comparison between the new GeForce GTX 280 and the other video cards we included in this review easier, we compiled the table below comparing the main specs from these cards. If you want to compare the specs of the new GTX 280 to any other video card not included in the table below, just take a look at our NVIDIA Chips Comparison Table and on our AMD ATI Chips Comparison Table.

Just for the record, the GeForce GTX 280 reference model uses 16 Hynix H5RS5223CFR N2C GDDR3 chips. These chips officially support a clock frequency of up to 1,200 MHz. On this video card they run at 1,107 MHz, so there is a tight 8.4% headroom for you to overclock the video card memories still maintaining them inside their specs. Of course you can always try pushing memories above their specs, but it isn’t guaranteed that the overclocking will work.

GPU

Core Clock

Shader Clock

Proc.

Memory Clock

Memory Interface

Memory Transfer Rate

Memory

Price

GeForce GTX 280

602 MHz

1,296 MHz

240

1,107 MHz

512-bit

141.7 GB/s

1 GB GDDR3

USD 649

GeForce 9800 GX2

600 MHz

1,500 MHz

128

1,000 MHz

256-bit

64 GB/s

1 GB GDDR3

USD 470 - 550

GeForce 9800 GTX

675 MHz

1,688 MHz

128

1,100 MHz

256-bit

70.4 GB/s

512 MB GDDR3

USD 270 - 355

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2

857 MHz

857 MHz

320

927 MHz

256-bit

59.33 GB/s

1 GB GDDR3

Radeon HD 3870

776 MHz

776 MHz

320

1,125 MHz

256-bit

72 GB/s

512 MB GDDR4

USD 150 - 200

Some important observations regarding this table:

We faced an overheating situation during our tests and we’d like to take some time now to explain what happened exactly. During our Quake 4 benchmarking the system was very unstable. The first thing that came to our mind was that the card was overheating. Touching it we could see that it was hotter than what we expected. Inspecting this problem further it turned out that the overheating wasn’t being caused by the video card itself, but by the fan attached on top of the north bridge chip on our nForce 790i motherboard, which was blowing hot air on the video card, causing it to overheat. This is clearly a design flaw from this particular motherboard. We solved this issue by removing the north bridge fan and adding a 120 mm fan on top of our system. So if you buy this card make sure that your case is well-ventilated and that the north bridge cooler isn’t blowing hot air on your video card. You can see the problem in Figure 11.

GeForce GTX 280
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Figure 11: The north bridge fan was causing our GTX 280 to overheat.

How We Tested

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the video card being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

Driver Versions

Software Used

Resolutions and Image Quality Settings

Since we were comparing very high-end video cards, we ran all our tests under three 16:10 widescreen high resolutions: 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600. We always tried to run the programs and games in two scenarios for each resolution, one with low image quality settings and then maxing out the image quality settings. The exact configuration we used will be described together with the results of each individual test.

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

3DMark06 Professional

3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We run this software under three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, first with no image quality enhancements enabled – results we call “low” on the charts and tables below –, then setting 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering. See the results below.

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 1680x1050 - LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2162609.10%
GeForce 9800 GX2156234.82%
GeForce GTX 28014904 
GeForce 9800 GTX1275916.81%
Radeon HD 38701069439.37%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 1920x1200 - LowScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX2155479.37%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2154898.96%
GeForce GTX 28014215 
GeForce 9800 GTX1163122.22%
Radeon HD 3870945450.36%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 2560x1600 - LowScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX21301510.62%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2123154.67%
GeForce GTX 28011766 
GeForce 9800 GTX874334.58%
Radeon HD 3870682372.45%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 1680x1050 - HighScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X21626033.75%
GeForce 9800 GX21390014.34%
GeForce GTX 28012157 
GeForce 9800 GTX898135.36%
Radeon HD 3870691575.81%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 1920x1200 - HighScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X21548940.92%
GeForce 9800 GX21221311.12%
GeForce GTX 28010991 
GeForce 9800 GTX781140.71%
Radeon HD 3870611479.77%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 2560x1600 - HighScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X21231541.49%
GeForce 9800 GX2982912.93%
GeForce GTX 2808704 
GeForce 9800 GTX577450.74%
Radeon HD 38704319101.53%

3DMark Vantage Professional

3DMark Vantage is the latest addition to the 3DMark series, measuring Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance and supporting PhysX, a programming interface developed by Ageia (now part of NVIDIA) to transfer physics calculations from the system CPU to the video card GPU in order to increase performance. Mechanical physics is the basis for calculations about the interaction of objects. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back?

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600. First we used the “Performance” profile, and then we used the “Extreme” profile (basically enabling anti-aliasing at 4x, anisotropic filtering at 16x, and putting all detail settings at their maximum or “extreme” value. The combination of 2560x1600 resolution with extreme settings didn’t produce reliable results according to the program, so we aren’t going to add them here. The results being compared are the “GPU Scores” achieved by each video card.

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 - 1680x1050 – PerformanceScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2807695 
GeForce 9800 GX2699010.09%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2565136.17%
GeForce 9800 GTX3805102.23%
Radeon HD 38702977158.48%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 - 1920x1200 – PerformanceScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2806106 
GeForce 9800 GX2537913.52%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2433640.82%
GeForce 9800 GTX2891111.21%
Radeon HD 38702269169.11%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 - 2560x1600 – PerformanceScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2803549 
GeForce 9800 GX2291021.96%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2238248.99%
GeForce 9800 GTX1557127.94%
Radeon HD 38701244185.29%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 - 1680x1050 – ExtremeScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2806005 
GeForce 9800 GX2485823.61%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2356768.35%
GeForce 9800 GTX2703122.16%
Radeon HD 38701855223.72%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 - 1920x1200 – ExtremeScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2804732 
GeForce 9800 GX2350834.89%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2266977.29%
GeForce 9800 GTX2038132.19%
Radeon HD 38701439228.84%

Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was put on the maximum values on the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the game internal benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo for downloading here if you want to run your own benchmarks. The game was updated to version 1.6.

GeForce GTX 280

Call of Duty 4 - 1680x1050 – MaximumScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX2106.20.85%
GeForce GTX 280105.3 
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X275.739.10%
GeForce 9800 GTX69.152.39%
Radeon HD 387043.0144.88%

GeForce GTX 280

Call of Duty 4 - 1920x1200 – MaximumScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX294.53.05%
GeForce GTX 28091.7 
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X261.349.59%
GeForce 9800 GTX57.758.93%
Radeon HD 387035.4159.04%

GeForce GTX 280

Call of Duty 4 - 2560x1600 – MaximumScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX264.80%
GeForce GTX 28064.8 
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X240.659.61%
GeForce 9800 GTX38.369.19%
Radeon HD 387022.4189.29%

Crysis

Crysis is a very heavy DirectX 10 game. We updated this game to version 1.2.1 and used the HOC Crysis Benchmarking Utility to help us collecting data. Since we don’t think the default demo based on the island map stresses the video card the way we want, we used the HOC core demo available with the abovementioned utility. We ran this demo under three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, first with image quality set to “low” and then with image quality set to “high.” Since all video cards achieved a number of frames per second below 10 at 2560x1600 with image details set to “high,” we are not including this test as the results aren’t reliable. We ran each test twice and discarded the first result, as usually the first run achieves a lower score compared to the subsequent runs since the game loses time loading files. The results are below, in frames per second (FPS).

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 1680x1050 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X21250%
GeForce GTX 280125 
GeForce 9800 GTX8448.81%
GeForce 9800 GX27566.67%
Radeon HD 38707176.06%

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 1920x1200 – LowScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280115 
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X21086.48%
GeForce 9800 GTX6966.67%
GeForce 9800 GX26382.54%
Radeon HD 38705898.28%

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 2560x1600 – LowScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 28095 
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X27133.80%
GeForce 9800 GTX44115.91%
GeForce 9800 GX242126.19%
Radeon HD 387035171.43%

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 1680x1050 – HighScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 28042 
GeForce 9800 GTX2944.83%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X22661.54%
GeForce 9800 GX22568.00%
Radeon HD 387019121.05%

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 1920x1200 – HighScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 28034 
GeForce 9800 GTX2254.55%
GeForce 9800 GX22161.90%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X22070.00%
Radeon HD 387016112.50%

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmark the video cards using Episode Two with the aid of HOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two benchmarking utility using the “HOC Demo 1” provided by this program. We ran the game in three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, under two scenarios. First with quality set to maximum, bilinear filtering and anti-aliasing set to x0. This configuration we are calling “low” on the charts and tables below. Then we maxed out image quality settings, enabling x16 anisotropic filtering and 16xQCS anti-aliasing. This configuration we are calling “high” on our charts and tables. We updated the game up to the June 9th 2008 patch.

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 1680x1050 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2160.42.62%
GeForce GTX 280156.3 
GeForce 9800 GTX153.81.63%
Radeon HD 3870145.77.28%
GeForce 9800 GX2136.814.25%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 1920x1200 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2156.70.26%
GeForce GTX 280156.3 
GeForce 9800 GTX146.96.40%
GeForce 9800 GX2135.215.61%
Radeon HD 3870120.130.14%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 2560x1600 – LowScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280145.1 
GeForce 9800 GX2130.611.10%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2129.711.87%
GeForce 9800 GTX107.934.48%
Radeon HD 387072.899.31%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 1680x1050 – HighScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GTX137.954.42%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2126.141.21%
GeForce 9800 GX2125.440.43%
GeForce GTX 28089.3 
Radeon HD 387068.330.7%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 1920x1200 – HighScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GTX116.365.43%
GeForce 9800 GX2111.158.04%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2106.551.49%
GeForce GTX 28070.3 
Radeon HD 387056.823.77%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 2560x1600 – HighScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GTX71.3100.85%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X250.642.54%
GeForce 9800 GX237.55.63%
GeForce GTX 28035.5 
Radeon HD 387034.91.72%

Quake 4

We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.4.2 and ran its multiplayer demo id_perftest with SMP option enabled (which allows Quake 4 to recognize and use more than one CPU), under the same three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, first with image quality settings configured at “low” and then with image quality settings configured at “ultra.” You can check the results below, given in frames per second.

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 1680x1050 - LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2285.306.14%
GeForce GTX 280268.80 
Radeon HD 3870227.7518.02%
GeForce 9800 GTX225.5219.19%
GeForce 9800 GX2220.4821.92%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 1920x1200 - LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2266.2312.85%
GeForce GTX 280235.92 
Radeon HD 3870188.4025.22%
GeForce 9800 GX2174.0635.54%
GeForce 9800 GTX158.8748.50%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 2560x1600 - LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2197.8217.18%
GeForce GTX 280168.81 
Radeon HD 3870116.0145.51%
GeForce 9800 GTX114.3447.64%
GeForce 9800 GX2100.0768.69%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 1680x1050 - UltraScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280246.39 
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2237.983.53%
GeForce 9800 GX2218.8012.61%
GeForce 9800 GTX194.6526.58%
Radeon HD 3870167.2647.31%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 1920x1200 – UltraScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280224.44 
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2218.622.66%
GeForce 9800 GX2158.3541.74%
GeForce 9800 GTX158.1841.89%
Radeon HD 3870144.8055.00%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 2560x1600 – UltraScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2177.365.30%
GeForce GTX 280168.43 
GeForce 9800 GTX102.0465.06%
GeForce 9800 GX294.6877.89%
Radeon HD 387094.4078.42%

Conclusions

The new GeForce GTX 280 is a truly very high-end card that will bring an impressive performance boost if you are a serious gamer playing the latest games at very high resolutions (i.e., 1680x1050 and above) maxing out all image quality settings controls.

In Crysis with image quality settings configured at “high,” GeForce GTX 280 was between 62% and 70% faster than Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 and between 62% and 68% faster than GeForce 9800 GX2. In this same game with image quality settings configured at “low,” GTX 280 was between 67% and 126% faster than 9800 GX2 – here however GTX 280 and Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 achieved the same performance level, with the only significant difference seen at 2560x1600, where this video card from Sapphire was 34% faster than GTX 280.

In Call of Duty 4 putting all image quality settings on their maximum values, GeForce GTX 280 achieved the same performance level as GeForce 9800 GX2, being between 39% and 60% faster than Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2.

In Quake 4 with image quality set at “ultra,” GTX 280 was between 13% and 78% faster than 9800 GX2, but achieving the same performance level as Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2, with this model from Sapphire being 5% faster at 2560x1600.

In the new 3DMark Vantage with image quality set at “performance” GeForce GTX 280 was between 10% and 22% faster than GeForce 9800 GX2 and between 26% and 49% faster than Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2. When we increased image quality settings to “extreme,” GTX 280 was between 25% and 35% faster than GX2 and between 68% and 77% faster than X2.

In Half-Life 2: Episode Two maxing out image quality settings GeForce 9800 GX2 was between 6% and 58% faster and Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 was between 41% and 51% faster. Setting image quality to their lowest settings GTX 280 achieved the same performance level as Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2, with GTX 280 being 12% faster than this card at 2560x1600 and with the reviewed card being between 11% and 16% faster than GX2.

But on 3DMark06 both GX2 and X2 were faster than GTX 280. With low image quality settings the performance difference wasn’t enormous, with X2 being between 5% and 9% faster and with GX2 being between 5% and 11% faster. When we increased image quality settings the performance difference increased, with GX2 being between 11% and 14% faster and Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 being between 34% and 41% faster than GeForce GTX 280.

As you can see, GeForce GTX 280 wasn’t the fastest card all the times, especially when we ran an older simulation (3DMark06). Many can argue that the best way to benchmark video cards is with real games and not with simulations. This is true, but 3DMark is a very interesting tool nevertheless. Also, GeForce 9800 GX2 and Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 were faster than GeForce GTX 280 on Half Life 2: Episode Two when we set image quality settings to their maximum. This may indicate that GTX 280 is optimized for DirectX 10 games.

Many could also criticize our methodology saying that we didn’t include enough games. This is a valid constructive criticism and we know that we could add more games. Unfortunately we couldn’t add more due to the little time available we had to collect data, analyze data and write this review in time for posting it today, the day the embargo on this video card is over.

As we mentioned, GeForce GTX 280 is clearly targeted to gamers playing the latest titles at very high resolutions and that will crank up image quality settings.

GeForce GTX 280 is coming with a sour USD 650 MSRP. Unless you are rich, we give you two options: wait for the price to come down or buy another video card. Both GeForce 9800 GX2 and Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 are good options if you don’t have USD 650 and the patience for waiting the price of GeForce GTX 280 to go down and, at the same time, want a very high-end video card.

We are now even more curious to see the performance of GeForce GTX 260, as it will reach the market costing “only” USD 400. We hope to get one very soon. Stay tuned!

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/GeForce-GTX-280-Video-Card-Review/570


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