Tuesday, January 18, 2011

GeForce GTX 460 SE review

If there is one release from NVIDIA that can be classified as 'a little weird' it just has to be the GeForce GTX 460 SE, out of the blue this product was injected into the retail sales stream, quietly.

Positioned in-between a 768 MB and the 1024MB version of the GTX the 1024MB SE version is now available. So what's the big deal with this product? Ehm, well nothing really, it's a GTX 460 with one shader processor cluster (SM) disabled , yet with some more memory to compensate. Its a good way for NVIDIA to get rid of some GPUs that haven't yielded well. And in the stores, well people tend to pick out 1024MB products faster than say 768MB models, hence this move from NVIDIA.

Armed with an okay price yet still with decent performance you can now spot that SE edition in the stores, well sort off... as that's problem number two, most AIBs do not sell this product. In fact it took us weeks, literally, to get our hands on a sample, and only after pushing significantly we finally got one from Zotac. EU availability is... let's just say scarce.

So is this product kick-ass in price then? Well... bare with me:

  • GeForce GTX 460 768 MB (140 EUR)

  • GeForce GTX 460 1024 MB (170 EUR)

  • GeForce GTX 460 1024 MB SE (170 EUR)

Nope, in fact it's even a little overpriced considering its performance range. But let's not draw any conclusion just yet, today we'll test Zotac's GeForce GTX 460 SE version, armed with a full GB of graphics memory and a slightly faster core clock frequency opposed to the regular SE models.

So what's the SE all about in the GF104 GPU

So then, the GeForce GTX 460 SE. We are first going to discuss REFERENCE specifications, clocks and features.

Typically, we dive deeply into the graphics core architecture. For this article, I would like to keep things a little bit more simple and easy to grasp -- to keep things understandable.

The GeForce GTX 460 SE series is to be based on the ~2 Billion transistors encounting GF104 chip.

It is the very same chip used on the regular GTX 460 cards. A less complicated chip to manufacture as the smaller transistor count directly relates to better yields, better heat levels, better voltages and thus a better TDP as well. It is a smaller chip to produce.

Currently NVIDIA puts the GF104 chip onto three products, the GeForce GTX 460 with 768MB of graphics memory, the GeForce GTX 460 with 1024MB of memory and now the SE edition with 1024MB of memory.

For the bigger part of the specifications, the two older cards are similar when it comes to shader processor count, memory bus and clock frequencies, the 1GB model however definitely will be a good chunk faster, as cutting away 256MB of memory also cuts away a chunk of the ROP engine.

The SE edition will have another SM (shader processor cluster of 48 shader processors) unit cut away bringing the shader count from 336 processors back to 288 processor. It does get to keep the full ROP count, yet does forfeit a little on clock frequencies. It however gains again in memory size. Very confusing we agree. But let's compare specs a little more in-depth to get a better grasp of what is going on.

Reference specifications:

Graphics cardGTX 460 SEGTX 460 768MBGTX 460 1024MB
Graphics Processing Clusters222
Streaming Multiprocessors677
Shader processor288336336
Texture Units485656
Core Clock650 MHz675 MHz675 MHz
Shader Clock1300 MHz1350 MHz1350 MHz
Memory Data rate3400 MHz3600 MHz3600 MHz
Graphics Memory1024MB GDDR5768MB GDDR51024MB GDDR5
Memory interface256-bit192-bit256-bit
Memory bandwidth81.6 GB/s86.4 GB/s115.2 GB/s
Fab node40nm40nm40nm
TDP150 Watts150 Watts160 Watts

So, the card in reference setup will be clocked at 650 MHz on the core frequency, and in NVIDIA's typical 1:2 setup mode 1300 MHz on the now 288 shader processors. There will be a lot of overclocking headroom on these boards as 775 MHz should not be an issue (even without voltage tweaking).

The GDDR5 memory will be clocked at a slightly shy 3.4 Gbps which is 3400MHz effectively (quad data rate). The card will make use of four 64-bit memory controllers which boils down to 256-bit memory for this 1024 GB model.

The cards are based on a dual slot cooling design and come with two dual-link DVI and a mini-HDMI connector. HDMI will again pass sound through, including bit streaming support for Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master. Being a mid-range product, only 2-way SLI will be allowed and thus you'll only see a single SLI finger/connector on the PCBs. Okay, the next stop will be an extensive photo-shoot.

To your left, two out of the eight shader processor clusters will be disabled. Each cluster (SM) has 48 shader processors. Since the GF104 has eight of them, we wonder if in the future we'll see a 384 SP encounting product ?

Product Gallery

So its time to have a closer look at the retail product. First off, above is the packaging so you know what to look for in the stores, and well... just to satisfy your curiosity of course ;)

Above, you can see the card tested. The card comes with a fairly basic bundle. While 650 MHz is the default reference clock frequency on the core, this one is clocked at 680. The 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 memory is factory clocked at 3400 MHz (effective data-rate).

The design is elaborate alright, we like that. Nice black and orange themed. It looks good, especially for a mid-range part.

Connectivity wise you'll have nothing to complain about, two DVI connectors, one HDMI and one Display port monitor connector.

Two 6-pin PEG power connectors are required for this board. Power consumption is rated at a 150W TDP for the reference design 1024MB model, this card however is pre-overclocked a tiny bit and then ready for more overclocking, as such the TDP we estimate will be slightly higher. We'll calculate that later on though. The location of the two connectors at the backside of the card is right, it is not a lengthy card and aesthetically it is the more pleasing path to follow with the cables connected to it.

As you can see, the card is equipped with two dual-link DVI connectors and a Display port and HDMI connector. This does block the air exhaust a little bit, temperatures will remain fine though as we'll later on show you.

The PCB is very clean and crisp alright. Here we see the backside, notice that you'll only get one SLI finger, a maximum of two cards can be set up in SLI, that is as far as you can go with a multi-GPU setup.

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