Games are enjoyed best when you have super smooth frame rates with each special effect maxed out and all visual elements enabled. On firing up a game, you probably can’t wait to select the ‘Ultra’ preset, crank up the AA and AF, enable PhysX, apply the changes and be overwhelmed by the smoothness. High-end graphics cards will happily chug on, no matter what you throw at them. However, they stand their ground unshaken only until the next generation of graphics processors are out – which might be a year from now. That doesn’t mean the next-generation games will bring them to their knees though; just that the newer graphics cards will handle it all with greater ease, especially at resolutions higher than 1920 x 1080 and on multi-display setups. For instance, the Nvidia GTX 580 and AMD Radeon HD 6900 series are great, but the best single- GPU cards you can buy are those based on the GTX 680 and HD 7970. In this round-up, we've tested 17 high-end graphics cards with an aim to show you how the GTX 670, GTX 680, HD 7870, HD 7950 and HD 7970 compare against each other. We also included the older GTX 570, GTX 580 and HD 6970 for you to see how much punch the latest GPUs pack.
A major chunk of the cards were sent by Asus and ZOTAC. We wish XFX, Sapphire and PowerColor had made it to this round-up, but unfortunately the vendors didn’t have review samples to send across. However, you can expect a card by a brand that hasn’t featured here to log similar scores (based on the same GPU) to those we’ve tested. But pay attention to the design of the cooling system, video outputs, package contents and warranty period. Before we move on to the scores, here’s how we tested the cards.
Best Performer – ASUS GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP – Rs. 40, 500
The Asus GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP is the first GTX 680 graphics card we’ve come across that features a custom design. The cooler has been used on many other high-end cards by Asus. A striking feature of this cooler is that the five copper heatpipes that carry heat from the GPU come in direct contact with its surface. According to Asus, this design helps achieve 20 percent better cooling than the reference design. The cooler uses two sets of aluminium fins – one sits on top of the GPU with two heatpipes running through and the other is towards the end of the card with three heatpipes. Both the heatsinks are individually cooled by a 92 mm fan. The entire setup is covered by a metal shell for protection. The base of the card is also covered by a thick metal plate to protect the circuitry and provide some support to the PCB. Due to the design of the cooler, the card is 2.4 inches thick and takes up three slots.
The best performer of the lot
You might be worried that this card, weighing more than a kilo, could damage the PCIe slot of your motherboard, but the card stays firmly in place when the screws are fastened properly. The rear panel sports two DVI ports, an HDMI port, a Display Port and air vents. The reference base speed of the core is 1006MHz and this can go up to 1058MHz if the conditions allow. The suffix ‘TOP’ suggests that this card is overclocked. The base and boost speeds of this card are 1137MHz and 1201MHz, respectively. The power delivery and the cooler are designed in such a way that they can easily handle the extra power demand and heat dissipation. The memory speed is left untouched. There’s 2GB of GDDR5 memory which runs at 6008MHz (effective) and connects to the GPU via a 256-bit wide bus. With a slightly overclocked GPU, the frame rates are 5 to 10 fps higher than what you’d get with stock speeds, depending on the game. For example, Batman: Arkham City and Metro 2033 didn’t show much difference, but Dirt 3 showed a big difference.
The Asus GTX 680 DirectCU II TOP costs around Rs 2,500 more than a regular GTX 680 and the premium is quite justified. If you’re looking for a cooler, quieter and a faster GTX 680, this is what you should buy.
Value for Money – ZOTAC GTX 570 – Rs. 24,000
The Zotac GTX 570 is a great option for those looking for a high-end graphics card with a balanced set of features and decent performance while on a tight budget. The graphics card is built using the Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 GPU clocked at 732MHz and sports 1280MB of GDDR5 video memory. The card is based on the reference design from Nvidia and sports the same clock speeds too. ZOTAC has followed the reference design very closely and apart from their sticker, it’s pretty much identical to Nvidia's description. The GTX 570 uses a vapour chamber cooler so the fan doesn’t have to be very large. The card is built well and the heatsink's plastic covering does a good job of channeling air directly outside the case, ensuring other components don’t overheat.
A good option if you're on a tighter budget
Two dual-link DVI ports and a mini-HDMI port are located on the rear panel of the card. On the performance front, the card is good enough for regular, high-end games as the average frame rate is around 50 fps. Some of the most enjoyable games for this card are Dirt 3 and Battlefield, which should give you average frame rates of around 80 to 85 fps. While the performance is a bit lower than the other good performers in the round-up, you should be able to overclock the card to get a bit more out of it.
A mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter is bundled along with the card for those who would prefer using an HDMI interface with their monitor, or largescreen LCD TVs. You also get software like Badaboom, vReveal and Firestorm bundled with the card. ZOTAC has also thrown in a free game — Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. Overall, if you are looking for a strong DX11 graphics card while on a limited budget, then the GTX 570 from Zotac should serve you well for at least a year or two. If you definitely need a great performing card and are willing to shell out around Rs. 6,000 more, then you could opt for the Zotac GTX 670 Amp edition. The GTX 670 was the second best performer in the round-up and has a decent price of Rs. 24,000. Not only is the price good, but Zotac is presently the only manufacturer offering a five-year warranty period on all of its graphics cards.
Here’s a quick look at the specifications and scores of the full list of cards we tested for this comparison.
Scores out of 5 and prices are indicative and are subject to change, taxes extra
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