NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 560: The Top To Bottom Factory Overclockby Ryan Smith on May 17, 2011 9:00 AM EST
Ideally I like to end all of my video card reviews with some decisive, concrete thoughts and a well-founded opinion about a video card. This is not going to be happening today.
NVIDIA’s decision to forgo a reference card for their new $200 champion is a bit odd – the fact that we’re not going to seeing many (if any) reference clocked cards is all the odder. It’s hard to make a solid recommendation when there are so many slightly different products that will be composing the GTX 560 lineup. Based on what we know about pricing and performance though, we can take a stab at it.
The message from NVIDIA is clear: while the GeForce GTX 560 is meant to be their new $200 card, they don’t intend for the reference clocked (810MHz/4004MHz) card to be that $200 product. Instead factory overclocked cards will flesh out the GTX 560 lineup, and it will be the cards with small factory overclocks that will fill the $200 role. Based on the MSRPs and configurations we’ve been given, our best guess is that the average $200 GTX 560 will be a “mid-grade” card at around 850MHz for the core and 4100MHz (data rate) for the memory. It’s from here where we’re going to draw our conclusions about the GTX 560, at least as far as we can.
As has been the case with most of the GTX 500 series and Radeon HD 6000 series launches, when the cards are close, it’s only close on average. In this case the GTX 560 Mid is similar in performance to the Radeon HD 6870 on average, but this is because the two are constantly swapping for first place, and the difference between the two is quite dramatic at times. On average the GTX 560 Mid is ahead of the 6870 by just enough to justify its $200 price tag relative to the 6870’s price, but the final choice is still heavily game dependent. Just because the GTX 560 Mid performs $20 better doesn’t make it the better card if you’re going to be playing games like Crysis or STALKER, where the 6870 has a definite lead. But if it’s going to be games like Civilization V or HAWX, then the GTX 560 Mid is the clearcut winner.
If you had to buy a card for around $200 with no knowledge of the games it will be used with, the GTX 560 Mid is a safe bet, but only just. Otherwise our usual advice applies: it’s the games, stupid. The GTX 560 won’t recapture the market-redefining launch that was the GTX 460 series, but it’s a solid entry in the 500 series and a suitable successor to the GTX 460 1GB.
Now if that’s our advice for a “mid-grade” GTX 560, how about a “high-grade” card such as the ASUS GTX 560 DirectCU II Top, with its much larger factory overclock. In terms of performance the ASUS GTX 560 Top looked very good, and while it’s a smidge slower than the GTX 560 Ti, it’s basically good enough to be its equal. From what we’ve seen, with a 925Mhz+ factory overclock a GTX 560 can erase the GTX 560’s deficit versus the GTX 560 Ti.
The one hitch with this is that while these factory overclocks bring the GTX 560 closer to the GTX 560 Ti in performance, the GTX 560 Ti is approaching the GTX 560 in price. For the $220 MSRP of the ASUS GTX 560, you could get one of a few different reference or near-reference clocked GTX 560 Tis. This doesn’t make the ASUS GTX 560 a poor choice, but it does mean there’s an even wider array of cards to work through around $220.
I like the ASUS GTX 560 for its build quality, but for its GTX 560 Ti-like performance I have to compare it to the original reference card. The reference GTX 560 Ti was simply a ridiculously good card when it came to balancing noise and performance. The ASUS GTX 560 can match the GTX 560 Ti’s performance, but in traditional ASUS fashion not its acoustic properties. So long as aftermarket overclocking is not a factor, I could only recommend the ASUS GTX 560 DirectCU II Top so long as it’s cheaper than a reference GTX 560 Ti.
Wrapping things up, given the factory overclocks we’re seeing it makes the prospects of a good aftermarket overclock on the mid-grade cards a very good possibility. It’s unlikely that the GTX 560 will match the GTX 460 in raw overclock potential, but as long as manufacturers aren’t aggressively binning 950MHz+ chips to their top cards, the door is left open for getting quite a bit more performance out of the GTX 560.