Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti £199
25th Jan 2011 | 14:00
The next generation of mid-range Fermi graphics
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti - Overview
The graphics card dance continues to rumba on in the shape of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560 Ti.
It seems that pretty much every week of the last six months we've seen a new GPU design hit our desktops. If it isn't Nvidia refining and rolling out more and more spins of its rather speedy Fermi architecture it's AMD trying to keep pace with an opponent that had seemed to overtake it before rolling out its own brand new architecture.
On the Nvidia side the GTX 480, the first Fermi card out of the green company, turned up less than a year ago and since then we've had ten different cards based on that architecture turn up. Possibly more, we've lost count to be honest what with the vast array of OEM cards it's spat out in the intervening time.
Interestingly that long line of cards included rapid replacements of two of the first Fermi cards in the shape of the GTX 580 and then the GTX 570.
Following on from that we've now got the GTX 560 Ti, essentially the direct replacement for the awesome GTX 460.
Though that's not actually how it's running. The performance of the GTX 560 Ti actually means it's retiring the GTX 470 with the GTX 570 effectively retiring the GTX 480 and the GTX 580 just standing on it's own looking rather pleased with itself.
But we'll get on to the performance soon enough.
The fact the GTX 460 is still going to be kept around is interesting, and I for one am grateful for it. The excellent li'l card has only been around for a relatively short time and the pricing, especially now, is quite incredible.
I've found full-fat, 1GB versions of the GTX 460 around for £130 and the 768MB version for £113. There's nothing at that price-point that can even come close to it, and when you factor in SLI it's nothing short of astonishingly quick.
So what is this GTX 560 Ti malarkey then?
Well, it's harking back to olden times for Nvidia nomenclature. The last 'Ti' (according to Nvidia that stands for 'Titanium') cards we saw tipped up in early 2003 with the GeForce 4 series.
It's been brought back to denote the premium version of the GTX 560. Which intimates that we're going to see more spins of this volume-flogging card, though hopefully without the confusion that surrounded the 'Special Edition' GTX 460 which floated around the etailers like a poo in the swimming pool pre-Christmas.
In competition terms the GTX 560 Ti is being pitched directly against AMD's sub-£200 Radeon HD 6870, but is also touted by Nvidia as something that can also take on AMD's Cayman-powered Radeon HD 6950.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti - Architecture
Architecturally we've already seen pretty much everything that the GTX 560 Ti has to offer. This is an incremental update, on exactly the same lines as the previous two GTX 5xx series cards.
That is to say the essential make up of the GF114 GPU itself is unchanged compared to the GF104 of the GTX 460, but the performance and power draw of the card has been improved thanks to more component-related reasons.
Like the two GTX 5xx cards before it the changes in the GeForce GTX 560 Ti begin at the transistor level. This includes the use of slower, low-leakage transistors on non-timing sensitive pathways with faster ones dropped in the more critical lanes where it's more important to go fast than run green.
There is also the GTX 5xx series' now-traditional extra Streaming Microprocessor (SM) included, making a total of 8 compared to the GTX 460's 7. The ROPs count hasn't changed, but that extra SM gives the GTX 560 Ti a grand total of 384 CUDA cores and 64 texture units to play with.
That gives this new card a lot more graphical processing power to play around with.
The cooling improvements seen on the GTX 580 and GTX 570 though aren't reiterated in the GTX 560 Ti. There's none of the vapour chamber tech that rests on the two GF110 chips, instead it's got an extra heatpipe linked into a larger heatsink and fan array.
This new card though isn't going to generate the sort of heat the GTX 580 and GTX 570 do, the former regularly topping the 80degree mark. To that ends the extra heatpipe/chunkier fan combo keeps it ticking over around the same figures as the GTX 460.
What has been tweaked though, compared to the previous two 5xx series offerings, is in line to keep it overclocking like the daemon the previous generation's card was.
The 4-phase power circuitry has reportedly been replaced with a more 'robust' one with speedier 5Gbps memory modules. Nvidia calls this making the GTX 560 'overbuilt'.
That's all according to Nvidia though; my lack of engineering qualification precludes me from pulling the power circuitry apart and investigating further.
Suffice to say the GTX 560 Ti has got some serious overclocking chops sitting inside that unassuming exterior.
The memory overclocking itself was limited only to what we could push it to within MSI's Afterburner GPU overclocking software. Hitting 2,404MHz on the memory clock is pretty impressive and, as you can see on the following page, adds up to some serious performance figures.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti - Benchmarks
The performance boost over the GTX 460 is an impressive 30% almost across the board. Sometimes it's slightly higher and sometimes it's a little under, but for the most part it's pretty consistent with Nvidia's marketing spiel.
The overclocking performance is mighty good too, delivering in excess of a 10% increase especially in the DirectX 11 games.
The trouble is the Radeon HD 6950 has become the card of the moment. A combination of price drop and BIOS flashing has created an AMD card that is more desirable than anything we've seen out of the red team in a long while.
DirectX 11 tessellation performance
DirectX 11 gaming performance
DirectX 10 gaming performance
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti - Performance
It's tough to argue with the performance of this card, especially considering Nvidia is looking to charge the same price for the GTX 560 Ti as it put the GTX 460 out for initially.
At an MSRP of £199 it comes in below the psychological £200 barrier, and sits close to the Radeon HD 6870 GPU that it is supposed to be competing directly against.
Firstly, compared to the GTX 460 before it you are garnering at the very least a 19% increase. That though is the percentage increase in the DirectX 10 Just Cause 2 benchmark, and even then at the lower res 1680x1050 scale.
When you look at the increase at the 2560x1600 resolution that jumps massively to a 37% increase.
Across the rest of our benchmark suite though the GTX 560 Ti is generally offering around the 30% performance improvement that Nvidia has promised us all along.
That improvement now makes the GTX 470 completely obsolete. The GTX 460 is going to stick around for a while yet thanks to an almost £100 drop in price since launch, still making it one hell of a card.
When we're talking about the AMD-shaped competition though the waters get a tad muddier.
The GTX 560 Ti is justified in the price difference between it and AMD's Radeon HD 6870 by virtue of the performance increase between the red and the green GPUs.
The Nvidia card has the edge in all but the legacy DirectX 10 games, and even then it's pretty much level-pegging. In the more technologically-demanding DirectX 11 games the GeForce GTX 560 Ti is able to hold its head up high.
Where it starts to be tricky for Nvidia is when we introduce the Cayman GPU powered Radeon HD 6950. If you shop around you can find it for dangerously-close to the £200 mark; we found a Sapphire card for £206.
Originally we were told the launch MSRP of the GTX 560 Ti was going to be around £210, and we're betting the pricing is going to shift around a good deal more between these cards in the coming weeks.
You'll find these cards both above and below that £199 price tag as etailers try and make money out of the new kid on the block while they can.
It's true that in the benchmarks the Radeon HD 6950 and the GTX 560 Ti trade blows, but the AMD card is regularly quicker at the higher resolutions.
The Titanium's overclocking chops means that it can close that gap considerably, and in some cases take the lead, with just a little judicious use of the OC stick. That said the Radeon HD 6950 can also be pushed well past its stock performance values.
Indeed, thanks to the same GPU being used in both AMD's Radeon HD 6950 and Radeon HD 6970, you can see if your HD 6950 can have its BIOS flashed to become a HD 6970 with minimal effort. Because of the security afforded by the Cayman card's dual-BIOS function switch it makes for a relatively risk-free manoeuvre, with a rather high success rate.
All it takes is a quick Google.
We've flashed our own Radeon HD 6950 with no problems whatsoever. Then you're looking at getting a £270 card for £200-odd.
As always the caveat remains there's no guarantee that every card will take the BIOS flash so well, but it's definitely something to consider when you're weighing up your £200 GPU options.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti - Verdict
The GTX 460 was an awesome card when it first tipped up, and the GTX 560 Ti is following in those footsteps. What's changed though is that those footsteps are far more well trod than they were when the GTX 460 came out.
There really was nothing to touch the GTX 460 in the beginning; indeed I said there was no other card in the £200-£300 pricepoint I'd rather spend my money on, thanks mainly to its overclocking prowess.
Now though that market is well and truly packed with excellent GPUs more than capable of delivering incredible performance for the cash.
The GeForce GTX 560 Ti has got its niche, but it's a very small one. It beats the Radeon HD 6870 hands down, but that was a rather stop-gap measure from AMD based on old architecture.
The revamped Cayman GPU in the HD 6950 though is far more capable.
And the DirectX 11 performance of its twin tessellation engines makes mincemeat of the system-stalling Metro 2033 benchmark.
The Nvidia card cannot claim that, stuttering away unable to hit even 2FPS at the top resolution.
Coupled with the BIOS flash shenanigans you can currently perform on the Radeon HD 6950 that is the card I would buy. And the one I'd recommend you pick up if you're looking at a £200-odd GPU.
There are also still a fair few GTX 480s in stock around the UK etailers going for around £250; if you can stump up the extra cash that's a bargain in anyone's graphics protocols.
That's also the cheapest Nvidia GPU capable of competing with AMD's Metro 2033 performance.
None of this means the GTX 560 Ti is a bad card, not by a long shot. It's just that in the short time since the GTX 460 arrived the £200-£300 GPU market has gotten a lot more crowded.
The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is trying to ride the crest of a wave that has long-since crashed against the shore.
Essentially AMD has caught up in the DirectX 11 race and cut its prices to really stick the boot into Nvidia. Thanks to the GTX 580 and GTX 570 it's still got the higher-margin, top-end of the GPU market sewn up, but AMD is now eating away at the higher-volume, mid-range sector.
That's a market which has been doing very well for the green team over the past few years.
So kudos to Nvidia for bettering the GTX 460 with the GTX 560 Ti, but the plaudits have to go to AMD's excellent Radeon HD 6950, especially now it's price has dropped to compete.
The GTX 560 Ti hits Nvidia's marketing claims of 30% better performance over the GTX 460 and isn't asking any more for it than it did for the previous generation.
The impressive overclocking capabilities of the card are also worth special mention, especially considering the card is recommended to come in below the £200 mark.
To be fair there's nothing to dislike about the GTX 560 Ti. It's not over-priced at £200, it's just there's a competing card that outperforms it for pretty much the same cash.