Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB £199
12th Jul 2010 | 04:01
The only £200 graphics card to buy
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB - Overview
Barely a month after Nvidia's last GF100 graphics card, the GTX 465, struggled out the stable door another new graphics card, the GTX 460, has turned up to steal its thunder.
This time round though we're not just talking about another cut-down Fermi card based on the once-proud GF100 GPU.
Oh no, now we're talking about an all new and improved GPU with the relevant architecture poked and prodded into a more streamlined shape.
The first card to utilise this GF104 GPU then is the GTX 460 in its various shapes and memory sizes.
One GPU, two cards
There are essentially two basic spins of the card; one with a full 1GB of GDDR5 and another with a slightly more limiting 768MB of the same GDDR5.
There are other differences linked in to the difference memory capacities too, namely a 256-bit and a 192-bit memory bus as well as a rather chopped-down ROPs count for the lower memory card.
You've also got less of the L2 cache that sits in between the GPU's streaming multiprocessors doing the collating.
Zotac's 1GB version of its GTX 460 carries a slightly different cooler to the reference design favoured by both EVGA's GTX 460 768MB standard and Superclocked versions of its 768MB cards. It's more in line with the reference cooler seen on the GTX 470 and GTX 465 cards.
Though compared with the GTX 465 cooler it does have a much larger, hence more efficient, fan.
Where the GTX 465 was priced head-to-head with AMD's comparatively-priced Radeon HD 5850, the GTX 460 is hitting a pricepoint which undercuts its immediate Radeon-shaped competition by a fair margin.
In performance terms though the HD 5850 and GTX 465 traded blows quite happily, and on average the Nvidia card came out on top, especially when its overclocking headroom came into play.
The GTX 465 was also rather close to GTX 470 performance when judicious use of the overclock stick was applied to it, and that's damned impressive for a £230 card up against a £280 one.
Unfortunately, the GTX 470 being priced at only £50 more than a GTX 465 running at the top of its game made the pricier card a far more attractive offering still considering the extra headroom inside it.
The GTX 465, then, really only faced competition from within Nvidia.
And that competition is only going to get worse with the cheaper, and in some cases faster, GTX 460 now hitting the shelves – especially this 1GB edition from Zotac.
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB - Architecture
What we're talking about here is a completely different GPU than we've seen so far in Nvidia's DirectX 11 cards.
Admittedly it is still based around the Fermi architecture, and it's still going to go by the Graphics Fermi (GF) moniker, but the GF104 is a far more streamlined chip compared to the GF100.
Nvidia's making a lot of fuss about the fact that it's redesigning the GTX 460's GPU rather than simply chopping the GTX 480's GPU in half, as it claims it could've done.
And yes, they probably could have cut the chip in half for the GTX 460, but that would have only created a more half-arsed chip than anyone would be willing to pay £200 for.
The GTX 460's rejigged GPU though may still sound like Nvidia has just chopped the GTX 480's already cut-down GF100 chip in half, with only seven streaming multiprocessors (SMs) against the older card's fourteen, but inside things have most definitely changed.
These SMs are the units that hold the myriad CUDA cores (previously known as shader processors), special function units (SFUs), texture mapping units (TMUs) and the polymorph engines that contain the all-important tessellation grunt.
The SMs of the GF100 chips contain a maximum of 32 shader cores, four SFUs and four TMUs. In the GTX 460 chip though NVIDIA has squeezed another 16 CUDA cores into each SM and upped the SFU and TMU counts to eight per SM.
Each of these SMs has also had some CPU-like extra multi-threading goodness injected into them in the shape of an extra couple of dispatch units in each of them.
This should mean more instructions can be picked up and run by an individual streaming multiprocessor than with the original GF100.
This means despite a drop of four SMs, compared to the GTX 465's cut-down GF100 chip, the more optimised architecture of this new GPU makes it a far more interesting proposition.
Whether this is a result of Nvidia having worked with its new technology for long enough to see where it can improve things, or whether the condensing of more cores and units into each SM is a way to better the previously awful yields of the full GF100 GPUs, we're not yet sure.
Indeed, this new chip means a card with the full 512 core count that the first Fermi card was supposed to sport is now much more of a reality. We wouldn't be surprised to see a speedier high-end card with a higher SM count, using the same GPU, appear by the autumn.
GeForce GTX 485 anyone?
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB - Benchmarks
So now we get down to the nitty gritty – how does the GTX 460 1GB perform?
Well, pretty good actually. Especially when you utilise some of that overclocking headroom that exists inside the GF104 GPU, as you can see from the comparative benchmarks.
It's also very much worth noting that as well as besting the 768MB version and the HD 5850, when in its overclocked state it gives the GTX 470 a good run for its money too.
In many benchmarks it actually beats it.
DirectX11 performance 2560x1600
DirectX11 DiRT 2 2560x1600
DirectX 11 DiRT 2 1680x1050
DirectX10 Just Cause 2 2560x1600
DirectX10 Just Cause 2 1680x1050
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB - Performance
In performance terms, this new card is all about the full-fat 1GB version as opposed to the semi-skimmed 768MB GTX 460.
You can see from the benchmarks the Zotac GTX 460 1GB edition is by far and away the fastest spin of this new card in any performance metric you care to throw at it.
EVGA's stock GTX 460 768MB though doesn't suffer too much by comparison, but for only a touted extra £20 for the larger memory pipes you'd be crazy not to save just that little bit longer for the better card.
The lack of graphics memory grunt is most evident when you come to compare the tessellation-heavy Heaven 2.0 framerates. The Zotac GTX 460 comes in at a thoroughly respectable 13 frames per second, while the 768MB EVGA card struggles to even get close to 8fps.
Admittedly this is running the benchmark on its highest settings with 4x AA at the eyeball-aching resolution of 2560x1600, and these cards are not meant to be plugged into monitors with that sort of native res.
That said, the fact the 1GB card can manage it, and beat AMD's top single-GPU DirectX11 card, the HD 5870, while it's at it is impressive.
Indeed, in comparative terms, Zotac's card is easily on par with, and in most performance metrics faster than, AMD's HD 5850. And that's a card that's far more expensive still. EVGA's 768MB card though does fall some way short of the Radeon.
One of the most impressive things about the GTX 460 in general is the overclocking potential. There is a huge amount of headroom in this chip and combined with the full 1GB GDDR5 the performance is there too.
With the overclock applied to it,the card was no longer levelling its sights at the likes of the HD 5850 and its GTX 465 brethren, it was pointing both barrels directly at the formidable shapes of the HD 5870 and GTX 470.
I couldn't quite get the card much past 800MHz compared to its 675MHz stock clock, and it was almost hitting 70 degrees at full load, but seeing such performance in a £200 card is incredible.
The GTX 470 is bested by this overclocked 1GB card across the board and the HD 5870 can just about hold its head up high only thanks to its performance at the top resolutions.
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB - Verdict
Quite simply, I can't really see past this full-fat 1GB version. If vendors stick by the £200 pricepoint Nvidia recommends for this card – and there are rumblings they may not – then that extra £20 price premium over the stock 768MB cards is well worth the money.
It also means the large numbers of factory-overclocked 768MB cards are looking a little unnecessary now too. They're running at £195 and if you're that tight you really need to save that £5 then you deserve the slower card…
Most of the people in the industry I spoke to agree there are few reasons for the existence of the cut-down memory card, and the only one that made sense is in the OEM and system integrators sphere.
The cheaper cards will allow system builders to nail a certain pricepoint while still touting a Fermi, DX11-capable Nvidia card.
The rest of us in the wild will probably ignore the memory-hobbled version.
And we'll all be ignoring the ill-fated GTX 465 too. I feel a little sorry for Nvidia's latest ginger step-child; it's only been in existence for a month and already it's being forced onto the scrapheap by a faster, cheaper card.
Quite what Nvidia was doing releasing that card when it knew what was coming a month or so later is anyone's guess.
Some would argue it was blowing a bit of smoke AMD's way, but realistically the number of unsold GTX 465 cards that will be winging their way back to Nvidia from the different vendors will surely cost them a pretty penny.
Top notch GPU
Still you can't get away from the fact that the GTX 460 is an excellent card, particularly if you opt for the 1GB version. The 768MB card may have some serious overclocking headroom in there, but so does the 1GB card and that can do a lot more with it.
The only issue, as ever with Nvidia cards, is going to be availability.
Such is the performance difference between the two versions of the GTX 460, I expect we'll see very limited stock of the more memory heavy cards. Vendors will be keen to shift stock of the 768MB card and so that's where the real volume of cards is likely to be.
If you can find one, though, the 1GB card is well worth the search.
The really is no other card in the £200-£300 pricepoint that I would rather have. The only place to go from here is the HD 5870, which still just keeps its position ahead of the GTX 460. Every other card between them is pretty much now redundant.
Time to head to the job centre for a fair few other cards then…
If the pricing does match the touted £200 then this is an absolute steal for the money. The huge amount of overclocking headroom and the fact the card remains pretty damned quiet while it's doing it too makes it a winner.
There's not a lot to dislike about this full-fat card, it's high-res performance is the only place it drops points, but that's against much more expensive cards, and a resolution it's not designed for.
This is now the mid-range card of choice. After the fairly abortive, and short, life of the GTX 465 the GTX 460, in particular this GTX 460 1GB version, is the only Fermi card to go for under £300.