Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP! £470
2nd Feb 2011 | 13:20
The fastest around just got a little quicker
Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP!: Overview
Nvidia's original GeForce GTX 580 is a lightening fast card, and is the fastest thing on single GPU legs right now. So an overclocked version, like this GTX 580 AMP! from Zotac is surely going to be a beast.
Buying a pre-overclocked graphics card though is like buying a car with all the options.
You might not see a major performance gain, but you're safe in the knowledge that, in its class, your card is probably the best.
The flipside, of course, is that pre-overclocked cards play on this perceived value, and the performance gain is rarely in line with resultant price-hike percentage over stock.
These are margin-making products for board partners, and offer flagship performance in-class that influences the way we feel about the rest of the company's line-up.
This is no great conspiracy; it's intelligent brand-management and it's been going on for years.
Besides, building a custom board-and-BIOS platform in which to plop a GPU takes time, effort, and ultimately money. When you're dealing with a GPU as complex and intricate as the GF110, you have to take time to balance tolerances and get this stuff right.
The already blistering GF110 isn't noted for its overclocking headroom, and Zotac's GeForce GTX 580 AMP! offers noticeably – though not vastly – higher component-speeds than the stock GF110-based GTX 580.
Up from 772MHz to 815MHz (a 5.57% gain) on the core and from 4008MHz to 4100MHz (a 2.3% gain) on the memory, to be precise.
The cooler is the standard GTX 580 reference unit – which in itself is anything but standard, with its innovative vapour-chamber design.
Price-wise, you're looking at 16% premium over the cheapest stock GTX 580 we can find, against considerably lower performance gains.
So is it really worth the extra outlay over a stock card?
Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP!: Architecture
The GF110 GPU at the heart of the stock GTX 580 is the performance behemoth that Fermi should've been all along.
Not that Nvidia's flagship GeForce GTX 480 was any kind of slouch, but it wasn't the order-of-magnitude leap that we'd hoped for over the 2-series cards. The 580 came along and changed all that, delivering at last the blistering framerates that Fermi had promised.
The headline difference between the 480 and 580 – both essentially based on the same GPU – lies in the Streaming Microprocessor count.
Initial GPU yields, so the rumour goes, were too low to create a product-line that hit the 580's numbers. With tweaks to the manufacturing process, Nvidia has now achieved those yields, and as a result, the 580's GF110 offers 512 CUDA cores to the GTX 480's 480 cores.
Transistor-level refinements also mean that the GTX 580 actually draws less power than the GTX 480.
In addition, excellent heat-transference is provided by a vapour-chamber cooler, which vaporises and re-condenses internal cooling-fluids to cycle heat away from the GPU.
The Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP! edition ships with the same, super-efficient cooler as a stock 580, which translates into lower in-rig temperatures and considerably quieter operation than the last few generations of Nvidia card.
It's a pretty nifty arrangement of whirligigs.
The only real difference between the stock and the Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP! then, is the BIOS-tinkering which results in improved core-clock and memory speeds. It runs faster, but not tangibly hotter or noisier.
And as the GTX 580 also outsrips the AMD competition in performance terms, the Amp! Edition's only real competition is with the stock GTX 580.
Let's see how they fare in games-performance terms.
Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP!: Benchmarks
The framerate gains for the pre-overclocked memory (4100Mhz) and GPU (815Mhz) tally pretty well with the rise in component speeds over the stock GTX 580.
What's interesting is that, despite the higher speeds, there's no appreciable rise in noise.
Naturally the GPU and memory are generating more heat than the stock card, but the reference-design vapour-chamber cooler whisks away the extra heat with aplomb, and there's no audible difference between the Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP! and a vanilla GTX 580.
DirectX 11 tessellation performance:
DirectX 11 gaming performance:
DirectX 10 gaming performance:
Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP!: Verdict
So what's not to like?
The GTX 580 AMP! edition is an improvement on the fastest single-GPU card around, offering nearly 6% faster speeds at standard mainstream resolutions over the stock GTX 580 in DX11 applications.
Given quite how demanding Tessellation routines are on graphics hardware at this stage, that's a welcome rise.
Whether you should opt for this pre-overclocked edition is another matter entirely.
Is money no object?
A few frames-per-second here and there are barely discernible to the naked eye. The mere fact of knowing the card is faster than the reference design improves one's view of the card in itself, but in all practicality, the difference is fairly minor.
Let's put it into context.
Ever play an RPG where you gain a 5% damage bonus to your attack? You can't really feel that kind of difference, can you? It's not like going from a weapon that kills in two attacks to a weapon that kills in a single blow.
We like the fact that, without further overclocking, this card is basically the fastest single-GPU card on the planet. But the matter of price is a point of concern for those of us without money to burn. At around £470, it's a whole £70 pricier than a standard GTX 580.
That's a 16% premium for 6% more performance. It's not quite that cut-and-dried of course, but for us, those numbers don't add up to a reasonable value proposition.
To further complicate matters, Nvidia's own GTX 480 – which is still a powerful, though hotter-running, high-end DX11 card – has been dropping in price since the GTX 580's inception.
Examples can be seen for £255 at the moment, which is a fraction of the GTX 580's cost, let alone the Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP!, for a card which offers around 15% less performance.
To rationalise this, think in terms of the price differential. 45% less money for 15% less performance? Almost sounds like a bargain, right?
We like the GTX 580 AMP! edition. It's really fast, and that's what we want to see. But at this price, it's just a bit too hard to recommend, when you can have nearly-as-good for close to half the price.
The GTX580's already legendary performance is boosted by some BIOS tweakery that re-sets the core and memory clocks to run faster.
This translates around 6% performance gains across a variety of games. And that crazy-heavy cooler really does the business.
The price. For the performance benefits, £470 is just too much of a premium.
The fastest card money can buy. Though rather too much money, in our opinion.