They say bigger is better, but when it comes down to the silicon beasts powering our gaming sessions, one may be forgiven for thinking otherwise. ASUS’ DirectCU II GTX 580 isn't your typical high end card. It's had steroids from needles as big as your arm, and can bench 10FPS more than you can – which effectively explains why its sheer bulkiness consumes three entire slots.
Attached to the black PCB is the new and improved GF110 Fermi core. Gone are the struggles of excess heat caused by leaky transistors, yet the raw performance and superior tessellation capabilities remain intact.
But with great power comes great requirement for heat dissipation, and by golly does this card have a serious cooling setup. Two aluminum radiators connected by five copper heatpipes extract heat from the core, where two fans push air to cool the beast down. Idle temperatures were reported at a meek 30c idle, and 78c load, with noise levels reaching 59.7dB during Furmark tests.
With Afterburner set to push 1.15v through the core, we tweaked it and the shaders until our stable maximum of 918MHz/1836MHz was found. The observant reader may have noticed that the core and shader clocks are linked on this card, and in fact, every card in the 4xx and 5xx series. Memory was also pushed to 2354MHz according to Afterburner, which in reality is 1177MHz (4708MHz effective).
Temperatures rose considerably at these clock rates with the card reaching 97c under Furmark. To the detriment of our sensitive ears, the fans kicked into 100 per cent speed to prevent the temperature raising any further, the result of which was 79dB of noise. During our series of benchmarks (which are designed to emulate real world usage) the noise level peaked at a much more comfortable 53.7dB.
Bundled with the card is an 8-pin to 2x 6-pin power connector, a Crossfire bridge, and a DVI to D-SUB adapter.
Despite having three slots of I/O plate to fill, connectivity is fairly standard, with 2 x DVI, DisplayPort, and HDMI connections. The remaining area is reserved for ventilation, which is borderline superfluous considering most of the hot air goes straight back into the case.
During installation we noticed quite a bit of flex in the backplate of the PCB. With the GPU core being where it is (toward one side of the card), the radiators and plastic shroud anchored from this single fulcrum felt the need to wobble. When inserting and removing the external power connections the magnitude of flex is quite substantial. That's not to say the card will fall apart in your hands, but we can't see an excuse for such a design oversight.
When it comes down to raw performance, the GTX580 is right up there with the best. Crysis runs at a comfortable 64.33 FPS on average, and Lost Planet saw a jump from 58.5 FPS to 67.2 FPS after the overclock. Unigine Heaven does well in both extreme and non-tessellated tests, with 'playable' framerates. Last but not least, we've got the new 3DMark11 benchmark tool for your synthetic-and-completely-unrealistic comparison needs. A letter and four digits of awesome right there – check it out in the table below!
ASUS has created some great cards in the past. This particular model has us scratching our heads. Had this been a previous generation Nvidia core (the GF100 rather than the GF110), we'd understand the need for a three slot design. We can't help but think that it'd be possible to provide a similar cooling solution in a smaller form factor.
For about an $80 premium over a bog standard GTX580, you get a card with a large and loud but effective cooler with a mild overclock out of the box. Although a respectable card, we can't help but shift to stingy mode with this one.