Review: Many buttons for itchy fingers! ASUS' latest GTX580-based card is an enthusiast-grade beast.
Of late, we've noticed that card length isn't the only dimension getting stretched to the limits - width is playing a role in assisting the evolution of our beloved graphic processing gear. It's intriguing that this is becoming a trend, given that multi-slot cards have a history of being frowned upon. With great width comes greatly reduced chance of having a multi-card setup, and this isn't something enthusiasts have been particularly keen about.
Times have changed, however, and having a single card in an enthusiast system is perfectly valid in even the most hardened of geek communities. Take our very own Atomic forum, for example. Not one of the recent community designed systems has more than a single card listed. There's two reasons why this is the case. The first is that single slot cards are already very powerful, and with the current gaming environment so saturated with console ports, there isn't much out there to really push a card to its limits. The second is that adding multiple cards will not give a linear performance increase, and there's no guarantee that a particular game will scale well. Both Crossfire and SLI are dependent on driver updates to maintain performance scaling. It's often more trouble than it's worth.
So what do we have to gain from moving from a two slot width card to three slots? Cooling performance and efficiency. ASUS claim that their system provides "600% greater airflow and 20% cooler performance" than the reference GTX 580. We like our systems quiet, but also fast, so let's see how compatible these ideals are on this card!
Using ASUS GPU Tweak software, we ramped up the voltage to 1.15v, with the intention of pushing the card as hard as it'll go. The card comes pre-overclocked from the standard 772MHz rating; we can do better than that! 900MHz was dialed into the software, which was suitably stable according to both OCCT and Lost Planet 2 tests. Going up in increments of 5, we found the stable limit at 920MHz. Not as high as we had hoped, but respectable nonetheless. The memory clocks were also subject to our appetite for raw power, and it was not long until we hit 1176MHz, up from 1002MHz.
To allow for such high clock rates, we used the convenient 100% fan button located on the right edge of the PCB. Below this button are two smaller buttons which give benchmarkers quick access to voltage control without having to enter the GPU Tweak software. We can see how this would be very handy in competitive benchmarking sessions. There's also 19 phases of power driving this card, which just screams for water cooling, where all this gear could be put to justice.
The GPU Tweak software has some very nifty features, including the ability to 'burn' settings into the onboard BIOS as a permanent configuration. Naturally this feature comes with the potential to royally screw something up, so ASUS implemented a 'Safe Mode' button which clears the BIOS back to defaults. It's not just core and memory clocks you can adjust, either - there's about a dozen DDR5 timing variables that are just itching to be tweaked!
Multimeter wielding patrons may find comfort knowing that yes, there are 'ProbeIt' points for finding values of critical voltages, such as the GPU core.
Connectivity is the same as you'll find on a reference card, bar the addition of a single DisplayPort port. The card is bundled with two 8-pin power adapters, a DVI-D to VGA adapter, and an SLI bridge.
Aside from the prominent dual fan cooling setup, the Matrix Platinum features a backlit logo which changes colour depending on the load of the card. To think we used to use fan noise for that!
Comparing this heavily modified card to that of the reference EVGA card also reviewed this month, it's clear that the performance of this card is a tad higher in real world benchmarks such as Crysis, but slightly lower in 3DMark 11. Of course, when it comes to overclocking, your mileage may vary.
It goes without saying, this card isn't aimed at the general consumer, the performance gains just aren't reflected in the price tag. This card is for serious benchmarking, by those who wish to tweak their cards to the brink of death, and then some.