NVidia GTX 295: Hands-On
At a Glance
Note: This is a hands-on test. We do not assign final scores to reference boards.
PC graphics hardware manufacturers nVidia and ATI have been locked in a graphics card cold war for ages.
The latest salvo gets delivered in the form of a 480-core, 1.79-teraflop bombshell: the nVidia GTX 295 graphics platform. For this platform, nVidia has released its reference board, upon which graphics card manufacturers will design new cards; it is basically two GTX 290 boards sandwiched together, but it has the potential to provide a ludicrous degree of power, especially if you span two of these cards together into SLI mode.
And that's saying nothing of recent developments with incorporating PhysX calculations onto the GPU and CUDA (nongaming) applications built to run off the GPU. Obviously, this monstrosity is targeted at hard-core enthusiasts, but is it worth its $500 asking price?
Created using a 55nm fabrication process, the GTX 295 boasts a 576-MHz core clock , 1.79GB of memory, and a PCI-E 2.0 interface. (Need more specs? Try here.) Translation: You'll have plenty of horsepower pumping under the hood. But this card is big and power-hungry. While it technically requires only a single PCI Express slot, it is still two cards in a double-decker, 10.5-inch-long sandwich, which effectively takes up two slots, anyway. Also bear in mind that it'll require a good deal of juice (680 watts) from an eight-pin and six-pin supplementary power connector.
Cold, Hard Facts
What the final numbers show in PC WorldBench 6 tests is that the GTX 295 scores incrementally better than ATI's current high-end product, the Radeon HD 4780 X2. One example: The GTX 295 managed to run Crysis at 42 frames per second on High settings with 4xAA at 1920 by 1200 resolution, which is pretty impressive considering how demanding that game can be. For comparison's sake, the Diamond Multimedia ATI 4870 X2 that we have in-house managed an equally respectable 32 fps at the same settings.
Here's where it starts getting weird: Older graphics cards ran faster at different resolutions. When ratcheting the resolution to 2560 by 1600, the new GTX 295 sputtered out. It scored just 15 fps on our Crysis tests; heck, our GTX 280 reference board ran 2 fps faster while the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 kept a steady pace at 29. It was the same story in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, with the GTX 295 falling below what we'd expect. Our best guess is that these problems reflect early driver issues that can hopefully be ironed out.
In everything else (games ranging from FarCry 2 to Supreme Commander), the GTX 295 was faster across the board--sometimes by a few frames, and other times by as much as 10 percent, depending on the settings used. Also, a peek at the numbers shows that the 295 is faster than the card that preceded it, the GTX 280; but again, the difference is marginal.
Still, it's pretty obvious that the GTX 295 is one of the most powerful cards you can get right now--even if some driver hiccups hold it back at the moment. Just bear in mind that the gulf between it and its closest competitors isn't that great. It did prove itself to be blisteringly fast, though, and it will pretty much run every game that's available right now at most resolutions and settings, especially if you can afford to run two in SLI mode; it's also fairly future-proof, as it'll be good to go for the next crop of must-have PC games.
So, is the GTX 295 the video card for you? Well, because of the driver issues we encountered in our tests, the answer appears a little murky right now. But the short answer seems to be "yes," if any of the following is true: You are a hard-core PC gamer looking for the latest and greatest video card; you have a system with high-end components that can handle the GTX 295; you're going to build a new high-end system from scratch; or you have 500 bucks just itching to lay claim to the latest and greatest. If you're a gamer who's trying to live a just littleleaner, the GTX 285 is available, and while not quite as beefy, it costs $100 less.
But if none of those statements apply to you, then you're probably better off going for a midrange card (or you can go crazy and get two low-end cards, and strap them together in an SLI configuration for a more cost-effective power boost). Sure, you won't be able to run every game at ultra-high resolutions--but you also won't have a hole in your bank account the size of Montana.
If you are still considering this card, here's one bonus: It's compatible with the nVidia 3D Vision Goggles. Assuming you're made of money, grab the card, the goggles, and a compatible 120-Hz LCD monitor, and then pat yourself on the back--because you'd literally own the ultimate PC gaming setup.
--Tae Kim, GamePro