Review: The GTX 285 can still deliver a mean punch
If you're planning to treat yourself to the fastest single-GPU Nvidia card, you'll have to resort to buying the GTX 285 as Fermi is still nowhere to be seen. Don't let that discourage you though, as the GTX 285 can still churn out impressive results and Gainward sent us one of their GTX 285 and we're about to drive this point home. Gainward offers as much as six different GTX 285 versions, where each sports different clocks, amount of memory and different video outs. The card we're about to show you is Gainward's GTX 285 2048MB, which is a card with doubled frame-buffer compared to the reference design.
Before we move on to the details on Gainward's iteration, let us recap where Geforce GTX 285 fits in.
In early 2009, Nvidia launched the dual-GPU GTX 295 and the single-GPU GTX 285 card, which are to this day the fastest Geforce cards around. The dual-GPU GTX 295 is a new graphics card with which Nvidia once again established itself as the manufacturer of the world's fastest graphics card, leaving ATI's offer behind up until the HD 5970 arrived. On the single-GPU side of things, the GTX 285 held the top position up until the Radeon HD 5870 hit the shelves, but you should know that the GTX 285 wasn't a full fledged newly designed card, but rather an ofshoot of the older GTX 280 card.
Nvidia commenced the transition from 65nm to 55nm back in 2008, but didn't launch its new GPUs until early 2009. Armed with a new 55nm GT200b GPU, the GTX 280 was ready for an overhaul and the name change, so that users don't confuse the old 65nm version with the new 55nm one. So, the GTX 280's evolution came in the form of GTX 285, and it's well worth noting that GTX 280 cards are long gone from Nvidia's offer, whereas the GTX 285 still standing.
The same scenario is likely to occur again, as the low-end segment already features 40nm chips, but high-end 40nm offerings will follow in 2010 (with the new Fermi GPU). Of course, smaller process means many a good thing – lower manufacturing cost, lower consumption and better thermals.
The Geforce GTX 285 card runs at reference clocks – 648MHz, whereas the old GTX 280 ran at 620MHz GPU. The new 55nm chip is much more efficient in the performance-per-clock department, and this is obvious even after a brief glance at the card. Namely, the new card requires two 6-pin PCI-Express connectors, while the GTX 280 ran on one 6-pin and one 8-pin connector. Nvidia claims the GTX 285 will draw up to 204W, and the GTX 280 will draw 236W.
The new card comes with the memory of the same type, but this time it's faster so that it can cope with the demands of the overclocked graphics core. GTX 285/GTX 280 cards pack 1024MB of 512-bit memory by default, and it runs at 1242MHz (2484MHz effectively) for the GTX 285 and at 1107MHz (2214MHz effectively) on the GTX 280. The memory overclock improved the bandwidth as well, from 141.7GB/s on the GTX 280 to 159GB/s on the GTX 285. We've already said that the memory interface is 512-bit, and it was a very wise choice since the memory in question is GDDR3. Of course, the next generation of Nvidia's high-end cards will get GDDR5 memory, which can easily be combined with the cheaper 256-bit interface and still provide the bandwidth of GDDR3 with 512-bit bandwidth.
With the transition from 65nm (GTX 280) to 55nm (GTX 285), the GPU was pretty much unchanged, and the GPU still packs 240 stream processors. In order to paint a better picture of the aforementioned 512-bit interface, note that the chip still has 32 ROP units. Within the chip you'll find 8 ROP partitions, each packing 4 ROP units (8 x 4 = 32 ROPs), where each ROP partition features a 64-bit connection to the main memory. The equation is simple - 8 ROP partitions x 64-bit interface = 512-bit memory interface.
The GTX 285 is a DirectX 10 card with PhysX and CUDA app support. It's well worth noting that the GPU is slowly but surely establishing itself as another processing unit capable of much more than just graphics, and that's why Nvidia often mentions the term "Graphics Plus". A proof of this would be that GTX 285 cards, apart from excellent gaming capabilities, enable for PhysX technology (an increasing number of games feature PhysX based effects), Stereoscopic 3D (for which you'll need special 3D glasses and a special monitor), as well as improved operation of video and image processing apps, courtesy of the GPU itself.
Gainward's strapping the GTX 285 with 2048MB of memory sounds promising, but if you're looking for a card to use solely for gaming, you should know that only a few games support such large frame buffer. Of course, it's not only gamers who need graphics cards and our today's card's pipeline can be utilized in many ways and the card's memory plays a significant role in processing larger amounts of data.
The picture below shows that Gainward uses special cooling with two fans, 4 heatpipes and a large heatsink. The cooling is dual slot and in this respect nothing has changed from the reference design.