GPU Testbed – Sandy Bridge-E, X79, New Games

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review (and all those going forward) we decided it was high time we replaced the somewhat dated Nehalem-based infrastructure (even though honestly, it was fast enough) with something a bit more current.  Obviously that meant going with the new Intel Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 motherboard – by combining support for 40 PCI Express lanes and 3-4 full size GPU slots it makes for the perfect GPU base.

From this point on, our reviews will based around the following system:

  • Intel Core i7-3960X CPU
  • ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard
  • Corsair DDR3-1600 4 x 4GB Vengeance memory
  • 600GB Western Digital VelociRaptor HDD
  • 1200 watt Corsair Professional Series power supply
  • Windows 7 SP1 x64

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The ASUS P9X79 Pro

The Intel Core i7-3960X gives us the fastest consumer-level CPU on the market to help eliminate the possibility of any processor-based bottlenecks in our testing (whenever possible).  There are still going to be some games that could use more speed (Skyrim comes to mind) but for our purposes this is as good as you get without getting into any kind of overclocked settings.  The ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard has enough space for three dual-slot graphics cards when the time comes for testing 3-Way SLI and CrossFire and 8 DIMM slots should we want to go up from our current setup of 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory.  

I chose to stick with the 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive rather than an SSD as our total installation size with Windows 7 SP1 x64 and 6+ games was already hitting the 115GB range.  Finally the 1200 watt power supply from Corsair offers up more than enough juice for three power hungry graphics cards while running quietly enough to not throw off our noise testing drastically.

Speaking of noise, for this article we are re-introducing our sound level testing thanks to the Extech 407738 Sound Level Meter capable of monitoring decibel ratings as low as 20db.  This allows me to accurately tell you the noise levels generated by the graphics cards that make in-house at PC Perspective.

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Along with the new hardware configuration comes a host of new games.  For this review we will be using the following benchmarks and games to evaluate performance:

  • Battlefield 3
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • DiRT 3
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Metro 2033
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • 3DMark11
  • Unigine Heaven v2.5

This collection of games is both current and takes into account several different genres as well – first person role playing, third person action, racing, first person shooting, etc.  3DMark11 and Unigine Heaven give us a way to see how the cards stack up in a more synthetic environment while the real-world gameplay testing provided by the six games completes the performance picture.

The possible comparisons for this article were pretty interesting with a price point of $399; the GTX 670 could literally have competitive placement against nearly a dozen cards.  For our review we narrowed it down to a few including the GeForce GTX 680 2GB, the Radeon HD 7970 3GB and the Radeon HD 7950 3GB cards.  Here’s why:

For our testing we were using the NVIDIA 301.34 driver and the AMD Catalyst 12.4 driver.  

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • GeForce GTX 670 vs GeForce GTX 680 – How much performance is lost going from 1536 cores to 1344 cores and with the slight clock speed decrease?  Does the GTX 670 stand out as a much better performer for the money?
  • GeForce GTX 670 vs Radeon HD 7950 – This is the most exact price vs price comparison in the group – how does the GTX 670 compare to the Tahiti architecture for your dollar?
  • GeForce GTX 670 vs Radeon HD 7970 – If we are including this, there is probably a reason, right?  Does the GTX 670 compete with the Radeon HD 7970 and if so what does this mean for AMD’s current lineup?

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get on with the results and see how the Gigabyte GTX 670 card performs!

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