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A couple weeks ago we saw the best single graphics card on the market released by AMD. Today we’re going to have a look at an NVIDIA partner card housing the best GPU on the market – the Sparkle Calibre X580.
Specifications and Features
Sparkle has supplied us with a factory overclocked card at 810 MHz on the GPU core, 1620 MHz on the stream processors and 1008 MHz on the memory. The most obvious change from the stock reference cards is the addition of an Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus cooler.
With 512 stream processors and 48 ROPs aided by a 384-bit GDDR5 memory bus, the GTX580 is a computing monster. It has been out since November of last year, so we won’t delve deeply into its architectural nuances in this review. Just know that it truly is the strongest graphics processor on the market today.
The box is a classy looking affair, outfitted with the Calibre logo on a silver and black box.
The box itself is smaller than you’d expect. The way things are packed it seems almost green (read: environmentally friendly), with very little wasted space.
Now we get to the main event. You can’t miss the distinctive purple color indicative of the Calibre series cards. I was skeptical when I first saw the card online, but the purple is not bad at all, and in fact looks pretty great in person. It’s different, which can be a good thing.
Unique and pretty good looking as well. You don’t see coolers like this on many factory cards. Sure, a lot of them will implement their own cooling solution, but this is even better – an actual, strong aftermarket cooler already installed.
It certainly looks like a strong card; if it performs like it looks, we should be in for a treat.
The X580 ships with a decent accessory pack with:
- DVI-to-VGA adapter
- Two power adapters
- One dual-MOLEX to 6-pin PCIe and
- One dual-6-pin PCIe to 8-pin PCIe
- A mini-HDMI cable (nice touch)
- Driver disc and instruction manual
- A Calibre VIP membership card
It would have been nice to have a game thrown in for good measure, but anyone opening this card itself will be smiling from ear to ear regardless of whether they get a new game – because the games they already play are about to get a lot smoother.
Let’s rip that nice looking cooler off and see what’s underneath.
The Accelero XTREME Plus itself is just massive. With five heatpipes, a whole lot of aluminum (84 fins) to dissipate the heat and three 92 mm fans. They also use a good sized aluminum heatsink to cool the MOSFETs and some of the RAM. Other RAM chips are cooled solely by airflow.
Interestingly, there are two chips on the card cooled with -by far- the thickest thermal pads I’ve ever seen. They had what seemed like one time use adhesive on them, so I didn’t pull them off. They rest against the aluminum on the heat sink to draw out the heat.
Most importantly, it performs quite well. To measure idle temperatures, the GPU was left sitting for at least five minutes. After taking the idle measurement, Furmark was run for three minutes, which allowed temperatures to rise and level off. Temperatures were measured with the fan operating at 75% and are normalized to 25° C ambient.
The most amazing thing about this cooler is that it is extremely quiet. Even at full tilt (which ended up being 85% in Afterburner), it was just audible and didn’t overpower the three barely running Panaflo fans on the radiator next to this test bench.
It should also be noted that Furmark is a semi-ridiculous, artificially high load on the GPU. You’d never see that kind of temperature when gaming…or even benching. When overclocking this card using the max available voltage in Afterburner (1.15 V) the temperature didn’t go above 55° C running Vantage.
All in all, a very solid and very quiet cooling solution. It truly is the best of both worlds.
The X580 is an NVIDIA reference design GTX580 card, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary here.
Of course, the GTX 580 is powered by the GF110 GPU.
This particular sample has a VID of 1.000, which is pretty low. If Sparkle uses GF110’s with that VID regularly on their Calibre cards, that bodes well for overclockers.
Being the strongest single GPU on the market does come with a drawback – it sucks a good amount of power.
|GPU & CPU Load
Fitting in the middle between the single-GPU 6970 and the dual-GPU 6990, the X580 shows that is is definitely a strong card and will require at least a 600W PSU to give yourself a bit of leeway.
Test System and Methodology
The test setup here is the same as that used on the previous 6990 review. Indeed, since this card was used in that comparison, you’ll see some of the same numbers.
|Intel i7 2600K
|ASRock P67 Extreme 6
|2x4G G.Skill Ripjaws DDR3-2133
vs. AMD 6990
vs. AMD 6970
vs. ASUS Matrix 5870 Platinum
|Windows 7 x64
The results graphed below were obtained by operating the CPU & RAM at their stock speeds (3.4 GHz and DDR3-2133/9-11-9-24). The X580 was run both stock and overclocked (and overclock it did!). Stock benchmarks were run three times and the results were averaged. Stock game tests and all overclocked results were run once.
The graphs you will see are all normalized to the stock X580 results. The X580 at stock is always 100% and all other results are expressed and graphed as percentages relative to its score/FPS. The actual benchmark results are in parenthesis below the percentage.
With a low’ish VID and voltage control, overclocking this card was a breeze. The main focus was on the GPU. I raised memory 25 MHz and left it there.
For a 24/7 overclock, 980 MHz is quite impressive. It didn’t take long to zero in and remained stable through every bench. Temperatures in Vantage never topped 55° C with this overclock, which is also impressive considering the clock speed and additional voltage.
This card just begs for additional voltage. It will require a BIOS edit to do so, but would be well worth the time considering all the thermal headroom that this card ships with. It wasn’t explored for this review because that’s a tad more than the average overclocker will take on, but if you’ve got the knowledge and want the extra clocks, the Accelero has plenty of cooling capacity to spare.
Performance at Stock and Overclocked
This card was very fun to bench. The last few cards (which were AMD) didn’t have voltage control at the time we reviewed them. This one did, and that made for some stronger overclocks than usual, which is always exciting!
Many overclockers (myself included) end up coming to our hobby by way of gaming. When you’re in a game, you need every bit of FPS you can squeeze out of your machine, lest your head end up as a blood splatter on the wall behind you. We’ll test the X580′s FPS acumen on three game benchmarks today. All of the games were tested at full 1080P HD (1920 x 1080) resolution.
Stalker: Call of Pripyat
Stalker is a fun bench because you can explore several combinations of required computing power by toying with tessellation and MSAA settings.
The X580 definitely starts off showing its strength. It just trounces the 6970, widening the margin with each increase in required GPU computing power. Overclocking it gave strong gains, giving additional FPS on the order of 7.5-9.5%. The 6990 did beat the X580 (as expected; it is a dual GPU board after all) but interestingly by quite a bit less of a margin than the X580 over the 6970, especially with the X580 overclocked.
Aliens vs. Predator DirectX 11 Benchmark
Aliens vs. Predator was tested in two configurations, one with the stock quality settings and the other with the highest quality you can set.
Well then…AvP seems to really like AMD cards, especially the 6990. The X580 is still the strongest single GPU card though, and overclocking it gained over 10% FPS in both tests.
Heaven is a really tough bench, especially on the Xtreme preset.
The X580 shows a ton of strength in both Heaven tests. Overclocking yielded over 21% and over 18% in the DX9 and DX11 tests, respectively. While it can’t touch a dual GPU card, it performs very well on its own. Considering the price difference you’d pay for that extra power, I daresay for many people the X580 will be plenty.
Aquamark 3 and 3DMark01
These two benchmarks are on the ancient side at this point and may even be phased out in future reviews in favor of more game tests. They’re still benchmarker favorites though.
The X580 holds its own in 3DMark01 and Aquamark 3, running on par with and even beating the 6990. The 6970 does have a slight advantage, you know, if really old DirectX games are your bag.
3DMark03 and 3DMark06
3DMark03 is an oldie but a goodie, still scaling really well with GPU power. 3DMark06, however, is becoming more and more GPU dependent.
The X580 really struts its stuff in ’03, trouncing the single-GPU competition and thinking about knocking on the 6990’s door. ’06 bears out its limitation but still shows the X580 pulling ahead over all but the 6990
3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11
Vantage definitely likes CPU clocks but still gives a good indication of GPU strength. 3DMark 11 is completely GPU bound and really couldn’t care less what sort of CPU clocks you’re running (within reason).
Both Vantage and 11 show off this GPU’s monster computing power. Only the 6990 comes out ahead, as it rightly should.
Pushing the Overclock
It’s always entertaining to squeeze every single MHz you can out of a card before giving in. Even more fun is doing it with a Sandy Bridge chip running 5.4 GHz behind the GPU.
Both 3DMark06 and Vantage were able to finish with slightly higher clocks than the fully stable 24/7 overclock. With the stronger CPU backing them, the X580 put out quite stellar single GPU numbers.
Likewise, both Heaven and 3DMark 11 could squeeze a couple extra MHz out of the card – though not much at 2 MHz and 5 Mhz, respectively. Regardless, both scores are again very strong for a single GPU. 3DMark 11 really impressed me here. Can’t wait until that one makes the list of point-giving benches on HWBot!
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
There’s a reason I’ve been saying the X580 houses the strongest GPU on the market and it has been borne out in these benchmarks. It’s just an unstoppable force, bested only by the dual-GPU monsters from both teams.
There’s also a reason that benchmarkers the world over have been freezing these things left and right; they’re just that good and give up single GPU global points like they’re going out of style. Even with the meager voltage I was able to push, the ’06 and Vantage runs above pulled 10.8 and 11.8 global boints, respectively. So not only does the X580 blow through games, it seems like it lends itself nicely to competitive benchmarking.
Sparkle’s Calibre X580 specifically is an awesome combination of performance and quiet. Many people water cool their GPUs just to quiet them down. This one would not need that treatment.
Cooling ability like this does of course come at a price. At $549.99 (after $10 mail in rebate at Newegg and with free shipping), it’s not exactly the cheapest GTX580 card out there. In fact, it’s one of the more expensive models. It seems a lot of that increase is based on the factory-backed, lifetime-warrantied 810 MHz stock speed. Its factory overclock is the second highest on the market, behind only the $699 water-cooled EVGA FTW Hydro Copper 2.
On top of the second-highest factory overclock, it also comes complete with a $75 aftermarket Arctic Cooling cooler, with purple fans if that’s something that entices you. If you look at it from a cooling angle, that’s $25 cheaper than buying a standard GTX 580 and adding the cooler yourself.
These are things you’re going to have to weigh yourself. For the entire package, I think $549 shipped is a decent price. With a lifetime warranty on the higher factory overclock, you know they bin these GPUs at least somewhat, which in itself may be worth it to some. Add in that it’s quiet, cool and very powerful, this card impresses through and through.
– Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)