In the ever competitive world of PC graphics things are constantly changing and with that change we have come to expect greater performance and value with each new video card release. The product update cycle seems never-ending: First a new reference design will be launched and shortly following that we see the Add In Board (AIB) partners launching their tricked out versions of the new card in an attempt to put their own spin and supposed improvements on the base design.

Nvidia has stepped up with a new card and has launched recently the GeForce GTX 560Ti, continuing down the road of replacing the 4-series of cards. The GTX 560Ti carries a suggested price of $249, aiming it squarely at the mainstream/performance segment. While the flagship cards from both Nvidia and ATI tend to grab all the headlines and industry buzz, make no mistake that the mainstream to performance segment is where these graphic giants make their money.

The GTX 560Ti follows in the same footsteps as its bigger brother, the GTX 570 which we reviewed here. Just like the GTX 570 replaced the GTX 480, the GTX 560Ti is stepping in to directly replace the GTX 470. After an initially botched Fermi launch, Nvidia was able to find salvation in the GTX 460, a solid performer that is now somewhat of the go-to example of the performance vs. value equation.

To that end, we will be comparing the GTX 560Ti directly with the GTX 460 along with some other card offerings to see what advancements have been made and determine exactly what the GTX 560Ti brings to the table. To put things into perspective, we will not be simply looking at a stock GTX 460 for comparison purposes but instead the overclocked MSI N460 HAWK running at 780MHz Core 1560MHz shader and 1800MHz/3600MHz memory.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti specs

A quick glance at the GTX 560Ti’s specs shows that it does indeed offer advancements over the previous 4-series of cards. The GTX 560Ti also continues to carry the 5-series banner by implementing the power monitoring hardware used by both the GTX 580 and GTX 570. An interesting note here is that the power monitoring hardware is an optional feature for the GTX 560Ti and therefore AIB’s may choose not to implement it as a cost saving measure, so it’s caveat emptor as usual. The full specs of the GTX 560Ti are as follows:

  • core clock speed 820MHz
  • 384 CUDA cores at 1640MHz
  • 8 PolyMorph engines
  • 64 texture units
  • 32 ROP units
  • 4 x 64 bit memory controllers
  • 1GB GDDR5 memory at 4008MHz
  • 170 Watt TDP
  • 100°C thermal threshold 

The GTX 560Ti does offer gains in almost all areas when compared to the specs of the GTX 460 (even the overclocked MSI N460GTX HAWK) even if none of those differences are particularly earth-shattering. One look at the GTX 560Ti shows that it is even similar in physical appearance to the GTX 460, hinting again that we are looking at more of an evolutionary upgrade as opposed to revolutionary one.

In order to pump all that graphic goodness to your monitor, the GTX 560Ti offers the now standard two dual-link DVI connectors as well as one mini-HDMI port. Sadly, there is no Display Port included. Power is fed to the GTX 560Ti by way of two six-pin power connectors. As you can see in the picture below, the GTX 560Ti sports only one SLI connector, so triple SLI and beyond will not be an option with this card.

Test system configuration

The arrival of the GTX 560Ti also marks the introduction of our new testbed featuring Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture:

  • Intel Core i7 2600K processor at 3.4GHz
  • Intel DP67BG motherboard
  • 2x 2GB Kingston DDR3-1600 MHz memory
  • 160GB Intel X25-M SSD
  • Enermax eevolution 1000w PSU
  • Samsung SyncMaster 2443BW 24-inch 1900 by 1200 pixel resolution display


Synthetic Tests

Synthetic benchmarks often prove to be some of the most popular. They allow for direct comparisons between different cards by offering the same exact conditions during each test. These repeatable and consistent tests do not necessarily reflect exact real world usage scenarios but they do offer a glimpse into the hardware’s performance and are often able to illustrate subtle performance differences between varying hardware components and performance tweaks.

3DMark 11

The latest benchmark in Futuremark’s long line of synthetic benchmarking tools is 3DMark11 (check out our review). The introduction of 3DMark11 now gives us the ability to test Tessellation, Direct Compute Physics and more. As this is one of the newest full featured benchmarks on the scene, it is proving to be somewhat of a system crusher and lower frames per second and the resulting lower 3DMark score is to be expected for the time being. 

In our 3DMark testing we run the hardware through two testing cycles. The first test is Performance Mode which offers a moderate test load designed to simulate modern gaming commensurate with most gaming PCs. The second test is Extreme Mode which pushes the hardware even further with a heavy load designed to stress even the highest end gaming PCs.

3DMark11 Performance

In the performance run of 3DMark11 the GTX 560Ti posts up some a score of 4124 landing it right in between the 5870V2 and the MSI N460GTX HAWK and trailing behind its bigger brother by around 1000 points. A fairly admirable showing for a card in this price range and it clearly shows an improvement over its previous generation’s counterparts.

3DMark11 Extreme

Here we see the 560Ti checking in with a score of 1411, an illustration of just how demanding the Extreme test truly is.

Unigine Heaven (DirectX 10 and DirectX 11)

Unigine was one of the first to offer a true DX11 benchmark and really showcase a graphics card’s DX11 ability. As DX11 cards are just now becoming more common, we still test performance in DX10 as well to give a greater overview of performance.

DirectX 10 and 11

The results from the DX11 test are a bit surprising as the GTX 560Ti offered up a score of 550 with an average FPS of 21.9. This falls behind the MSI N465GTX and although the test was repeated to check for accuracy, results were similar. This could possibly be attributed to the pre-release drivers and lack of optimization.

In the DX10 incarnation of the Heaven test, seen in the above chart, observe that the GTX 560Ti gets its feet back under itself with a score of 999 and an average FPS of 39.7 clearly outpacing the MSI N465GTX.

Game Synthetics

Synthetic game benchmarks hit a little closer to the core usage scenario of a graphics card. These benchmarks are built upon the game itself and generally run a scene or series of scenes from the game in order to garner a performance score. As these benchmarks are built upon current popular gaming titles, they offer a better picture of the video cards real world performance.

Stalker Call of Pripyat is set in the area around the Chernobyl incident. The test can implement both DX11 and DX10 elements during a run though of separate game scenes and as we have done in the past, we have sorted this test by the Sun Shafts test as this has proved to be the most taxing on the GPU’s.

In the Stalker tests, the GTX 560Ti appears to gain some ground on the competition. In the Sun Shafts test the GTX 560Ti actually beats the GTX 570, however there seems to be a larger delta in the other tests placing it more in line with the performance of the MSI N460GTX Hawk.


Gaming conclusion

When it comes to gaming, the GTX 560Ti certainly holds its own. We noticed that while the results generally tended to follow a pattern there were a few surprises placing the GTX 560Ti higher than expected in the performance charts. Throughout our gaming tests and real world gameplay we noticed that the image quality remained constant, an important fact as neither FPS or image quality alone makes a great gaming experience, instead it is the balance of the two that provides the best experience. When compared to the MSI N460GTX Hawk the GTX 560Ti came out on top every time, although in a few tests it barely managed to eek out that victory. Both cards are solid performers and the GTX 560Ti’s performance is proof of its advanced technology.

Temperature

A common consideration when looking at video cards is noise and heat output, after all if you are like most of us, you are going to have to live with this video card operating a few feet from you on a daily basis. As we are more concerned with the real-world attributes of a cards temperature and acoustic characteristics that is what we test for.

Temperature is easy enough to discern and in order to create a level playing field we run each card through our own in house temperature test designed to simulate normal gameplay usage. If we wanted to max out the temperature on the cards we could easily fire up Furmark and set it to the Xtreme Burning Mode selection and watch the card fry, but seeing as even the most extreme normal usage scenario would not heat a card to that level we do not feel it is a fair representation of a video cards thermal attributes. 

The GTX 560Ti fared well in our temperature test, idling at roughly 33°C. Under our temperature test that number rose to 61°C, still leaving a more than comfortable buffer against the card’s 100°C thermal threshold. The translation here is that there is still plenty of room for overclocking including voltage increases.

When it comes to the noise level or sound output of a graphics card we feel it is important to remain practical. Granted we could use a dB meter and a quiet room to measure the exact noise level of the card but that setting would be atypical of the average usage scenario for a desktop card.

Secondly, the dB scale is not an easy indicator to relate to as each increase is in order of magnitude and not easily comparable. How much more annoying is a graphics card with a sound level of 82dB versus one with 80dB? Its hard to tell.

Therefore we feel it makes more sense to break down the sounds levels into four categories akin to real world experience, and these "measurements" are taken in a standard office or room environment with standard ambient noises such as HVAC present:

  • Unnoticeable: At this level the sound of the card is not perceptible. Either completely silent or only perceptible when your ear is place directly next to the card itself
  • Noticeable: At this level the sound of the card is perceptible, generally as a low hum. The noise at this level is unobtrusive and generally blends in with other ambient noises, such as case fans, power supply exhaust fans etc. The noise from the card can be heard but you have to listen for it to really hear it.
  • Clearly Noticeable: At this level the noise output from the card is clearly evident. The graphics card is discernable as the source of the noise and tends to be of higher magnitude than the ambient noise around it.
  • Annoying: This moniker pretty much describes itself. At this level the sound of the card is distracting. The video card is clearly discernable as the source of noise and during gameplay/media enjoyment speaker and/or headphone volume must be increased to overcome the noise of the card.

The GTX 560Ti proved pleasantly quiet easily falling into the noticeable category. If the noise of the card was perceived it was quickly forgotten during any game play or other activity.

Bang for your buck

We mentioned earlier that the GTX 560Ti will carry a street price of around $249.99 and is aimed at the mainstream to performance market. The performance of the GTX 560Ti is well in line with its pricing and in a few instances it comes fairly close to higher-tier cards and consider that is done prior to any overclocking. It goes without saying that some add in board partners will add additional features and bundle packs which may increase pricing but as of today’s launch there are at least three board partners selling GTX 560Ti versions at the $249.99 price.

When compared to the MSI N460GTX Hawk, it is easy to fall into the mindset that the GTX 560Ti has replaced it. Such is not the case, the GTX 560Ti is set to officially replace the GTX 470 and therefor should by design offer a performance bump over the GTX 460 and its variants. Additionally the N460GTX Hawk can be found for as little as $199 with some thorough online digging and while saving $50 might not seem like a huge deal, at this price point it reflects roughly a 25 percent price difference which can be a make or break decision maker for buyers in this segment of the market.

Final thoughts

The GTX 560Ti has given Nvidia another notch in it’s "recovering from Fermi launch" belt. While Nvidia may have floundered with the initial launch of Fermi, they have bounced back in a big way with both the GTX 570 and now the GTX 560Ti. The GTX 560Ti affords gamers the ability to play all of the latest titles with great image quality, all while maintaining solid frame rates and it does so at a great price. It will be interesting to see what board partners like MSI and eVGA can do to increase the performance and value of this card going forward and I have no doubt that this card will continue to impress.

It’s good to see heavy hitters like Nvidia stepping away from the video card arms race mentality of more power, more performance and instead launching truly balanced offerings that combine great performance with energy efficiency. If you have been searching for a video card that offers a combination of great performance and awesome value you can stop looking, the GTX 560Ti is your card.