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GeForce GTX 280: The Benefit Of CPU Overclocking

Do New Drivers Really Boost Performance?
By

There are two tables for each game and each of the tested graphics card combinations. The second shows the performance differences between the normal CPU clock rate (2.93 GHz) and the overclocked CPU (3.47 GHz). The aim of overclocking is to find out what sort of benefit there is to faster processors in a day when Nvidia readily claims you don’t need a high-end processor to realize great gaming performance.

The driver versions and overclocked CPUs are listed directly after the chip name—the resolutions go from 1280x1024 to 1680x1050 to 1920x1200 pixels, first without anti-aliasing (0xAA) and then in the same order with anti-aliasing (4xAA, and in Mass Effect 8xAA as well). The two upper lines of figures represent the frame rates; the lower line is the difference in performance in percentage.

Assassins Creed in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 63.3 63.3 63.3 50.2 49.8 48.2 338.1
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 74.1 71.0 65.8 56.2 53.7 48.2 369.0
Difference in performance in percentage 17.1 12.2 3.9 12.0 7.8 0.0 9.1

As can be expected, more CPU performance can be seen in the lower resolutions without anti-aliasing. The 18.2 percent overclocking makes itself felt at 1280x1024 pixels with a very good result of 17.1 percent. With 1920x1200 pixels and anti-aliasing, even the GTX 280 has reached its maximum capabilities; 2560x1600 pixels or a faster CPU are hardly necessary—the limit has been reached and can be measured.

Call of Duty 4 in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 169.9 150.2 132.3 149.9 130.3 112.7 845.3
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 169.1 147.5 131.4 148.2 130.1 112.7 839.0
Difference in performance in percentage -0.5 -1.8 -0.7 -1.1 -0.2 0.0 -0.7

This result is surprising. In the first resolution you assume a measuring error; the minor performance loss continues constantly throughout and also affects the HD 4870. The game is overloaded with the current graphics cards; more CPU power to the test system has a negative effect.

Crysis High in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 37.3 33.1 31.5 29.4 26.2 23.3 180.8
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 40.6 36.5 34.7 32.7 28.0 23.3 195.8
Difference in performance in percentage 8.8 10.3 10.2 11.2 6.9 0.0 8.3

With High quality, a faster CPU can get a few percentage points more out of Crysis and the GTX 280, and the 18.2 percent overclocking yields an extra 10 to 11 percent higher frame rates. As we saw with Assassins Creed, the GTX 280 reaches its limits with Crysis at 1920x1200 pixels with anti-aliasing (4xAA).

Crysis Very High in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 32.4 27.6 23.2 25.2 19.1 15.2 142.7
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 35.0 27.8 23.2 25.4 19.0 15.2 145.6
Difference in performance in percentage 8.0 0.7 0.0 0.8 -0.5 0.0 2.0

With Very High image quality, the CPU is limited only in 1280 resolution. In all the higher modes or with anti-aliasing activated, the graphics card lacks power and the overclocked CPU offers no additional benefits. This means Very High mode in Crysis will continue to be a good method of testing graphics cards, as it takes even a GTX 280 to the limit.

ET: Quake Wars in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 85.5 82.1 82.5 84.4 82.8 81.9 499.2
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 93.0 93.1 92.4 92.3 91.1 90.2 552.1
Difference in performance in percentage 8.8 13.4 12.0 9.4 10.0 10.1 10.6

Quake Wars reacts to the CPU power as could be expected, given that the frame rates are oriented toward the main processor. If you are able to increase the CPU clock rate further, the graphics card will allow itself to be coaxed into providing additional frames. The 18.2 percent CPU overclocking is converted into up to 13.4 percent more performance.

Half-Life 2 Episode 2 in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 103.8 98.6 98.3 102.9 98.6 98.4 600.6
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 115.8 110.1 110.0 114.9 110.2 109.8 670.8
Difference in performance in percentage 11.6 11.7 11.9 11.7 11.8 11.6 11.7

Half-Life 2 Episode 2 is also considerably limited by the CPU. This can be seen by the constant frame rates and the even increases in all the resolutions. If you can introduce more CPU power to the system, you will get further frame gains. The 18.2 percent additional CPU clocking results in an overall performance increase of almost 12 percent for the game.

Mass Effect in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
1280
8xAA
1680
8xAA
1920
8xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 96.7 94.8 92.0 96.7 84.8 62.0 93.7 82.5 60.1 763.3
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 107.6 105.1 96.6 105.0 86.0 62.2 101.2 82.5 60.1 806.3
Difference in performance in percentage 11.3 10.9 5.0 8.6 1.4 0.3 8.0 0.0 0.0 5.6

Experience shows that Mass Effect ( based on the UT3 Engine) runs using 100 percent of the CPU load, which means every little bit extra should be visible. In the lower resolutions, the performance increase is good, but with anti-aliasing the GeForce GTX 280 reaches its limit as of 1680x1050 pixels.

MS Flight Simulator X SP2 in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 32.7 32.7 32.2 34.6 34.4 33.7 200.3
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 37.8 37.7 37.4 39.2 38.9 38.4 229.4
Difference in performance in percentage 15.6 15.3 16.1 13.3 13.1 13.9 14.5

Flight Simulator X is hungry for CPU performance and the graphics card can surely provide more speed when it has the help of additional CPU power. The 18.2 percent CPU overclocking translates to as much as 16 percent higher frame rates. The general assumption is that Flight Simulator X is dependent solely on the CPU. But this is not true. If you take the test values of the GeForce 9600 GT for comparison, you can see that at 1920x1200 pixels (4xAA) without a powerful graphics card, the higher CPU performance is no longer realized. For the frame rates to increase, both a powerful GTX 280 and an even more powerful CPU are necessary.

World in Conflict in fps 1280
0xAA
1680
0xAA
1920
0xAA
1280
4xAA
1680
4xAA
1920
4xAA
Overall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 51.3 49.6 46.6 44.2 37.3 33.2 262.2
GTX 280 (1024 MB) CPU@3.47 56.7 56.5 52.8 45.5 38.4 32.7 282.6
Difference in performance in percentage 10.5 13.9 13.3 2.9 2.9 -1.5 7.8

Without anti-aliasing, the increase in frame rates is very good, but both the game and the graphics card could handle more CPU power, which is still limited by the main processor. With anti-aliasing it’s not as good—even the GTX 280 starts to reach its limit. With 1920x1200 pixels and 4xAA it is visibly at the limit; increased CPU performance or test resolutions using 2560x1600 pixels will not make any difference.

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Top Comments
  • 18 Hide
    cangelini , October 7, 2008 7:47 AM
    LedrosTo bad you used 8.8 drivers instead of the 8.9 ones. Real smart people.


    This is observed in the piece and should not affect performance.
Other Comments
  • 5 Hide
    pcgamer12 , October 7, 2008 7:33 AM
    Great article.
  • 18 Hide
    cangelini , October 7, 2008 7:47 AM
    LedrosTo bad you used 8.8 drivers instead of the 8.9 ones. Real smart people.


    This is observed in the piece and should not affect performance.
  • 0 Hide
    curnel_D , October 7, 2008 7:49 AM
    Lol.
  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 7, 2008 9:00 AM
    SoulLance"Unfortunately for AMD and its customers, the PowerPlay optimization for energy-efficient 2D operation is not included in the Catalyst 8.8 driver for the Radeon HD 4870. Quake Wars refuses to start using the Catalyst 8.8, but it works fine with the Catalyst 8.6 and 8.7."But neither should comments like this appear when everyone on the planet reads a labels that clearly say "Use latest drivers from manufacturer".


    Can you please translate this into english?
    I have no idea what you mean to say with your comment, other than the obvious (that you disagree on some level with the article)
  • 7 Hide
    randomizer , October 7, 2008 10:05 AM
    He's saying you shouldn't criticise newer drivers because most hardware and software packaging has a label, or a section in the manual, telling you to use the latest drivers. So latest = best as far as he is concerned.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 7, 2008 10:08 AM
    In reference to overclocking graphics cards, I'm pretty sure that XFX card warranties cover overclocking to some degree, though you'd have to double check their warranty fine print.
  • 3 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 7, 2008 10:20 AM
    SneppyIn reference to overclocking graphics cards, I'm pretty sure that XFX card warranties cover overclocking to some degree, though you'd have to double check their warranty fine print.

    Having had experience with two failing xfx cards (both 8800gtx's actually), I've got to warn you though, that their warranty is a bit fictional. While they may actually cover broken products, you can easily risk waiting months for a replacement.
    Proof of my claim in case someone unexpectedly doubts it : http://www.opel.cc/xfx8800gtx/xfx.htm
    That was the first failing card. The second I haven't even bothered sending in, and just bought an 4870 instead of waiting months.
  • -2 Hide
    cryogenic , October 7, 2008 11:18 AM
    We all know there were cases in the past when "Newer drivers provided substantial performance improvements" in various applications or games. Analyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevant, or that from a "professional" stand point the latest drivers shouldn't be chosen.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , October 7, 2008 11:19 AM
    CryogenicAnalyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevant

    But it can lead to the conclusion that current drivers are irrelevant, or rather less relevant.
  • 1 Hide
    cryogenic , October 7, 2008 11:22 AM
    randomizer


    That's a good,true and useful conclusion, but it's not a general one, only specific to this particular set of drivers.
  • 1 Hide
    warezme , October 7, 2008 12:22 PM
    according to that chart two 8800GTX's is faster than a single 280GTX and Two 4870's in CF.??? 18005 as opposed to 16422 for their fastest run on 3Dmark06 @1280x1024 default settings. I thought their game scores where kind of low to. Must be a dual core CPU making the difference.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 7, 2008 12:34 PM
    When the Q3 08 Vga charts appeared, there where lots of critics to the fact that the ATI drivers used where 8.6. Maybe this article is some kind of response to those critics. Well, the results of the tests here "almost, "kinda", say that Q3 benchmarks are fair enough with new-gen ATI cards. But... profesionally speaking, did Tom's knew THEN -back when the Q3 benchmarks where made- that that will be the case? That drivers released before the new cards did, didn't keep those cards from showing some better numbers? If 8.7 or 8.8 show almost the same numbers 8.6 do, is irrelevant. We can know that only now, that there are avaiable tests that actually show those results. But how can we, nor Tom's, or anybody knew that THEN? So, you must admit at least that if you are benchmarking a card using drivers dated BEFORE the card was launched, that there is a "chance" that results may actually vary with recent drivers. And if its true that performance boost in newest drivers are not "that important" to compare with the gap between diferent card generations, is true also that you can't(and in fact you don't) use 6, 12 or 18 months old drivers on current hardware. So maybe not "that important", but "important" nonetheless.
  • 2 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 7, 2008 12:35 PM
    CryogenicWe all know there were cases in the past when "Newer drivers provided substantial performance improvements" in various applications or games. Analyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevant, or that from a "professional" stand point the latest drivers shouldn't be chosen.


    Where's it say drivers are irrelevant?
    What the article states, is that you don't nessecarily gain performance by using current drivers. It doesn't mean the bug fixes and 'futureproofing' with regarding to unreleased games isn't relevant.

    The article merely deals with the urban legend claiming new drivers unconditionally improve hardware performance.
  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 7, 2008 12:38 PM
    @ alfguy - the article does state that drivers released within roughly the first 3 months after the hardware is released is more likely to improve the hardware's peformance, but that it doesn't nessecarily improve older hardware's. That's pretty much the same point you're making I believe?

    ps. catalyst 8.6 is the version shipped with my 4870 - so it's not dated before the cards, it's merely the initial retail version.
  • 0 Hide
    JPForums , October 7, 2008 12:57 PM
    Overall, this was a good article. I've seen driver updates on past hardware that netted more significant FPS improvements than is show here, but the time frame for optimizations is consistent with the article introduction. Also consistent with the article is the fact that the larger improvements don't usually occur on the high end cards.

    Disclaimer: This is not a fault in the article, just speculation on one of the results.

    Referring to the Crysis Very High setting on the Radeon 4870:

    Quote:
    In the Very High setting, fluctuations of the frame rates can also be seen. There does not appear to be any reason for these variations, although a performance increase is almost always seen.


    It appears 1280x1024 is cpu limited, as you see a fair FPS improvement at this resolution (and not others) when overclocking.
    Moving to 1680x1050, you see more significant improvements as the burden has shifted back towards the GPU, allowing the enhancements to be seen.
    At 1920x1200, we are simply reaching the limits of the hardware, so the enhancements are less relevant.

    It seems one of the enhancements affect AA performance in Crysis as it seems to be improved across the board. I'll leave you to figure out the rest, as I'm short on time, but I'd wager the enhancements involve trading more efficient processing of data on the video card for more driver overhead. This would explain why more CPU limit settings are seeing lower rates, while more GPU intense settings are seeing benefits. The only real oddball is 1680x1050 at high, but I'll bet with a little time, it could be explained as well.

    On another note: Did the Catalyst 8.8 improve performance over Catalyst 8.6 in CF mode when both were overclocked. I suspect the answer is no, but it seems there may be more CPU overhead in the newer drivers. Given more CPU cycles, an insignificant, but measurable improvement may be measured. (My interest in this is purely academic as I don't own a newer ATI card at the moment)

    That said, I'd be interested in a similar article with mid/high end video cards and a mid/high end processor. What kind of real performance improvement (or lack there of) can someone with a GeForce 8800GT or Radeon 4850 expect with paired with an Athlon X2 6400+ or a Core 2 Quad Q6600 (without overclocking).
  • 0 Hide
    CanadaKen , October 7, 2008 1:24 PM
    I wish someone could explain why ATI/AMD cards can't run Microsoft FlighSim X as well as Nvidia cards. The specs are there but the performance sucks?!
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 7, 2008 1:52 PM
    @ CanadaKen : I can only guess, but flightsim is very dependant on the cpu. I'm guessing the ati drivers need more cpu time to do well in comparison to the nvidia one, thus the nvidia card works better with limited cpu ressources. It could also be possible that microsoft has been utilizing some features that run better on nvidia cards as opposed to amd/ati.

    As the monthly graphics roundup has been telling us for the last past months, which highend card you should choose (4870, 260 or the dual gpu nvidia one) depends on the gaming titles you expect to use it on, as they're not delivering the same performance in all games. Some are sponsored by nvidia and more often than not those games run better on nvidia hardware, even if it's slower in a raw shader processing power value. The opposite is probably true with games where ati has had their hands on the graphics engine though I can't at the top of my head remember any.
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , October 7, 2008 2:02 PM
    newer drivers is important to solve issues. but it becomes irrelevant to improve a game performing more than 30 or 60 frames per second.
    of course, exception is crysis wherein additional of, like 5 frames can help in all resolutions and little fps difference there can be worth debating.
    anyways, this an article many of us waiting for. high end crossfire/sli does have the least value. crysis is the only game could benefit from high end hardware video card to processor.
  • 4 Hide
    dagger , October 7, 2008 3:20 PM
    The myth that new drivers drastically improve performance is made up by fanboys to discredit benchmarks that show their favorite cards don't perform as well as competition. It's nothing more than an excuse, against valid benchmark results.

    Some drivers do improve performance, just not nearly enough to make a noticeable difference.
  • 0 Hide
    Aragorn , October 7, 2008 3:48 PM
    Since 8.7 did so well in the few tests it was used in I'd love to see the results of running it through the whole test suite.
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