Meet The 2012 Graphics Charts: How We're Testing This Year

Measuring Noise Level

Decibels or Sone?

Decibels and sone as measures of noise level both have advantages and disadvantages. Physical sound pressure is measured in decibel. It's easy to measure, and people are generally familiar with it. However, it doesn't relate to human perception of sound very well. So, even though the sound pressure in decibel might have doubled, that doesn't mean that we actually perceive it to have doubled.

The definition of perceived loudness in sone is based on the sound level. A sine wave audio signal at 1 kHz and 40 dB is equivalent to 40 phons, which, in turn, is defined as one sone. When a person perceives a sound wave as being twice as loud, this is called two sone; half as loud is called 0.5 sone. Although this seems practical, logical, and convenient to use, there are some traps and pitfalls when using sone, which ultimately sway us toward using decibel.

First, sone doesn't scale well below one sone. Even though a sound level increase of 10 phons above one sone is perceived as a doubling of loudness, the situation is more complex below 40 phons, where sound level reductions of less than 10 phons are perceived as halving loudness. Unfortunately, there is no generally-accepted formula for this sound pressure range. As graphics cards at idle typically have sound levels of less than 40 phons, this poses a major problem.

Second, sone is based on a pure sine wave of 1 kHz at 40 dB. Fans, however, generate sounds that are a mix of frequencies, and not a pure sine wave. Different frequencies are perceived to have different loudness at the same sound pressure. What would you rather listen to, a low hum or a high-pitched whine at the same loudness?

In order to emulate, or partially emulate, the sound response of the ear, sound measurements typically use weighted sound power curves, such as the standardized curves specified in EN 61672-1/-2. These curves constitute filters that try to emulate the frequency response of the human ear when conducting a sound level measurement. These curves are, of course, approximations. But, depending on the accuracy of the sound level meter, the resulting data in dB(A) is more relevant than data in sone when we are dealing with sound levels below 40 dB. A dB(A) value has to be accompanied by the distance to the sound source in order to be useful.

Bottom line: We use the so-called A-curve as the filter. In other words, we use dB(A) as the unit for our sound level measurements.

Noise Level Measurements in the Real World

Since our test rig is mobile, we can measure the sound level in a designated chamber that's devoid of sound sources like computers and air conditioning. The chamber features soundproof windows, a thick carpet, and a fold-up three-sided soundproofing compartment with a lid that has an array of soft foam pyramids.

We measure the sound level with a Voltcraft SL 400 sound level meter and log the results with an attached data logger. The instrument is mounted on a tripod, which is placed on a thick felt mat to isolate it from structure-borne sound. The distance to the graphics card is 20” (50 cm), and the microphone is aimed at the fan. If the card has two fans, the microphone is aimed between the two fans. Even though this instrument is certified for measurements down to 30 dB(A), we had it calibrated down to 27 dB(A) with a professional sound level meter; we found only minor discrepancies, all of which may have been random.

Next, we take a look at temperature measurements.

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    Top Comments
  • quixoticism
    I would have preferred to see all the benchmarks at 1920x1080 done with maxed out graphics settings.
    I want to see how the base performance is in games with full detail, and save the heavy AA and resolutions for extreme.
    21
  • johnny_utah
    While I love the new techniques, using BITCOIN to bench GPUGPU performance instead of Folding @ Home? Um, okay.
    19
  • randomkid
    Where's the 5760x1080? In the area where I come from, 3x 1920x1080p 22" monitor cost around the same or even less than a single 2560x1440/1600 27" monitor so this is a more likely configuration among gamers.

    The 5760x1080 resolution will also push the GPU's harder than a 2560x1440/1600 could so why limit the resolution there?
    19
  • Other Comments
  • johnny_utah
    While I love the new techniques, using BITCOIN to bench GPUGPU performance instead of Folding @ Home? Um, okay.
    19
  • Anonymous
    Still with the bar charts? Would *love* to see scatter plots with price/score on the axes... So much more useful in picking out a card.
    15
  • AznCracker
    Man the charts are dying to be updated. Too bad it isn't done more often since it takes a lot of work.
    3
  • Anonymous
    You havent added how many cheese wheels it can run in skyrim as a benchmark... wth?
    5
  • DjEaZy
    ... i like the pile of card's @ the end of the article.... a beautiful pile...
    9
  • pharoahhalfdead
    johnny_utahWhile I love the new techniques, using BITCOIN to bench GPUGPU performance instead of Folding @ Home? Um, okay.


    I agree. I know Tom's spends a lot of time benchmarking, but Folding@home is something that is a bit more common. I would love to see F@H in some articles.

    BTW, I appreciate all the work you guys do.
    14
  • randomkid
    Where's the 5760x1080? In the area where I come from, 3x 1920x1080p 22" monitor cost around the same or even less than a single 2560x1440/1600 27" monitor so this is a more likely configuration among gamers.

    The 5760x1080 resolution will also push the GPU's harder than a 2560x1440/1600 could so why limit the resolution there?
    19
  • Anonymous
    Quote:
    We'll add up to 20 new boards each month until the lower end of the performance range is filled out, too.

    How far back in GPU generations are you going to test, if at all? I saw the power consumption charts and could only see GTX 500, 600 and Radeon 6000, 7000 series. I have an EVGA GTX 480 SC for two years and do like to know how it compares to the newer series of GPUs. Much appreciated.
    9
  • Yargnit
    MMO FanYup no surprise here typical Nvidia benchmark suite fuck sakes.


    So what would YOU like to see used then? If they were trying to push Nvidia wouldn't Hawx 2 be in the suite?
    8
  • shinym
    For Starcraft II you say "This game doesn't stress the CPU, and is thus well-suited for GPU benchmarking." Looks like you got CPU and GPU mixed up there.
    16
  • cangelini
    shinymFor Starcraft II you say "This game doesn't stress the CPU, and is thus well-suited for GPU benchmarking." Looks like you got CPU and GPU mixed up there.

    More than likely, it's the sequence the German team picked that is less CPU-bound than other StarCraft II tests we've used.
    5
  • CaedenV
    CommieIBankerStill with the bar charts? Would *love* to see scatter plots with price/score on the axes... So much more useful in picking out a card.

    I would love something like this as well, but as Tom's has a world wide market and the prices vary so greatly from place to place such charts become impractical.

    What I miss about the old charts is that you could easily compare old GPUs to new ones. When upgrading I think people like to have a reference of what they currently have compared to what they are looking at getting. To throw in a few old cards like the 8600GT, 8/9800GT in the mix may help people feel more secure in their purchases, and have a better feel for what they are getting because they can relate the new card to their old one. Not saying Tom's needs to put in every single card from every generation, but a card or 2 from each generation from the last 6 years or so would be nice.

    Another thing I would like is something like Anandtech's bench where when you select your cards you get bar graphs instead of raw numbers in a chart. It is just easier to visually see a 1/3rd difference in performance on a line graph rather than in raw numbers.
    10
  • quixoticism
    I would have preferred to see all the benchmarks at 1920x1080 done with maxed out graphics settings.
    I want to see how the base performance is in games with full detail, and save the heavy AA and resolutions for extreme.
    21
  • CaedenV
    while speaking of comparison chart complaints:
    -Some cards (though not all) show up as their name, others have a picture of the card with a sales link, and others give very little information at all. It would be nice to make this consistent so that at the top of each column we could see the pic (if available), the name of the card, and then a sales link (hey, you have to pay of the site somehow)

    -organize the comparison charts a little. On the comparison page it just throws all the charts together with no apparent rhyme or reason. It would be nice to have groupings such as physical considerations (temps, noise, and power usage), gpgpu benchmarks, and game benchmarks sorted either by game.

    -Could we add physical dimensions? It would be helpful to some to know how long a card is, and now many slots it takes.

    -lastly, under "02 - Unigine Heaven DirectX 11 Performance 1920x1080, 4xAA, AFx16 Shaders medium Tessellation normal" the "score in" has a blank spot to enter in text (pretty sure it should say 'FPS' here) followed by a broken "Go" link.

    None of these changes should be all that hard to make, and would make the charts much simpler to use when comparing specific cards.
    0
  • Anonymous
    Glad to see Bitcoin Mining being included now.
    2
  • kyuuketsuki
    quixoticismI would have preferred to see all the benchmarks at 1920x1080 done with maxed out graphics settings.I want to see how the base performance is in games with full detail, and save the heavy AA and resolutions for extreme.

    This. I, along with probably a large chunk of your readers, are probably more interested in performance at maxed out settings at 1080p than skipping from mid-range settings at 1080p to maxed out settings at higher resolutions.
    14
  • MMO Fan
    yargnitSo what would YOU like to see used then? If they were trying to push Nvidia wouldn't Hawx 2 be in the suite?

    Now that would just be to obvious.
    -12
  • Anonymous
    Thanks for your work Guys,reading trough since long time and each rig has been built based upon your tests!
    Gabriel
    1
  • devBunny
    "What would you rather listen to, a low hum or a high-pitched whine at the same loudness?"

    Lol. Good question. My tinnitus gives me a couple of the lows and several highs (but, just for fun and to keep me noticing them, the pitch and loudness vary). To be honest, I'd rather not hear any of them! ;O)
    2
  • devBunny
    Dear Tom's

    Regarding charts, I think it's way past time that you provided dynamic, configurable graphs generated from the data rather than static images. Images are fine if that's all that the web savvy that a site has. Surely Tom's is better than that?! [tease, tease] ;o)

    I'd like graphs that have options, including choice of colours (I sometimes can't easily see the difference between the colours that you use) and scale (so that I don't have to opening images in another tab and manually enlarging them to read the finer details).

    Someone above mentioned scatter diagrams. And why not, if that would suit him? A page that downloads the data rather than an image has scope for creating whatever kind of graph can help represent the data meaningfully.

    Tom's, I invite you to kill me with kindness. ;-)

    ps. By "dynamic", I don't mean animated. That's pointless, even annoying, eye candy. It's only necessary to show the data more clearly, in a form that people prefer.
    -1