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Power consumption
We'll kick off our testing with power and noise, to see whether the GTX 580 lives up to its promise in these areas. Notice that the cards marked with asterisks in the results below have custom cooling solutions that may perform differently than the GPU maker's reference solution.

The GTX 580's power use when idling at the Windows desktop is quite reasonable for such a big chip. Our test system requires 13W less with a GTX 580 than with a GTX 480, a considerable drop. When we fire up Left 4 Dead 2, a game we've found causes GPUs to draw quite a bit of power, then the GTX 580 pulls a little more juice than its predecessor. That's not bad considering the higher clock rates and additional enabled units, but Nvidia claims the GTX 580 draws less power than the 480, even at peak.

When we asked Nvidia what the story was, they suggested we try a DX11-class workload, such as the Unigine Heaven demo, to see the difference between the GTX 480 and GTX 580. So we did:

Peak power draw is lower for both video cards, but the GTX 580 uses substantially less than the 480. Obviously, much depends on the workload involved. We may have to consider using multiple workloads for power testing going forward.

Noise levels and GPU temperatures

In spite of its relatively high peak power draw, the GTX 580 is among the quietest cards we tested. That's a testament to the effectiveness of this card's revised cooling design. Our positive impression of the cooler is further cemented by the fact that the GTX 580 runs 10°C cooler than the GTX 480, though its power use is comparable. The Radeon HD 5970 draws slightly less power than the GTX 580 but runs hotter and generates substantially more noise.

We do have some relatively boisterous contestants lined up here. MSI has tuned its dual-fan cooler on the GTX 460 to shoot for very low GPU temperatures, making it rather noisy. That dynamic gets worse when we slap another card next to it in SLI, blocking the intake for both fans. GPU temperatures shoot up to match the rest of the pack, and noise levels climb to a dull roar. Unfortunately, many GTX 460 cards have similar custom coolers that don't fare well in SLI. The Radeon HD 6870's blower is a better bet for multi-GPU use, but it's still rather loud, especially for a single-card config. Cards that draw substantially more power are quieter and run at comparable temperatures.