Now for some power and noise testing. We've included all three of the GTX 560 Ti cards with custom coolers and clock speeds for comparison.
By the way, we've changed our workload for the "load" tests. This time around, we're using Battlefield: Bad Company 2 at 1920x1080 to load up the system. We've found that our test system draws more power while running this game than most others, making it a solid choice for the job, but these results aren't directly comparable to our past articles where we used Left 4 Dead 2.
With the exception of the much higher clocked Gigabyte SOC card, all of the systems with GTX 560 Ti cards draw less power at idle than those with Radeons installed. The situation is reversed when running a game, as the GTX 560 Ti-based systems require more power than the competition. XFX's 6870 Black Edition is particularly efficient.
One slight puzzle here is the case of the Radeon HD 6950 1GB, which is hungrier for power than its 2GB variant. AMD tells us the 6950 1GB may use older, less dense DRAM chips built on a larger fabrication process, which could explain some of the higher power draw. Factor in things like VRM and PSU inefficiencies, and that may go a long way toward explaining the 18W difference in total system power draw. However, it's possible our early review sample from AMD, which isn't a finished, shipping product, has other issues.
Another interesting item: notice how the GTX 560 Ti SOC and the GTX 570 have very similar power draw to go along with their fairly closely matched performance. Funny how two cards based on chips of different sizes can arrive at the same basic power-performance balance, isn't it? Once you push past a certain point with higher clock speeds on a smaller chip, the exponential increases in power draw required to push further begin to cause problems. Gigabyte's 560 Ti SOC isn't at a bad place at all, but the GF114 looks to be near its practical limits here for a consumer product.
Noise levels and GPU temperatures
The combination of noise levels and GPU temperatures offered by the GTX 560 Ti reference card looks nearly ideal, and the XFX 6870 Black Edition performs so much like it, we had to do a double-take. Both are tuned for low noise levels, obviously, yet they don't allow GPU temperatures to rise very high at all, as these things go.
Clearly, the three big motherboard makers are tuning their thermal solutions with an eye toward keeping GPU temperatures low, even if that means higher noise levels under load. As we've said before, we think that's unfortunate. We'd prefer a little tolerance for higher temperatures if it means the fans will be quieter under load.
Of those three, the most impressive cooling performance comes from the Gigabyte SOC card. Despite the fact that its 1GHz GPU has substantially more heat to dissipate (as its readings on the watt meter indicate), the Gigabyte cooler keeps the chip at 63° C while producing less noise than the stock GTX 570 and 6970 coolers, both respectably quiet solutions.
MSI's twin-fan cooler also looks to be very potent without producing too much noise. We just wish we could trade an increase of 15° C or so in GPU temperature for whatever that would give us on the decibel meter. This could well be the quietest card of the group with different tuning. It's still quite good as it is, though.
Asus' DirectCU II cooler is the loudest in the entire bunch, despite the fact that several other products have more heat to dissipate. Rather than hiss innocuously like most cooling fans, the fans on the Asus cooler emit a mid-pitched whine that registers strongly on our decibel meter. That's unfortunate, because we really liked Asus' first-generation DirectCU cooler. This one evidently needs some work in order to be competitive.
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