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Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and we've reported the median result.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Core i7-980X
Motherboard Gigabyte EX58-UD5
North bridge X58 IOH
South bridge ICH10R
Memory size 12GB (6 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Dominator CMD12GX3M6A1600C8
DDR3 SDRAM
at 1600MHz
Memory timings 8-8-8-24 2T
Chipset drivers INF update 9.1.1.1025
Rapid Storage Technology 9.6.0.1014
Audio Integrated ICH10R/ALC889A
with Realtek R2.58 drivers
Graphics
Dual Radeon HD 6870 1GB
with Catalyst 11.4 preview drivers
Radeon HD 5970 2GB
with Catalyst 11.4 preview drivers
Dual Radeon HD 6950 2GB
with Catalyst 11.4 preview drivers
Radeon HD 6970 2GB
with Catalyst 11.4 preview drivers
Dual Radeon HD 6970 2GB
with Catalyst 11.4 preview drivers
Radeon HD 6990 4GB
with Catalyst 11.4 preview drivers
MSI GeForce GTX 560 Ti Twin Frozr II 1GB +
Asus GeForce GTX 560 Ti DirectCU II TOP 1GB
with ForceWare 267.26 beta drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 570 1280MB
with ForceWare 267.24 beta drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 570 1280MB +
GeForce GTX 570 1280MB
with ForceWare 267.24 beta drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 580 1536MB
with ForceWare 267.24 beta drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 580 1536MB +
Asus GeForce GTX 580 1536MB
with ForceWare 267.24 beta drivers
GeForce GTX 590 3GB
with ForceWare 267.71 beta drivers
Hard drive WD RE3 WD1002FBYS 1TB SATA
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 Watt
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Service Pack 1

Thanks to Intel, Corsair, Western Digital, Gigabyte, and PC Power & Cooling for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. AMD, Nvidia, and the makers of the various products supplied the graphics cards for testing, as well.

Unless otherwise specified, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following test applications:

Some further notes on our methods:

  • Many of our performance tests are scripted and repeatable, but for some of the games, including Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Bulletstorm, we used the Fraps utility to record frame rates while playing a 60- or 90-second sequence from the game. Although capturing frame rates while playing isn't precisely repeatable, we tried to make each run as similar as possible to all of the others. We raised our sample size, testing each Fraps sequence five times per video card, in order to counteract any variability. We've included second-by-second frame rate results from Fraps for those games, and in that case, you're seeing the results from a single, representative pass through the test sequence.

  • We measured total system power consumption at the wall socket using a Yokogawa WT210 digital power meter. The monitor was plugged into a separate outlet, so its power draw was not part of our measurement. The cards were plugged into a motherboard on an open test bench.

    The idle measurements were taken at the Windows desktop with the Aero theme enabled. The cards were tested under load running Battlefield: Bad Company 2 at a 2560x1600 resolution with 4X AA and 16X anisotropic filtering. We test power with BC2 because we think it's a solidly representative peak gaming workload.

  • We measured noise levels on our test system, sitting on an open test bench, using an Extech 407738 digital sound level meter. The meter was mounted on a tripod approximately 10" from the test system at a height even with the top of the video card.

    You can think of these noise level measurements much like our system power consumption tests, because the entire systems' noise levels were measured. Of course, noise levels will vary greatly in the real world along with the acoustic properties of the PC enclosure used, whether the enclosure provides adequate cooling to avoid a card's highest fan speeds, placement of the enclosure in the room, and a whole range of other variables. These results should give a reasonably good picture of comparative fan noise, though.

  • We used GPU-Z to log GPU temperatures during our load testing.

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.