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Zotac's GeForce GTX 580 AMPĀ²! graphics card

Fully loaded, whisper quiet
— 11:00 PM on May 8, 2011

We are a ruthlessly pragmatic lot here at TR, with our value scatter plots and an ever-present emphasis on the value equation in any piece of gear we review. Every once in a while, though, we'll run across a product that strikes a different, resonant chord in the PC enthusiast's quantized heart. Rationally, we may know it's not necessarily the practical consumer's value leader, but it stirs a part of us that runs deeper and must sometimes be restrained by those pesky filters.

The subject of our attention today, Zotac's GeForce GTX 580 AMP²!, is such a creature—at least for me. I'm not just talking about the fact that I might have to be restrained if I ever come into proximity with the dude who chose this thing's name, either. No, despite the name, the product itself reminds me of why I got into this crazy hobby of screwing together my own computers.

The concept is simple enough. The AMP²! is a GeForce GTX 580 card that's been customized for additional awesomeness in several obvious ways.

First and foremost, there's that enormous triple-slot cooler. We liked it when it rode atop Zotac's amped-up version of the GeForce GTX 480, except that it was a GeForce GTX 480. As a product, the GeForce GTX 580 is cooler in multiple senses of the term.

This GPU cooler, wider than the federal budget deficit and sporting more pipes than a Detroit crack house, is apparently made by Zalman, Zotac's end-of-the-alphabet compatriots. It looks to be very similar to VF3000F, except for the lack of minty-green gaudiness. You can purchase the VF3000F separately for 75 bucks, but Zotac has had the good sense to make a custom, jet-black version of it standard equipment on the AMP²! This thing's array of five heat pipes, twin fans, and beacoup aluminum fins will occupy two adjacent slots in your PC, for a total of three eaten up, making the possibility of SLI configurations contingent on your motherboard's spacing of PCIe x16 plugs. Fortunately, the thing doesn't weigh much, so the extra leverage shouldn't translate into excessive torque on an expansion slot.

The conspicuous question about this cooler, of course, is its effectiveness. I don't want to give away too much, but you can read subheads, right?

The second custom touch on the AMP²! is a common one: higher clock speeds. The plain-vanilla baseline core and memory clocks for the GeForce GTX 580 are 772MHz and 1000MHz, respectively. (That makes for 4000 MT/s memory, since it's GDDR5). By contrast, the GPU on this marvel of modern technology runs at 815MHz, and the memory ticks along at 1026MHz—increases in GPU and RAM speeds of 5.5% and 2.6%, respectively.

I know, I know, you're on the verge of losing bladder control, so stark are the changes.

Zotac's third modification is more notable, because it involves a true change to the hardware. Camped out beneath that massive cooler, hiding under some low-profile black heatsinks, are GDDR5 memory chips with a total capacity of 3GB, double what you'd find aboard most GTX 580s. We've seen video cards with more RAM, monsters like the Radeon HD 6990 or the GeForce GTX 590, but those products split their DRAM chips between two GPUs, giving them a functional memory capacity that's half the advertised total. The AMP²!, however, dedicates all 3GB to a single, massive GPU, giving that one chip more room to operate than anything else on the market, as far as we know.

Does that, you know, help? Tough to say. We've not run into a case where a standard GeForce GTX 580 appeared to be running low on memory, even when tested in SLI (which has some extra memory overhead) on a four-megapixel display. Going beyond 1.5GB may simply be excessive. However, game requirements are rising over time, and two GTX 580s in SLI can drive multiple displays, potentially even a triple array of four-megapixel panels. Bumping up against memory limitations in such a configuration seems quite possible, though we've not tested it ourselves for lack of, say, GlobalFoundries-sized funding.

The trio of enhancements Zotac has brought to the GTX 580 makes the AMP²! substantially more appealing than your run-of-the-mill card. To further sweeten the pot, Zotac has included a coupon for a free digital download of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, which is about as good as it gets for a bundled game. Not only does it have solid ratings on MetaCritic, but it's also easily and frequently abbreviated as Assbro. So you can tell your friends you're "Just hanging out, playing some Assbro." Assbro currently sells for around 50 bucks, but I'd pay more just to be able to say that.

Zotac has ticked the other requisite boxes, too, including a "limited lifetime" warranty (which unfortunately requires registration within 30 days or turns into a pumpkin) and the obligatory DVD stuffed with potentially useful trialware. The total package is slated to sell for about $560 at online retailers, and Zotac tells us it should be in stock at Newegg any day now.

But how does it perform, I hear you asking? This is hardware review, so we need multiple pages of bar graphs to demonstrate the 2.2-to-5% increase over the stock GTX 580, right? Relax, we have you covered, right after we tell you a brief, cautionary tale. Our first sample of the GTX 580 AMP²! had a really bad habit: it crashed, a lot. We gathered up all of the info we could about the issue and sent it off to Zotac, expecting to hear back that we had a single, defective unit. What we found out, instead, is that the entire first wave of AMP²! early press samples had a power delivery problem. Zotac quickly shipped us a replacement unit with new PWM programming, and the new card hasn't crashed on us once. Zotac tells us only press samples were affected, but if you somehow got your hands on one of these cards early and your system is doing the BSOD dance more often than usual, I'd recommend placing a support call ASAP.

We'd expect any card you can buy from today forward to be as solid as Bob Seger, just like our second review unit.