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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 1333MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24 2T
Chipset drivers INF update 9.2.0.1030
Rapid Storage Technology 10.8.0.1003
Audio Integrated ICH10R/ALC889A
with Realtek 6.0.1.6482 drivers
Hard drive Corsair F240 240GB SATA
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 Watt
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Service Pack 1
DirectX 11 June 2009 Update

 

Driver revision GPU core
clock
(MHz)
Memory
clock
(MHz)
Memory 
size
(MB)
Asus GeForce GTX 560 Ti DirectCU II TOP ForceWare
290.53 beta
900 1050 1024
Zotac GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 ForceWare
290.53 beta
765 950 1280
Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP²! ForceWare
290.53 beta
815 1026 3072
Radeon HD 6950 Catalyst
8.921.2-120119a
800 1250 2048
Radeon HD 6970 Catalyst
8.921.2-120119a
890 1375 2048
XFX Radeon HD 7950 Black Edition Catalyst
8.921.2-120119a
900 1375 3072
XFX Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition Catalyst
8.921.2-120119a
1000 1425 3072

Thanks to Intel, Corsair, 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:

  • We used the Fraps utility to record frame rates while playing a 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 tested each Fraps sequence five times per video card in order to counteract any variability. We've included frame-by-frame results from Fraps for each game, and in those plots, 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 Skyrim at its Ultra quality settings with FXAA enabled.

  • 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.