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Our testing methods
Note that the GeForce GTS 450, GeForce GTX 550 Ti, and Radeon HD 5770 cards we tested all have above-reference clock speeds. We would have loved to test reference-clocked variants, but these were the cards we had on hand when the Cape Verde samples came in the mail. It's not the end of the world, but you'll want to keep in mind that other GTS 450, GTX 550 Ti, and 5770 cards you find in stores may be a little slower.

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 Intel Core i5-750
Motherboard Asus P7P55D
North bridge Intel P55 Express
South bridge
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Kingston HyperX KHX2133C9AD3X2K2/4GX
DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24 1T
Chipset drivers INF update 9.2.0.1025
Rapid Storage Technology 10.1.0.1008
Audio Integrated Via VT1828S
with 6.0.1.8700 drivers
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 5770 Super OC 1GB
with Catalyst 11.2 preview drivers
XFX Radeon HD 6850 1GB
with Catalyst 11.2 preview drivers
Radeon HD 7750 1GB
with Catalyst 8.932.2 drivers
Radeon HD 7770 1GB
with Catalyst 8.932.2 drivers
XFX Radeon HD 7770 1GB Black Edition
with Catalyst 8.932.2 drivers
Zotac GeForce GTS 450 1GB AMP! Edition
with GeForce 295.51 beta drivers
MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti Cyclone II 1GB
with GeForce 295.51 beta drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB
with GeForce 295.51 beta drivers
Hard drive Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB
Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ 1TB SATA
Power supply Corsair HX750W 750W
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Service Pack 1

Thanks to Intel, Asus, Corsair, Kingston, and Western Digital 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 P3 Kill A Watt 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 High quality preset.

  • We measured noise levels on our test system, sitting on an open test bench, using a TES-52 digital sound level meter. The meter was held approximately 8" 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.