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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 reported the median results. Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Intel Core i7-2600K
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-V LE Plus
North bridge Intel Z77 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 9.3.0.1019
Rapid Storage Technology 11.1.0.1006
Audio Integrated Realtek audio
with 6.0.1.6657 drivers
Hard drive Crucial m4 256GB
Power supply Corsair HX750W 750W
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Service Pack 1

 

  Driver revision GPU base
clock
(MHz)
Memory
clock
(MHz)
Memory
size
(MB)
MSI GeForce GTX 560 Twin Frozr II GeForce 306.38 beta 870 1020 1GB
Zotac GeForce GTX 650 Ti AMP! GeForce 306.38 beta 1033 1550 2GB
XFX Radeon HD 7770 Black Edition Catalyst 12.9 beta 1120 1300 1GB
XFX Radeon HD 7850 1GB Core Edition Catalyst 12.9 beta 860 1200 1GB
XFX Radeon HD 7850 2GB Black Edition Catalyst 12.9 beta 975 1250 2GB

Thanks to Asus, Corsair, Crucial, Kingston, and Intel for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. AMD, Nvidia, and the makers of the various graphics cards we used 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.