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Test notes
We've based this piece almost entirely on results from our GeForce GTX 460 review, so our test setup is the same, with two exceptions. We've added a Radeon HD 5970 and a GeForce GTX 480 to represent the very high end of the market. The 5970 is a run-of-the-mill, stock-clocked card, but the GeForce GTX 480 is a different animal: a "factory-overclocked" Zotac AMP! product priced at a premium. We'll be looking at this AMP! card in more depth in the near future.

The GeForce GTX 260 we used is also a "factory-overclocked" model; Asus gave it 650MHz core, 1400MHz shader, and 2300MT/s memory speeds. Unlike most of today's cards, many GTX 260s used to run above stock speeds to some degree. Our Asus card was one of the highest-clocked variants you could buy, at least before DirectX 11 cards started coming out and most folks lost interest in the previous generation.

Again, all of our benchmarks were scripted except for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Metro 2033. We tested those two games by recording frame rates using FRAPS while playing through the same 60-second sequence five times for each card. The increased sample size and our efforts to make each run as similar as possible to the others should help offset the lack of precise repeatability.

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 i7-965 Extreme 3.2GHz
Motherboard Gigabyte EX58-UD5
North bridge X58 IOH
South bridge ICH10R
Memory size 12GB (6 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Dominator CMD12GX3M6A1600C8
at 1600MHz
Memory timings 8-8-8-24 2T
Chipset drivers INF update
Rapid Storage Technology
Audio Integrated ICH10R/ALC889A
with Realtek R2.49 drivers
Graphics Radeon HD 4870 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Gigabyte Radeon HD 5770 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
XFX Radeon HD 5830 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Radeon HD 5850 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Asus Radeon HD 5870 1GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Radeon HD 5970 2GB
with Catalyst 10.6 drivers
Asus ENGTX260 TOP SP216 GeForce GTX 260 896MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
GeForce GTX 460 768MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 465 1GB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
GeForce GTX 470 1280MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Zotac AMP! GeForce GTX 480 1536MB
with ForceWare 258.80 drivers
Hard drive WD Caviar SE16 320GB SATA
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 Watt
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
DirectX runtime update June 2010

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, XFX, Asus, Sapphire, Zotac, and Gigabyte 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:

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.