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Our testing methods

Both AMD and Nvidia have released new graphics drivers since we published our GeForce GTX 550 Ti review, so we tested the new Radeon and re-tested the cards from our GeForce GTX 550 Ti review using Nvidia's GeForce 270.51 beta release and AMD's Catalyst 8.84.2_RC2 drivers. We still configured our Radeons' Catalyst Control Panel like so, leaving optional AMD optimizations for tessellation and texture filtering disabled.

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 system was configured as follows:

Processor Intel Core i5-750
Motherboard MSI P55-GD65
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
Rapid Storage Technology
Audio Integrated ALC889
with Realtek R2.57 drivers
Graphics Gigabyte Radeon HD 5770 Super OC 1GB
with Catalyst 8.84.2_RC2 drivers
AMD Radeon HD 6790
with Catalyst 8.84.2_RC2 drivers
XFX Radeon HD 6850 1GB
with Catalyst 8.84.2_RC2 drivers
Zotac GeForce GTS 450 1GB AMP! Edition
with GeForce 270.51 beta drivers
MSI GeForce GTX 550 Ti Cyclone II 1GB
with GeForce 270.51 beta drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 550 Ti AMP! Edition 1GB
with GeForce 270.51 beta drivers
Zotac GeForce GTX 460 1GB
with GeForce 270.51 beta drivers
Hard drive Samsung SpinPoint F1 HD103UJ 1TB SATA
Power supply Corsair HX750W 750W
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Service Pack 1

Thanks to Intel, Kingston, Samsung, MSI, and Corsair 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:

  • Many of our performance tests are scripted and repeatable, but for Bulletstorm, 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 raised our sample size, testing each Fraps sequence five times per video card, in order to counteract any variability. We've included second-by-second frame rate results from Fraps for those games, and in that case, 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 Bulletstorm at a 1920x1200 resolution with 4X AA and 16X anisotropic filtering.

  • 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 on all cards but the Radeon HD 6790, which wasn't supported by GPU-Z's temperature probing component. With that card, we ran the load test in a window and jotted down the temperature reported by AMD's Catalyst Control Center.

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.