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Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560 graphics processor

The GF114's encore

Nvidia seems to be all about plugging holes in its product line lately. A couple of months back, we saw the arrival of the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, a GPU aimed at the previously unoccupied $149 price point. That part ended up sandwiched between the cheaper GeForce GTS 450 and the more upscale GTX 460 1GB, providing a decent compromise for shoppers too indecisive to choose between two starkly different options.

Today, in the form of the new GeForce GTX 560, Nvidia is extending another olive branch to shoppers who are fond of middle grounds. Priced at $199, this card is meant to sit north of the GTX 460 1GB and south of the quicker GTX 560 Ti. Although its name might suggest otherwise, the newcomer doesn't actually replace any existing products—at least, that's what Nvidia is telling us. The GTX 460 is staying put for now despite its age.

You could say Nvidia is really just splitting hairs at this point. According to the latest listings on Newegg, you can get a GTX 560 Ti for as little as $232.99, or $212.99 after a mail-in rebate. As we're about to see, some of the freshly introduced GTX 560 offerings are marked up slightly above Nvidia's suggested $199 e-tail price, so we're likely to see at least some overlap between standard and Ti versions. Yeah, I don't think that's going to help indecisive folks any.

Now, how exactly does the GTX 560 differ from the 560 Ti? You know, beside dropping those extra two letters and carrying a slightly-lower-but-maybe-not-always price tag. Well, I'm glad you asked!

The GeForce GTX 560 and 560 Ti are both based on Nvidia's GF114 graphics processor, but the newcomer has one of that chip's eight shader multiprocessors disabled. Since each SM has 48 stream processors, eight texture units, and one polymorph engine, that means the GTX 560 has 336 SPs, 56 texture units, and seven polymorph engines. Other key attributes, like memory size, memory interface width, and ROPs, are unchanged from the full-fat GF114 found in the GeForce GTX 560 Ti.

Graphics architecture buffs might notice that the GTX 560's configuration resembles that of the original GeForce GTX 460 1GB, which features the older GF104 GPU. The GF104 and GF114 are similar architecturally, but the latter has been further optimized for TSMC's 40-nm fab process.

That all sounds simple enough... until we take a look at clock speeds. Here's what Nvidia told us when we asked about the standard, reference clock rates for the GTX 560:

Because the chip is a drop-in replacement for existing GF104/GF114 designs on the market, our partners are offering a wild range of GTX 560 varieties. There is no one "official" speed. The right word to use is probably "slowest".

The slowest clock is 810MHz core/4004MHz memory, but most of those boards will be shipped to OEMs. At the etail level the vast majority of boards will ship between 850-950MHz.

(The e-tail cards Nvidia is talking about have memory speeds ranging from 4.0 to 4.4 GT/s, by the way.)

Funnily enough, then, the GTX 560s sold at online retailers will actually be clocked higher than many GTX 560 Ti variants. The slowest versions of that product run at 822MHz with their memory pushing bits at around 4 GT/s, which is slightly south of e-tail GTX 560 territory. Here are the implications of those discrepancies when it comes to peak theoretical performance numbers:

Peak pixel
fill rate
Peak bilinear
integer texel
filtering rate
Peak bilinear
FP16 texel
filtering rate
Peak shader
GeForce GTX 460 1GB 21.6 37.8 37.8 907 1350 115
GeForce GTX 560 Twin Frozr II 27.8 48.7 48.7 1169 1740 131
GeForce GTX 560 TOP 29.6 51.8 51.8 1243 1850 134
GeForce GTX 560 Ti 26.3 52.6 52.6 1263 1644 128
GeForce GTX 560 Ti AMP! 30.4 60.8 60.8 1459 1900 141
Radeon HD 6850 24.8 37.2 18.6 1488 775 128
Radeon HD 6870 28.8 50.4 25.2 2016 900 134
Radeon HD 6870 TOP 29.3 51.2 25.6 2016 915 134
Radeon HD 6950 25.6 70.4 35.2 2253 1600 160

As you can see, the GTX 560 cards have higher peak pixel fill rates, higher rasterization rates, and more memory bandwidth than their stock-clocked Ti cousin. It takes a higher-clocked version of the GTX 560 Ti—in our example, Zotac's $267.99 GTX 560 Ti AMP! Edition, which runs at 950MHz with its memory at 4 GT/s—to pull ahead of GTX 560s. I suppose it's no surprise that a much more expensive product would be faster, but that doesn't make matters any less complicated in the $200-$250 range, where GTX 560 and GTX 560 Ti cards look set to coexist.

In a moment, we'll look at how the GTX 560s compare to their Ti-infused brethren in some real-world games. First, though, let's take a closer look at the two GTX 560 variants we'll be testing.

The contenders
Asus and MSI were kind enough to each send us their version of Nvidia's new graphics card.

MSI's offering, dubbed the N560GTX Twin Frozr II, is the slower and more affordable of the two. The card runs at 870MHz with a memory speed of 1020MHz (or 4.08 GT/s), and it has a suggested asking price of $209.99. MSI outfits the Frozr with a dual-fan cooler, "Military Class II" components, and a 6+1 power-phase design. The circuit board also features "anti-warpage support." Translation: MSI engineered this puppy with durability and overclocking in mind.

Priced at $219.99, Asus' GTX 560 DirectCU II TOP is slightly more onerous than its MSI counterpart, but it justifies the premium with higher clock speeds: 925MHz for the GPU and 1050MHz (or 4.2 GT/s) for the memory.

Asus also includes a dual-fan cooler (branded DirectCU II because of its copper base), and it touts "best in class PCB Design and Components with Super Alloy Power Design that delivers 15% Performance boost, 2.5 longer lifespan, 35C cooler operation for the [voltage regulator modules]." As with the MSI card, provisions to prevent the card from warping are on the menu. There are even LEDs on the circuit board that change color when you plug in the two required six-pin PCI Express power connectors—somewhat superfluous but neat nonetheless.