nVidia GTX 280

So the verdict is in, at least for me. If you're looking for high performance gaming cards, it seems neither nVidia nor ATI can produce anything that actually delivers on the promises made for users with normal computer setups. Or maybe karma is against me.

After such a disturbingly bad experience with the Radeon 4870X2 card by Sapphire, I decided to take it back and pick up the equally hyped and lauded nVidia GTX 280 card. The ENGTX280 by Asus. Once again, the primary driving reason for upgrading is not the GPU performance. It's the on board memory. The performance is just bonus material for me, and I know that's going to shock a lot of people who game who think exactly the opposite way. ATI has clearly blown it and the number of complaints about their latest hardware is growing by the day. Expect over time for an equally big number of complaints to start filing out about nVidia's GTX280 cards.

So here's my experience:

After getting home from Multiwave I popped the card in. There was no signal. A bright red light lit up at the back end of the card. Lacking any information on it in the manual, I assumed that was a Bad Thing(tm) and since it wouldn't boot I pulled it out and put the 8800GTX back in for a moment. Fired right up, but bold red lettering told me "Previous overclock attempt fail. Revert to default settings." Yeah, definite bad thing. Boxed it back up and rolled back over before they closed up for the day. I wanted a refund but the customer service rep insisted a tech look at it. Ok, fine. So the tech hooks it up to his box. Works fine. Then I notice he's using a 1200W supply. So I asked him to use the dinky black one next to it. "That's only a 300W supply, it can't handle this" he says. "Humor me" I say. So he hooks it up after scouring the tech room for PCI-E 8-pin adapters. While that was going on, another tech tried to fire it up and sure enough, that bright red light came on. That's what happened for me, and that's what happened with only one 6-pin plug in. Once he found an 8-pin plug we were all surprised to see the card spring to life. Alright, so the PSU I bought is bad or something. So I pack up and bring the card back home.

Upon slicing my arm on a sharp edge while removing cables and replacing my older 650W PSU I was finally able to fire up the GTX280. Surprisingly it sprang to life and I was off and running! Got the driver downloaded and installed and configured Oblivion for 8xQAA @ 16xAF Supersampling. Basically supremalicious image quality mode. I fired up GPU-Z to check temps. Idle at 45C. Much better. Loaded a save in the Imperial City. NOW we're talking. 60-80 frames consistently. I figured I had something here. Left the city. 40-45 frames in the wilderness. Excellent I thought. Now for the big test. Went to the house mod I have on top of the White Gold Tower. Took the same readings I've been gathering for other testing. The results came out identical to my 8800GTX. Something surely can't be right about that, because it FELT buttery smooth. So I ran circles around this house mod. Keep in mind, it's an outdoor house with fully transparent windows on top of the highest structure in the game, not far below the height of the tallest mountains. So you can pretty much see the whole of Cyrodiil from up there. And it's all distant land textures, usually the most demanding. Even the GPU fan was dead silent. I should have realized then.

I shut down again to go eat, etc. Came back later last night and fired up GPU-Z in the background to monitor things, then loaded the game and got ready for some quality time playing. I ran around the IC again for good measure. Did some random side quests. Popped in and out of several interiors to check for transitional stability. Rock solid. Until I hit the open road and headed south to Leyawiin. That's when the trouble started. When it came time to load, the stutter was crippling. While it happened frame rates plummeted to the single digits. You could literally see in the distance as each row of trees was drawn. As each portion of a distant city or ruin popped up. Then as suddenly as the crippling load came, it went, and my controls shot me forward once more in the mid 40s. This is already shaping up badly in case you're wondering. As I continued on, I noticed a building noise coming from the case. "Gee, I recognize that" I thought. "Sounds just like the ATI when I forced the fan." Exactly what it turned out to be. The fan was blasting loudly by the time I crossed the second bridge and made my way down the long road on the east side of the river. Then it happened. I crested a hill and suddenly everything was scramble squares. Game still plays. Fan spinning out of control. Except all the trees are now masses of swaying corrupted texture squares, as are several rocks. The road, plants, and NPCs are all unaffected. So I figured this was my chance to see if the heat rumors were true. I exited the game and waited for GPU-Z to refresh. No, it wasn't overheating. The full load temp registered 65C. Well within tolerance.

So I head scratched for a bit. What caused it? I have no idea. I let the card return to idle temp and fired it up again. This time I set the game console to display texture memory information, figuring it might have been flooded out. Reloaded an autosave and started my journey to Leyawiin again. Same nasty stutter caused by LOD loading. As I approached the bridge over the river, I noticed it. The water is gone. That's a familiar sight unfortunately. It's one of the same things that happened to the ATI card. I fully expected bad shit when cresting the hill coming up. It didn't happen. I figured ok, I can maybe fix the water. But that fan is way too loud again. I walked past another river crossing and most of the water was there. Looking a lot more transparent than normal. Then it happened. I passed by an open Oblivion gate and zap. Texture corruption. The memory info said I was hovering around 850MB, so I hadn't blown the limit. It didn't even happen while the gate itself was on the display. It happened after I passed it. Once again, quit out, looked at the temp. 67C. Ok, 2 degrees? Who's counting. It's still at full load 20 degrees below ATI's idle temp.

I figured it may be AA. nVidia is notorious for problems generated by their weak ass drivers and HDR lighting used with Anti-aliasing. There are thousands of posts on forums across the world bitterly complaining about this problem ever since they updated from the 158.22 driver set 18 months ago. I seriously was hoping to avoid this with the GTX200 series drivers. Thinking maybe I just overdrove it, I dialed AA back to 4x Multisampling. Fired the game back up. I will note here that at my display resolution of 1440x900 there is no discernible difference in 4x vs 8x image quality. Trek to Leyawiin - take 3. Over the bridge. Water still missing. Hmm. Crest the hill. So far so good. Passed two open Oblivion gates. Ok, we're getting better. Fan kicks in. Jet engines inside of computers should be illegal. In any case, I made it from the Imperial City all the way to Leyawiin on foot, running the whole way without stopping. Entered a building, talked to the NPC for the quest I'm on. You should have heard the ramp up. The GPU fan became loud enough to drown out the game music and his dialogue. As soon as I disengaged dialogue and turned away, it settled out. Interesting. Zooming an NPC must be an incredibly draining experience somehow. Anyway, I left. Off to my next destination. Or so I thought. Left the west city gate. Zap. No more pretty graphics. Lots of psychedelic purple sparkly things crossing the screen vertically. Then a bright white flash followed by thunder. Ok. It's raining, and uh, yeah. Those sparkly things are raindrops. Except it quickly spread to rocks, trees, the city walls, the city guards, etc. Strangely enough once again, all except the road. Right. Saved and quit the game. And navigating menus you can't read because the text is corrupted? Fun stuff. GPU-Z reports fan speed of 1800RPM and a core temp of 70C. Guess it never quite got over the NPC dialogue? In any case, still within safe limits. And I was only using 800MB of texture memory when it happened.

Ok, so right about now anyone familiar with nVidia's drivers is snickering in the corner and possibly unable to contain their laughter by now. Yes, as it turns out, HDR+AA is still not working properly. It lasts much longer when forced at 4x but will randomly die off. How do I know this it the problem? Attempt #4 at playing with AA completely off yielded a 4 hour uninterrupted game session. Complete with regular crippling LOD loads. All the while the fan screaming in my ear. Let me tell you folks, it's no fun at all to try and hear your game over something that loud. Nor is it acceptable for a $450 piece of hardware to be accompanied by a driver written by code ignorant morons from the high school computer club. No, this behavior is not limited to Oblivion. There are confirmed reports of similar behavior in numerous games when using nVidia drivers.

Conclusion: Another vast waste of money.

Yes, the frames performance is good. Very good. Averaging 40 frames in a wilderness bogged down by QTP3, AEVWD, and numerous other auxiliary texture packs while maintaining frames that high is nothing short of buttery smooth goodness. And while the AA worked, it held those same frame rates. The only odd exception was climbing up the road to Bruma where everything went to shit and I was stuck in the sub-20s. Still playable but dangerously close to not. However, the card is of no value if you can't also see what you're doing. It's also entirely pointless to pay for something this expensive and not get anything out of it other than snappy speeds. Even with AA off, the water is borked beyond words. I admit there's a possibility my water shading has been damaged. I'll find that out soon enough when I get back into the game on my 8800GTX. I'm even going to resample frames from it to see just how much I'm really getting from it. In the mean time, I've returned the GTX280 for a full refund, along with the 750W PSU that I no longer needed.
RIP United States of America

July 1776 - November 2012.

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Posted on Aug 22, 2008 8:40 pm by Samson in: , | 6 comment(s) [Closed]
It seems the water issue carried back to my original card. Way to go assholes, damaged my game in the process.

Wow, Samson, your luck with computer components is even worse than mine, that's impressive. ;)
Hope your arm's ok at least.

My luck is a mixed bag really. Granted, Oblivion may not be the best test for all this but it's the 3D game I play the most, so if I get crap performance or weird corruptions with it then that's simply unacceptable. Not to mention unacceptable for a 3 year old game engine to cause 3 month old GPUs this level of problem. Someone somewhere hasn't learned I guess.

My current components function just fine. My quest for a new video card is driven only by the need for more memory. AMD and nVidia both could learn that memory is just as important as the GPU itself. 2GB would future proof nearly everyone for years to come. AMD came close. If they'd only activated that second unit they would have had a true winner.

And for the record, the water issue in Oblivion turned out to be a fouled ini setting. Though I don't know why since the setting worked fine last week and displayed no issues. Maybe it was all the driver cleaning I did. *shrug*

As usual I must chime in to discredit everything you wrote.

Oblivion plays completely fine on my machine, 280GTX, 6750, 4GB, all settings maxed via nVidia driver control panel, HDR lighting on. In fact, it's probably the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life. I'd hit 20s sometimes, but mostly only when spinning quickly or loading something complex at long distances. Mostly sat in the 40s and 50s. This is at 1680x1050, by the way, not your weak 1440x900. And yes, if you recall, I installed Qarl's at your prodding, so I'm not using vanilla textures. I also use various hi-poly count character mods for eyes, hair, faces, and bodies.

Point here, I guess, is that you are definitely blaming nVidia for some problem you caused by modifying your game in untold ways and best unmentioned locations. I have played every high resources game on this card at full settings (MoH:A, CoD4, Oblivion, WoW) and _nothing_ has even made it skip a beat. Actually, WoW gives it the most trouble when I have full AA/AF on and spell detail all the way up. If I zoom out enough to catch a lot of atmospherics and there are multiple mages casting multiple AoE spells, it _sometimes_ hits 25ish FPS. The horror.

Oh, I'm not using a 750W PSU either, a meager 610 with active PFC and a SINGLE high amperage rail. I hope you weren't trying to power either of those cards with a dual rail PSU, that's just dumb.

I also say your cries of "jet engine" are a little exaggerated. Yes, it's loud. But it's not THAT loud. I'm not sure what you expected from a GPU that runs faster than some CPUs. Air movement is required, that's how it's accomplished. And like I mentioned last night, after I installed the CUDA-enabled driver package, the fan got a lot quieter and to my knowledge, it's auto-controlled, so it shouldn't see any difference in RPM versus temperature. Maybe they changed it in the driver package to make it run hotter or something, but I find that unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

So yeah, I say you're blaming perfectly good hardware (again) for self-propelled problems caused by your tenacious inability to adjust your way of thinking to fit one that normal people utilize.

I hope you have a PCIe2 enabled motherboard...

The travesty. How could I let this stand for 2 hours! It's so full of... uh... what's the word.... Whircasm!

Maybe it might help perspective to list what I failed to list in the review/rant.

AMD Quad core Phenom 9850: 2.5Ghz.
4GB Corsair Dominator high performance gaming memory. Exact specs not known right this second, but suffice it to say, it's 4GB. Come on!
MSI K9A2 Platinum motherboard, AMD 790FX chipset. Yes, it's PCI-e 2.0 with 3 slots. I could in theory do 3-way Crossfire if I were fool enough to install Vista. And the BIOS is updated too.
Samsung SyncMaster 940BW - 1440x900 widescreen format. Most definitely not a "weak" resolution. Also as high as Oblivion will support. So you can stuff your preachy attitude about 1680x1050 where the sun don't shine. Forcing higher through other means just turns the imagine to shit.
Current PSU: Thermaltake Toughpower 650W with modular cabling. Has all the necessary PCI-e connectors.
Short lived PSU: Corsair 750W. Their new one with 60amps on the 12V rail.

The Corsair PSU handled the ATI card fine. I frankly wouldn't have expected otherwise. It failed to run the 280 though. Which I found odd. Either way, the 650 ran the 280 just fine.

The ATI performed up to 15 frames slower than the 280, and was easily 5-10 frames slower than my current 8800GTX. Yes, that's bad, no matter how you slice it. So we'll dismiss that out of hand. Useless silicon junk.

Now, Oblivion details. Got help me, because I don't honestly remember what all I have for texture replacers anymore.

All in-game sliders for detail are maxed, except the external and internal shadows. Those cause massive performance hits when fully extended.
QTP3 Redimized, with full bits mixed in from UOP patch updates.
Bomerat's SI texture pack - the SI equivalent of QTP3, but irrelevant since none of my testing took place there.
AEVWD "Almost Everything Visible When Distant" - As the name implies, it adds a bunch of extra LOD meshes to the game to flesh out the distant land views. I'm using a supplement to it that illuminates the cathedrals as well, along with an extra fix pack for it which included MORE than it provided. And yet another mod which just came out where I've grabbed the large rock meshes from it.
Improved Trees and Flora volumes 1 & 2
Improved Doors and Flora ( yes, I know, odd combo, but there it is )
Themed Loading Screens or something like that.
A mixture of high resolution night sky textures, which did get tested.
The HGEC body mod, though frankly I'm less than happy with it since nearly none of the clothing has been updated to match. Using ultra-high resolution skin for those. Which looks great on the nudes but hardly anyone runs around nude in Cyrodiil. So the effect is mostly lost.
Ah hell, there's too many to really go into. You get the point.

I've clocked my texture memory usage with all these things running and on my 8800GTX I have exceeded its capacity by as much as 100MB. Yep, nearly 900MB of consumed texture memory. Yet the 8800GTX seems fine with that even though it only has 768MB. And it doesn't even stutter heavily once that's been breached. All reports I've seen indicate I should have ground to a complete halt until it had a chance to swap it out.

The 280 couldn't hack it. Whenever LOD would load in, it slowed to single digits, as I already explained. But it bounced right back up and kept a strong 40 frames average in the wilderness, which is where most of my texture packs are concentrated. It's not the performance I was pissed about. I also never breached the 1GB of memory it had on board. Closest I came was 965MB when walking close to the Imperial City. But you try playing the game when your trees, plants, rocks, Ayleid ruins, Imperial forts, and the sky itself all go scramble on you for no known reason. Even with a completely unmodified oblivion.ini file. s I said, only the roads and most NPCs seemed unaffected. You couldn't even read the text in the inventory menus. And unless 65-70C is hot enough to overheat the card, it wasn't a heat problem. My 8800GTX burns full load at 75C and never cries. The odd thing about it is that it idles high, but who cares? So yes. I blame nVidia. Their shitty drivers continue to defy the use of HDR+AA. Which was a mandatory hurdle in deciding to keep or reject the card. I can get busted HDR+AA just fine with my 8800GTX :)

The only thing I can't squarely blame on the 280 now is the water surface problem. Apparently the uGridsDepth setting should be left at 3. But the odd part - set to 6 last week it worked fine. This week, no go. Period. Even on the card the ini file I had backed up was built for. And yet a stock ini file still displayed no surface water except in LOD. I never bothered even activating a modified ini with the ATI and it was blown there too. You can imagine my confusion at not realizing what caused it.

Jet engine accurately describes the noise level. It was insane. This from a case with built in noise dampening panels. Not as bad as the ATI at forced 100% but since my 8800GTX is whisper quiet even under load you'll excuse me if I'm used to being able to hear the sound while playing :) Yes the fan is auto-controlled, and the drivers nVidia is offering by default for the 280 are already CUDA and PhysX enabled so I should have had all that already. There were no manual override controls in the fan utility that came with the card, so it was automatic or nothing. Personally I would have limited it to 85% of maximum speed since it only got jet engine loud at 100%.

And as I mentioned with the specs listing, the Corsair PSU had a single 12V rail at 60 amps. I hardly had a choice as to which plugs to use either since they weren't modular and all of the PCI-e connectors were on the 12V rail. My suspicion is that the way the pin connections worked it wasn't delivering power through the 2-pin danlgers on the end of the cable. Either that or it just couldn't distribute effectively and the GPU tried to swipe it all. The Thermaltake only has 18 amp ratings, but has 4 12V rails, and the PCI-e connectors aren't all on the same rail. Perhaps that helped, I don't know, but I was a bit surprised by it either way. Saved $112 though, so that's hard to argue with.

So yes. I blame perfectly bad hardware ( or drivers? ) when the blame is deserved. And in this case it was fully deserved.

All I can say is, when I go into my graphics settings in Oblivion, 1680x1050 is a setting I can choose. I'm not sure why, I didn't do anything that should modify that.

Alas, I will be back to my 8800GT soon -- no more jet engines in my case. :(

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