ASUS has been on a consistent roll recently with every Nvidia 6 series release and it is continuing with the 660 Ti as they drop in again and dressed to impress in full DirectCU II garb and bearing the TOP Edition muscle. Does it have what it needs to top the charts?[review_ad]
Introduction – ASUS GeForce GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP
The ASUS GTX 660 ti DirectCU II TOP is the ASUS version of what a 660 Ti model card should be. As always, ASUS has done things a little differently, such as placing the PCI-E 6 pin power connectors backward on the card which we will show you later on the overview. ASUS ensures that with every GPU they have a TOP model which is the highest-performing model of that GPU, excepting any superclock cards such as the Matrix or MARS models.
The ASUS GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP is a dual slot monster with a hunger for competition. In full dress this card hits the market at $329.99 MSRP which is slightly over the standard clock cards, though the benefit is the extreme binning that goes into the TOP model cards.
SAP (Super Alloy Power)
ASUS has great pride in the components they infuse into their graphics offerings very much like the motherboards we have covered previously. ASUS has whats called SAP or Super Alloy Power which covers the components in the very VRM we are discussing. The components are hand picked for quality and performance based around not only power delivery but efficiency as well. The components in the SAP solution are super durable for a rated lifespan of up to 2.5x what reference cards would offer and also with the DIGI+ controller your talking ultimate precision which means better voltage stability, better overclocking potential and overall better power efficiency clock for clock.
Here we see the VRM Chokes, MOSFET/driver assemblies and the solid state caps which make up the SAP components, or to simplify, the super strong and efficient VRM.
Here we have some good detailing directly from ASUS showing the improvement of the SAP choke component and how it is superior to other designs implemented presently. Other model chokes can make a whine or screeching sound due to the coil vibration, something we’re sure many enthusiasts and overclockers have heard before. The ASUS design has a sealed/filled core to inhibit vibration, which means noise free operation under extreme loading conditions. Another thing to remember is movement makes heat and friction, so less movement will mean cooler running components.
Here we see what makes the difference for the DIGI+ solution which has to do with the accuracy and efficiency of the Digital controller in comparison to the analog VRM control we see on many other solutions. This level of control allows for unprecedented voltage accuracy, along with lower signal noise and overall more overclockability due to the tighter stability offered by the DIGI+ digital controller.
DCII (Direct CU II)
ASUS DirectCU II coolers are the ASUS way of saying maximum cooling and plenty of quiet with one naming scheme. DirectCU II coolers are direct touch heatpipes to the GPU surface ensuring the heat is wicked away from the GPU and up into the cooling fin array as quickly as possible. From there the custom shrouded dual fans push air through the fins effectively but most important quietly to keep the GPU as cool as possible so hopefully it will never hit a temp to need a higher or noisier fan speed. The air pushing through the fin array also helps cool board components and the VRM cooler as well which is a nice little added bonus to this style cooler since we all know cooler components tend to run stronger, longer and with better efficiency.
One thing not much mentioned would be the fact that thermals affect the total boost clock that the GPU will see. If the card reaches too high of a temperature regardless of the room left under the power target it will not boost up to a higher clock until the thermal window is within spec. this is how we accomplished the overclock below as the reference cooler we could never get close to this kind of clock.
Dust proof Fan Technology
You would think that by now everyone would know that one of the number one killer of a fan is the dirt and dust it comes into contact with. Many fans simply are not sealed in such a way that it can keep dust out and in many cases they are not sealed at all and you can see the sensitive winding area clearly exposed just by looking at the gap.
Here you can see that the ASUS solution is not just sealing the hub from dust but having 2 levels of sealing which means that over the lifespan of the cooler you can expect a much lower likelihood that you will get the grinding or simply the failing that you normally get from the unprotected fan as seen above.
We cannot count how many times we have had a perfectly good card or cooler just to have it reduced to useless because the fan died.
ASUS offers its own software utility and its functionality has grown with generations just like the cards it supports. Of course the card can be overclocked but also voltages can be tweaked and within the GPU Tweak app we can even launch the GPU info utility which is a full custom version of GPUz. This is a really cool feature and a benefit especially to benchmarkers who we can definitely see using this card with some of the awesome tweaks we will discuss in the card overview.
There are many tools within the GPU Tweak menus some a little more hidden than others. First off directly form the GPU Tweak utility itself you can check for BIOS updates and even update from within the program. For anyone who’s ever updated a vBIOS before knows that having a tool that can do this in a mere few clicks is really handy.
The charts besides offering real time monitoring can also be setup to log thermals, voltages and clocks so that after benchmark or gaming runs you can see if there was any thermal issues or throttling that may have affected performance.
This is something that is worth mentioning. First on the left you see the max value for teh clocks which of course on air cooling your probably not gonna hit unless you somehow live in a subzero climate. but if pushing the card and cooling can support it you can select the option to enhance overclocking range which as you see on the right allows for significantly higher clock settings and a major performance boost pending your card can pull such speeds.
And another neat feature that many never delve into but its worth visiting is the custom fan profiling. This allows a specialized ramping of the fan according to a graph you set custom for your thermal/acoustic needs. After using this card a while, we would say the fan profile is near perfect as it keeps the card cool when under load and also super quiet when just messing around on the web.
The utility does come on the disk but its always advised to get the latest version HERE and search GPU Tweak in the ASUS page linked.
PCIe Power LEDs
One really cool feature is that there are status LED’s on each PCIe connector and these help you recognize that power is actively being sent to each connector of the card.
The dual greens seen above indicate everything is working well. However if the PCIe cable is not active or is not installed at all, it will give you the red light which tells you something is wrong. We could definitely see some value in this when diagnosing multi card setups or even single card issues. A dead PCIe power cable could cause you to pull your hair out without these kinds of indicators.
Nvidia implemented the GPU Boost feature on the new Nvidia GeForce 6 series GPU’s of the Kepler Architecture. This allows the card to have a base clock and it adjusts dynamically or overclocks to a speed of up to a certain amount depending upon the thermal and power envelope. This makes Overclocking these cards a bit different as you now are overclocking with a boost clock and by offsets from the out of the box clocks. We will discuss more of the overclocking aspects in the overclocking section but it does need to be noted. The voltage envelope can be adjusted as well with another offset setting. This will raise the ceiling in most cases for more overclocking headroom pending temps are within check which with this cooler should not be much of an issue.
Nvidia also included another feature as of recent called “Adaptive V-Sync” which allows for better performance while also stutter free gameplay by actively enabling and disabling V-Sync depending upon gaming situation and FPS all without any intervention from the user.
PCI Express Gen 3 Capable
ASUS wants to ensure everyone is aware that PCIe 3.0 is here and ASUS is ready with not only cards such as this but boards to support it as well.
What is the GeForce GTX 660 Ti?
Nvidia hit the market hard and fast with the introduction of the GTX 680 and delivered a card that was simply a marvel of new technologies such as Adaptive Vsync, GPU Boost, TXAA and more. The GK104 GPU is ultimately efficient and powerful for an excellent price/performance ration no matter which card you chose.
The 680, 690 and 670 round out the highest-end Enthusiast SKU’s, and so the natural progression is to replace the aging top performance level SKU in the GTX 560 Ti. This SKU is very important, as it has always marked a middle ground of excellent performance without enthusiast-class price. The 660 Ti utilizes the same GK104 GPU which powers the flagship GTX 690, 680 and 670.
Nvidia does a lot of market research when it comes to GPU’s and for this they know that not every gamer upgrades with every new GPU launch so they wanted to make sure that this was something special and worth the upgrade.
Here we see the chart provided by Nvidia where the GTX 660 Ti clearly blows away previous generation GPU’s, and gives gamers a reason for an upgrade with performance levels tripling what is seen on the GTX 260 which is still a card used quite popularly today.
Once again data provided by Nvidia shows that compared to the HD7870, the GTX 660 Ti simply wins hands down and by a large margin in some areas.
To some this may be a surprise but after testing both the GTX670 and GTX680 we know that these cards not only beat their closest competitors but even take shots at levels above them. Here we see that in some cases the GTX 660 Ti out performs the lowest enthusiast-class GPU from AMD.
The GK104 GPU found in the GTX 660 Ti happens to carry the same shader count and overall spec as the GTX670 which no doubt contributes to its excellent performance. The difference is that the GTX 660 Ti employs a 192Bit memory bus for its 2GB of onboard framebuffer. The TDP of the GTX 660 Ti is 150W which is comparable to the GTX 560 Ti but with performance that can best the previous generation flagship (GTX580).
The GTX 680 was designed to be a powerhouse and well deserved flagship model for the GeForce lineup; the GTX 670 was made to back it up with excellent performance at a little better pricepoint; and finally the GTX 660 Ti is the gamer’s card. It is designed to be the card that brings Kepler to the masses, as many gamers simply want to game and don’t need or want the very best money can buy, but rather a card that simply plays their games well.
The real question that comes to our minds is whether the GTX 660 Ti is able to overclock to the same level we have seen from the GTX 670, and whether this will be a real performance monster knocking out everything in its path, or simply be a beast of a card with a limit.
Overview of the ASUS GeForce GTX660 Ti DC II TOP
This packaging follows right along with the TOP 680 and 670 with the red claw marks coming through the front and a minimalist inclusion of a few key specs. On the rear it covers a bit more but mostly just some of the very top notch features they want to show off.
Here is what you see when we open the box. The topmost small box carries the accessories as listed below.
Dual 4 pin Molex to 6 Pin PCIe adapter
- DVI>VGA Adapter
The accessory package is simple but it will do for getting the card going.
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The 660 Ti is not extravagantly large but definitely bigger than a reference design and the cooler does overhang the PCB by a good inch and a half or so.
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The rear of the PCB is naked and devoid of a backplate like we saw on the 670 and 680. This does not affect function but does take away a little from the pretty factor as well. The card utilizes a reinforcing strut across the top edge to keep the PCB from bending, which can cause damage especially over the life of a card. In the center behind the GPU directly you will see 4 flat caps, or SAP caps which are designed to provide instantly available capacitance to the GPU.
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The heatpipes for the DirectCU II cooler are 3 in total although they make a total of 5 passes through the fins as 2 of the heatpipes pass through the baseplate and into the fin array at both ends. This design optimizes thermal transfer and surface area coverage as well. The heatpipes are nickel plated for a pretty appearance which matches the look of the aluminum fin array and also it avoids the nasty tint copper pipes can acquire after some time in service.
Popping the Top off the TOP
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The heatsink comes off rather easy as it is a 4 screw mounting and then you just pop it off. Looking at the heatsink you can see the fin array is vast and the heatpipe base is very flat, providing excellent surface coverage for the GPU die which means optimal thermal transfer. Moving to the card itself you can see that this is no reference PCB with the DIGI+ controller and custom VRM in place.
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The VRM has a passive cooler attached as seen above, this cooler uses the air coming from the DirectCU II’s dual fans to keep vrm components happy and cool. Once removed we see the DIGI + components which include the mosfets for the GPU VRM. these components are nothing but top quality similar to what we have seen on many enthusiasts class ASUS boards and they are fed by a DIGI+ controller just like the motherboard which of course means finite voltage precision and control along with excellent efficiency for maximum output while having less heat from the components.
Click Images to Enlarge
Here are the dual 6 pin power connectors and as you may have noticed the retaining notches are missing. Well tehy are not missing but in rder to avoid users from having to try and unclip the power cable from between the cooler and card they flipped them 180 degrees so that the clip faces the backside of the card and are easier to remove when needed. Also here you will see the previously mentioned LED’s unlit of course because the card has to be in the slot getting a signal to show the LED for power on the connector ports.
Testing & Methodology
We’ve expanded our testing suite considerably since the X79 chipset release, and will continue to use the same methods for most of the motherboards and CPU’s we test. In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we run each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.
The OS we use is Windows 7 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.
Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear Prefetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.
We are revamping our testing method in order to better represent motherboard performance and offering to the consumer. Also we want to make it an easier read for you without miles of endless charts. We ask that you provide feedback in an effort to help us deliver better reviews for you.
|Case||Thermaltake Level 10 GT|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-3770K/Intel Core i7-2600K|
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus V Gene
|Ram||16GbpsB Patriot Viper Xtreme 2400MHz +|
|CPU Cooler||Swiftech H20-220 Edge|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB|
|SSD||Intel 510 series SATA III 120GB|
|GPU||ASUS GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP|
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower Grand 1200W|
|Mouse||Tt eSPORTS Black gaming mouse|
|Keyboard||Tt eSPORTS Meka G1 mechanical gaming keyboard|
We will use the following applications to test the performance of the graphics card.
Synthetic Benchmarks & Games
|Just Cause 2|
|Sniper Elite V2|
The ASUS 660 TI TOP definitely has overclocking in its blood as it almost seemed like it wanted to overclock itself. All it took was starting up GPU tweak and a little tuning, and we had a stable clock in almost no time at all. The GPU was able to push out a nice boost clock of 1170 which netted it a 1275 dynamic clock which is pretty good if i may say so for a card on ai as 1275 on teh gpu is very high and not really even a consideration on previous gen cards.
|Clock||Max stable MHz
|GPU Base clock||1092|
|GPU Boost Clock||1170|
|Max dynamic clock Observed||1275|
|Memory clock||1750 (7000)|
Memory overclocking was very good netting a 7000MHz QDR stable clock, which is 8 MHz shy of a 1GHz overclock on the memory and that in itself is aweome.
In order to ensure no system bottleneck we clocked the CPU to 4.6GHz to ensure there is no reason the system will slow down the cards performance at all.
Some may ask why we chose the mainstream Z77 system, and we can explain. Up until recent the X79 enthusiasts platform did not really support PCIe Gen 3 on the Nvidia 600 series GPU’s. Because of the inherent instability many have seen with the X79 platform with Gen 3 products, Nvidia has been hesitant to enable it, and now there is a workaround via registry to get it working. However, in order to ensure the most consistent testing possible, we have stuck to the natively supported Z77 platform.
Important note: Overclocking can cause component failure. Please exercise caution when attempting any level of overclock on system components.
The temperatures were recorded with full loaded Heaven benchmark looping for over 30 minutes or longer depending how long it took for the card to level out in temps and sat at a plateau for more than 10 minutes.
|GPU Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS GTX660 Ti DCII TOP OC||32C/71C|
|ASUS GTX660 Ti DCII TOP||32C/69C|
The DCII cooler as we have seen before is proven very effective and the heat dump even when overclocked is easily managed with maybe a mild purr from the DCII’s fans.
Real world/Gaming Benchmarks
3DMark 11 is the newest in Futuremark’s suite of benchmarking utilities. Its a fully capable DirectX11 benchmark which also stresses and analyzes the system performance as a whole to simulate a heavy rendering environment such as a high end game or other app the end user may run. This benchmark was run with Performance settings 5 times and all runs were averaged for the result below.
3DMark 11 shows a nice picture of the cards placement as it falls right behind the 670/680′s and well ahead of the 580. Now we just need some 7950′s to add to this mix. ASUS has a nice showing here clearly leaping over the previous gen 580, but against the other 660 Ti competitors, it really is a neck and neck race.
Heaven Benchmark 3.0
Heaven Benchmark version 3.0 is the newest iteration from Unigine and a improvement to stability along with I am noticing much more consistent scoring as well.
In order to make sure we got these cards tested and up to show off to you guys we did not have time to retest our card suite in this newest benchmark, although we hope to update that very soon. Till then, you can compare the different 660 Ti’s we have here.
Metro 2033 has always been extraordinarily stressful for GPU’s, and this has not changed with time. The 660 Ti cannot play Metro 2033 without minimum framerate, but for a midrange performance card it definitely holds its own as the previous generation flagship GTX580 is bested by this midrange beast.
The ASUS DCII TOP comes out battling for the top spot amongst the 660′s here but the higher memory speed and slightly higher sustained boost clock from the Zotac simply allows it a slight advantage.
Just Cause 2
We brought a rather old but good game back for testing this card.
Just Cause 2 was a tough call as it was virtually a photo finish with less than a tenth of a frame splitting the top 2 cards.
Sniper Elite V2
Those of you that have been paying attention to games recently will know that Sniper Elite V2 was recently released on the scene only a few months back. It is a fun game and once we found a benchmark tool we knew we had to put it in a review. The game is as it sounds: you are a sniper and your job is to sneak around and kill pretty much anything that moves. It has an x-ray mode that shows bones breaking or being shattered with hits.
Here the 660 Ti’s definitely shine as they clearly leap over the previous gen 580 again and from the looks of the FPS numbers this could be in or even beating the 7950 territory.
Every time we see a DirectCU II TOP card from ASUS, we are very eager to tear it open and start tweaking. Add to that the fact that ASUS has been on a very good roll recently with the product quality and out-of-box performance, and we have a hard time finding problems with their product.
That said, we must be honest here, and ASUS simply did not take top honors as it was mixed in with some very healthy competition. It was a tough call on many benchmarks as they are all the same chipset, and all the results were so close that the differences were within the margins of error.
We were a little disappointed to see that the TOP card came with standard clocked memory when it could have easily come with a decent overclock, as we have shown above, and still remained perfectly stable.
Overall ASUS made a top quality card with the GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP and it performs great, but it leaves us with a distinct feeling that something was lacking. We believe the memory clock could have really been pushed up higher, but then again Zotac dared to do this. Nonetheless, the lower stock memory clock also explains why the ASUS card was a bit slower in some tests in comparison.
ASUS has many advantages going for it, such as the DIGI+ components that ensure versatility; the GPU Tweak that allows the user to tweak the card; and the dust proof fans to ensure longevity. This only scratches the surface of the features but gives a good ideas as to why we support the card as being a good buy with many solid features.
|OUR VERDICT: ASUS GeForce 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP|
|Summary: The ASUS GTX 660 Ti DirectCU II TOP has great performance but even more so a boatload of useful features. For this it earns the Bjorn3D Silver Bear Award.|