Although it was introduced nearly a year ago, videocards
based on nVidia's 'GT200' GPU architecture are still somewhat rare. There
are mid-range parts like the nVidia Geforce GTS 250, though these are
actually based off of older 'G80' and 'G92' GPUs. Given the ongoing price war of attrition with AMD, it's
not surprising that nVidia has driven the prices on its existing
line of Geforce GT200-based graphics cards to the point where
graphics cards that were previously reserved for the very high end,
are now quite affordable mid-range options for the gamer to consider.
Such is the case for the Geforce GTX 260, one of the
first videocards based on nVidia's GT200 GPU. Taiwanese hardware manufacturer
Sparkle has teamed up with nVidia to produce the Sparkle
GTX260 Core 216, a graphics card that stands as a direct challenger to
AMD's Radeon 4870 graphics card. The "Core 216" part of the Sparkle GTX260 Core
216 videocard's name refers to the GPU having additional shader processors
enabled. While the original Geforce 260 GTX had 192 shader processors, the
Core 216 variant has an additional 24 enabled, for a grand total of, you guessed
it, 216 shader processors. That means this PCI Express 2.0 x16 videocard has a little more raw computing power than
the original Geforce GTX 260 did.
Sparkle's GTX260 Core 216 videocard packs in 896MB of onboard
GDDR3 memory, is PCI Express 2.0 x16 compliant and retails for about $210 CDN ($183 USD £116 GBP ). The Geforce GX 260 core on
Sparkle's videocard is clocked at the default speed of 576MHz, the shaders hum away at 1242MHz, while the GDDR3
memory runs at an even 999MHz. As you might expect, this dual-slot wide
graphics card incorporates nVidia Physx, Cuda, and Hybridpower. From the
graphics and eyecandy perspective the Geforce GTX260 GPU supports DirectX10,
Shader Model 4.0, OpenGL 2.1, and 128-bit HDR.
Another change from the original Geforce GTX 260 is that the the GT200 B3 revision graphics processor has been
die-shrunk from a 65nm to 55nm manufacturing process. The GPU contains an
utterly massive 1.4 Billion transistors, squeezed into a die measuring 487mm2 in area. While this should lower nVidia's production costs
and make the Sparkle GTX260 Core 216 more affordable for you, and cooler running,
nVidia is still playing catch-up to AMD's RV770 GPU, which is smaller still, cooler,
and generally more energy efficient.
Like most gaming videocards, the Sparkle
Geforce 260 GTX occupies two expansion slots. The cards can be configured with
identical graphics adaptors to run in dual or triple-mode SLI on supporting motherboards. It's always a
good idea to ensure there's good case airflow so tightly packed graphics cards
don't overheat and run their fans a full duty ( the Sparkle videocards'
fan isn't particularly loud thankfully).
On the I/O panel of the Sparkle GTX260 Core
216 are a pair of DVI ports which support resolutions of up to 2560x1600 pixels. The white adapter is a typical dual-link
DVI output, while the black DVI adapter can also carry audio from the on-board
S/PDIF header that Geforce videocards use in place of an on-board audio codec. Unfortunately,
the Sparkle GTX260 Core 216 videocard doesn't come with an HDMI-to-DVI adapter or the SPDIF
jumper cable, so you'll need to pick those items up yourself before you
can enjoy sound and video output over HDMI.
The Sparkle GTX260 videocard supports onboard
hardware HD decoding technologies care of nVidia PureVideo, so BluRay, H.264,
VC-1, MPEG2, or WMV9-encoded media can be played back with little if any CPU
load. Oddly, there is no TV-out port for S-Video/component output on this