Quarter 1, 2012 Suggestions, Alternates, & Other Considerations
I’ve honestly struggled a lot with my suggestion for the GPU. There are a lot of minute details which can make a slightly cheaper or slightly more expensive card worth considering (see my Alternate and Other Consideration sections below). Further down you will see that my suggestion is a “vanilla” GTX 560 Ti by ASUS, but even this is a bit more expensive than what I would honestly like to recommend (and if you find it too rich for your blood look at the standard GTX 560 (non-Ti). However, I have settled on this (and the Alternate and Other Consideration below) for a few reasons.
First off, they all offer “excellent” game play at the 1080p resolution. Second, they all offer solid (or ever great, see the 448) CUDA performance. CUDA may be completely meaningless to you, but if you’re interested in volunteer computing this may be a strong consideration as you’ll be able to do a lot of processing for projects like GPUGrid. Third, these cards are high enough up the GPU performance hierarchy that they should offer solid performance for two generations (or more!) of graphics cards. In other words, you should easily be able to skip over NVIDIA’s 600 generation, if not the 700 generation as well!
Note: If you’re doing as I suggest, and waiting for Ivy Bridge, you may also want to try and hold out for Nvidia’s 600 series of cards, which will support PCIe 3. If you then bought the Geforce 660 or 670 you should be able to similarly skip over the 700 and 800 generations!
By this point PCIe 3.0 if not 3.1 cards should be the norm and who knows what new fangled advances we’ll have by then! At that point you’ll be able to drop another $200 or so and have a HUGE upgrade and until then you will be enjoying current and upcoming games at or near max settings (at 1080p)!
With all of that general information aside, see my specific suggestions below.
Suggestion: ASUS GTX 560 Ti ENGTX560 Ti DCII/2DI/1GD5
For my main suggestion I went with the “vanilla” GTX 560 Ti. Further, I chose a card that was as close to NVIDIA’s specifications as possible (while still sticking with my tried and true brands). So, if you’re looking at this card you might notice that ASUS repeatedly claims that this card is “overclocked.” However, it is by such a slight margin as to make no difference in my mind (further you should be able to “downclock” it to standard specifications if you are concerned about stability, heat, or power consumption).
Apart from the standard GTX 560 Ti specifications and ports (a mini-HDMI being one of them, see my Alternate if you’d prefer a full sized port!), ASUS looks to have added a very nice cooler to the card. Having a nice GPU cooler can really make the difference between two brands. This is one of the reasons I went with the ASUS option as a poorly functioning cooler is just no fun and can kill your investment.
The standard GTX 560 Ti offers excellent performance at 1080p resolution (1920×1080) and it comes with 1 GiB of GDRR5 SDRAM which should be sufficient for most systems and most uses at present.
On the other hand, if you have a tendency to load in a lot of high resolution texture mods in games like Skyrim, like to crank up anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, or if you have any interest in doing volunteer computing with your GPU (and have a slightly larger budget) consider the next two cards over the “vanilla” GTX 560 Ti.
Note: Most new cards are moving to 2 GiB of GDDR5 SDRAM. Just something to keep in mind, while looking at my Alternate and Other Suggestions below.
Alternate: ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448-cores ENGTX560Ti448DC2/2DIS/1280MD5
If still available as you’re reading this, the GTX 560 Ti 448 is likely the card I would go with myself. Despite its name, it is actually a slightly hobbled GTX 570 and not a slightly faster GTX 560 Ti. If you look at the specifications you’ll see that this card is actually clocked slightly lower than the GTX 560 Ti. If this confuses you, make note that it has 6 more streaming multi-processor (SM) cores, which despite their lower speeds actually allows it to do more work (and when it comes to CUDA and volunteer computing, not to mention gaming, this is a great thing!).
In addition to this, the GTX 560 Ti 448 comes with 1.25 GiB of GDDR5 SDRAM, and so should give your system a bit more head-room if you’re interested in loading high-resolution texture packs for games like Skyrim and Just Cause 2. The extra graphics memory can also help if you want to crank up the anti-aliasing and anisotropic filters (which definitely help at the 1080p resolution)! The extra graphics RAM (alone) likely wont net you any extra frames per second, but similarly to having more RAM for your system in general, having more graphics RAM may well help with the “smoothness” of your games (and I have absolutely no metrics to support this last point, so take it with a grain of salt, but it is reasonable).
Since the GTX 560 Ti 448 is a limited run production, and is really just a “broken” GTX 570 there isn’t a reference design from NVIDIA. However, the specific card I’ve chosen here from ASUS is clocked spot on at the GTX 570 reference design and has a massive heat sink attached to it. Similar to the “vanilla” GTX 560 Ti above, the cooling solution from ASUS looks to be solid so if you have room for it in your case and if it wont get in the way of anything else you want to run off of your motherboard it should be well worth considering (we’ll get into this more when we look at cases in the pages to come!).
Note: The normal sized HDMI should provide a better contact between your GPU, HDMI cable, and your receiver, TV, or monitor. It should also be less prone to breakage or bending (those small HDMI connectors are tiny!) If you’re not familiar with DisplayPorts, think of them as an open standards alternative to HDMI. DisplayPorts offer everything HDMI does (and more) but they don’t require that manufacturers pay a licensing fee. You may or may not care about this (and it seems a bit redundant on a card with an HDMI port as well), but you may want to consider other hardware with DisplayPorts as well so we can move towards more open standards (which should be good for everyone!)In addition to the above benefits over the standard GTX 560 Ti this ASUS GTX 560 Ti 448 comes with a full-sized (normal sized) HDMI port, as well as a full sized DisplayPort! This may seem like small potatos to you (again, minute details here), but for me this is a big selling point.
Note: Compared to the standard GTX 560 Ti this card will require a power supply unit with more amperage on the 12 V rail(s) and a bit more wattage! Again, this is a slightly slower GTX 570, not a slightly faster 560 Ti, be sure to take this into account when choosing your PSU (more below)!
Other Consideration: EVGA GeForce GTX 560 Ti (2 GiB) 02G-P3-1568-KR
If the GTX 560 Ti just doesn’t have enough graphics RAM for your needs (or you’re afraid it might not) and the GTX 560 Ti 448′s are no longer available or a bit too rich for your blood, then you have another direction you could go. You could nab one of the GTX 560 Ti’s with 2 GiB of GDDR5 SDRAM (See my comments on extra graphics memory above if you’ve missed them).
Note: If the GTX 560 448′s are gone, but you’d rather step up not down (and don’t mind the extra cost) the GTX 570 should definitely be considered (and ASUS has one almost exactly the same as the GTX 560 Ti 448 above).
If you don’t care about CUDA and volunteer computing the GTX 560 Ti 2 GiB seems to be the clear choice, even over the GTX 560 Ti 448 above possibly.
I went with the EVGA card here for two reasons, 1) ASUS doesn’t currently have one. 2) The EVGA has a good warranty and is clocked at exactly the speeds NVIDIA specifies. It doesn’t have the full sized HDMI port, or the Display Port that we got with the GTX 560 Ti 448, so bear that in mind. Otherwise, it’s much the same as the GTX 560 Ti card from ASUS (sans the likely more robust cooling hardware).
Phew, well thankfully that’s it for the GPU. Lets move on to secondary storage and we’ll discuss SSD’s and HDD’s! (next page)