GeForce GTX 580 vs. GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI

We will pit the GeForce GTX 580 against GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI to see if the less expensive GTX 460 1GB SLI alternative can compete in performance. Real gameplay evaluations tell you what canned benchmarks will not...once again.


On November 9th, 2010 NVIDIA launched the fastest single-GPU video card in the form of the GeForce GTX 580. Our initial evaluation showed that it provided the fastest single-GPU video card performance in the world, with much improved efficiency compared to the preceding GeForce GTX 480.

In our continuing coverage of performance, we are going to see if NVIDIA’s successful GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI setup competes with the GeForce GTX 580. The GeForce GTX 460 1GB version has done well in our game testing and has proven to show a great value. Even more, it is when we have combined two GTX 460 cards with SLI enabled that we have experienced the best SLI scaling performance to date. Two GeForce GTX 460 1GB video cards with SLI has proven to be a remarkable contender with high-end video cards. Pricing right now is low; a single Galaxy GTX 460 1GB (non-OC) video card can be bought for $164.99 after $20MIR. This means two will cost you $330 which is an excellent cost for a very solid SLI setup. Contrasts that with the rising $520 on the GeForce GTX 580 and dwindle stock currently.

The question we want to know is, "Can we achieve a GTX 580 level of performance in actual gaming while spending a lot less cash? And if not, how much IQ, performance, and features do we give away for $190?"

Test Setup

For the two reference clocked GeForce GTX 460 1GB video cards we are using ForceWare 260.99 WHQL driver. This is the latest supported driver on the GTX 460. For the GeForce GTX 580 we are using ForceWare 262.99 WHQL. Currently, ForceWare 262.99 only works on the GTX 580; it is not supported on the GTX 460. Therefore, we are using the absolute latest drivers on both video cards possible.

We will be testing in an apples-to-apples configuration at 2560x1600.

The system specifications are MSI Eclipse, Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.6GHz, 6GB DDR3, Dell 3007WFP, Win7 x64.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

We are using the latest patch available for this game and running in DX11 with HBAO turned On.

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We experienced high performance on both the GeForce GTX 580 and the GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI. If you look at the performance, you will find the GeForce GTX 460 seems to be doing well, providing a higher average framerate than the GeForce GTX 580. Right off the bat, this seems encouraging, and we would agree that if purely looking at framerates it is. However, we have to go beyond framerates alone and dive into the actual gameplay experience.

If you look at the beginning of the graph up to the 25 second mark, the GTX 580 is leading in performance by a good margin. In this scene, we are moving through the forest in the game, and the GTX 580 seems to deliver a better experience there. What caught our eye the most however, was the minimum framerates and the amount of time spent below 30 frames per second. The GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI down-spiked to lower framerates at times. These mostly happened during mortar attacks or scenes where buildings collapsed with a lot of particles on screen. It is in areas like these that you want to maintain the highest performance, and the GTX 580 was able to do that.

The GeForce GTX 460 1GB may have held a higher average framerate, but in the areas that count the GTX 580 pulled through with the smoothest experience.

Civilization V

We are using the latest patch for Civ 5 and are running with all the in-game settings as high as they will go in DX11 mode. In all of our graphs, you will notice there are many drops in performance down to near 0 FPS. This is due to loading in the game, either from the HDD or into memory and graphics memory. This is just the nature of the game, but higher video card memory capacities do yield a smoother experience in this game we have found out.

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In Civ 5 we find that the GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI is producing higher framerates than the GeForce GTX 580. On average the GTX 460 1GB SLI setup is almost 8% faster than the GeForce GTX 580. At first, this seems impressive, but as you dig deeper into the actual gameplay experience returned you will notice that the GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI has more variance in the framerates than the GeForce GTX 580 does.

Looking at the red line indicating the GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI, we notice that the framerates fluctuate wildly. It seems that there is a greater change in framerate compared to the GeForce GTX 580. This change in framerate is felt and noticed in the game. As you pan around the map, or zoom in and out and go to different cities there are more pauses in the gameplay. We also felt the framerate moving from slow performance to higher performance as we played with the GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI. The GeForce GTX 580 had a more consistent framerate, less change in frames per second. With the GeForce GTX 580, the overall framerates may have been lower, but they did not change as much, and as such we didn’t notice performance fluctuating meaning the experience was smoother. Both settings here are playable, but the better gameplay experience in this game was with the GeForce GTX 580.

F1 2010

We are using the latest patch of the game which enables DirectX 11 graphical effects. We learned in our GeForce GTX 580 evaluation that the new patch changes the performance profile of this game. This game is now much more demanding especially at 2560x1600 with 8X MSAA.

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We simply could not run at 8X MSAA smoothly on the GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI configuration. At 8X MSAA this game demands a higher framebuffer than the GTX 460 1GB video cards have. We experienced choppy performance and pauses in gameplay. These were not experienced on the GeForce GTX 580, which delivered a smooth experience at 8X MSAA at 2560x1600. For this test, we had no choice but to run at 4X AA so that a comparison could be made.

The results in this game are certainly a reversal of what we have seen so far. We have doubled checked the performance, and we had the same result each time. Apparently, in F1 2010 the GeForce GTX 580 is 9% faster than GeForce GTX 460 1GB SLI. We did not experience wild fluctuations in performance in this game with the GTX 460 1GB SLI like we did with the last two games. However, this clearly shows the GTX 580 providing higher framerates. The gameplay experience though was the same, and both video card setups were playable at these settings. The GTX 580 has an advantage though in that it can pushed up to 8X CSAA or 8X MSAA in this game and still provide a smooth experience, whereas the GTX 460 1GB SLI cannot.