Manufacturer:Zotac UK Price (as reviewed):£510 (inc. VAT) US Price (as reviewed): Unknown
There's no disputing the raw power of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 480, but this power comes with a cost, and we found the heat and noise that the stock card produced to be serious drawbacks. Enter Nvidia partner Zotac who hope to iron out some of the GTX 480’s flaws by equipping their card with a custom cooler and, for good measure, bumping up the clock speeds to provide a performance boost too.
The card retails for a hefty £510 - £70 to £80 more than a stock GTX 480 - and forms part of Zotac’s top of the line AMP! Edition range. We’re a little hard pushed to see where the our extra cash goes though as aside from the custom cooler and overclock very little has changed from a stock card. The bundle included in the box is average, comprising only PCI-E to molex connectors and a driver CD.
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The card uses the stock black PCB, which means it's the same length as a vanilla GTX 480. Zotac has also opted to keep the standard six phase power delivery system of the stock card, an area which we sometimes see improved in cards that carry a factory overclock. We should mention however that our testing found no problems with the standard GTX 480 power delivery circuitry and Zotac obviously believe it’s up to the task of running the card overclocked for an extended period of time.
The overclock that the six chunky power chokes will have to deal sees an extra 56MHz added to the core, 111MHz on the shaders and a 104MHz bump to the memory speeds. These jumps represent an increase of 8 per cent on the core and shader clock but only a measly 2 per cent on the memory.
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Arguably the more headline improvement to the card though is the large third party cooler. The cooler is a slightly altered version of the Zalman VF3000-N which retails for £33 and is based around a large solid copper contact plate. The plate is connected to the nest of cooling fins by five chunky bi-directional heat pipes and is cooled by two 92mm fans which blow directly down towards the PCB of the card. Positioning the fans in such a way blows air down onto the passive memory and VRM heatsink, which is good, but it also means the hot air is then just dumped into the case, unlike the stock cooler which exhausts waste heat (of which there is plenty) from the rear of the case.
Covering the fins of the heatsink is a flimsy black metal shroud which does little apart from give Zotac a place to put their brand name. When we removed the card from its box and gave the fans a playful little spin (Who doesn’t do this? No? Come on!) we actually found that the shroud fouled the rear fan, making the blades scrape against its inside edge. We made sure the fans we’re positioned correctly but the problem persisted and we were forced to remove the shroud before we actually powered up the card for the first time.
The troublesome shroud and the HSF with it removed - Click to enlarge
We thought our sample may have taken a knock during transit, making the shroud distort or twist, so we opened up a test VF3000 that we happened to have in the labs and were dismayed to find the same problem. It doesn’t reflect well on Zotac or Zalman’s QC departments that such a simple and annoying defect seems to be commonplace. It's not exactly what you want to hear from your brand new £510 graphics card.
The cooler is also only attached by four screws, one at each corner of the GPU. This meant that there was a significant amount of flex in the cooler, especially down at the tail end of the card. While this isn’t a problem per se it didn’t fill us with confidence and doesn’t exactly scream of the kind of quality manufacturing you’d expect from a product worth more than many people’s first car.