What is the best graphics card for folding?

Written by James Gorbold

August 5, 2010 | 11:16

Tags: #cuda #distributed-computing #folding #foldinghome #geforce #gpgpu #graphics-cards #opencl #radeon

Companies: #ati #bit-tech #nvidia

How we tested

Unlike games, which use the same DirectX codepath regardless of whether you have an ATI or Nvidia based graphics card, the folding clients assign different types of Work Unit (WU) depending on what hardware you have.

Fortunately, you can use a third-party monitoring utility to measure how quickly your hardware is folding the WU it has been assigned. For this article we used HFM, a freeware utility that can monitor multiple clients at once, and even generate a webpage of your stats on the fly. The graphs on the following pages show how many points each client would produce if left folding for 24 hours, or in folding parlance, its ppd (points per day).

For the ATI cards we decided to only focus our attention on the more recent Radeon HD 5000-series, as the earlier Radeon HD 4000-series were hopelessly inept at folding. As a result, any of the modern cards we've tested in this article will be faster than a HD 4000-series card.

All the ATI cards we tested with the GPU3 client, as the Assignment Servers at Stanford wasn't handing out WUs to ATI cards running the GPU2 client when we conducted our testing.

What is the best graphics card for folding? How we testedYou can fold on any graphics card with a unified shader architecture, but each uses a different type of folding client. Click to enlarge.

For the Nvidia cards we decided to test not only the latest Fermi-based GTX 400-series cards, but also most of the GT 200-series. This is because many folders already own GT 200-series cards, so it was important to see if any of the Fermi-based cards are a worthwhile upgrade. You'll also find test results for the 9600 GSO as this tiny, ancient card was a real favourite with hardcore folders thanks to its low price and single-slot cooler, allowing multiple cards to be run together in one PC.

At first we had planned on running the GPU3 client on all the Nvidia cards. However, mid-way through testing, we switched the GT 200-series cards back to the older GPU2 client, as this folds approximately 44 per cent faster. In short - whatever you do, do not run the GPU3 client on GT 200-series graphics cards.

All the cards we tested in one our standard graphics card test rigs which is setup as follows:

Intel Core i7 Test System

  • Intel Core i7-965 processor (3.2GHz: 133MHz x 24)
  • Asus P6T V2 motherboard (Intel X58 Express with three PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slots)
  • 3x 2GB Corsair TR3X6G1333C9 memory modules (operating in dual channel at DDR3 1,600MHz 9-9-9-24-1T)
  • Corsair X128 120GB SSD running v1 firmware
  • Corsair HX1000W PSU
  • Windows 7 Home Premium x64
  • Antec Twelve Hundred Chassis

ATI graphics cards using Catalyst 10.7 WHQL

  • AMD ATI Radeon HD 5970 2GB
  • AMD ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB
  • AMD ATI Radeon HD 5850 1GB
  • AMD ATI Radeon HD 5830 1GB
  • AMD ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB

Nvidia graphics cards using ForceWare 258.96

  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 1.5GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 1.3GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 465 1GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 768MB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 896MB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (rev 2) 896MB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 275 896MB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 280 1GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 1GB
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 2 x 896MB
  • Nvidia GeForce 9600 GSO 384MB

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