NVIDIA GTX 660 2GB Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: September 12, 2012
Product Name: GTX 660 2GB
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With the Kepler architecture gradually cascading down into lower price points, it was only a matter of time until a new card was released to compete for the hearts and minds of budget-conscious buyers who still want adequate performance. The GTX 660 Ti may have introduced NVIDIA’s updated initiatives and feature sets to a broader range of gamers and yet the mid range $199 to $249 bracket is what usually makes or breaks a GPU family. Currently, AMD’s Pitcairn-based HD 7850 and HD 7870 enjoy a position of nearly unchallenged leadership within this highly popular segment but after the successes of previous GTX 600-series products, NVIDIA was well positioned to offer something of their own. The result is the GeForce GTX 660, a card whose $229 sticker price may not be quite as inexpensive as some hoped but it has proven to be more competitive than we initially expected.

Typically, graphics cards that hit a magical $199 to $249 “sweet spot” either play things safe by not competing with cards above them in a product stack or (as with the GTX 460 and 8800 GT) they go on to be genre defining products which are talked about for years afterwards. The GTX 660 2GB achieves neither of these two extremes. Rather, it strides somewhere within the grey space between safe and legendary by providing surprisingly good performance without costing a dime over $230. This may be a disappointment for anyone waiting for the 8800 GT’s Second Coming but it makes perfectly good sense when compared directly against the rest of NVIDIA’s current lineup.

Before this review goes on to talk about actual performance, let’s put the current mid-range offerings into perspective. AMD’s HD 7950, HD 7870 GHz Edition and HD 7850 have recently gone under the price cutter’s knife and are now available for $319, $249 and $199 (before rebates) respectively according to AMD’s latest information. The online average price for reference clocked versions of these three cards is $321 / $255 / $207 so AMD’s board partners seem to be keeping things well in hand. Additionally, for a limited time, the HD 7870 and HD 7950 also come bundled with a download code for the game Sleeping Dogs. Meanwhile, NVIDIA’s own GTX 560 Ti goes for about $205 while the recently released GTX 660 Ti sits at $299 or thereabouts.

With each of these card’s prices in mind, we can start coming to some clearly defined conclusions. NVIDIA’s GTX 660 puts the GTX 560 Ti to shame in every benchmark and can likely match a GTX 570’s framerates. But even though it provides significant advantages –both framerate and feature-wise- over the previous generation’s price / performance champ, we doubt most GTX 560 Ti users will be running out to buy a GTX 660 when it launches. Rather, NVIDIA is targeting their latest creation at anyone still using a GTX 460 or 8800 GT / 9800 GT, and with good reason since the in-game benefits from the Kepler architecture are massive.

Recent purchasers of the GTX 660 Ti don’t have anything to worry about either since their card maintains a comfortable lead over the GTX 660. Ironically, situations which are directly impacted by ROP to shader ratios or memory bandwidth cause the GTX 660 Ti and GTX 660 to usually perform within spitting distance of one another. The higher end product still maintains a firm grip on pole position, albeit a very small one from time to time.

Against AMD’s cards the GTX 660 is almost untouchable from a value standpoint, particularly when using a 1920 x 1080 or 1920 x 1200 display. At those resolutions, it runs dead even with the more expensive HD 7870 and significantly outpaces the 10% cheaper HD 7850. There is a small performance drop-off at resolution and detail setting extremes but the difference is not enough to sway our opinion in any way. But make no mistake about it, with a few well timed and minimal reductions, the HD 7870 could become a very serious threat to the GTX 660's newfound position.

The GTX 660 doesn’t break any of the predetermined molds which define performance increases from one generation to the next, nor did NVIDIA really blaze a new path on the cost front either. However, this launch will likely cause AMD to rethink their HD 7850 and HD 7870 strategies. In many ways, the 660 may be a slightly “safe” graphics card which won’t drastically shake up the market but it does provide a very real alternative to the now overpriced Radeon products.

One area which showed some interesting results was power consumption. While the GTX 660 2GB is a frugal card (particularly in a head to head comparison with the GTX 560 Ti), our tests did find the HD 7870 needed slightly less operational power. Again, this results will likely vary from one situation to the next depending upon core utilization and a number of other points but it should be quite obvious that AMD and NVIDIA have made some huge strides in the efficiency field.

Both the MSI and EVGA cards in this review will be available at launch for just $219, making for great value added propositions. Though EVGA does hold a slight edge in performance and warranty support, MSI surges ahead when temperatures and acoustics are taken into account. The choice between these two products will likely come down to brand preference since each provide a phenomenal gaming experience without charging a premium. We’d highly recommend either one even though they only add 3-7% to in-game framerates. More importantly, both of these GTX 660s showed plenty of overclocking poise which allowed them to match and in some cases surpass the GTX 660 Ti with minimal effort on the end user’s part.

The GTX 660 isn’t quite a game changer but it offers enough performance to satisfy the vast majority of gamers and its mere presence will likely cause mid-tier graphics card prices to reach new levels of affordability. Many were hoping that Kepler would finally hit the $199 price point but that hasn't quite happened, nor will it happen anytime soon unless the GTX 660 receives a price cut. But until then, the GTX 660’s accessible price, relatively high performance and wide-ranging feature set should have a profound impact upon the PC gaming market.

MSI GTX 660 Twin Frozr OC & EVGA GTX 660 Superclocked

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