Zotac GeForce GTX 295 review

Simply the fastest graphics card on this little planet, but are you ready for it?

TechRadar Verdict

Some people want it all, at whatever the cost. If that sounds like you, say hello to your new GPU.


  • +

    The fastest graphics card ever built

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    Makes games look fabulous


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    Needs a beefy PC and a huge screen

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    That's a lot of cash

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How big is your screen? Just big, really big, or bigger than a pregnant hippo? If you can see the wall behind it, then you probably don't need a GeForce GTX 295.

We're serious – and we're not suggesting that you push your nose up to the screen in order to join this exclusive club either.

If you did that, the only person you'd be cheating is yourself – at least that's what my teachers used to say. But then they also told me that playing computer games would never lead to anything…

Hi-res heaven

Anyway, back to the point: in more quantifiable terms we're talking about 26-inch screens and up. Specifically anything that has a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600.

We're setting this as a requirement for this graphics card because it's at this resolution that the GTX 295 really comes into its own, and makes any kind of sense.

This is an incredibly fast card, but you're going to need a really big screen in order to really appreciate its twin-GPU prowess. Owners of lower resolution screens can spend a lot less money and enjoy just as fast framerates.

Sure, you can stick it into that machine wired up to a 19-inch screen, but that's like sticking a jet engine to a shopping trolley. The GTX 295 is powerful, hungry and as you'd expect from a cutting-edge slice of computing, not exactly what you'd call cheap – seriously, look again, this isn't going to be something you buy on a whim to help you get through those long mundane Monday mornings.

This is pro-gaming kit that needs complimentary hardware to really shine. Now that's out of the way, we can go straight for the jugular – the GeForce GTX 295 is quite simply the fastest graphics card available today.

It's a reclaiming of the performance crown by Nvidia that usurps AMD's phenomenally successful 4870 X2, and proves that its move to a new manufacturing process was a wise one. The king is dead, long live the king...

The real deal

The GTX 295 isn't Nvidia's first attempt at producing a dual-GPU solution, but given that previous examples have been little more than demonstrations of technology (without the actual supply to make an impact on the market), this is effectively its first serious attempt at a real dual-GPU solution.

One thing that Nvidia can thank AMD for is proving that there's a real market for these number-crunching monsters – due at least in part to the growing affordability of the bigger screens.

Updated architecture

The GTX 295 isn't particularly new technology, but rather a tweaking of previous silicon to make the large-scale dream a reality. It's actually another outing for Nvidia's tenth-generation DX10 200 series architecture, selecting some of the features of the GTX 280 and the 260.

Each core, for instance, boasts the 240 unified shaders and 80 texture mapping units of the 280, but instead of the 32 Render Outputs of the 280, it has the same number as the 260 (28 for those not in the know).

These cores trip along at 576MHz (whereas the 280's span along at 602MHz) with the 448-bit memory bus operating at just under a gig at 999MHz (although the 280 managed 1107MHz). However, this means that the GeForce GTX 295 calls on a massive memory bandwidth of 223.8GB/s combined, which will win it some serious top trump battles.

The 4870 X2 still wins the memory face-off, with its 2GB of GDDR5 beating the 1,792MB of GDDR3 attached to the GTX 295's cores, but these numbers aren't the whole story. Nvidia is currently pushing 'Graphics Plus', which means that the GTX 295 is backed up by some serious marketing.

This does at least encompass some cool tech: GeForce 3D Vision may need even more kit, but the end results can be impressive. The fact that the core can turn its hand to PhysX manipulation is also a tick in the right box (although we're still waiting for that killer app).

Power hungry

Despite the die-shrink to 55nm, this is still a power hungry and potentially hot card – with Nvidia claiming a maximum temperature of 105°C, it isn't an option for that fanless PC you've always had your eye on.

Indeed, if you're out to save the planet, then the thermal design power of 289W will have you breaking into a sweat, even if Zotac's card keeps well below that.

In testing, the maximum temperature we recorded from our well-ventilated system was 83°C – no need to call for the fire brigade just yet. We didn't have much joy overclocking the card despite the headroom available, though.

But you shouldn't underestimate how hungry the GTX 295 is. The machine we first tried to test it in had the requisite 6-pin and 8-pin connectors, but as it was only rated at 620W, it crushed our initial hopes and refused to boot – managing little more than a corrupt output image at POST.

Nvidia actually quotes a minimum PSU rating of 680W, but just to make sure we went straight for a 1,000W unit (you know, just in case) and it worked just fine.

Drivers beware

It's not just about hardware of course – the state of drivers for these dual-GPU cards needs to be spot on too. AMD hasn't been having much luck with drivers of late; forcing the normally mild-mannered Dave to scream at his screen, to name but one unwitting victim.

There have been problems with the Core i7 platform in particular, and while AMD has been working hard to sort such issues out, it all equates to a dropping of confidence in the red camp. This makes the timing of this release spot on.

Of course, the muscle behind Nvidia's 'The Way It's Meant To Be Played' branding helps to ensure that games work with this card too – which is reassuring.

We've not mentioned it so far, but inevitably you're going to have to justify this upgrade, if not to your loved ones, then at least to yourself. The best part of £400 is a lot to spend on anything, let alone a single component that requires cutting-edge kit elsewhere to really shine.

Even so, this is essentially two GPUs in one, and while it couldn't really be described as cheap, it does offer reasonable value for money given its processing capabilities. It certainly performs well.

Pricey option

There is a rather boring side to the graphics market at the moment though, and that is the success of the GTX 295 is going to be defined more by finances than by it's core capabilities – a situation made all the more complicated by the release of the GTX 285 – not because of that card in itself, but the effect it will have on the pricing of the GTX 280.

If there is a sufficient stock of 280s out there, and they start shifting closer to the £200 price point, then the GTX 295 is going to have a tough time competing against a pair of 280s in SLI. At the time of going to press, Scan is selling XFX 280s for £250 apiece.

What the GTX 295 does have in its favour is that it's a single card solution that works straight out of the box. Oh, and the fact that it's the fastest card around. It's not a must buy, but if you missed the last generation of upgrades, this is the card that should fulfill your dreams.