Geforce GTX 650 and GTX 660: Gateway to Gaming
Well we might be a little late to the party with this review but it is better to be late than never, and definitely late and doing it right. When we were briefed on these two cards I can tell you the 660 is something that was exciting but I felt the 650 was going to get overlooked. Looking at the reviews around the net I can see I was right and am glad we pushed for a 650 for review.
With this in mind lets begin with the EVGA GTX 650. This is the baseline GTX 650 card, running at stock speeds with a single gig of memory. The 650 is designed to be a gateway gaming card. What that means is this is the base line card that someone new to computer gaming might look at. To fully understand this concept lets put together a scenario that is going to represent a pretty large portion of new gamers.
Your buddy has been telling you for the last 2 months about how much fun he is having playing Champions Online (or any other MMO or online style game you want to name). Sure he knows you play BF or MW on your Xbox but the games on the PC offer more choices and options, he sure wishes you would join him. So you load up the game of choice on your cookie cutter PC you got from Best Buy and the game runs like CRAP. Your buddy explains that you need a better video card to enjoy the game, now lets get real do you think this scenario will end with a $200+ video card? Of course not, you want a basic, low cost card that will let you see what all the craze is about in PC gaming.
Enter the GTX 650 from nVidia, these cards are priced at around the $110 price point, a cost that would be reasonable to the gaming novice. To help that gaming novice along nVidia made this card with the goal of giving a solid gaming experience at 1080 resolutions with middle of the road detail settings in most games. The choice of 1080 for the target is obvious as it is one of the most used resolutions in gaming and monitor design. The idea of hitting the middle detail levels with this resolution means trying to create realistic performance within the price point.
For our testing I wanted to play out the scenario I listed above so to test the 650 I got a cookie cutter PC using an Intel Core 2 G630 processor with 6 Gigs of RAM. The system was an Asus built computer and can be purchased at Best Buy, or a similar system for around $450. This makes it the type power level of PCs found in most homes of people not yet into gaming.
As you can see in the picture the 650 card is small, very compact, this fits well with it’s target. A lot of the cookie cutter designs that will allow an add-on card are smaller case and this small design fits nicely. The specs on the box claim this card needs a 400 watt PSU, well hit snag one. The cookie cutter PC we used had a 250 watt PSU. I went along with the scenario I had laid out however and presumed to not have the knowledge to foresee this issue. Good news, the card was functional on the 250 watt PSU, I was even able to play Champions Online, World of Tanks and a few other games on it. The bad news was that while gaming the system was pushing it’s PSU right to it’s limit the entire time. The PSU held up for testing but this is NOT a scenario I would recommend. This does however show that picking up a good 350 or 400 watt PSU will give you the juice you will need for this card.
What about the actual game play? The GTX 650 lived up to expectations and delivered a solid gaming experience at 1080 resolutions when the settings were middle of the road. I was able to push the settings up on a few games but the majority would begin to bog down. This is not a bad thing however since this card squarely delivers as promised on the target nVidia set for it.
The GTX 660 is the next up the food chain of the nVidia 600 series. Priced at around $220 this card is aimed again squarely at the 1080 resolution market and this time with the goal of allowing for high detail levels. The GPU on this card is quite a bit more powerful than the 650 and a step down from the 600ti, it might share it’s name but not it’s chip. It does however share the feature set of the 660ti and higher end cards in the lineup, including the ability to boost it’s clock speed automatically and use SLI, both of which are lacking in the GTX 650. The model we got from EVGA is their Superclocked model with 2 Gigs of RAM.
While the 650 is the gateway gaming card the 660 is the mainstream work horse. The price point keeps it within reach of most people and the performance gives a nice boost when that new PC gamer wants to take things to the next level. For our testing purposed we used an Intel i5 3450 with 8 gigs of RAM. Again our goal was to represent a machine that is likely in a scenario were this card would come into play.
We again threw our normal mix of online games at this card but then added such games as Civilization V, Elder Scrolls, Mafia II and a few others. The reason for the increased game selection is the change of target for this card. Someone getting this card is likely not a person new to PC gaming and not being mentored into it by a buddy. This is a gamer that has a more open selection of gaming experiences for the PC and wants to enjoy them. Every game we tested we ran at 1080 with detail level set to high within all the games we ran. Like our testing of the 660ti and 670 we did our tests with Adaptive VSync enabled.
From a pure gaming experience point of view this card delivered in spades, every game had a smooth playback and looked great. In fact only the more hard core gamers I had look at the results could really see any difference between the gaming experience with the 660 and the 660ti. Once we hit the benchmarks however the difference became a little clearer. With the 660ti I could pretty much peg the frame rates at 60 FPS with our testing. (remember vsync is on). With the 660 the rates dropped to an average of around 47 FPS. Now is a drop for sure but member you are saving around $100 on this card over a 660ti and the lower rates were still high enough that the game play was smooth.
These two cards together offer a serious one two punch for the PC gamer. The 650 is a great entry level card, priced at the perfect point for it’s target and offers a performance edge over the competition within it’s price point. The 600 allows a nice step up and still gives a solid budget value and again has a performance edge within it’s price point.
This entire lineup of 600 cards has been really interesting to watch as they have been released. Each step of the way nVidia set clear targets for the cards in terms of the type of gamer and the price range they were shooting for and each time they hit the bull’s-eye dead center. This has been arguably the most impressive card line release I have seen. Each card delivers the best performance in it’s price point and has solid, easily defined lines between each step. The cards are aimed squarely at various ranges of the gamer market and the ranges are clearly defined. Each of the cards are very efficient in their design and the gaming experience is outstanding across the board.
Now we have talked about the cards but we have not mentioned much about the partner that made these cards, EVGA. Each of these cards are very high quality in their build. They tend to be closer to the baseline design produced by nVidia than other partners but EVGA manages to to take those designs and tweak even more out of them. The cards come with a 3 year warranty and this can be extended if you desire for a reasonable fee. I can tell you from a quality point of view I have not had a single EVGA product ever fail on me, something that few other companies can brag about around our labs.
If you are looking for that gateway gaming card for you or a friend I cannot strongly enough recommend the EVGA GTX 650. You can get the 1 Gig card in a Superclocked model for $10 and I would definitely recommend it. A 2 Gig model is also available and while it might give a boost I personally would not go that route with this type of card. The extra memory is nice but the feature set you need to push to make it noticeable is really outside the target of this card. If you want to go the 2 gig route I suggest spending the extra and getting the EVGA GTX 660. The extra cost raises the performance and feature set to a whole new level and still remains a reasonable price point.
As aired live 15 September 2012