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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
***Genuine NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 Engineering Sample (A1 Revision) Review***



Introduction

This card was "accidentally" discovered upon purchase of a mystery GPU (looking like a GT200 series video card) located on a bid on eBay. Link Here. Originally I purchased it expecting it to be some dead GT200 series GPU just so I could try out the oven bake method and see if I could revive it. But upon reception of this GPU, I had noticed it was quite unusual in some ways. In most cases it was resembling a GTX280 because it had a backplate and also an 8+6 pin power connector configuration. The best my guess would have been is that this is an OEM GTX280. However, first difference I noticed is that there were no stickers or marking on it what-so-ever. Secondly, this card had a silver aluminum top sink (which was never seen before). Thirdly this card seemed to be heavier and made of a much higher quality than the previous GTX280's I have worked with. Upon further inspection and detailed Google searches, I realized this was no ordinary GTX280.

It appeared that I have just received a Genuine NVIDIA GTX 280 Engineering Sample, and not just any engineering sample but an A1 Revision (meaning one of the first GT200 video cards ever made). Of course you can expect I was a little skeptical and I had thought that there would be no chance this video card was working. So I decided to give it to a friend of mine to test it while I was away. And surely enough, the card POSTed and booted perfectly fine into Windows. Soon as I came home I decided to disassemble it and take a close look at what this thing looked like from the inside. Let's see what this thing looks like:

Closer Look









Disassembly

























Thermal Paste Cleaning/Replacement and Reassembly











First Impression Detailed

Straight on first inspection, I could tell this thing was unusually well made. The quality of the parts they used to build this thing was unlike I've seen before and the cooier looked exceptionally effective due to it's design. I can tell you for a fact the cooler design is much different on the retail GTX280's. It also appeared that NVIDIA is smart with their thermal paste application and doesn't overdo it (unlike it's partners). The only thing I was somewhat surprised about is that NVIDIA decided to go with the cheaper Hynix video memory manufacturer. They aren't known to be the most exceptional RAM producers but this video memory did seem a little better than I expected.

At this point, the procedure was reversed and the card was reassembled and prepped for tomorrow night's testing.

Test Setup

Motherboard: EVGA nForce 780i
BIOS Version: P09 (Latest)
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 (4.27 GHz)
RAM: OCZ Vista Upgrade 4GB 800 MHz DDR2 (5-6-6-18-2T Timings)
HD: Samsung 80GB SATA
PSU: Delta Electronics 800 Watt
CPU Heatsink: Xigmatek Dark Knight HDT-1283V
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit
Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 186.18 64-Bit

Benchmark Settings

3DMark Vantage Professional Edition: Default Performance Settings
Crysis v1.2.1: 1440x900/1680x1050/1920x1200, "Very High" Settings, no AA, DirectX 10, 64-Bit

Temperature Testing Settings

Furmark: 1440x900, Stability Test, Xtreme Burning Mode, 16xAA, no Post-Processing

BIOS Settings

Stock BIOS: 62.00.01.00.D5

Core Clock: 600 MHz
Shader Clock: 1300 MHz
Memory Clock: 1050 MHz
Stock Voltage: 1.05 V

Updated BIOS: 62.00.0E.00.01

Core Clock: 602 MHz
Shader Clock: 1296 MHz
Memory Clock: 1107 MHz
Stock Voltage: 1.18 V

Testing

Benchmark Results

Stock BIOS

3DMark Vantage Professional Edition (PhysX Disabled)



3DMark Vantage Professional Edition (PhysX Enabled)



Crysis v1.2.1



Raw Data

Run #1: Minimum FPS: 13.08, Average FPS: 22.16, Maximum FPS: 35.02
Run #2: Minimum FPS: 11.32, Average FPS: 18.595, Maximum FPS: 28.30
Run #3: Minimum FPS: 9.80, Average FPS: 16.065, Maximum FPS: 23.69

Updated BIOS

3DMark Vantage Professional Edition (PhysX Disabled)



3DMark Vantage Professional Edition (PhysX Enabled)



Crysis v1.2.1



Raw Data

Run #1: Minimum FPS: 22.57, Average FPS: 33.065, Maximum FPS: 41.73
Run #2: Minimum FPS: 19.34, Average FPS: 26.895, Maximum FPS: 33.67
Run #3: Minimum FPS: 16.26, Average FPS: 22.33, Maximum FPS: 27.16

Overclocking

Stock BIOS Maximum Stable Overclock

Core Clock: 650 MHz
Shader Clock: 1400 MHz
Memory Clock: 1200 MHz

Updated BIOS Maximum Stable Overclock

Core Clock: 675 MHz
Shader Clock: 1400 MHz
Memory Clock: 1200 MHz

Overclocked Testing

Benchmark Results

Stock BIOS

3DMark Vantage Professional Edition (PhysX Disabled)



3DMark Vantage Professional Edition (PhysX Enabled)



Crysis v1.2.1



Raw Data

Run #1: Minimum FPS: 14.69, Average FPS: 24.455, Maximum FPS: 38.62
Run #2: Minimum FPS: 12.60, Average FPS: 20.51, Maximum FPS: 31.18
Run #3: Minimum FPS: 11.00, Average FPS: 17.71, Maximum FPS: 26.34

Updated BIOS

3DMark Vantage Professional Edition (PhysX Disabled)



3DMark Vantage Professional Edition (PhysX Enabled)



Crysis v1.2.1



Raw Data

Run #1: Minimum FPS: 23.31, Average FPS: 35.72, Maximum FPS: 45.36
Run #2: Minimum FPS: 21.11, Average FPS: 29.35, Maximum FPS: 36.97
Run #3: Minimum FPS: 17.87, Average FPS: 24.375, Maximum FPS: 29.33

Temperature Testing Results

Stock BIOS



Stock BIOS (Overclocked)



Updated BIOS



Updated BIOS (Overclocked)



Conclusion


When I first started to test the video card with 3DMark Vantage, I have noticed an unusually low score compare to what regular GTX280's were getting, so I decided to go and test Crysis afterwords. Upon testing I had also found that the results were unusually low for a GTX280, almost on par with a 9800GT. Well as you would expect, I seemed a bit puzzled and confused at first and thought to myself, is this really all the card could handle? No way. So I decided to think of several reason for my terribly low performance and I had come to the conclusion that either the updated drivers lacked proper support for earlier revisions of this card (since they were never release) or, the BIOS might be some kind of primitive "debugging BIOS" used in NVIDIA labs for testing and diagnosing purposes. So I decided to give it a shot and find the latest NVIDIA-based GTX280 BIOS on MVKTech.net. When I first came up with the idea I thought, there is no way the hardware would be similar enough to make this work, but I decided to try it anyways and see if it might just work and if it didn't I would just reflash back to the original. So I saved a copy of the original BIOS (since I knew there was no where I could find it online if anything went wrong) and decided to proceed with the flash. And surely enough, upon reboot, I was ecstatic to see that EVGA splash screen.

Even though I did flash the BIOS, I decided to use NiBitor to compare the two BIOS's before further testing. And from what I saw, aside from clocks and voltages, there wasn't a single thing different that would make the card operate any different. Regardless of my findings I decided to test it anyways and see if there might be some miracle and it actually performs properly. As soon as that Crysis benchmark loaded and started going I noticed a drastic difference in FPS. Everything start moving so swiftly and smoothly. I decided to wait for the results before making any assumptions and surely enough, as soon as the results came up, I saw a near 50% increase in performance all around. At this point, I decided to flash back to the previous BIOS and start testing and recording my results. Soon as I was finished I reflashed back to the newer BIOS and test again to compare my findings. After confirming the vast performance increase I decided to follow it up with overclocking on both BIOS's to see if one overclocked better than the other as well as testing the temperatures.

Soon as I completed all my tests I was able to find that my performance was far greater. The overclocking potential of the older BIOS was quite limited due to the fact that the voltages on the original BIOS were lower which in effect limited the stability at higher clocks. And upon all my testing, I had decided to stay with updated BIOS due to the fact that, even with overclocked clocks, the original BIOS couldn't achieve anywhere near the performance of the upgraded BIOS. To sum up this very interesting review, I can honestly say, this card is unlike the likes of which I've ever seen before. It is amazingly well built with very solid cooling and performs (on the new BIOS) like a champion. In effect I can confirm that this risky purchase was worth every penny and will definitely go down as one of the luckiest purchases I've ever made.
 

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993 Posts
Very nice! I noticed one of the pictures showed some wires soldered to one of the Vregs.
Lets see how good this thing clocks!
 

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Nice, but I would think that card would have less juice than mine. Seems like it was kind of a ghetto put-together by Nvidia (even for an engineering sample).
 

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This is going to be interesting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
From checking out the sticker numbers I believe this may be either the 8th or 36th GTX280 ever made.

Most likely the 8th because the number is visible on both the GPU itself and part of model number tag at the end.

Number 8 References:

G200-300-A1 #8 (seen in sticker 1)
and
Faded number 8 (seen in GPU shot)

Number 36 References:

036 Made In USA (seen in sticker 3)
and
036-14-08 (seen in sticker 4)
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Just to update, I am currently in the process of testing this thing and I have a little surprise in store for you guys. I found a very simple tweak to increase the performance by almost 50% over stock. Details will be in updated post so feel free to subscribe and check in later tonight for updates (and yes, there will be screenshots
).
 

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This is VERY cool. I can't wait to see some results.

Though I misread it for GTX 380 at first, lol.
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Open1Your1Eyes0 View Post


The "Not for EMC Testing" I mentioned in the other thread is only present on Nvidia engineering samples.

Of course the "eng sample" printing on the GPU itself will also give it away.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Open1Your1Eyes0 View Post
Straight on first inspection, I could tell this thing was unusually well made. The quality of the parts they used to build this thing was unlike I've seen before and the cooier looked exceptionally effective due to it's design. I can tell you for a fact the cooler design is much different on the retail GTX280's. It also appeared that NVIDIA is smart with their thermal paste application and doesn't overdo it (unlike it's partners). The only thing I was somewhat surprised about is that NVIDIA decided to go with the cheaper Hynix video memory manufacturer.
Actually the cooler looks pretty normal to me. Here's a review with pictures (see first pic) of a retail GTX 280 (GPU is A2 and doesn't say "eng sample").

Nvidia uses both Hynix and Samsung as memory suppliers, so it isn't very surprising.

As for quality, I'm not sure how it differs from a retail GTX 280 (will have to see side-by-side) but typically in the lifespan of a graphics card, if it goes through any revisions it is typically to make it cheaper. The original retail GTX 280 was extremely overbuilt because it was a high end and expensive product, as well as being very complex. An example of the complexity is that it is a 14 layer PCB that supported 32 RAM chips. Quadro models based on this product had 4GB RAM using twice as many and double the density of RAM chips versus the GTX 280. On the contrary current cards like the GTX 275 are only 8 layer PCB.

As far as "Nvidia" thermal paste versus "partner" thermal paste, well, all GTX 280 were made by Flextronics for Nvidia, and Nvidia distributed complete cards (with heatsink/fan already attached) to the partners for branding. That's why these are considered "reference" cards. So, all the thermal paste applications are the same unless there were changes slipstreamed into the process. What you saw on this sample card was probably hand-applied.
 

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I support the belief that it's #8. Numbering Eng samples is something I've seen on pictures of other 200 series cards. And it was always in what looks like permanent marker.

You could have a collectors item on your hand!
 
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