The mid-range for anyone interested in a new graphics card just got reinforced with a proper sweet spot component courtesy ASUS and NVIDIA's 28nm GK104-based GTX 660 GPU, which packs around 3.5 billion transistors. This is an affordable card that will still tear through any current game in 1080p on high settings (or gamer settings as Crytek likes to call them), and if you're on a moderate budget, it's a very decent choice. Slightly tamer than the GTX 660 Ti, the "OEM" GTX 660 uses 960 CUDA cores and carries 2GB GDDR5 on a 192-bit memory interface. Needless to say, this is a PCI Express 3.0/DX11/SM 5.0 card, so no worries there. ASUS veers off the beaten reference path by plonking the DirectCU cooler on this one. We've looked at DirectCU cards plenty times before, and the same holds true here: direct contact copper pipes, bigger heat dissipation area, a better heatsink with improved thermal properties, and dual fans that manage to hit a good balance between air power and reasonable decibel levels. Actually, this is a very quiet card, even by 28nm standards, where pretty much all cards are now virtually silent by the standards of eras bygone. Likely the biggest attraction is once more the fact that this is a TOP edition card, so ASUS puts in GPUs that prove more overclockable from the get go. Out of the box the GTX 660 runs at 1137MHz in boost clock, which is roughly 10% faster than the core boost NVIDIA lists in the reference specs. The base clock is 1072MHz, and the memory is 6.1GHZ GDDR5. I just wrote that without even thinking about it, but just a few years ago numbers like 6GHz memory would get you labeled a liar and thrown out of a room even if it was full of very optimistic overclockers. The overclocking and overvolting theme extends to DIGI+ VRM digital voltage controls, and venerable Super Alloy Power components. The solid state capacitors are rated for a nice 50,000 hours, and the chokes have those concrete cores we've been hearing a lot about lately. GPU Tweak makes an appearance, of course, rounding off a very nice and very tunable product for the asking price. OK, let's move to the product itself, shall we? The box uses the new design as you can see, and also inside we have the modified packaging from recent ASUS GPU outings:
This packing style is a little trickier to open up and unfold, but that's only because it's more intricate and helps keep the card firmly secured in place for shipping, preventing those awkward DOA moments you get with...well, you know!
So in addition to cardboard, we have tight shrink wrapping to prevent unwanted in-box travel, which is a definite plus. Then there's a foam base to buffer the backplate and add more overall protection.
Above we have the GTX 660 DirectCU II TOP out in the open. The design is very consistent with all current ASUS graphics cards. On the back, we have plenty of display options for NVIDIA 3D Surround multi-monitor setups: The front is nice, but leaves room between the shroud and the PCB. Thermally speaking that's probably better, but I'm personally more fond of cards where the shroud/PCB touch or nearly touch all the way around.
From the side, this two-slotter looks nice, with the heatpipes quite apparent.
Here, let's get a closer look at those, plus the fact that you only need a single 6-pin connector to power this card:
We can also zoom in on some of the capacitors and part of the heatsink:
Finally, the PCB underside, or backplate as I like to rather erroneously refer to it. This isn't a MATRIX card so you don't get a literal bullet-stopping plate protecting the underside, but the PCB looks good and feels very sturdy:
Let us know what you think of the GTX 660, which by the way is going to be accompanied by the GTX 650 soon enough. Is this your choice for mid-range performance, or would you go with something else? I'm interested in what you think of the GTX 660's market position in light of the 660 Ti being available, so don't let that comment section go quiet.