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Just before the end of each current graphics generation, ASUS puts the cherry on top of it and demonstrates its sheer technological power by presenting a limited-edition card to take the throne of the world’s fastest. This sort of statement may seem too pompous at first, but a look back at cards such as ARES and MARS says enough.

 

The company doesn’t wish to favour either graphics manufacturer, so limited editions are split into separate NVIDIA and AMD lines. ARES models are based on Radeons, whereas MARS is reserved for GeForce chips.

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As we’ve had a MARS on our testing table already, albeit a long time ago, it was clear that its heir will get a Roman number two in the name. Judging by the results so far, it seems that both AMD and NVIDIA will become part of a tradition for such an exclusive model to house their chips every second year.

Simple package

The long-awaited MARS II arrives in a large box, resembling those seen with ASUS’ Republic Of Gamers motherboards. We were hoping to come across a plethora of additions in this heavy box, many of which might not be really necessary, but when you’re buying a product of this class, it’s something of a given.

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Not that it’ll impact your decision to buy the actual product, mostly because it’s the main treat that’s important, but all those add-ons and gadgets contribute to the overall feeling. Unfortunately, the only things you’ll find inside MARS II’s box are a few PSU converters, rough manual, and the drivers & software disc.

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The metal plate with the RoG logo which can be placed onto the enclosure is an interesting detail, but that’s it. We have to say we expected more from ASUS in this respect, as this model is limited to about a thousand samples worldwide, with a price tag of around 1350€, an amount of money which can afford you a full-blown high-end system and a good large monitor on top of it.


The Card

With no further discussion, this is the most impressive card that ASUS (or any other manufacturer, for that matter) has ever built. Compared to this one, last year’s ARES looks rather tiny, and believe us that “tiny” was the last of adjectives to describe it back then. We’re very interested in how long ASUS plans to keep this trend going, as we don’t know how much further they’re able to advance in terms of dimensions and mass. Simple laws of physics will have to be observed sooner or later, as MARS II can’t fit most of today’s enclosures, which is just insane. The dimensions of this card are abnormal, as is its mass of around two and a half kilograms, which means that you’d probably have to redesign the entire system you have, with particular regard to the enclosure.

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MARS II is dominated by two 120 mm fans, which is probably the first such appearance on a graphics card’s cooling system. A metal-ceramic frame contains the two fans, dyed in black and red, typically for RoG hardware. It’s difficult to describe, really, but when you get a hold of this graphics card, it’s not only perfectly balanced, but simply feels perfect to touch – it’s instantly visible that it’s a product created to be the best, and enthusiasm which ensues is hard to hide.

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If you remove this protective cover, you’ll see two physically separated aluminium-based cooling systems, criss-crossed by 8 mm-thick copper heatpipes, four for each piece. One of the heatpipes cooling the first GPU is extended and lies on the SLI chip, which should maximise heat transfer efficiency. Quite expectedly, ASUS is using their DirectCU II technology, so the base is essentially made of four flattened heatpipes. It should also be mentioned that this card’s cooler takes up the two neighbouring slots, just like all new DirectCU II models, so even though this used to be frowned upon in a major way, it’s not as surprising these days.

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After disassembling ASUS’ entire cooling system, we got an insight into what steps ASUS had to take to create this graphics card. Firstly, two large graphics chips signed by NVIDIA come into sight; not even NVIDIA itself has dared place two full-blown GF110 graphics chips on a single card. These chips are individually used for GTX580 and have all 512 stream processors. As you might have read somewhere, khm khm, the GTX590, using two Fermi chips with 480 SPs each, had major problems with its power section design, as it turned out to be too weak for these GPUs. In order to avoid all these problems, while choosing even stronger chips, ASUS had to redesign their entire power section heavily.

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The number of phases in the voltage section is an impressive 21, and only the very best elements from the Super Alloy series are used (coils, MOSFETs and capacitors). The black PCB is huge and contains as much as three 8-pin molex connectors, as well as a maximum-power fan switch and the SLI connector. As MARS II is too wide for conventional SLI cables, a specially extended version is supplied with the card. On the front, you’ll find video outputs covering anything you could ever need: there are two DVIs, one HDMI and one DisplayPort connector of standard size. As far as memory goes, a double 384-bit bus is used for each GPU, giving a total of 3 GB for the entire card.

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We have to admit that we were expecting some compromises to be made in the frequency department, as this is, after all, two standard GTX580 in SLI in the body of a single huge card. Yet ASUS surprises us again, since the frequencies for MARS II have even been bumped up a little compared to the standard-issue GTX580. It should also be noted that NVIDIA had to lower their GTX590 clocks significantly, even with slightly restrained chips to begin with. MARS II sets the GPUs to 782 MHz and the memory to 1002 MHz, giving an effective 4 GHz for GDDR5 memory.

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This is truly fascinating, and better yet, we could reach 800 MHz for the GPUs without any increase in voltage. Memory was very overclock-unfriendly, though, but we could cause little but bad karma to count this as a flaw. As the product is targeting gamers, but also record breakers, numerous possibilities have been left open, including welding points to remove all sorts of protection, as for instance the cold bug which appears during liquid nitrogen-based cooling, when the card enters “throttle” thinking that it’s overheating and so on. All this is marked on the PCB as Zone mode, which eases the work for enthusiasts a great deal. Software-guided voltage regulation goes without saying, courtesy of ASUS’ own SHE chips, which are probably just rebranded uPi voltage regulators.

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Specifications & Results

Test setup:

 

CPU: Intel Core i7 3960X @ 4GHz

RAM: 4 x 2GB Kingston HyperX 2133MHz

MoBo: ASUS P9X79-PRO

Storage: WD 500GB

Display: LG W2363D

Dual PSU: Cooler Master UCP 900W + Cooler Master GX650

OS: Windows 7 64bit Ultimate

Driver: ForceWare 285.26 WHQL

 

Specifications ASUS Mars II GeForce GTX580 SLI
GPU 2x GF110
Technology [nm] 40
GPU Clock [MHz] 782
No. of Stream Processors 2x 512
ROP / Texture Units 2x 48 / 2x 64

Memory type / capacity / bus widith

GDDR5 / 2x 1,5 GB / 2x 384-bit

Memory clock / effective clock [MHz]

1.002 / 4.008
Naponski konektori 3x 8-pin

Price [$]

1500
Contact www.asus.com

 

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ASUS Mars II 3GB
Frequency (GPU / SP / MEM) 782MHz / 1564MHz / 1.002MHz (efektivno 4GHz)
1920x1080 4xAA 16xAF 3D Vision 1920x1080 0xAA 0xAF
Futuremark 3DMark 11 (Extreme preset) GPU Score 3.803 -
3DMark Vantage (high preset) GPU Score 27.801 -
Unigine Heaven 2.5 (DX11, high, tesselation) [fps] 104,1 44,8
Crysis 2 (DX11, Ultra, HR Textures) [fps] 119,9 67,7
Crysis Warhead (DX10, Enthusiast) [fps] 89,5 42,3
Metro 2033 (DX11, very high, tesselation) [fps] 68,5 39,1
AvP DX11 (DX11, max) [fps] 91,1 43,8
F1 2010 (DX11, max) [fps] 91 55
Dirt 3 (DX11, Ultra) [fps] 144,8 62,2
Lost Planet 2, Test B (DX11, high) [fps] 85,9 47,8
Power Consumption (Furmark) [W] 739

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Conclusion

Unfortunately, only those with gargantuan pockets will be able to afford this card. Not even a fat wallet will suffice by itself, as MARS II has only been made in 999 copies, which means that a good connection or a firm reservation will be required for you to obtain a sample; then again, those who have the sort of money to get this card also probably have the power to find one.

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In any case, this is by far the best money can buy in the graphics card market of today, and if you’re not discouraged by its price, get one by all means. With a retail price of around 1350€, ASUS has done well to keep quantities this limited.

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Anything less than an Editor’s Choice award would be inappropriate for ASUS’ undertaking of this extent, which gives MARS II a thoroughly justified “gold medal” as awarder by our website.