ASUS prides themselves on their non-reference design, which means that aspects of the card that are ASUS-designed, not Nvidia's reference release design. Most of the cheaper graphics cards are simple reference designs with minimal repackaging from Nvidia's specs. This is why you may sometimes be puzzled by two cards that look identical on paper, but one costs $10-20 more, but what you don't see are the subtle details which make a card cooler, quieter, more efficient, or perhaps more aesthetically-pleasing. The GTX 560 Ti 448 edition is one of ASUS' many "fully non-reference" designs. ASUS' three-slot DCUII cooling system is certainly the most obvious non-reference design solution we see with the GTX 560 Ti 448, but we will take a look at some of the other subtleties later as well.
The three-slot DirectCUII (DCUII) cooler found on the GTX 570 and the GTX 560 Ti 448 were the result of weighing the cost of cooling and acoustics versus the potential loss of compatibility for SLI on some motherboards, based upon surveys of customers in their targetted audience. Since an overwhelming majority of those who responded say that they A) did not use SLI or plan to, and B) placed a large emphasis on acoustic performance, ASUS decided that a "cool and quiet" card would be the best way to satisfy the largest number of their customers. For those who want to slap two of these together in SLI, ASUS has support for trip-slot SLI on all current generations of motherboards.
The tri-slot DCUII cooler is neatly packaged in a hefty, rock solid, and sleek-looking industrial design. The cooler weighs the card down when in the slot, and ASUS has assured us that special design went into accounting for card sag from the weight. The red accents stream straight down the length of the card as though they are racing stripes, and the all-metal enclosure of the cooler provides an elegant and simple design which we appreciate. The subtle contours and lines of the enclosure add a splash of eccentricity, and the cooler surface has a pleasant diffused matte finish.
The back of the PCB also gets some attention in the form of an attractive brushed metal backplate (NOTE: I love the look of brushed metal) which helps prevent card sag and long-term damage to the card from the stress applied by the cooler. It also has an added cooling benefit as it will act as mini-heatsink from the back of the PCB. The backplate also helps dress up the card for presentation in your case, and the ASUS logo and card branding are neatly etched onto the surface. Holes drilled in the backplate allow for heat venting and airflow. Potential circuit damage is also prevented by what ASUS has branded as "GPU Guard," which adds reinforcement to the PCB-GPU interface to prevent damage due to thermal and/or weight stresses.
The NEC SAP CAP, the chip seen between the HSF screws, is mounted directly behind the GPU, placing it as physically close to the GPU as possible, for efficient and reliable power delivery. This "little" detail has a number of implications. Since it is closer to the GPU, there is less resistance (less power loss/heat output) and will deliver a more stable power signal to the GPU.
The SAP capacitors themselves also have much higher capacity than reference caps, which becomes aboslutely crucial for stable power delivery when the card becomes heavily loaded, especially when water cooling or other exotic cooling methods are being used which allow for high power draw. ASUS' non-reference back-to-back design has been so successful over the past few generations that Nvidia has incorporated the same design as the reference for the uber-efficient GTX 600 series. Similar philosophies have also been validated by their employment in ASUS' best-selling motherboards.
The air is driven through the heatsink fins by two 80mm fans, with each having 9-blades. The fan geometry enables good overall noise-to-airflow ratios, and is paramount to the quiet operation of the cooler without sacrificing on cooling capacity. These will get pretty loud when dialed all the way up, as is usually unavoidable with smaller fans.
The one downfall of this cooling system is the lack of airflow directionality. Although the large rear vents of the 3-slot cooler will allow much of the heat to exhaust directly out of the case, much of the heat-carrying airflow will wash around the perimeter of the card, so you'll want to ensure you've got decent case airflow. However, the reduced thermal radiation level of the high-capacity cooling system means lower core temperatures, and can actually lead to lower ambient temperature increases versus hotter rear-exhaust fan systems. ASUS has also dust-proofed its fans to keep them spinning freely and quietly, which is an often-overlooked yet critical design feature.
The GTX 560 Ti 448 is also rocking a display port alongside the HDMI and two DVI ports, and nice kick of added value (if you plan on using it) over most GTX 560 Ti models. All of the ports are also full-size, so no mini-HDMI-to-HDMI adapters here, making good use of the added space on the back of the card. Additionally, the output ports are fully-shielded, something most cards will skip out on. The mounting bracket does do a better job than I had expected of supporting the card, largely because the weight is transmitted to the bracket effectively via the backplate, which greatly reduced sag.
Getting under the hood of ASUS' DCUII-equipped cards is substantially easier than almost any other card, especially reference cards, which have upwards of a dozen or more screws and intricate enclosures. The DCUII cooler comes off with the removal of four spring-tensioned screws which use a basic small philips-head screwdriver. The large surface are of a GPU makes removing the cooler from the GPU core a bit of a nerve-wracking process, but patience will always prevail and the cooler will be free from the PCB.
One thing that's apparent is that the black PCB has a matte finish on it, which looks much better in my opinion than the glossy black PCBs. The circuit traces are also very clean, and is another non-reference re-design that goes deeper than the surface specifications. Another non-reference design ASUS proudly touts is its power delivery system, branded their " Super Alloy Power." The capacitors, chokes and MOSFETs are made from metals which are especially magnetic, heat-resistant, and anti-corrosive - translating into longer lifetimes and more reliable operation. ASUS has also developed their own power management engine, which was designed to provide real-time optimization from low to high power loads.
The Super Alloy Power logo is neatly stamped on the chokes, and a neat heatsink runs across the row of MOSFETs. The MOSFETs are the hottest part of the VRM along with the drivers, especially when bumping up the voltage for overclocking. Many non-reference cards don't have heatsinks on the MOSFETs and Drivers, and this can induce instability which cripples overclock potential. Rounded corners on the PCB are a nice touch, and give the card a sleeker look, although not something that will immediately jump out at you.
The DirectCU name comes from the exposed copper heatpipes seen on many popular CPU coolers, and boosts the efficiency of dissipation from the GPU core to the heatpipes and heatsink which will wick the heat away.
The 1280MB of GDDR5 memory, made by Samsung, neatly encloses the GF110 GPU, and the neat nature of the traces can be clearly seen.