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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 Review

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: March 25, 2010
Product Name: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
 
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The GTX 400 Series’ Specifications



As the GF100 architecture has matured through the last few months, a cleared picture of its capabilities and finally clock speeds has begun to take shape. The basis of this architecture (a large, monolithic core for the flaghip products) hasn’t changed much from the days of the G80 and as such the GTX 400 series won’t be packing any high graphics clock speeds. We have to remember that NVIDIA’s cards historically launch at lower clock speeds than those of ATI. For example, the GTX 260 ran at 576Mhz while even the mighty 8800 Ultra clocked in at a mere 612Mhz. The 400-series does however bring NVIDIA some much-needed products to the DX11 marketplace which has been in an ATI stranglehold for some time. Both the GTX 480 and GTX 470 are aimed directly at two cards which ATI has been selling for months now: the HD 5870 and the HD 5850. As such, they are priced accordingly which should actually come as a minor shock to people who are used to new high-end cards retailing in the $400 to $600+ range. It seems like ATI’s stiff competition has had a direct impact upon NVIDIA’s pricing structure.


While the core itself is capable of sporting up to 512 cores, the flagship GTX 480 has mysteriously “lost” 32 cores (totalling one SM) somewhere along the line while the $349 GTX 470 has two SMs disabled giving it 448 cores. With the elimination of a single Streaming Multiprocessor also comes the loss of four texture units but the memory (384-bit), L2 cache (768KB) and ROP (48) structure retains the maximum allowable specifications. It also receives a whopping 1536MB of GDDR5 memory. The choice to go with 480 cores wasn’t discussed at length by NVIDIA but if we had to hazard some guesses, we’d say there currently aren’t enough 512 core parts capable of 700Mhz and higher clocks coming off of the production line. Sacrifices simply had to be made in order to ensure the necessary number of units were available when they are shipped to retailers and that power consumption stayed within optimal parameters (250W in this case). Nonetheless, in the grand scheme of things, the loss of a single SM should not have a significant impact upon performance.


GTX 470 on the other hand is specifically tailored to offer a price / performance solution which rivals the HD 5850. To achieve this while ensuring it would not be much more power hungry than the GTX 285, NVIDIA took the standard GF100 core and cut it down significantly. Not only were a total of 64 cores cut but the ROP / L2 Cache and memory controllers also went under the knife. Clock speeds for both the memory and the core / processor domains were also cut quite a bit when compared to NVIDIA’s GTX 480 which results in a card that is understandably priced a full $150 below the flagship product.

For the foreseeable future, these two cards will be NVIDIA’s claim to fame in the enthusiast GPU market but there are a number of lingering questions. We have heard very little about lower-end cards which could attack price ranges where ATI is currently quite weak in; namely the market currently held by the underperforming HD 5830. In addition, there’s very little doubt in our minds that ATI will soon have something out to counter the GTX 480, so is NVIDIA simply waiting for then to release a 512-core card? Only time will tell but it’s quite obvious that the GPU market will be an interesting place this year.
 
 
 

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