NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 Review

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: March 25, 2010
Product Name: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
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We will be breaking our GTX 400 series articles into two separate reviews: the one you are reading right now which will concentrate on the high-end GTX 480 while the other will take an in-depth look at the more palatably-priced GTX 470. Click here to proceed to the GTX 470 review.

Finally. After more than a year of rampant speculation, countless false leads, a distinct lack of credible leaks and more aimless discussions than we care to remember, NVIDIA is letting the GF100 architecture out of the bag. With the GTX 480 and GTX 470, they are ready to answer ATI’s assault on the DX11 marketplace and it’s quite obvious people are ready for some competition. Like it or not, even before their release NVIDIA’s GTX 400 series may have already been the most popular graphics products this market has probably ever seen. Interestingly enough, this massive amount of popularity hasn’t been due to any overt marketing tactics on NVIDIA’s part but was fuelled by the community itself. This actually says a lot about how anxious people are to see these cards make it onto retailers’ shelves.

Before we really get into things, let’s set the stage for these new products. It isn’t exactly a secret that NVIDIA has had an amazingly hard time of it while ATI introduced their entire HD 5000 series DX11 line-up over the course of a few short months. The GTX 295, 285, 275 and 260 were all but discontinued since they never had a chance when it came to their price / performance ratio versus the 40nm ATI cards. NVIDIA has also lost a valuable portion of their market share to ATI considering the red team managed to ship over a million DX11 products before NVIDIA even had the chance to offer a single competitor. The main reason behind this delay is NVIDIA chose to proceed with a highly complicated architecture that proved to be a royal pain in the ass to produce in volume while their competition was able to slightly modify and expand upon an existing design. Not only did this allow ATI to achieve a 7-month monopoly in the DX11 marketplace but it also caused significant worry about the viability of GF100 itself. Nonetheless, the GTX 480 and GTX 470 are finally here and are here to stay…for the time being.

The higher end of the two cards –the GTX 480- is the one we will be focusing on in this particular review and it will also represent NVIDIA’s flagship product for the time being. Accordingly, it is set to go up against the HD 5870 for the fastest single GPU crown while bringing technologies such as 3D Vision Surround, OpenCL support and the CUDA GPGPU programming language to the table. Talking about features is one thing but in what will be a disappointment for many, NVIDIA decided to give their current flagship product 480 cores even though the architecture itself supports 512. We are expecting a 512 core product to make its way into the market at some point but at least not for the next several months. Nonetheless, we have been told that even the 480 core version is considered the hottest-running single GPU card around.

The lack of a fully-endowed card may seem disappointing at first but it may also prove to be a boon for potential customers when it comes to the amount of money they have to invest for NVIDIA’s latest and greatest. Pricing isn’t nearly as astronomical as some had predicted with the GTX 480 going for $499 USD which actually brings it within the budgets of people who can’t justify spending $700 and more on an ultra high end HD 5970. The price for this card is particularly stunning when you consider the launch cost of past NVIDIA cards: $649 for the GTX 280 and about the same for the 8800 GTX. Meanwhile, with the HD 5870 currently hovering around the $425USD mark before rebates, it should be interesting to see how the supposed horsepower of the GTX 480 looks from a performance per dollar perspective.

We know you are excited to get on with this review but if there is anyone out there who wants additional background information, we suggest you take a look at our dedicated GF100 article that covers everything from architecture scaling to compute performance. We will be using some of that article’s passages here but there is a ton of additional reading contained therein.


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