NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 480 and GTX 470: 6 Months Late, Was It Worth the Wait?by Ryan Smith on March 26, 2010 7:00 PM EST
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To wrap things up, let’s start with the obvious: NVIDIA has reclaimed their crown – they have the fastest single-GPU card. The GTX 480 is between 10 and 15% faster than the Radeon 5870 depending on the resolution, giving it a comfortable lead over AMD’s best single-GPU card.
With that said, we have to take pause for a wildcard: AMD’s 2GB Radeon 5870, which will be launching soon. We know the 1GB 5870 is RAM-limited at times, and while it’s unlikely more RAM on its own will be enough to make up the performance difference, we can’t fully rule that out until we have the benchmarks we need. If the GTX 480 doesn’t continue to end up being the fastest single-GPU card out there, we’ll be surprised.
The best news in this respect is that you’ll have time to soak in the information. With a retail date of April 12th, if AMD launches their card within the next couple of weeks you’ll have a chance to look at the performance of both cards and decide which to get without getting blindsided.
On a longer term note, we’re left wondering just how long NVIDIA can maintain this lead. If a 2GB Radeon isn’t enough to break the GTX 480, how about a higher clocked 5800 series part? AMD has had 6 months to refine and respin as necessary; with their partners already producing factory overclocked cards up to 900MHz, it’s too early to count AMD out if they really want to do some binning in order to come up with a faster Radeon 5800.
Meanwhile let’s talk about the other factors: price, power, and noise. At $500 the GTX 480 is the world’s fastest single-GPU card, but it’s not a value proposition. The price gap between it and the Radeon 5870 is well above the current performance gap, but this has always been true about the high-end. Bigger than price though is the tradeoff for going with the GTX 480 and its much bigger GPU – it’s hotter, it’s noisier, and it’s more power hungry, all for 10-15% more performance. If you need the fastest thing you can get then the choice is clear, otherwise you’ll have some thinking to decide what you want and what you’re willing to live with in return.
Moving on, we have the GTX 470 to discuss. It’s not NVIDIA’s headliner so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. With a price right between the 5850 and 5870, it delivers performance right where you’d expect it to be. At 5-10% slower than the 5870 on average, it’s actually a straightforward value proposition: you get 90-95% of the performance for around 87% of the price. It’s not a huge bargain, but it’s competitively priced against the 5870. Against the 5850 this is less true where it’s a mere 2-8% faster, but this isn’t unusual for cards above $300 – the best values are rarely found there. The 5850 is the bargain hunter’s card, otherwise if you can spend more pick a price and you’ll find your card. Just keep in mind that the GTX 470 is still going to be louder/hotter than any 5800 series card, so there are tradeoffs to make, and we imagine most people would err towards the side of the cooler Radeon cards.
With that out of the way, let’s take a moment to discuss Fermi’s future prospects. Fermi’s compute-heavy and tessellation-heavy design continues to interest us but home users won’t find an advantage to that design today. This is a card that bets on the future and we don’t have our crystal ball. With some good consumer-oriented GPGPU programs and developers taking up variable tessellation NVIDIA could get a lot out of this card, or if that fails to happen they could get less than they hoped for. All we can do is sit and watch – it’s much too early to place our bets.
As for NVIDIA’s ecosystem, the situation hasn’t changed much from 2009. NVIDIA continues to offer interesting technologies like PhysX, 3D Vision, and CUDA’s wider GPGPU application library. But none of these are compelling enough on their own, they’re merely the icing on the cake. But if you’re already in NVIDIA’s ecosystem then the choice seems clear: NVIDIA has a DX11 card ready to go that lets you have your cake and eat it too.
Finally, as we asked in the title, was it worth the wait? No, probably not. A 15% faster single-GPU card is appreciated and we’re excited to see both AMD and NVIDIA once again on competitive footing with each other, but otherwise with much of Fermi’s enhanced abilities still untapped, we’re going to be waiting far longer for a proper resolution anyhow. For now we’re just happy to finally have Fermi, so that we can move on to the next step.