Final Words

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.

Temperature, Power, & Noise: Hot and Loud, but Not in the Good Way
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  • Finally - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    Further improvement idea:
    Give the dual-chip/SLI cards also another colour tone.
    Reply
  • lemonadesoda - Sunday, March 28, 2010 - link

    No. Keep colouring simple. Just 3 or 4 colours max. More creates noise. If you need to highlight other results, colour the label, or circle or drop shadow or put a red * a the end.

    Just NO rainbow charts!
    Reply
  • IceDread - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    The article does not contain hd 5970 in CF. The article does not mention the hd 5970 at all under conclusion. This is really weird. It is my belief that anandtech has become pro nvidia and is no longer an objective site. Obejtivity is looking at performance + functionality / price. HD 5970 is a clear winner here. After all, who cares if a card has 1, 2 or 20 gpus? It's the performance / price that matters. Reply
  • Kegetys - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    According to a test in legitreviews.com having two monitors attached to the card causes the idle power use to rise quite a bit, I guess the anand test is done with just one monitor attached? It would be nice to see power consumption numbers for dual monitor use as well, I dont mind high power use during load but if the card does not idle properly (with two monitors) then that is quite a showstopper. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - link

    I have a second monitor (albeit 1680) however I don't use it for anything except 3D Vision reviews. But if dual monitor power usage is going to become an issue, it may be prudent to start including that. Reply
  • henrikfm - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    Now it would be easier to believe only idiots buy ultra-high end PC hardware parts. Reply
  • ryta1203 - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    Is it irresponsible to use benchmarks desgined for one card to measure the performance of another card?

    Sadly, the "community" tries to hold the belief that all GPU architectures are the same, which is of course not true.

    The N-queen solver is poorly coded for ATI GPUs, so of course, you can post benchmarks that say whatever you want them to say if they are coded that way.

    Personally, I find this fact invalidates the entire article, or at least the "compute" section of this article.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - link

    One of the things we absolutely wanted to do starting with Fermi is to include compute benchmarks. It's going to be a big deal if AMD and NVIDIA have anything to say about it, and in the case of Fermi it's a big part of the design decision.

    Our hope was that we'd have some proper OpenCL/DirectCompute apps by the time of the Fermi launch, but this hasn't happened. So our decision was to go ahead with what we had, and to try to make it clear that our OpenCL benchmarks were to explore the state of GPGPU rather than to make any significant claims about the compute capabilities of NVIDIA or AMD's GPUs. We would rather do this than to ignore compute entirely.

    It sounds like we didn't make this clear enough for your liking, and if so I apologize. But it doesn't make the results invalid - these are OpenCL programs and this is what we got. It just doesn't mean that these results will carry over to what a commercial OpenCL program may perform like. In fact if anything it adds fuel to the notion that OpenCL/DirectCompute will not be the great unifier we had hoped for them to be if it means developers are going to have to basically write paths optimized around NVIDIA and AMD's different shader structure.
    Reply
  • ryta1203 - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    The compute section of this article is just nonsense. Is this guy a journalist? What does he know about programming GPUs? Reply
  • Firen - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - link

    Thanks for this comprehensive review, it covers some very interesting topics betwen Team Green and Team Red.

    Yet, I agree with one of the comments here, you missed how easy that ATI 5850 and 5870 can be overlocked thanks to their lite design, a 5870 can easily deliver more or less the same performance as a 480 card while still running cooler and consumes less power..

    Some people might point out that our new 'champion' card can be overlocked as well..that's true..however, doesn't it feel terrifying to have a graphic card running hotter than boiling water!
    Reply

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