Meet the GTX 480 and GTX 470, Cont

Moving beyond the GF100 GPU itself, we have the boards. With NVIDIA once more forgoing a power-of-two sized memory bus on their leading part, the number of memory chips and the total memory size of the GTX 400 series is once again an odd amount. On the GTX 480 there are 12 128MB GDDR5 memory chips for a total of 1536MB of VRAM, while the GTX 470 has 10 chips for a total of 1280MB. This marks the first big expansion in memory capacity we’ve seen out of NVIDIA in quite some time; after introducing the 8800GTX in 2006 with 768MB of RAM, we haven’t seen them do anything besides bump up 256-bit/512-bit memory bus parts to 1GB over the years. And with 256MB GDDR5 due in volume later this year, we wouldn’t be surprised to see NVIDIA push a 3GB part before the year is out.

Meanwhile in a stark difference from the GTX 200 series, the GTX 400 series does not share a common design and cooler. This leads to the GTX 480 and GTX 470 being remarkably different cards. The GTX 470 is essentially a slight variation on the GTX 200 series design, utilizing a similar fully shrouded design as those cards. Meanwhile the GTX 480 is positively alien coming from the GTX 200 series in two distinct ways. The first is the 4 heatpipes from the top of the card (with a 5th one staying within the card), and the second is the fully exposed heatsink grill on the front of the card. That’s exactly what it looks like folks – that’s the top of the heatsink on the GTX 480. At this point it’s mostly an intellectual curiosity (we have no idea whether it makes the GTX 480’s cooler all that better) but we did learn the hard way that it’s not just cosmetic, it can get very hot.

One new thing that both cards do share in common is that the shroud is no longer a single large device; on the GTX 480 and GTX 470 the top of the shroud can be snapped on and off, allowing easy access to the heatsink and fan assemblies. We can’t imagine that most users will ever want to remove the top of the shroud, but this is one of the cooler design elements we’ve seen in a video card in recent years. It’ll be interesting to see if this proves to be beneficial for aftermarket coolers, as this should make installation/uninstallation much more expedient.

One other common element between the cards is that they have a cut-out PCB for pulling in air both from the front side and the back side of the card. We’ve seen this before on the GTX 295, but this is the first time we’ve seen this design element on a single-GPU card.

For those of you working with cramped cases, you should find these cards to be a pleasant surprise. The GTX 470 is 9.5”, making it the same length as the Radeon 5850 (or nearly 1” shorter than the GTX 200 series). On the other hand the GTX 480 measures 10.5”, which is ever so slightly longer than the GTX 200 series which we measure at 10.45”. We’re also happy to report that NVIDIA put the PCIe power plugs on the top of both cards, rather than on the rear of the card as AMD did on the Radeon 5850. Practically speaking, both of these cards should fit in to a wider array cases than AMD’s respective cards.

Even though these cards will fit in to smaller cases though, airflow will be paramount due to the high TDP of these cards. NVIDIA’s own reviewers guide even goes so far as to recommend spacing your cards out as far as possible for SLI use. This actually isn’t a bad idea no matter what cards are involved since it ensure neither card is restricted by the other, however given that not every board with a 3rd PCIe x16 slot offers full bandwidth to that slot, it’s not a practical suggestion for all cases. If you can’t separate your cards, you’re going to want great airflow instead, such as putting a fan directly behind the cards.

Up next is the port layout of the GTX 400 series. Unlike AMD, NVIDIA’s TDP is too high here to go with a half-slot vent here, so NVIDIA is limited to what ports they can fit on a single full slot. In this case their reference design is a pair of DVI ports and a mini-HDMI port (this being the first cards with that port in our labs). Bear in mind that GF100 doesn’t have the ability to drive 3 displays with a single card, so while there are 3 DVI-type outputs here, you can only have two at once.

After having seen DisplayPort on virtually every AMD card in our labs, we were caught a bit off guard by the fact that NVIDIA didn’t do the same and go with something like a mini-DisplayPort here for a 2x DVI + 1x mini-DP configuration like we’ve seen on the Radeon 5970. NVIDIA tells us that while they could do such a thing, their market research has shown that even their high-end customers are more likely to purchase a monitor with HDMI than with DP, hence the decision to go with mini-HDMI. This is somewhat academic since DVI can easily be converted to HDMI, but this allows NVIDIA’s partners to skip the dongles and makes it easier to do audio pass-through for monitors with built-in speakers.

Speaking of audio, let’s quickly discuss the audio/video capabilities of the GTX 400 series. GF100 has the same audio/video capabilities as the 40nm GT 200 series launched late last year, so this means NVIDIA’s VP4 for video decoding (H.264/MPEG-2/VC-1/MPEG-4 ASP) and internal passthrough for audio. Unfortunately the latter means that the GTX 400 series (and other first-generation Fermi derivatives) won’t be able to match AMD’s Radeon 5000 series in audio capabilities – NVIDIA can do compressed lossy audio(DD/DTS) and 8 channel uncompressed LPCM, but not lossless compressed audio formats such as DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD. This leaves the HTPC crown safely in AMD’s hands for now.

Finally we have bad news: availability. This is a paper launch; while NVIDIA is launching today, the cards won’t be available for another two and a half weeks at a minimum. NVIDIA tells us that the cards are expected to reach retailers on the week of April 12th, which hopefully means the start of that week and not the end of it. In either case we have to chastise NVIDIA for this; they’ve managed to have hard launches in the past without an issue, so we know they can do better than this. This is a very bad habit to get in to.

Once these cards do go on sale, NVIDIA is telling us that the actual launch supply is going to be in the tens-of-thousands of units. How many tens-of-thousands? We have no idea. For the sake of comparison AMD had around 30,000 units for the 5800 series launch, and those were snapped up in an instant. We don’t think NVIDIA’s cards will sell quite as quickly due to the pricing and the fact that there’s viable competition for this launch, but it’s possible to have tens-of-thousands of units and still sell out in a heartbeat. This is something we’ll be watching intently in a couple of weeks.

The availability situation also has us concerned about card prices. NVIDIA is already starting off behind AMD in terms of pricing flexibility; 500mm3+ dies and 1.5GB of RAM does not come cheap. If NVIDIA does manage to sell the GTX 400 series as fast as they can send cards out then there’s a good chance there will be a price hike. AMD is in no rush to lower prices and NVIDIA’s higher costs mean that if they can get a higher price they should go for it. With everything we’ve seen from NVIDIA and AMD, we’re not ready to rule out any kind of price hike, or to count on any kind of price war.

Index The GF100 Recap
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  • bala_gamer - Friday, April 02, 2010 - link

    Did you guys recieve the GTX480 earlier than other reviewers? There were 17 cards tested on 3 drivers and i am assuming tests were done multiple times per game to get an average. installing, reinstalling drivers, etc 10.3 catalyst drivers came out week of march 18.

    Do you guys have multiple computers benchmarking at the same time? I just cannot imagine how the tests were all done within the time frame.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    Our cards arrived on Friday the 19th, and in reality we didn't start real benchmarking until Saturday. So all of that was done in roughly a 5 day span. In true AnandTech tradition, there wasn't much sleep to be had that week. ;-) Reply
  • mrbig1225 - Tuesday, April 06, 2010 - link

    I felt compelled to say a few things about nvidia’s Fermi (480/470 GTX). I like to always start out by saying…let’s take the fanboyism out of the equation and look at the facts. I am a huge nvidia fan, however they dropped the ball big time. They are selling people on ONE aspect of DX11 (tessellation) and that’s really the only thing there cards does well but it’s not an efficient design. What people aren’t looking at is that their tessellation is done by the polymorh engine which ties directly into the cuda cores, meaning the more cuda cores occupied by shaders processing…etc the less tessellation performance and vice versa = less frames per sec. As you noticed we see tons of tessellation benchmarks that show the gtx 480 is substantially faster at tessellation, I agree when the conditions suite that type of architecture (and there isn’t a lot of other things going on). We know that the gf100(480/470gtx) is a computing beast, but I don’t believe that will equate to overall gaming performance. The facts are this gpu is huge (3billion + transistors), creates a boat load of heat, and sucks up more power than any of the latest dual gpu cards (295gtx, 5970) came to market 6 months late and is only faster than its single gpu competition by 10-15% and some of us are happy? Oh that’s right it will be faster in the future when dx11 is relevant…I don’t think so for a few reasons but ill name two. If you look at the current crop of dx11 games, the benchmarks and actual dx11 game benchmarks (shaders and tessellation…etc) shows something completely different. I think if tessellation was nvidia’s trump card in games then basically the 5800 series would be beat substantially in any dx11 title with tessellation turned on…we aren’t seeing that(we are seeing the opposite in some circumstances), I don’t think we will. I also am fully aware that tessellation is scalable, but that brings me to another point. I know many of you will say that it is only in extreme tessellation environments that we really start to see the nvidias card take off. Well if you agree with that statement then you will see that nvidia has another issue. The 1st is the way they implement tessellation in their cards (not very scalable imo) 2nd is, the video card industry sales are not comprised of high end gpus, but the cheaper mainstream ones. Since nvidia polymorph engine is tied directly to its shaders…u kinda see where this is going, basicly less powerful cards will be bottlenecked by their lack of shaders for tessellation and vice versa. Developers want to make money, the way they make money is selling lots of games, example crysis was a big game, however it didn’t break any records sales…truth of the matter is most people systems couldn’t run crysis. Now you look at valve software and a lot of their titles sale well because of how friendly it is to mainstream gpus(not the only thing but it does help). The hardware has to be there to support a large # of game sales, meaning that if the majority of parts cannot do extreme levels of tessellation then you will find few games to implement it. Food for thought… can anyone show me a dx11 title that the gtx480 handily beats the 5870 by the same amount that it does in the heaven benchmark or even close to that. I think as a few of you have said, it will come down to what game work better with what architecture..some will benefit nvidia(Farcry2..good example) others Ati (Stalker)…I think that is what we are seeing now. IMO
    P.S. I think also why people are pissed is because this card was stated to be 60% faster than the 5870. As u can see its not!!
    Reply
  • houkouonchi - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    Why the hell are the screenshots showing off the AA results in a lossy JPEG format instead of PNG like pretty much anything else? Reply
  • dzmcm - Monday, April 12, 2010 - link

    I'm not familiar with Battleforge firsthand, but I understood it uses HD Ambient Occlusion wich is a variation of Screen Space Ambient Occlusion that includes normal maps. And since it's inception in Crysis SSAO has stood for Screen Space AO. So why is it called Self Shadow AO in this article?

    Bit-tech refers to Stalker:CoP's SSAO as "Soft Shadow." That I'm willing to dismiss. But I think they're wrong.

    Am I'm falling behind with my jargon, or are you guys not bothering to keep up?
    Reply
  • nyran125 - Monday, April 12, 2010 - link

    Im going wiht the less power hungry ati 5000 series. I know a 5850 card will easily fit in my Case aswell. There no way id choose the GTX 470 over any of the ati s870 or 5850 cards. So that only leaves the GTX 480 against either the 5870 or the 5850. The performance increase and power increase is NOT worth me paying for a nvidia card thats higher in price over the 5870.

    I meen even looking at the games. The games ill probably play Crysis adn BAttlefield bad company 2 come out on top of the nivdia 480 GTX. so bla.

    Nvidia you need to make a much bette rcard than that fo rme to spend money on a GTX 470 or GTX 480 ove rthe 5870 or 5850.
    Reply
  • nyran125 - Monday, April 12, 2010 - link

    oh and secondly, if your buying a 200 series nivida card or the GTX 480 it isnt fast enough to future proof your computer. You might aswell go spend less money on a 5970 or a single 5870 you know it will last for the next 2 years and the GTX 480 will NOT last any longer than teh 5000 series with its 10-15% performance increase. I didnt like the 200 series nvidia cards and im not interested in even MORE power hungry cards that. I want less power hungry cards and efficiency. To me a game plays bugger all different with 60 FPS average and 100 fps average. If you have a 200 series card save your money and wait for the next gen of cards or at least wait till a DX 11 game actualyl comes out not just Just cause friggin 2.. Reply
  • vagos - Thursday, April 15, 2010 - link

    ok all theese cards are nice. new technology is very welcome. but where is the games to push them?? if i spent 400$ or 500$ on a new card where i could see a really big difference against my old 8800GT?? they sell hardware without software to support it...2 or 3 games makes no difference to me. ps3 an xbox360 have very old graphic cards compared to ati 5800 series and nvidia 400 and still tha games are looking beautifull. an in some cases mauch better than on pc...
    make new games for pc and then i will buy a new card! until then i will stuck with my xbox360...
    Reply
  • Drizzit101 - Sunday, May 09, 2010 - link

    I have been running the GTX 295. The plan was to buy a second GTX 295. Looking at the prices, I was thinking about just buying two GTX 470's. What the better move? Reply
  • Krazy Glew - Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - link

    See http://semipublic.comp-arch.net/wiki/Poor_Man%27s_...

    In particular
    US patent 7,117,421, Transparent error correction code memory system and method,
    Danilak,
    assigned to Nvidia,
    2002.

    http://semipublic.comp-arch.net/wiki/Poor_Man%27s_...
    Reply

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