Prologue

Because designing GPUs this big is "[redacted] hard"

-NVIDIA’s VP of Product Marketing Ujesh Desai on GF100

Fermi/GF100/GTX400 has been a long time coming. For an industry where the major players are usually in lockstep with each other in some fashion, this latest cycle has been distinctly out of sync. In September of 2009 we saw AMD launch their Radeon 5000 series, and spend the next 6 months as the performance leader for the discrete graphics market for virtually every price point. NVIDIA on the other hand missed the latest cycle by a mile, and when AMD was delivering 5000 series cards NVIDIA could only talk about the High Performance Computing applications of their next GPU, Fermi. It would be the next big thing, both figuratively and literally.

In January we got the next piece of the Fermi story at CES, when NVIDIA was willing to talk about the gaming-oriented hardware and applications of the first Fermi GPU: GF100. We found out it would be significantly different from the GT200 GPU powering NVIDIA’s GTX200 series, that NVIDIA was going to break up the traditional fixed-function pipeline and at the same time take a particularly keen interest in tessellation. What we didn’t find out is when it would ship.

Much of this has been in NVIDIA’s hands – some of it has not. What’s indisputable is that TSMC, the chip foundry used by both AMD and NVIDIA, was not delivering the kind of yields on their 40nm process that AMD and NVIDIA were expecting. Both of them suffered for it. AMD could not get enough viable chips to meet demand for their 5000 series part, leaving a wake of disappointed gamers who could not get AMD’s latest wonder, and limiting AMD’s ability to profit from one of the few times in AMD/ATI’s history where the company had a clear lead over NVIDIA, and if you ask AMD also limiting their ability to control prices. NVIDIA meanwhile had to deal with the fact that they were trying to produce a very large chip on a low-yielding process, a combination for disaster given that size is the enemy of high yields.

What’s also indisputable is that this 6 month wait has benefited few people. For the observers of an industry where the competition is cut-throat we saw GPU prices rise, when in the last generation AMD and NVIDIA knocked upwards of hundreds of dollars off of each other’s prices practically overnight. It may have been good times overall for AMD, but for buyers the competitive marketplace is sorely missed.

That brings us to today. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the end of NVIDIA’s 6 month journey is near. We’ve told you about the compute applications of Fermi, we’ve told you about the gaming applications of Fermi, and now at long last we can tell you about the first products. It’s time to say hello to the GTX 400 series.

Meet the GTX 480 and GTX 470

 

  GTX 480 GTX 470 GTX 295 GTX 285 9800+ GTX
Stream Processors 480 448 2 x 240 240 128
Texture Address / Filtering 60/60 56/56 2 x 80 / 80 80 / 80 64 / 64
ROPs 48 40 2x 28 32 16
Core Clock 700MHz 607MHz 576MHz 648MHz 738MHz
Shader Clock 1401MHz 1215MHz 1242MHz 1476MHz 1836MHz
Memory Clock 924MHz (3696MHz data rate) GDDR5 837MHz (3348MHz data rate) GDDR5 999MHz (1998MHz data rate) GDDR3 1242MHz (2484MHz data rate) GDDR3 1100MHz (2200MHz data rate) GDDR3
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 320-bit 2 x 448-bit 512-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 1.5GB 1.25GB 2 x 896MB 1GB 512MB
Transistor Count 3B 3B 2 x 1.4B 1.4B 754M
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 55nm TSMC 55nm TSMC 55nm
Price Point $499 $349 $500 $400 $150 - 200

Today NVIDIA is launching two cards: the GeForce GTX 480, and the GeForce GTX 470. Both of them are based on GF100, the first and largest member of the Fermi family. Right off the bat, we can tell you that neither card is a complete GF100 chip. We know from NVIDIA’s earlier announcements that a complete GF100 is a 512 SP/core part organized in a 4x16x32 fashion, but these first parts will not have all of GF100’s functional units activated. Instead we’ll be getting a 480 core part for the GTX 480, and a 448 core part for the GTX 470. Ultimately we will not be seeing the full power of GF100 right away, but you can be sure that somewhere down the line we’ll see a GTX 485 or GTX 490 with all of GF100’s functional units enabled.


NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 480

What we’re starting out with today at the high-end is the GTX 480, a card based on a GF100 with 1 of the 16 SMs disabled that will sell for $499, making it the primary competitor for the Radeon 5870. The disabled SM has no affect on the ROPs which are part of a separate functional block, but it does cut down on the shading, texturing, and tessellation capabilities of the card compared to where a full GF100 card would be. This gives the GTX 480 the full 48 ROPs and 768KB of L2 cache of GF100, along with 60 texture units, 15 PolyMorph engines, and 480 cores. Although the architectural overhaul means we can’t compare the GTX 480 to the GTX 285 quite as easily as we could the Radeon 5000 series to the Radeon 4000 series, the GTX 480 is still in some ways a doubled-up GTX 285 from a shader standpoint.

The GTX 470 on the other hand is a further cut-down GF100-based product that will sell for $349. As we stated earlier it has only 448 cores, a product of NVIDIA disabling 2 of the 16 SMs. Along with disabling the SMs, NVIDIA also disabled 1 of the 6 ROP clusters, which disables 6 ROPs, 128KB of L2 cache, and 2 of the 32bit memory channels. This leaves us with 448 cores running alongside 40 ROPs, 640KB of L2 cache, all on a 320bit GDDR5 memory bus.


NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 470

As is usually the case for a harvested part, GTX 470 takes a clockspeed hit compared to GTX 480. The core clock falls 13% to 607MHz, and the shader clock falls the same distance to 1215MHz. The memory clock on the other hand only drops by 10% to 837MHz (3348MHz effective). Overall this gives the GTX 470 around 80% of the shading, texturing, and tessellation capabilities of the GTX 480 and 72% of the ROP capability and memory bandwidth.

One thing that caught our eye with all of this was that NVIDIA’s memory clocks are lower than we had been initially expecting. GDDR5 is readily available up to 5GHz while NVIDIA doesn’t go any higher than 3.7GHz; in fact between the smaller memory bus than the GTX 285 and the lower than expected memory clocks, the GTX 400 series doesn’t have all that much more bandwidth than the GTX 285 did. As it stands the GTX 480 only has 11% more memory bandwidth than the GTX 285, while the GTX 470 has 15% less than the GTX 285.

Given the 384-bit bus, we initially assumed NVIDIA was running in to even greater memory bus issues than AMD ran in to for the 5000 series, but as it turns out that’s not the case. When we asked NVIDIA about working with GDDR5, they told us that their biggest limitation wasn’t the bus like AMD but rather deficiencies in their own I/O controller, which in turn caused them to miss their targeted memory speeds. Unlike AMD who has been using GDDR5 for nearly 2 years, NVIDIA is still relatively new at using GDDR5 (their first product was the GT 240 late last year), so we can’t say we’re completely surprised here. If nothing else, this gives NVIDIA ample room to grow in the future if they can get a 384-bit memory bus up to the same speeds as AMD has gotten their 256-bit bus.

This leaves us with the other elephant in the room: yield on GF100. NVIDIA hasn’t commented specifically on the yields coming out of TSMC but we know even 6 months later that AMD still isn’t satisfied with things, so that should offer some guidance on the situation given NVIDIA’s larger die. As it stands NVIDIA chose to launch their highest end GF100 part with only 15 of 16 SMs in order to reach the “broadest availability”, which is a clear sign that NVIDIA isn’t getting enough full-yielding and high-clocking dies at this time to offer a proper unharvested part.

The power/heat situation also bears mentioning, since it often goes hand-in-hand with yield issues. With a 500mm2+ die on the 40nm process, it should come as no surprise that both the GTX 480 and GTX 470 are hot cards. NVIDIA has to pay the piper for having such a large die, and this is one of the places where they do so. The TDP for the GTX 480 is 250W while it’s 215W for the GTX 470; meanwhile the cards idle at 47W and 33W respectively. NVIDIA’s large die strategy usually leads to them having power-hungry parts, but from a historical perspective the GTX 480 is the hungriest yet for a single-GPU card; even the GTX280 wasn’t quite as high. We’ll get in to this more when we take a look at measured power consumption.

Meet the GTX 480 and GTX 470, Cont
POST A COMMENT

197 Comments

View All Comments

  • Sunburn74 - Sunday, March 28, 2010 - link

    It is absolutely ridiculous. Like having a buzzsaw in your case.
    http://www.hardocp.com/article/2010/03/26/nvidia_f...">http://www.hardocp.com/article/2010/03/26/nvidia_f...
    Reply
  • Belard - Sunday, March 28, 2010 - link

    AMD already stated they are not reducing their pricing any time soon. This is because their line-up is far healthier than Nvidia.

    They know (and we should know) that the $500/$350 price for the new GeForce 4 cards are not going to stick. There is only some many thousands of cards available for the next 3~5 months. The supply will run dry in about 1-3 weeks I bet. We're going to see the pricing shoot up close to $600 for the GF480, the fanboyz will be willing to pay that price.

    The 5850 was supposed to be a $250 card, we see how well that worked out. While the price did settle around $300, the 5850 was still a better value than the $370~400 GeForce 285 card as it was far faster and run cooler, etc. The 5870 is typically faster than the $500 GeForce 295 - for $100 less. ATI has no reason to lower their pricing.

    The GeForce 265~295 cards are already being phased out, too slow, cost too much.

    So nVidia has nothing for the sub $300 market... nothing. Only the GF-250 has any value but a tad expensive as it should be $100 since its still a DX10 re-badged 9800GTX.

    So when ATI feels any pressure from Nvidia, they can easily drop their prices. It costs $5000 per wafer, no matter how many chip dies are on it. It may be costing nVidia $150~200 per chip while for AMD, they could be paying $20~35 per chip used in the 5800/5900s.
    Then you add the costs for memory, the PCB, parts, cooling system etc.

    It is very easy for AMD to drop $50 per GPU and they'd still make a profit while Nvidia sells their geForce 400 cards at a loss or no profit.

    When ATI sells the 5830 for $190~200, 5850 at $250 and 5870 at $325~350 would help sales and keep nVidia at bay.

    We'll see...
    Reply
  • SirKronan - Sunday, March 28, 2010 - link

    I would've liked to see 5850's in crossfire thrown into this mix. I know you don't have time to test them all, but I think that's the key competitor against the 480 when it comes to bang/buck. I would think the 5850's in crossfire could handily beat the 295 and the 480, all while consuming less power. I believe there may have been another site that did it, but with this excellent and very thorough review done here, it would've been even that little tiniest bit sweeter to have a 5850 crossfire line on their graphs.

    Regardless, thanks for the informative review!
    Reply
  • B3an - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    This review and any other pages on this site are not working in Firefox... they have been reported as attack pages.

    "This web page at www.anandtech.com has been reported as an attack page and has been blocked based on your security preferences."

    This is why FF with all default settings, and just using adlock.
    Could it be trouble with the ads again using a malware/virus?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Sunday, March 28, 2010 - link

    We know. It's being worked on. Reply
  • Sunburn74 - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    The 5850 idles inthe mid 30's but it also does absolutely nothing to stay cool, operating at about 20% max fan speed. Under load it may go up to 30% fan speed, but rarely ever breaks the 40% mark.

    What are the approximate idle and load fan speeds for both the gtx 480 and 470? I guess I'm asking this to understand just how much extra cooling room is innately available. Are these card working at max capacity to keep cool or is there thermal/fan headroom there to be had?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    I don't have that data on-hand (we don't record fan speeds), but it's something that I should be able to easily grab at a later time. Reply
  • Lemonjellow - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    For some reason Chrome is flagging this article as a malicious sight... Oddness... Possibly got a bad advertisement... Reply
  • NJoy - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    well, Charlie was semi-accurate, but quite right =))What a hot chick... I mean, literately hot. Way too hot Reply
  • WiNandLeGeNd - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    Looking back at the data, I realized that power consumption is for system total. Guru3d measured the power consumption of the card itself and reported a max of 263W, so roughly 21 A. I think my 850W will do just fine since each PCI-X con has 20A each. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now