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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  • WiNandLeGeNd - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    I think this was a great review, as mentioned previously, very objective. I think though that I may get a 480, because when I buy a card I keep it for 3 to 4 years before I get a new one, aka every other gen. And seeing that tessellation is really the gift horse of DX11 and how much more tessellation power is in the 480's, I think it could very much pay off in the future. If not then I spent an extra $85 for a tad extra performance as I just pre-ordered one for 485 and the 5870's are at $400 still.

    My only concern is heat and power, but most of the cards have a life time warranty. Hopefully my OCZ GamerXtreme 850W can handle it at max loads. The two 12v rails for the two 6 pin PCI-X connectors are 20 A each, I saw 479w max consumption, however that was furmark, at 12v that's 39.5 amps, so it would be extremely close if there is ever a game to utilize that much power. Although If I recall ATI specifically stated a while back to not use that as it pushes loads that are not possible to see in an actual game, I think they had an issue with the 4000 series burning out power regulators, correct me if I'm wrong.
    Reply
  • Alastayr - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    I'm with sunburn on this one. Your reasoning doesn't make much sense. You must've not followed the GPU market for the last few years because

    first) "every other gen" would mean a 2 year cycle
    second) Nothing's really gonna pay off in the future, as the future will bring faster cards for a fraction of the price. You'd only enjoy those questionable benefits until Q4, when AMD releases Northern Islands and nVidia pops out GF100b or whatever they'll call it.
    third) Tessellation won't improve further that fast. If at all, developers will focus on the lowest common denominator, which would be Cypress. Fermi's extra horse power will most likely stay unused.
    fourth) Just look at your power bill. The 25W difference with a "typical" Idle scheme (8h/day; 350d/y) comes to 70kWh which where I live translates to around $20 per year. That's Idle *only*. You're spending way more than just $85 extra on that card.
    fifth) The noise will kill you. This isn't a card than just speeds up for no reason. You can't just magically turn down the fan from 60% to 25% and still enjoy Temps of <90°C like on some GTX 260 boards. Turn up your current fan to 100% for a single day. Try living through that. That's probably what you're buying.

    In the end everyone has to decide this for himself. But for someone to propose keeping a GTX 480 in his PC for a whopping 3-4 years... I don't know man. I'd rather lose a finger or two. ;)

    tl;dr I know, I know. But really people. Those cards aren't hugely competetive, priced too high and nV's drivers suck as much as ATi's (allegedly) do nowadays. Whis is to say neither do.

    I could honestly bite me right now. I had a great deal for a 5850 in Nov. and I waited for nV to make their move. Now the same card will cost me $50 more, and I've only wasted time by waiting for the competetive GTX 470 that never was. Argh.
    Reply
  • Sunburn74 - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    Thats kind of bad logic imo. I'm not fanboy on either side, but it's clear to me that Nvidia targeted the performance of their cards to fit in exactly between the 5970, the 5870, and 5850. Its much harder to release a card not knowing what the other guy truly has as opposed to releasing a card knowing exactly what sort of performance levels you have to hit.

    Two, realistically, think of the noise. I mean ifyou've ever heard a gtx 260 at 100 percent fan speed, thats the sort of fan noises you're going to be experiencing on a regular basis. Its not a mild difference.

    And three, realistically for the premium you're paying for the extra performance (which is not useful right now as there are no games to take advantage of it) as well as for the noise, heat and power, you could simply buy the cheaper 5870, save that 85-150 dollars extra, and sell off the 5870 when the time is right.

    I just don't see why anyone would buy this card unless they were specifically taking advantage of some of the compute functions. As a consumer card it is a failure. Power and heat be damned, the noise the noise! Take your current card up to 100 percent fan speed, and listen to it for a few mins, and thats what you should about expect from these gpus.
    Reply
  • andyo - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    I too am getting the warning message with Firefox 3.6.2. Posting this on IE. Here's the message:

    http://photos.smugmug.com/photos/820690277_fuLv6-O...">http://photos.smugmug.com/photos/820690277_fuLv6-O...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    We're working on it. Of course, the "Internet Police" have now flagged our site as malicious because of one bad ad that one of the advertisers put up, and it will probably take a week or more to get them to rescind the "Malware Site" status. Ugh.... Reply
  • jeffrey - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    Give the advertiser that put up the bad ad hell! Reply
  • LedHed - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    The people who are going to buy the GTX 480/470 are enthusiast who most likely bought the GTX 295 or had 200 Series SLI. So not including the 295 in every bench is kind of odd. We need to see how the top end of the last gen does against the new gen top end. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    What chart is the 295 not in? It should be in every game test. Reply
  • kc77 - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    Well the 295 beats the 470 in most benches so there's no need to really include it in all benches. Personally I think the 480 is the better deal. Although I am not buying those cards until a respin/refresh, those temps and power requirements are just ridiculous. Reply
  • bigboxes - Saturday, March 27, 2010 - link

    I know you "upgraded" your test PSU to the Antec 1200W PSU, but did you go back and try any of these tests/setups with your previous 850W PSU to see if could handle the power requirements. It seemed that only your 480 SLI setup drew 851W in total system in the Furmark load test. Other than that scenario it looks like your old PSU should handle the power requirements just fine. Any comments? Reply

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