NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580: Fermi Refinedby Ryan Smith on November 9, 2010 9:00 AM EST
Even though NVIDIA is only launching a single card today there’s a lot to digest, so let’s get to it.
Since the GeForce GTX 580 arrived in our hands last week, we’ve been mulling over how to approach it. It boils down to two schools of thought: 1) Do we praise NVIDIA for delivering a high performance single GPU card that strikes the right balance of performance and temperature/noise, or 2) Do we give an indifferent thumbs-up to NVIDIA for only finally delivering the card that we believe the GTX 480 should have been.
The answer we’ve decided is one of mild, but well earned praise. The GTX 580 is not the true next-generation successor to the GTX 480; it’s the GTX 480 having gone back in the womb for 7 months of development. Much like AMD, NVIDIA faced a situation where they were going to do a new product without a die shrink, and had limited options as a result. NVIDIA chose wisely, and came back with a card that is both decently faster and a refined GTX 480 at the same time.
With the GTX 480 we could recognize it as being the fastest single GPU card on the market, but only by recognizing the fact that it was hot and loud at the same time. For buyers the GTX 480 was a tradeoff product – sure it’s fast, but is it too hot/too loud for me? The GTX 580 requires no such tradeoff. We can never lose sight of the fact that it’s a high-end card and is going to be more power hungry, louder, and hotter than many other cards on the market, but it’s not the awkward card that the GTX 480 was. For these reasons our endorsement of the GTX 580 is much more straightforward, at least as long as we make it clear that GTX 580 is less an upgrade for GTX 480, and more a better upgrade for the GTX 285 and similar last-generation cards.
What we’re left with today is something much closer to the “traditional” state of the GPU market: NVIDIA has the world’s fastest single-GPU card, while AMD is currently nipping at their heels with multi-GPU products. Both the Radeon HD 5970 and Radeon HD 6870 CF are worthy competitors to the GTX 580 – they’re faster and in the case of the 6870 CF largely comparable in terms of power/temperature/noise. If you have a board capable of supporting a pair of 6870s and don’t mind the extra power it’s hard to go wrong, but only if you’re willing to put up with the limitations of a multi-GPU setup. It’s a very personal choice – we’d be willing to trade the performance for the simplicity of avoiding a multi-GPU setup, but we can’t speak for everyone.
So what’s next? A few different things. From the NVIDIA camp, NVIDIA is promising a quick launch of the rest of the GeForce 500 series. Given the short development cycles for NVIDIA we’d expect more refined GF10x parts, but this is very much a shot in the dark. Much more likely is a 3GB GTX 580, seeing as how NVIDIA's official product literature calls the GTX 580 the "GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB", a distinction that was never made for the GTX 480.
More interesting however will be what NVIDIA does with GF110 since it’s a more capable part than GF100 in every way. The GF100 based Quadros and Teslas were only launched in the last few months, but they’re already out of date. With NVIDIA’s power improvements in particular, this seems like a shoo-in for at least one improved Quadro and Tesla card. We also expect 500 series replacements for some of the GF100-based cards (with the GTX 465 likely going away permanently).
Meanwhile the AMD camp is gearing up for their own launches. The 6900 series is due to launch before the year is out, bringing with it AMD’s new Cayman GPU. There’s little we know or can say at this point, but as a part positioned above the 6800 series we’re certainly hoping for a slugfest. At $500 the GTX 580 is pricey (much like the GTX 480 before it), and while this isn’t unusual for the high-end market we wouldn’t mind seeing NVIDIA and AMD bring a high-intensity battle to the high-end, something that we’ve been sorely missing for the last year. Until we see the 6900 series we wouldn’t make any bets, but we can certainly look forward to it later this year.