Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2555



A very smart man at Intel once told me that when designing a microprocessor you can either build a new architecture, or move to a smaller manufacturing process, but you don't do both at the same time. The reason you don't do both is because it significantly complicates the design, validation and manufacturing processes - you want to instead limit the number of variables you're changing in order to guarantee a quick ramp up and good yields of your silicon.

NVIDIA followed this rule of thumb with the GT200, building its "brand new" (or at least significantly evolved) architecture on a tried-and-true 65nm process instead of starting at 55nm. Despite AMD building both RV670 and the new RV770 GPU on TSMC's 55nm process, NVIDIA hadn't built anything on a smaller than 65nm process, including the 1.4 billion transistor GT200.

Shortly after the GT200 launched, AMD "responded" with its Radeon HD 4850, a cheap card by comparison, but a far more interesting one from a practical performance standpoint. Priced at $199 and selling for as little as $170, the Radeon HD 4850 managed to invalidate most of NVIDIA's product line. In response, NVIDIA dropped the price of its GeForce 9800 GTX to $199 as well and introduced one more card: a $229 GeForce 9800 GTX+.

Originally we thought the GTX+ was a silly last minute afterthought as it looked like nothing more than an overclocked 9800 GTX. While its clock speeds are higher, it also happens to be the very first 55nm NVIDIA GPU. The specs are as follows:

  9800 GTX+ 9800 GTX
Stream Processors 128 128
Texture Address / Filtering 64 / 64 64 / 64
ROPs 16 16
Core Clock 738MHz 675MHz
Shader Clock 1836MHz 1690MHz
Memory Clock 1100MHz 1100MHz
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 512MB 512MB
Transistor Count 754M 754M
Manufacturing Process TSMC 55nm TSMC 65nm
Price Point $229 $199

 

The core clock went up 9.3%, shader clock went up 8.6% and memory clock stayed the same. The clock speed bumps are marginal and by far the more interesting aspect of the chip is how much less power it consumes thanks to its 55nm process, which thanks to AMD should be quite mature by now.

Here's the full NVIDIA lineup:

  GTX 280 GTX 260 9800 GX2 9800 GTX+ 9800 GTX 8800 GTS 512 8800 GT
Stream Processors 240 192 256 128 128 128 112
Texture Address / Filtering 80 / 80 64 / 64 128 / 128 64 / 64 64 / 64 56 / 56 56 / 56
ROPs 32 28 32 16 16 16 16
Core Clock 602MHz 576MHz 600MHz 738MHz 675MHz 650MHz 600MHz
Shader Clock 1296MHz 1242MHz 1500MHz 1836MHz 1690MHz 1625MHz 1500MHz
Memory Clock 1107MHz 999MHz 1000MHz 1100MHz 1100MHz 970MHz 900MHz
Memory Bus Width 512-bit 448-bit 256-bit x 2 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 1GB 896MB 1GB 512MB 512MB 512MB 512MB
Transistor Count 1.4B 1.4B 1.5B 754M 754M 754M 754M
Manufacturing Process TSMC 65nm TSMC 65nm TSMC 65nm TSMC 55nm TSMC 65nm TSMC 65nm TSMC 65nm
Price Point $650 $400 $500 $229 $199 $280 $170 - $230

 

Notice something very wrong? The 8800 GTS 512 and 8800 GT both need to drop in price significantly, they are simply uncompetitive at their current price points. I expect one of those two products to go the way of the dodo but it's unclear which one; the 8800 GT is cheaper to make, but perhaps it's easier to produce 65nm parts with 128 SPs so the GTS 512 could stick around at a lower price point as well.

The GeForce 9800 GTX+ will be available starting July 16th.



How much power does 55nm save?

As far as we know, the GTX+ is a simple die shrink of G92 so the only differences between it and the regular 9800 GTX are clock speeds and power consumption.

Luckily EVGA sent us one of their GeForce 9800 GTX KO cards, which happens to be clocked at virtually the same speed as the upcoming GTX+:

  9800 GTX+ EVGA 9800 GTX KO 9800 GTX
Core Clock 738MHz 738MHz 675MHz
Shader Clock 1836MHz 1836MHz 1690MHz
Memory Clock 1100MHz 1125MHz 1100MHz
Price Point $229 $209 - $239 $199

 

With the 9800 GTX KO you can get the performance of the GTX+ today, without waiting for July 16th for availability. What you do lose out on however is power. At idle the new 55nm chip draws about 3% less power than the overclocked 9800 GTX and actually draws 8.7% more power than the stock-clock 65nm 9800 GTX.

 

Under load, the GTX+ once again draws around 3% less power than EVGA's KO edition, it would seem that the move to 55nm actually doesn't buy NVIDIA much in the way of power savings.

The Test

We're keeping the commentary to a minimum here as this is a quick preview, we'll have a full performance analysis of the entire AMD and NVIDIA product lineups early tomorrow morning as the NDA lifts on AMD's Radeon HD 4870.

Test Setup
CPU Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 @ 3.20GHz
Motherboard EVGA nForce 790i SLI
Intel DX48BT2
Video Cards ATI Radeon HD 4850
ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2
ATI Radeon HD 3870
EVGA GeForce 9800 GTX KO
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GX2
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260
Video Drivers Catalyst Press Driver (8.7 beta)
Catalyst 8.5
ForceWare 177.34 (for GT200)
ForceWare 177.39 (for 9800 GTX+)
ForceWare 175.16 (everything else)
Hard Drive Seagate 7200.9 120GB 8MB 7200RPM
RAM 4 x 1GB Corsair DDR3-1333 7-7-7-20
Operating System Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit SP1
PSU PC Power & Cooling Turbo Cool 1200W


Crysis

 


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Call of Duty 4


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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars


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Assassin's Creed


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The Witcher


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Bioshock


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Oblivion


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Final Words

NVIDIA has a pretty solid product lineup now, the problem it is that at the lower end of the lineup the Radeon HD 4850 manages to do a great job of disrupting things:

The Radeon HD 4850 continues to be a better buy than NVIDIA's GeForce 9800 GTX, even if both are priced at $199. The overclocked, 55nm 9800 GTX+ manages to barely outperform the 4850 in a few titles, but loses by a larger margin in others, so for the most part it isn't competitive enough to justify the extra $30. The 4850 also uses significantly less power than the 9800 GTX+, and AMD was quick to point out that by the time the 9800 GTX+ ships that it will also have factory overclocked 4850s. That should make things even more interesting, because honestly, a factory overclocked Radeon HD 4850 is far more attractive to us than an overclocked GTX+.

In a little over 12 hours we'll be able to complete the story with a full look at AMD's RV770 GPU and the Radeon HD 4870, so for a full, detailed performance analysis come back then. Until then, in short, the 9800 GTX+ doesn't really change anything for NVIDIA.

NVIDIA needs to further drop the price of the GeForce 9800 GTX or GTX+ in order to make them truly competitive with the Radeon HD 4850. There's nothing more to it. Price drops on the 8800 line are also necessary, which makes sense given the positioning of the 9800 GTX/GTX+. There's a reasonable chance we'll see some of the 8800 products disappear from NVIDIA's lineup in the near future, so if you've been contemplating adding a second 8800 GT 512 for SLI use, now might not be a bad time to do so; we're seeing cards priced as low as $160 with a $30 mail-in rebate now.

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