NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 460: The $200 Kingby Ryan Smith on July 11, 2010 11:54 PM EST
The retirement of production of 55nm GPUs created a hole in the market where neither AMD nor NVIDIA could really compete well. NVIDIA could never get a massive GPU down to $200, while AMD’s smaller Cypress GPU is profitable enough at that point, but their product lineup dictates that it needs to be a heavily cut-down version of that GPU which doesn’t always work out if you have to cut-down too much of the wrong thing. The Radeon 5830 was a hard sell when launched at $239, but at $200 it’s enjoyed a niche that comes to an end today.
By launching a more market-appropriate GPU for the $200-$250 market, NVIDIA has come in with a GPU that doesn’t need to be heavily cut-down to fit in to the market. At $200 the GeForce GTX 460 768MB is clearly the card to get, offering better performance than the Radeon 5830 with fantastic cooling and a reasonable power draw. AMD has little choice but to bring down 5830 prices further – besides Eyefinity it has nothing to separate itself from the otherwise superior GTX 460.
However NVIDIA also has the 1GB version of the GTX 460, with more RAM, more L2 cache, and more ROPs for $30 (15%) more. The 1GB GTX 460 isn’t 15% faster, but at the same time it’s difficult to ignore it. We already have games such as Crysis and Stalker that benefit from the additional capacity of the GTX 460, and this is the future of gaming. For as fantastic of a card as the 768MB GTX 460 is, it has one potential pitfall: it’s 768MB. It’s not a huge problem today, and NVIDIA will tell you it’s not a huge problem tomorrow either, but here we must disagree.
To purchase a $200 card with only 768MB of RAM today is shortsighted; it’s less RAM than last year’s $200 GTX 275 and Radeon 4890 cards had, and it’s going to come up short in tomorrow’s games. The difference is 256MB, but we’re willing to bet between that 256MB of RAM and the additional L2 cache and ROPs that the 1GB advantage will only grow from here. We would rather spend another $30 now for better performance in many of today’s games, knowing that we also will have a better shot at playing tomorrow’s games. NVIDIA’s marketing arm would seem to secretly agree – most of the 1GB cards will be coming with a pack-in game, while the 768MB cards will not. If nothing else we can’t accuse NVIDIA of giving too little for the extra $30.
I think the only way to come across from this launch at all disappointed is when looking at the overall performance levels of the card. The GTX 460 does not completely subdue last year’s $200 cards, and this is part of a larger pattern. DX11 functionality requires additional die space over DX10 functionality, so most of the additional transistors afforded by the transition to 40nm fabrication has been spent on that functionality rather than on improving performance. As a result this year’s $200 cards aren’t a great deal faster than last year’s cards; this isn’t the high-end market where GPU dies (and prices) had room to grow. For everything but the high-end, this year is a feature year and not a performance year.
Meanwhile it’s here that we bid farewell to the GTX 465. It was an underperforming card from the start, and the GTX 460 can meet it or beat it on most games. It has a respectable advantage in compute performance, but this is strongly application-dependent and goes hand-in-hand with the card's higher power draw. At this point we see little reason to purchase it over a cooler, quieter, and cheaper 1GB GTX 460.
Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see how (if at all) AMD respond to the launch of the GTX 460. They still have the upper-hand at performance-per-watt, and with just how similar the GTX 460 and the Radeon 5850 are in terms of die size and power consumption there’s clearly some flexibility on their part to change things. The Radeon 5830 must come down in price or go away entirely, it’s what happens to the 5850 that’s the question. We’ve seen the GTX 460 lock horns with the 5850, and while the 5850 is undoubtedly the faster gaming card the $300 price point no longer makes as much sense as it once did with a $230 1GB GTX 460 below it. AMD either needs a 5840, or a price drop on the 5850 to bring its price more in line with its performance.
At the end of the day NVIDIA has created a very powerful card for a market that has been overlooked for most of this year, and right now they’re setup to benefit from it. The GTX 460 is well priced, well performing, and cool running - 3 qualities we haven’t been able to attribute all at once to an NVIDIA card in quite some time. With launches and pricing like the GTX 460, the competitive landscape that we enjoyed through 2008 and 2009 is finally taking shape once more, and we couldn’t be happier.