NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250: A Rebadged 9800 GTX+by Derek Wilson on March 3, 2009 3:00 AM EST
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Why NVIDIA Did It
To understand the motivation behind NVIDIA's naming and renaming and renaming we have to once again look its approach to GPU design. NVIDIA continued to architect very high end GPUs and allow their technology to, over the course of 9 - 12 months, trickle down to mid range and lower end market segments. AMD stepped in and launched a very competitive performance mainstream part instead of a high end GPU, allowing it to windfall down to lower price points and market segments quicker than NVIDIA could for this generation.
Let's attach some code names shall we?
NVIDIA's flagship, the GT200 GPU used in the GTX 295, 285, 280 and 260, isn't available in a cheaper version yet. AMD's flagship, the RV770, is already more affordable and is available in cheaper versions. NVIDIA has to rely on its last generation GPU, the G92b, to compete in the rest of the market while the lower end GT200 derivatives get ready for production. Rather than continue to ship products with old names to vendors and customers, NVIDIA slaps a new name on an old GPU and hopes to at least provide the appearance of being just as agile and competitive as AMD despite being clearly caught off guard this generation.
Of course, NVIDIA has a case to make. This is their current generation of hardware, and it is practical and useful to maintain a consistent nomenclature so that the general public knows what the product positioning actually is. We agree, only our solution is top to bottom launches in line with new GPU architectures rather than simply changing the name of old parts so that they look shiny and new.
NVIDIA's take on this is also flawed in that it treats customers like idiots and underlines the fundamental issue we have. Do I need a card with a new name on it to believe that it is worthy of my purchase, or can I go read reviews comparing the hardware and learn for myself whether or not any card (regardless of the name) fills my need? Maybe this name change is for people who don't know anything about graphics hardware then. In that case the thing that "sells" the card is the simple fact that NVIDIA has convinced someone that this part is an affordable version of a card from their latest line of products. Saying they need a name change to maintain current naming is essentially admitting that the only reason the name needs to be changed is to mislead uninformed people.
NVIDIA would love to have 40nm GT200 derivatives out today. Until that day comes, we'll get cards that sound like GT200 based products.
Anyway, we haven't previously tested a 1GB 9800 GTX+, and until this announcement their prices haven't been anywhere near reasonable (currently they're up at $200, so the $50 price drop will make a big difference). There is also a slight tweak between the GTS 250 1GB and the 9800 GTX+ 1GB: the memory on the 1GB 9800+ was underclocked by about 9.1%, and the GTS 250 1GB brings clock speed back in line with the 512MB 9800 GTX+. So while the 512MB part doesn't perform any different in any way, we should no longer see any performance degradation in games that don't benefit from memory size but are memory bandwidth sensitive from moving up to 1GB.
Oh, also wide availability won't be until March 10th. Seriously.
Also, not explained until now is the way the new naming scheme will go forward. Now, GTX, GTS, GT and G (as far as we can gather) will indicate performance segment. The number will be the model number and within a performance segment, higher is better. Essentially NVIDIA has swapped the meaning of letters and numbers in their naming. They have also clearly told us that naming will no longer be attached to GPU architecture, but that vendors may somehow still indicate architecture on the box if they so choose. If nothing else, the feature list and specifications will be a guide. Here's to requiring that people read the fine print to know what they're buying.
For What it's Worth
Early last week Charlie over at The Inquirer posted a story saying that a number of reviewers were cut out of the GeForce GTS 250 launch. We felt a bit hurt, by the time the story launched we weren't even asked to be briefed about the GTS 250. Cards had already gone out to other reviewers but we weren't on any lists. Oh, pout.
Magically, a couple of days after Charlie's article we got invited to a NVIDIA briefing and we had a GTS 250 to test. Perhaps NVIDIA was simply uncharacteristically late in briefing us about a new GPU launch. Perhaps NVIDIA was afraid we'd point out that it was nothing more than a 9800 GTX+ that ran a little cooler. Or perhaps we haven't been positive enough about CUDA and PhysX and NVIDIA was trying to punish us.
Who knows what went on at NVIDIA prior to the launch, we're here to review the card, but for what it's worth - thank you Charlie :)