NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480

Review

posted 3/26/2010 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One Page Platforms: PC
What NVIDIA is trying to accomplish with Geometric Realism is to make things like rounded items be less triangulated. For example the picture supplied by NVIDIA for Far Cry 2, you can see holster of the gun and the shoulder of the character having angles. Yes, it’s suppose to be a curved surface but everything is made up of triangles and you need a lot of little triangles to make a curved shape. GF100 is looking to solve this problem and part of the solution I mentioned earlier was to use tessellation.


With tessellation, one stores a rough shape of the object which is also what the program animates while the hardware adds in more triangles to make the object look smoother. You can subdivide the various triangles using tessellation from the rough shape in hardware to produce a much smoother shape. Developers have control on how much they want the objects tessellated. Tessellation can also add more details and more defined objects such as making a rather flat stone road into a very bumpy road by adding in more triangles all the while keeping it looking smooth. The process will also know what to tessellate and what not to so you won't see added geometry in places such as a corner of a wall and so forth. To do this without bogging down the machine, DirectX 11 supports hardware accelerated tessellation and GF100 will be NVIDIA’s first architecture that will support DX11 and in turn hardware tessellation.
 
DirectCompute should also be a big thing for gaming in the near future. Right now, you can experience some benefits first hand with some of the CUDA enabled applications. Taking advantage of the cores on the GPU, some operations can be performed quicker than by just using the CPU. Developers will be able to use the GPU far more than just outputting graphics. Metro 2033 was one example given of a company using DirectCompute to improve the game. The picture shown of an image where the items up close were clear while those farther away were blurred. Using DirectCompute, it was faster to accomplish this effect than using standard rendering modes.

So let's take a look at the reference card that NVIDIA sent to me. Now what you see here will be the cards that the other OEMs will be releasing for the short time after the launch. It will take some time for their board partners to put their special touches on the card to make it unique to them but the initial releases will definitely be the same as the reference card.

The GeForce GTX 480 is their flagship and will retail for $499. Here are the specifications:
  • 700MHz GPU
  • 1401 MHz CUDA cores
  • 924MHz Memory
  • 15 streaming processors
  • 480 CUDA cores
  • 1585MB of memory
  • 384-bit memory interface
  • 250W TDP

The architecture is built on the 40nm process, which is not their first 40nm release. It's got double the shader power and double the number of ROP units per partition of their previous generation high end card. The texture units have been redesigned for better performance. What NVIDIA claims is the GeForce GTX 480 will be 1.5 to 3 times more powerful than the GeForce GTX 285 because of all the changes. The GeForce GTX 480 and the GTX 470 are the first NVIDIA cards to support DirectX 11 so they are ready for the next generation of PC gaming.

The card measures at 10.5" long which matches the reference GeForce GTX 275 that was sent to me a while ago. Because the card runs at 250W TDP, it requires a 6 pin and an 8 pin power connector. These two connectors are located on top and are facing up. Because of how the power connectors are situated, the designers at NVIDIA opted to design the four heat pipes to protrude from the top both for performance and aesthetics. Some people like it, some people don't but I have no issues with the card showing off some of the heat pipes that way. The dual slot card is pretty heavy though so it feels like a pretty solid and well built card when you hold it in your hands. The bracket holds two Dual-DVI connectors and a min-HDMI connector. Display port can be added in by another vendor if they choose to do so.

The highest priced AMD card with a single GPU is the AMD Radeon HD 5870. A check at NewEgg.com shows that the card sells for as little as $420 from XFX. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 will retail for $499 making it a $70 premium over the competition's best card. It's also coming about five months later than the release of the AMD Radeon HD 5870. It's too bad I don't have a 5870 to compare the GeForce GTX 480 with but from talking to my colleagues the card does perform faster in most situations than the AMD offering. Albeit it's not a big gap in DirectX 10 games or less, the card is built for future games and thus, we won't know until more DirectX 11 games using tessellation come out to see if the GeForce GTX 480 will pull father ahead of the ATI Radeon HD 5870 cards in performance.
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