NVIDIA's really pushing how their cards are more than just for graphics and one of the things that help set it apart from the competition is CUDA. As a programmer, you don't know how I hate it when processes just spin and work while I'm at the mercy of the CPU running the code. Less time running or compiling programs means more time to do other stuff and CUDA helps turn supported GeForce cards into general computational machines. Some companies are taking advantage of CUDA and to test this I ran ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theater
. This multimedia player uses CUDA to help enhance DVD playback by upscaling the picture. Dubbed SimHD, the program uses CUDA to help do all the post processing in order to create a better looking picture. I popped in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and watched the beginning where the space battle is taking place while Anakin and Obi-Wan are flying through. It took the standard DVD definition and outputted to 1080P. First up, I turned off all acceleration and decided to just use the CPU to try and do this. As you can see, the CPU was pretty much running at or near 100% but what you don't see in the still picture is that it was pretty much a slide show rather than a smooth picture. Frame rates ran from 2-4FPS making the movie unwatchable. Now, turning on CUDA support dropped the CPU fluctuation to 19-30% and frames per second stuck to a rock steady 24-25 fps. Not only was the picture silky smooth but it looked better. You could make out more detail in space ships and even the color seemed a little better. There's a process where you can run a normal picture and a SimHD picture side by side and you could definitely tell a nice difference between the two. For those with large screen TVs and a large amount of DVDs, this is a great way to get a better quality picture without spending money on a Blu-Ray player and upgrading all your old movies. CUDA's power shows in that it alleviated the CPU of much of the processing and produced a smooth picture with the DVD. To be fair though, ATI does have ATI Stream which is their implementation of CUDA. ArcSoft is going to be putting out a patch to let you use SimHD with Radeon cards so it'll be interesting to see how well it does once that is released against NVIDIA's offering.
The top picture is running ArcSoft with just the CPU.
The bottom picture is what happens when I turn on CUDA support.
PhysX is another feature that many gaming companies will be putting into their games. Right now, it's all eye candy though as Mirror's Edge shows but it's impressive eye candy. You can run PhysX with a single card or dedicate another card to handle all the physics calculations. For this test, I ran it on the single card running through Flight-B of Mirror's Edge. Using Fraps, I did a few runs as close as possible so that I can try to generate consistent results.
As you can see, the GeForce GTS 250 takes a mighty fine hit when you turn on PhysX. The game's still playable even with the lower spec'd system so it's not that bad but I would suggest pairing the card up with another one to do PhysX for future games. Once we get a higher powered GeForce card, I'll write an article comparing some performances of single card PhysX and 3D acceleration.
I really loved the 3D performance of NVIDIA's GeForce 3D Vision at CES and like CUDA, you'll need a NVIDIA card to experience this. The GeForce GTS 250 will allow you to use the shutter glasses with a 120MHz display so that you can experience games and movies in 3D. It's actually a nice mid-range priced solution to allow you to play games at a solid speed and experience the rich visual experience of 3D. Again, this is something you will not be able to get with the ATI Radeon HD 4850 card unless AMD comes out with their own 3D solution which I do expect since 3D seems to be gaining popularity. For now though there's one choice and that's with NVIDIA graphics cards such as the eVGA GeForce GTS 250 Superclocked.
Today price is an important factor in everything so it's nice to see this card coming in at $149. Yes, it's going to be a little cheaper than the current 9800GTX+ which is what it's based off of and it's about $10 less than the current least expensive Radeon HD 4850 with 1GB of memory. AMD just dropped the prices of their 512MB Radeon HD 4850 to counteract NVIDIA's maneuver making the choice a little bit harder between the two, albeit it does take a mail-in rebate which I despise. In the end it's still a card using older technology with a tweak here and there. I'm happy to see NVIDIA going to a more consistent naming convention though. For those that don't have a 9800GTX+ or better this is a good card to pick up at a decent price. Those with AMD cards looking to move to NVIDIA without spending too much can benefit from support for more than just graphics. NVIDIA's really pushing CUDA and PhysX nowadays with ATI only just starting to have some support for ATI Stream and only NVIDIA offering support for PhysX. At $149, it's not a very expensive price to get into those two things if you are interested. GeForce 3D Vision is another great technology that you'll be ready for but will cost you another good chunk of change in picking up a compatible monitor. Given that the card is a retread of a past card with some minor changes, it might not sit well with some people knowing that NVIDIA isn't putting any new technology out there with this release.
More On:GeForce GTS 250
There are some minor improvements but it's still pretty much the same card in terms of features with the 9800GTX+. NVIDIA does offer some good technologies such as CUDA and PhysX though so you might want to look into the card if you are wanting some of those features. If you have a GeForce 9800GTX+ or a Radeon HD 4850 and higher, you'll want to pass on this one for now. People with older cards might want to consider this as a pickup.
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