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Nvidia Fermi GF100 review

Verdict

Holds a small performance edge over ATI's latest, but Fermi's real strengths may be wasted on gamers

Review Date: 26 Mar 2010

Reviewed By: David Bayon

Price when reviewed:

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Nvidia's Fermi graphics cards were officially unveiled in September 2009, but in truth we've been waiting a good deal longer than that. It's the manufacturer's first major architecture since the GT200 back in 2008, and a series of delays has seen ATI enjoy an unchallenged run at gamers' wallets.

We'd heard hints of just how advanced the new GF100 architecture would be, with up to 512 stream processors, a 40nm fabrication process and 3.2 billion transistors. Now it's finally here, we can start to figure out for ourselves just how powerful - and, as we'll see, power hungry - Fermi is.

Nvidia Fermi

Performance

First things first: that target of 512 stream processors hasn't been hit in either of the first two releases. The GeForce GTX 480 has 480 of them, along with a 700MHz core clock and 1.5GB of GDDR5 memory with a 384-bit memory interface. The lesser GTX 470 has 448 stream processors, a 607MHz clock and 1.25GB of memory with a 320-bit memory interface. Nvidia is keen to stress the headroom available within the architecture, so it's likely we'll see that higher model at some point.

If you're looking for Core i7 levels of instant domination, you're in the wrong place - Fermi may be a new architecture but it isn't going to flip the graphics card market on its head overnight. In fact, the first two cards are very close in both physical size and gaming performance to ATI's Radeon HD 5870 and 5850.

Buying decision

Click to read our individual verdicts on the GTX 480 and GTX 470

We ran benchmarks in a variety of current titles and, on the whole, the Fermi cards narrowly outperformed their ATI equivalents. In Crysis at 1,920 x 1,200 and Very High settings, the GTX 480 averaged 40fps to the HD 5870's 38fps; the GTX 470 scored 33fps to the HD 5850's 32fps. Higher settings saw similar margins. World in Conflict had the two Nvidia cards consistently ahead by just under 20%, and in Stalker: Call of Pripyat that margin was around 5%. Other games had ATI's cards ahead by a whisker, and if we average all the results, Nvidia's edge looks to be between 5% and 10%.

But the most interesting of all Fermi's specifications is its power consumption: Nvidia puts the GTX 470 at 215W and the GTX 480 at a massive 250W. With each card successively installed, our test rig idled at 131W and 204W respectively; when stress-tested with FurMark those figures shot up to 380W and 406W. Compare that to a peak of just 267W with ATI's fastest single-GPU card installed, and you'll get an idea of just how hungry Fermi is. The GTX 480's core also reached a scorching 98°C, and during games you'll have to put up with a noise like a CD drive permanently whirring into action.

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User comments

Stream Processor Count

Pure speculation, but it looks like they have a process yield issue. 480 is 32 short of 512 and 448 is 32 less again. Is it that they are building chips with 512 stream processors and disabling blocks of 32 during test to get working parts?

By milliganp on 29 Mar 2010

Rumours

They're unverified rumours for now, but we've heard similar talk from various sources. I guess we'll find out when they go on sale next week - don't be surprised if the GTX 480 is in short supply.

By DavidBayon on 29 Mar 2010

@milliganp

I was thinking exactly the same and AnandTech seems to confirm it:

"...GF100 is a 512 SP/core part organized in a 4x16x32 fashion, but these first parts will not have all of GF100’s functional units activated. Instead we’ll be getting a 480 core part for the GTX 480, and a 448 core part for the GTX 470. Ultimately we will not be seeing the full power of GF100 right away..."

for more info see here:
http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3783

By stasi47 on 29 Mar 2010

More rumors

ITLeader says the following:
"...one full SM is disabled. It’s uncertain whether this is because of yield problems. Even using a 40nm process, the GTX 480 chip is massive. Alternatively, Nvidia may have disabled an SM because of power issues ..."

http://www.itleader.info/2010/03/27/nvidias-gtx-48
0-first-fermi-benchmarks/

By stasi47 on 29 Mar 2010

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