Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 review

9 Nov 2010

The fastest single-GPU card money can currently buy - at least until AMD's challengers arrive

Price when reviewed: 
400(£399 inc VAT)
5

The first card to launch in a new series is usually the fastest. After AMD strayed from that by positioning its HD 6800 cards in the mid-range, it falls to Nvidia to drag the spotlight right back up to raw speed, which it certainly does: the GeForce GTX 580 is the company's new flagship, and it will cost a hefty £340 exc VAT.

It's been a mere eight months since the much-maligned GF100 Fermi core made its debut in the GTX 480, but Nvidia has made plenty of tweaks for this updated GF110 core. The main change concerns the arrangement of the GTX 580's three billion transistors.

Rather than sole use of the existing "fast" transistors, which were inefficient and bumped up both the temperature and power consumption, Nvidia has re-engineered them. Now there's a mix of fast transistors for more intensive tasks and slower transistors for less demanding work. This means less heat is lost, and so the GTX 580's core runs cooler and more efficiently.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 580

Nvidia has also tweaked the organisation of its stream processors. Gone are the 48-processor clusters of the GTX 460; instead Nvidia has gone back to 32-processor clusters, an updated take on the original GTX 480. There are more processors overall, though, with the GTX 580's 512 trumping the 480 of the previous flagship card.

The 772MHz core clock is joined by shaders running at 1,544MHz, and 1.5GB of GDDR5 RAM running at 4,008MHz, while the 40nm die boasts a throughput of 1,581.1 GFLOPs - an increase on the 1,344.96 GFLOPs of the GTX 480.

As expected, performance is through the roof. The GTX 580 ploughed through our standard Crysis benchmarks; we upped things to 1,920 x 1,080 and Very High quality, and it still managed an average of 54fps. That's 11fps faster than the AMD's fastest card - still the Radeon HD 5870 - and 9fps quicker than the GTX 480; only the HD 5970, at 64fps, is faster than the Nvidia card - but that's a dual-GPU card.

Upping things to a more demanding level, we ran the 1,920 x 1,080 Very High quality benchmark with 4x anti-aliasing enabled and the GTX 580 scored 48fps - a full 10fps faster than the HD 5870 and 9fps quicker than the GTX 480. It even managed 28fps at 2,560 x 1,600, which is around double the speed of the HD 5870. If you have a huge TFT, this card is an ideal partner.

Thankfully, it did all this without becoming too hot or loud. The chip's idle temperature of 49¡C rose to 72¡C during our stress test, and our test rig hit a peak power draw of 292W during the same benchmark. Remarkably, that's 161W less than the same test rig drew with the GTX 480 installed.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 580

The heat reduction can be partially explained by Nvidia's innovative cooling, with a vapour chamber replacing the usual heatpipes. The chamber contains liquid that evaporates when heated by the core, drawing heat away from the chip and towards the heatsink. It then cools, liquefies and is then circulated around the chamber to begin another cycle. While this cooler isn't guaranteed to appear on partner cards, we hope many opt to use it - especially since it's pretty quiet, too.

Of course, the top-end card always comes with a top-end price. At £340 exc VAT, it's cheaper yet significantly faster than the GTX 480; although AMD's HD 6870 and HD 6850 look better value, they can't match this level of enthusiast performance.

The situation is sure to change with the imminent arrival of AMD's new top-end Radeon HD 6970 and HD 6950, but there's no denying that right now the GTX 580 is the best single-GPU card money can buy - and a convincing start for Nvidia's latest series.

Details

Price ex VAT £340
Price inc VAT £400
Performance 6
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 4
Overall rating 5

Core Specifications

Graphics card interface PCI Express
Cooling type Active
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce GTX 580
Core GPU frequency 772MHz
RAM capacity 1,500MB
Memory type GDDR5

Standards and compatibility

DirectX version support 11.0
Shader model support 5.0
Multi-GPU compatibility Three-way SLI

Connectors

DVI-I outputs 2
DVI-D outputs 0
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
7-pin TV outputs 0
Graphics card power connectors 8 pin, 6 pin

Benchmarks

3D performance (crysis) low settings 146fps
3D performance (crysis), medium settings 98fps
3D performance (crysis) high settings 72fps