GeForce GTX 480 And 470: From Fermi And GF100 To Actual Cards!

Power Consumption And Heat

Here’s where things get dicey. I knew going into this story that the GeForce GTX 480 and 470 would be hot, power-hungry boards—Nvidia told me as much back in January. But measuring the extent of those values is an unscientific practice, at best.

FurMark is generally frowned upon as an unrealistic representation of peak power (a power virus, as AMD’s Dave Baumann puts it). However, it does serve as a theoretical worst-case scenario. Indeed, while the GeForce GTX 480 doesn’t use as much power as the dual-GPU GeForce GTX 295, it does out-consume the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 (no small feat, at 450W system power draw). Also, the GeForce GTX 470 uses significantly more power than the Radeon HD 5870.

Notably-missing from the chart is ATI’s Radeon HD 4870 X2, which we know from past reviews to chew up about as much power as Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 295. However, neither of the X2s in the lab seem to respond to FurMark at all anymore, running at a constant 13 frames per second or so and chewing up slightly-higher-than-idle power numbers. Maybe ATI “cured” that virus with forced lower frequencies in FurMark (the X2 was only able to hit 13 FPS or so, while our other cards were doing 40 or 50 FPS). But that doesn’t prevent the X2 from jumping into the 400+ watt system power range in actual games.

Heat jumps in FurMark as well, though it’s worth noting that none of these boards encountered heat-related stability issues. Keeping up with the thermals does mean the GeForce GTX 480’s fan ramps up fairly aggressively and does generate quite a bit of noise. However, we were unable to replicate that behavior in any real-world gaming load.

We’re actually a bit surprised about the idle power numbers as they were measured. AMD impressed us with the Radeon HD 5970’s 27W idle board rating, achieved in part by clocking its GPU down to 157 MHz and its GDDR5 memory to 300 MHz. Nvidia goes even further, dropping clocks to 50 MHz core, 67 MHz memory (270 MT/s data rate), and 100 MHz for the shaders. Nvidia doesn’t cite its idle board power, but an educated guess would still put the GeForce GTX 480 around 60W at those frequencies.

Just how do the GeForce GTX 480 and 470 size up in such a real-world load? Great question.

I ran all of the DirectX 11 cards in our story through the Unigine v2.0 benchmark, measuring average performance in frames per second. During the run, I had each configuration hooked up to a logger, polling power consumption every two seconds, yielding an average over the run. By dividing power use into average performance, we get an index that should give efficiency advocates something to think about.

Despite its aggressive power use, the Radeon HD 5970’s performance is enough to make it the most efficient board in the lineup, followed by the Radeon HD 5850 and Radeon HD 5870. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 480 and GTX 470 pull up the rear. What I'm wondering is this: Nvidia rates the GTX 480 with a 250W maximum board power. AMD cites 294W for the 5970. Why do we keep seeing Nvidia's card using more system power?

Admittedly, these results are easily skewed—we can drive them one way or the other by hand-picking certain setting to cater to one or another architecture’s strengths. For example, turning off tessellation would give the Radeons a sizable advantage, since they take a more substantial hit when the feature is enabled. In fact, a couple of days before the launch, Unigine released v2.0 of the Heaven test, which adds even more emphasis on tessellation than the first revision used to generate our first batch of results. Thus, our numbers represent a best-case scenario for Nvidia; easing up on the tessellation load shifts the efficiency index even further in favor of the Radeon HD 5800-series cards, and we have charts demonstrating that, too.

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  • infra
    Great review guys! As for GTX 470/480 - It's not as bad as I expected.The cards show some pretty decent numbers compared to 5870 even without its tessellation power used to its best.Perhaps next-gen Fermi will be a true champion - power and heat will be optimized and games will use the architecture of the GPU to its full potential.All in all it's a great architecture, maybe a bit ahead of it's time if you ask me.
  • Anonymous
    Power hungry, noisy, the fight is on. Glad I got the 5870. The driver-updates will see us through.
  • N19h7M4r3
    Power consuption is really high, but i think that efficiency if actually pretty good, but in the end what will matter is $$$ and not everyone will pay to have the best card on the block.
  • Dandalf
    Do we expect AMD to drop its prices in response? Don’t count on it.

    Dammit I was waiting for these cards SOLELY so ATI drop their prices! Aaaarrgghhh
  • Anonymous
    5000 series will keep their prices for a long time
  • mapleo
    Fermi could be a tragedy in NV's history.
    It seems I have to use HD5870 untill HD6870 or GTX580 release.
  • memeroot
    looks god if it came out 6 months back.... as a 3d vision fan thoug it looks like another wait for the right card
  • Dandalf
    Thanks for translation Rabid, wish i saw it before I started rating him down as a bot :| oops
  • Anonymous
    GTX480 buy it!!! Send stove!!! sorry my english is poor!!!
    Wow!!!!!! It's the fastest single GPU card on the planet. And it's a toaster oven and space heater too. What will Nvidia think of next?

    I wonder if it will qualify for any exemptions under forthcoming "cap and trade" regulations?
  • FanterA
    it should also be noted that for UK customers (like myself) that a 5870 can be had for less than the asking price of a 470, and for the prices on the 480, you could have a pair of 5850s in crossfire. Add to this the heat and power concerns, and i think I'll forgo Thermi and get another 5850 when I deem it necessary. so glad i didn't wait :D
  • mapleo

    I'm not a fan for any brand. I only choose products base on my needs. That's my point.
  • Anonymous
    haha Fermi you are out!!
  • carlos0248

    I thought the GTX480 just like editor said that the best performance but the price and power consumption was higher. Don't count it can cause ait drop their price.
  • Anonymous
    It's a true fact that NV is always good at Games becouse of its "way" plan. Viedo card is often used to play video games after all.
  • goozaymunanos
    sod this..i'm gonna buy a 5850..

    the GTX470 should be retailing at £250.


    p.s. stuff & nonsense:
  • marney_5
    How much are the Fermi cards in the US again? On overclockers UK the 480 prices around £450! Where the 5870 is around £320! Is this correct? Because Fermi is sh*t value if its only slightly faster and £100 extra!

    I only waited for this card so the ATI prices would go down!!! Dammit!
  • my_jacks
    Sparkle GeForce GTX 480 1536MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card
    £445.99 (inc VAT)

    Sparkle GeForce GTX 470 1280MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card
    £309.99 (inc VAT)

    Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 5970 2048MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card
    £499.99 (inc VAT)

    Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5870 1024MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card
    £299.99 (inc VAT)

    Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5850 1024MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card
    £220.99 (inc VAT)

    - Overclockers UK (29/3/10)
  • 13thmonkey
    what happens to power and heat if v-sync is on, i.e. if the card can do 120+ fps on a game but is limited to 60fps by v-sync, does that reduce the power and thermals as it is only calculating 50% of the frames.

    I assume it calculates a frame, waits for 60hz refresh (idles) displays it, calcs another one waits (idles), calcs another one, etc.

    or does it just calc and calc and calc and then show the one frame that was most recently completed on the refresh, then calc calc calc and show the most recent on the refresh, ignoring the results of the nondisplayed calcs.
  • damian86
    ATI is still being your 'daddy'