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

As hardware enthusiasts, it’s only natural to follow the news about upcoming launches. Power users begin formulating their opinions as soon as the first specs get tossed around, regardless of whether they’re official or not. Some of the longest forum threads I've ever read were rumor mill postings from very smart technologists trying to guess at the next generation's capabilities.

But in the case of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 480 and 470, the company didn’t leave much to our imaginations. As far back as September of last year, the GPU giant was waxing poetically about its compute architecture. “Mmm, that sounds nice,” we thought. In January of 2010, it described in graphic detail how GF100 (the GPU centering on its Fermi design) would cut through DirectX 11 titles heavy on geometry. “Sexy! Can’t wait to try it out.”

So, you could say that Nvidia figuratively shot itself in the foot by talking too early, since it’s now late March—almost half a year after the Fermi disclosures were made—and the first desktop-class cards employing the design landed in our Southern California lab one week ago.

They’re not for sale yet. Nvidia says the initial round of cards, manufactured in-house, is shipping to the channel and should be available the week of April 12th (in two and a half weeks). Subsequent boards will come from the company’s partners sometime next month. What will availability look like? According to Nvidia, it’s shipping tens of thousands of GF100-based cards at launch, and by the middle of April, anyone willing to spend $500 on a GeForce GTX 480 or $350 on a GeForce GTX 470 should be able to buy one. Rest assured we’ll stay on top of pricing and availability in our Best Graphics Cards For The Money column.

Of course, AMD was similarly ambitious about availability of its Radeon HD 5800-series cards at launch, and we saw how that one played out. Even now, TSMC’s 40nm struggles spell availability issues on all DirectX 11-class cards.

History Is History

Regardless of the fact that Nvidia is entering the Windows 7/DirectX 11 market six months after its competitor, the company is here now. All of the delays have led up to this point, where we get two graphics cards to compete against the nine Radeon HD 5000-series models AMD has launched since its mad rush began. And, given the $500 and $350 price points, our comparison is further narrowed, since it’s only really the Radeon HD 5850, 5870, and 5970 that populate AMD’s enthusiast-class high-end segment. So, those are the cards you’ll see compared to these two in our benchmark suite. Two thirds of ATI’s DirectX 11 lineup is, as of now, still competition-less—providing DirectX 11 support is at the top of your buying criteria, of course.

We’re also adding AMD’s last-generation flagship, the Radeon HD 4870 X2, Nvidia’s, the GeForce GTX 295, and the company’s previously-quickest single-GPU card, the GeForce GTX 285.

Of course, the gaming community’s initial concern was that Nvidia conceptualized the Fermi architecture principally with compute performance in mind, leaving the GPU's traditional role of speeding up the latest games a secondary objective. There’s no question that the architecture (and by proxy, the GF100 GPU centering on it) is designed to drive the company’s Tesla family into increasingly-demanding supercomputing environments through the implementation of ECC memory and augmented double-precision performance. Nvidia will succeed here. The potential gains of parallelizing certain technical workloads are enormous, and Nvidia’s investment in software development means it has a formidable head start over AMD and Intel in this growing market. What remains to be seen is how the GF100 handles “everything else.”

Here’s where we answer whether the GF100 GPU can hold its own in gaming. The stage is set, the players are in their places, we have a handful of new tests to present, and the results are interesting, to say the least. Let’s meet Nvidia’s new GeForce GTX 480 and 470, and get this show on the road.

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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'