NVIDIA Fermi - GTX 470 - GTX 480 - GTX 480 SLI Review

Fermi is finally here! We put the new GeForce GTX 470 and GeForce GTX 480 video cards through the paces in four of the latest and most demanding games recently released. We find time for GeForce GTX 480 SLI as well. We compare these to the Radeon 5850, Radeon 5870, and the Radeon 5970.

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Power, Temp & Sound

by: Kyle Bennett

(Update 04/01/2010: I wanted to update this section of our review with another article we have done, GeForce GTX 480 Real World Temperatures & Sound. - We have now spent some quality time with NVIDIA's Fermi in the form of its GeForce GTX 480 SLI and GTX 480 video card configurations. There has been a lot of talk about the sound and temperatures produced by these new GPUs. We look to put a fork into all the rumors and misunderstanding in the enthusiast community.)

We are making an effort to have this information be a bit more valuable to you than how we normally cover it. Below you will find a series of videos that will show you power used as well as let you hear exactly how the cards sound. Below the videos are graphs of our load power, temperature, and wattage data.

(Due to some logistical limitations the Radeon 5970 is not covered below, but we have substituted Radeon 5870 2-Way Crossfire, which should be very comparable to a 5970 and its power profile.)

The videos will show you wattage used "at the wall" using a Thermaltake Toughpower 1200W PSU. It is two years old now but very efficient and almost silent as well. In the wattage range we are using it in, it is approximately 87% efficient. We have used a well placed microphone to get a good recording of the sound profile of the video cards used. The mic used was a TR-50 BPS. It was positioned 6" from the fans on the cards. It is a very high quality microphone and I can assure you that the videos below give you a very accurate representation of what the configurations actually sound like sitting in the same room with them.

While we would usually allow you to download or embed our videos as you wish, we have "locked" these down so that the videos are only visible here on this page. We felt as though we did not want them "taken out of context," but rather to all be together so the comparison is valid.

I had the idea to shoot videos after I was looking at the decibel chart of all the cards. It was rather unimpressive. The 5850 was the "quietest" card at 54dB. The rest of the cards sort of lumped together in the 56dB to 57dB range. The SLI and CrossFire setups were of course the loudest with the CF cards coming in at 59dB and the SLI cards coming in at 60dB at its loudest.


Loaded GPU Wattage, Sound, and Temperature

GeForce GTX 470

GeForce GTX 480

Radeon 5850

Radeon 5870

GeForce GTX 480 2-Way SLI

Radeon 5870 2-Way CrossFire


Loaded GPU Wattage & Temp - Idle GPU Wattage

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We used FurMark v1.8 to load our video cards. This puts the hardware in a load situation that is "synthetic," but from our game testing here, it is not far from real world loads.

While power consumption is a big issue with GPUs, we have to admit that the GF100 did not come in as hot as we had expected. Sources inside NVIDIA reported to us several months ago that GF100 would be a 300 watt GPU. It has come in well short of that, but there is no doubt that it still uses a lot of power. For all of the system wattages shown on this page, you can multiply by .87 to find out what the load on the PSU is rather than at the wall.

For anyone running a 2-Way SLI GTX 480 setup, we would suggest no less than a 800 watt power supply of good quality and surely we suggest a 1000 watt if you are overclocking anything in your system. (1000 watt PSU doesn't sound stupid anymore does it?!? wink ) For a person wanting to run a single GTX 480, we would suggest no less than a 600 watt power supply but we would be more comfortable with a 700 watt power supply; again if you are overclocking anything in your system. That should give you a safe bit of headroom and keep your PSU from running "in the red" continuously. It is hard to suggest any less for the GTX 470 either. NVIDIA's official stance is a 600w PSU for GTX 480 and 550w PSU for GTX 470.

We did see this, and it very much worth mentioning. With a nicely overclocked Core i7 920 processor (3.6GHz) and GTX 480 SLI, we saw at the wall wattages exceed 900 watts at the wall in some very stressful GPU system situation.

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Idle power usage for the GTX 470 and GTX 480 was better than we expected. NVIDIA has a handle on keeping the power down when it is not needed. Worth keeping in mind though, when we say "idle" we mean "idle." Even light browsing or pretty much any kind of computer usage kicks the power usage up very quickly. It was not uncommon to see the GTX 470 and GTX 480 jump 50 watts with the opening of a web page.

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The GTX 470 and GTX 480 get hot and these both get hot very quickly once a load is put on them. Too keep the GPUs at the limits shown on the chart above, you are going to hear the fans. It is just that simple. The cards are loud and hot when gaming a high resolutions with lots of shader activity. But take a look and a listen at the videos above and make up your own mind.