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.


GTX 480 SLI, GTX 480 and GTX 470

So, GF100 is here, and we’ve been playing new DX11 games on it for a straight week, working ourselves through games such as Metro 2033 and Bad Company 2 and Aliens vs. Predator. Our first impression with the GeForce GTX 480 and GeForce GTX 470 is that nothing really wowed us in our gaming experiences with the cards. The one thing that stood out in our minds was, "We’ve already been here before," the Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850 have been giving us this same experience since last year. But is not all that bleak when you analyze it.

GeForce GTX 470

Starting from the bottom up, we would say the least relevant video card is the GeForce GTX 470. In all our gameplay testing today, not once did the GeForce GTX 470 provide a superior gameplay experience compared to the Radeon HD 5850, even in Metro 2033. In fact, performance was very close between both video cards, and in some cases the Radeon HD 5850 proved to provide faster framerates. Looking strictly at performance, these video cards are equal.

Of course, we have to look beyond just performance, as metrics such as cost and power consumption come into play. The GeForce GTX 470 is more expensive than the Radeon HD 5850. We are seeing some great deals on Radeon HD 5850 cards starting to crop up, and the fact is that the Radeon 5850 can be purchased with a lot less of your cold hard cash. Looking at power, the GeForce GTX 470 consumes a good bit more power than the Radeon HD 5850, while also producing higher thermals.

The HD 5850 is the clear value winner when compared to the GTX 470. We have been telling you that the Radeon 5850 is the best value in enthusiast video cards since last year and the GTX 470 does nothing to change that.

GeForce GTX 480

The GeForce GTX 480 has more relevance to gaming, but at a higher cost compared to the competition. With the GeForce GTX 480 we saw some situations where it provided a superior gameplay experience compared to the Radeon HD 5870. In Metro 2033 it allowed us to use a higher AA setting, and in Bad Company 2 we could utilize 8X CSAA at 2560x1600. In other games, the GeForce GTX 480 did allow high levels of AA at high resolutions like 2560x1600.

The GTX 480 is quite simply not a "Radeon HD 5870 Killer." We don’t know if we were supposed to think it would be or not, but with the power consumption this beast requires, you would hope it would be providing a bit more performance than it is. We can’t say that any of the real world gameplay advantages blew us away compared to the experience of gaming on a Radeon HD 5870. The Radeon HD 5870 proved to allow high AA settings at 2560x1600 in many games, the same as the GTX 280, just not as high. The only game that clearly favors the GeForce GTX 480 is Metro 2033. (And we know that AMD still has its driver team looking over the final code release of the game and has not yet tweaked for it.) Even in BC2, 8X CSAA isn’t a huge improvement over 4X AA which the HD 5870 allowed at 2560x1600. What is the value to the gamer of being able to use 8XAA instead of 4XAA in Bad Company 2?

We are seeing some trades back and forth; in some games the GTX 480 is slightly faster, in other games the HD 5870 is slightly faster. There wasn’t anything that really stood out, other than Metro 2033. Once again, we have to factor in cost, power, and heat. The GeForce GTX 480 consumes more power than the HD 5870, produces more heat, and costs more money (which might also include the cost of a new PSU). It doesn’t seem like the best value with all this factored in. The only thing that "blew us away" was the heat coming out of the video card and the sound of the fan. If you have not taken a look and a listen to the videos on the previous page, you should.

GeForce GTX 480 SLI

More relevant still is the awesomeness of GeForce GTX 480 SLI performance. We simply were not disappointed in the performance that GTX 480 SLI delivered. We think a large part of that may be the fact that the GTX 480 benefits from a larger framebuffer per GPU. Still, the facts are it provided incredible performance at incredible AA settings at 2560x1600. We can make an educated guess that this configuration will equally impress when using multi-display gaming. NV Surround is not yet supported in the current driver release but we are expecting in within 30 days hopefully. While the price of admission is going to be very high, 3x1 display NV Surround gaming looks as though it will possibly bring a "can of whoopass" to multi-display gaming. SLI will be required for NV Surround 3x1 gaming, but you will be able to use 3 DVI displays natively. No DisplayPort required.

We saw real-world benefits, we think are related to the framebuffer, in Aliens vs. Predator. The Radeon HD 5970 was not able to play with 4X AA at 2560x1600, whereas GeForce GTX 480 SLI was. We also experienced awesome performance in Bad Company 2 with 16X CSAA and 2X TR SSAA that was much more than "playable." Even more impressive was DiRT 2, which we were able to have 8X TR SSAA plus 8X CSAA enabled, for a truly breathtaking visual experience. And get a load of this. GeForce GTX 480 SLI allows Crysis Warhead to be playable at 2560x1600 4X AA/16X AF all Enthusiast settings. Take that to the bank, GTX 480 SLI is the real deal.

The downsides to GTX 480 SLI follow the same pattern as the others, cost, power and thermals. GTX 480 SLI is going to set you back $1000 for the cards alone, and the power requirements are severe. GeForce GTX 480 SLI is very much an extravagant enthusiast only solution.

NVIDIA rules the schoolyard when it comes to multi-GPU scaling. CrossFire gets left with a black eye.

Geometry Performance

The big architectural change with the Fermi architecture is in the pipeline layout and geometry engine. This supposedly will aid in providing very fast Tessellation and other geometry performance. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the games we have tested here today are really pushing graphics cards in the Tessellation department. Maybe they will in the future, but right now, this doesn’t seem to be the case. And even then, for what we will see in real world gaming, it seems as if the 5800 series is still going to be very competitive in the Tessellation arena.

In that regard, it seems like NVIDIA’s move to re-design its architecture might be ahead of its time. Of course ATI has had Tessellation for years and years, so it was way ahead of the curve as well. The GeForce GTX 480 and GTX 470 look to have long legs though, and will quite likely remain relevant for a longer period than the Radeon HD 5000 series, at least in terms of raw technology. Only time will tell on that one. At any rate, with the current performance experienced, the enormous power draw, and the cost, it just seems to us like this was a wasted move right now that has only hindered NVIDIA with delays and problems with the Fermi architecture. Right now, the payoff doesn’t seem to be present with this architecture.

The Bottom Line

We see no reason to purchase a GeForce GTX 470. It provides no gameplay advantages compared to the competition, and will actually end up costing you more power and dollars for the exact same performance you can get with the Radeon HD 5850. Factor in the power consumption, and it doesn’t seem worth it. If you have an HD 5850, stick with it, the GTX 470 is not an upgrade. If you are contemplating a great performing graphics card, for a decent price, the HD 5850 is still the best choice.

The GeForce GTX 480 is more relevant in the market but it hasn’t exactly come out of the gate wowing us with performance either. There are some games where it is faster than the Radeon HD 5870, and there are some games where it is even with the Radeon HD 5870. Factor in the cost and power, and include the ability to run Eyefinity on a single GPU, the Radeon HD 5870, to us, seems like the better value for the gamer right now.

GeForce GTX 480 SLI clearly provides a better gameplay experience than the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970. In the dual-GPU competition, we felt GeForce GTX 480 SLI provided the best experience, but it will certainly cost you. It will cost you a lot of money, and it will cost you by requiring a high powered hardcore enthusiast system to support it, again costing you more money. If you are a gamer, and you want the best performance you can get right now, GeForce GTX 480 SLI is where it is at. Just beware of all the consequences of running such a configuration. We are frothing at the bit to get into some NV Surround gaming with a GTX 480 SLI setup! Update - 05/10/2010: As of today NVIDIA has still not released NV Surround technology to end users or reviewers alike. That said, we are still big fans of GTX 480 SLI, but if you are wanting to use it for a multi-display gaming setup, we suggest you wait to purchase those cards until we actually see it working at a consumer level.

Overall, GF100 hasn’t exactly delivered. I think we were all hoping it would provide a substantial gameplay improvement over the Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850. Competition is good, and we would like to see it. Unfortunately, our experiences weren’t as positive as we had wanted. When you break it all down to cost, power and performance, the GTX 480 and GTX 470 don’t measure up. The only saving grace is the awesomeness of GTX 480 SLI, but it comes at some high costs.

That all said, the GF100 is not a 5800 or 2900 redo, but it sure makes you think about it.


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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 SLI 2-Way GPU Configurations