Will the real Fermi please stand upWant to buy a quality graphics card for your PC this Christmas? Fancy dropping some serious cash and going for the fastest card around? NVIDIA and AMD would like you to spend some hard-earned cash on their products.
The answer on what to buy won't be readily available until both companies have launched their high-end GPUs in November 2010. AMD brought the Radeon HD 6850 and HD 6870 cards to market last month but is still a short while away from unleashing the top-line HD 6970. NVIDIA is taking advantage of this slight lull in Radeon launches to bring some serious mojo of its own in the form of the GeForce GTX 580.
GeForce GTX 480 - getting better with age
Putting the new launch into context, NVIDIA released the grounds-up Fermi GPU architecture in March of this year. Brought to market for the consumer under the GeForce GTX 480 nomenclature, the GPU attracted both positive and negative adjectives in equal measure. It was thunderously fast and forward-looking in design, absolutely, yet hobbled by a huge die that required serious power-draw and cooling. Boy, you could make it squeal.
Now available from NVIDIA's partners and dressed up with quality aftermarket heatsinks, pre-overclocked GeForce GTX 480 cards remain the very best single-GPU cards on offer. Depending upon which games you play, GTX 480's performance is comfortably higher than the year-old Radeon HD 5870's and a little lower than the twin-GPU-on-one-board Radeon HD 5970's.
NVIDIA knows that AMD has been cooking up a GPU, Radeon HD 6970, whose sole purpose is to dethrone GeForce GTX 480 in the performance stakes. NVIDIA also appreciates that the current GTX 480 architecture has been stretched to the limit; there's only so much one can tweak an already-hot-running GPU.
The company needs a new GPU that's better than GTX 480 in every way that matters - more speed and a better architecture, for starters - but one that can be brought to market quickly. In effect, what it's looking for is a significant tweak to the Fermi architecture, to wring out extra performance from the potent design. Enter GeForce GTX 580.