Nvidia GTX 480 Review

ccokeman - 2010-03-18 18:38:15 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: March 26, 2010
Price: $ 499 Est.

Introduction:

Ever since the introduction of the "Fermi" architecture back in November at NVIDIA's GPU Technology Conference the question has been, can it dethrone the HD 5000 series that ATI dropped on the world just a scant week earlier, bringing along game changing performance and the first DirectX 11 cards to market? ATI brought the heat and put NVIDIA on the ropes as its top single GPU card, the GTX 285, took a beating. Ever since the Fermi name was released there have been leaks and rumors that really threw up a smoke screen to cover up what was really under the hood. NVIDIA released little tidbits here and there to show progress as everyone waited for a firm release date. Just after CES we had an opportunity to sit in on an in depth look at the new architecture and see what it was really capable of. I came away from this eagerly waiting for the day I could lay hands on the first of the GF 100 cards, now known as the GTX 480, to put it through the ringer and see if the canned tests we looked at were all she had or if there truly was more under the hood. Well, that day is today, right here, right now! Let's jump into a quick look at this sample from nVidia and see what happens!

Closer Look:

Without all the packaging and bundle we can jump right into the GTX 480 and see just what it's all about. This is an NVIDIA reference card and should represent what the bulk of the GTX 480 initial offerings will look like with, of course, the main differences being the manufacturer graphics and stickers affixed to the cards. This beast measures a full 10.5 inches long and features a large heatpipe based cooling solution to cool the large die containing three billion transistors while also working to keep the 1536MB of memory cool as well. This card is PCI-E 2.0 compliant and is NVIDIA's long awaited response to the HD 5870. Key features include a total of three billion transistors used in 480 CUDA Cores, more than double the GT 200 predecessors, but still 32 short of the original 512 we were all shown, 60 texture units, 48 ROPs, and 15 streaming multiprocessors on four GPU clusters. There is a total of 1536MB of GDDR5 memory running through a 384-bit bus that combine to deliver higher memory bandwidth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For connectivity you get a pair of Dual Link DVI connections and a mini HDMI port capable of outputting HD sound. The power connections required for the GTX 480 include both a single 6-pin and a single 8-pin PCI-E power connection. This card is SLI capable with the use of an SLI bridge connection. SLI scaling has been said to be in the 80+ percentage range with two cards but add in a third and scaling should be quite impressive.

 

 

The cooling system for the GTX 480 consists of a heatpipe based system connected to a fin array under the metal cover that helps shed additional heat. The four heatpipes sit directly on top of the GTX 480's core so there is no baseplate to create a barrier to dissapating the thermal load that should be somewhere in the range of the board max TDP of 250 watts. Air blows through the housing and exhausts the heat outside the case.

 

 

The GTX 480 is built upon the GF 100 Fermi architecture and carries clock speeds of 1401MHz on the shader cores, 700MHz on the core and 924MHz on the GDDR5 memory. The 1536MB of frame buffer memory runs through a 384-bit bus and delivers 177.4 GB/s of memory bandwidth. The GPU consists of four GPU clusters that house the 480 CUDA cores, 60 Texture units, 15 streaming multiprocessors and 48 ROPs. For memory, NVIDIA has chosen to use modules from Samsung.

 

 

Waiting to see what the GTX 480 is capable of is no longer a mystery, so let's see just what kind of performance it can deliver and see if the three billion transistor beast has the chops to knock the HD 5870 down a peg or two.


 

Specifications:

 
Graphics Card
GeForce GTX 470
GeForce GTX 480
Processing Units
Graphics Processing clusters
4
4
Streaming Multiprocessors
14
15
CUDA Cores
    448
480
Texture Units
56
60
ROP Units
40
48
Clock Speeds
Graphics Clock (Fixed Function Units)
607Mhz
700Mhz
Processor Clock (CUDA Cores)
1281Mhz
1401Mhz
Memory clock rate(Clock Rate/Data Rate)
837MHz  (3348MHz)
924 MHz(3696 MHz)
Memory
Total Video Memory
1280 MB
1536 MB
Memory Interface
320 bit
384 bit
Total Memory Bandwidth
133.9 GB/s
177.4 GB/s
Fillrate
Texture Fill Rate(Bilinear)
34 GigaTexels/sec
42.0 GigaTexels/sec
Physical & Thermal
Fabrication Process
40nm
40nm
Connectors
2x Dual Link DVI-I, Mini HDMI
2x Dual Link DVI-I, Mini HDMI
Form Factor
Dual Slot
Dual Slot
Power Connectors
2x6 Pin
1x6 Pin, 1x8 Pin
Max Board Power (TDP)
215 watts
250 watts
Recommended Power Supply
550 watts
600 watts
GPU Thermal Threshold
105°C
105°C

Features:

Testing:

Testing the latest card from NVIDIA, the GTX 480, will consist of running the card through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks to test the performance of the GTX 480 against many popular competitors to gauge its performance. The games used are some of today's popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to one another. The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing where PhysX will be disabled in the NVIDIA control panel. Clock speeds on each card are left at stock speeds. I will test the GTX 480 at both stock speeds and then overclocked if the tools are available to see how much additional performance is available when you choose to overclock the card and see if it shows any significant improvement in performance for the effort.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Early on I found that there were not any readily available tools to overclock the GTX 480 or read the clock speeds correctly. Fortunately, NVIDIA had that slight problem covered with the latest beta implementation of GPU-z and EVGA's Precision overclocking tool. When you take a look at the screenshot you will notice that the core clock speed for the GPU core is not an available option. Looks like something is wrong, but really is it? The short answer is no. The reason that the core clock speed is not visible is that with the GF 100 Fermi architecture the GPU core clock speed is controlled by the shader clock speed. So in essence the two are linked. Once you get past that, overclocking is pretty much like any other card. Bump the clock speeds and test! I moved up in 50MHz jumps on the shader/core clocks until I reached the point where a lock up or driver failure was my signal to back it down. I reached that point at just over 1600MHz. By backing the clocks down until I reached a point where I could pass the benchmarks and play games for well over an hour at 2560x1600. The clock speeds I ended up with were 1609MHz, a 207MHz jump over the factory 1401MHz. I used the same technique to overclock the memory speed reaching a maximum of 2115MHz, an increase of 167MHz over the factory specification of 1948MHz. All while keeping the fan speed around the 60% mark as 100% did not seem to give me any higher clock speed. Go figure!

 

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. Darkest of Days
  4. Call of Duty World at War
  5. Warhammer 40,000 DOW II
  6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  7. Resident Evil 5
  8. Left 4 Dead
  9. 3DMark 06 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage
  11. Unigine 2.0
  12. Metro 2033

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the single GPU comparisons the GTX 480 delivers the highest level of performance and is a full 13 FPS higher than the HD 5870 at 2560x1600.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only cards to deliver equal or higher performance in this test than the GTX 480 are the Dual GPU cards. When compared to the HD 5870 at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 the performance is within 1 FPS. Overclocking brings an additional 3 FPS at 2560x1600 with a larger margin as the resolution decreases.

Testing:

What would testing be if you did not show both sides of the fence? In this test, PhysX was set to low, while leaving the remaining settings intact. You have seen time and again where the ATI cards suffer when PhysX is enabled. Mirror's Edge and Cryostasis are two prime examples. Darkest of Days is no different. What happens in this test shows that, although the game can be played by cards from the red team, the video effects and quality are diminished.

Game Settings:

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GTX 295 and GTX 480 both offer similar performance at the higher resolutions. The GTX 480 is faster than the entire single GPU comparison suite but only beats the HD 5870 by 3 FPS at 2560x1600.

Testing:

Activision's Call of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought CoD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a high resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare the performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highest performance in this game is delivered by the Dual GPU HD 5970 and GTX 295. When it comes to single cards (GPU) the GTX 480 is unmatched, delivering 6 FPS more than the HD 5870 at 2560x1600.

Testing:

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is a Real Time Strategy game that is significantly different than its predecessor, with improved AI and an improved physics engine. You can play either as a single player in campaign mode, or in a multiplayer game where Microsoft's Live ranking system can be used.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the higher resolutions, the GTX 480 delivers more FPS than any card but the HD 5970.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, The Joker and Batman. The Joker Has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to ply your trade.

Game Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GTX 480 delivers higher performance than every card at every resolution save the HD 5970 .

Testing:

Resident Evil 5 is the sequel to one of the best selling video games of all time. You play the game as Chris Redfield a survivor of the events at Raccoon City who now works for the BSAA. Sent to Africa to find the gen6sis of the latest Bio Organic agents you meet up with another BSAA operative and work together to solve the problem. The game offers incredible 3D effects and a co-op gaming style.

Game Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing shows that the GTX 480 has a distinct performance advantage over the HD 5870 in all four resolutions.

Testing:

Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!

Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In three out of four resolutions, the GTX 480 delivered higher frames per second. The dual GPU cards still offer a performance advantage over the single GPU GTX 480, even when overclocked.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The GTX 480 and HD 5870 deliver results in this benchmark that are fairly close, with the GTX 480 ahead in two out of four tests.


 

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Against its direct competitor, the HD 5870, the GTX 480 delivers higher scores than the HD 5870 in all four resolutions. The margins are not huge but are measurable.


 

Testing:

Unigine's Heaven benchmark is the first DirectX 11 benchmark and is based wholly upon the Unigine engine. If Unigine is not a familiar name they are the group behind the "Tropic" and "Sanctuary" benchmarks. Key features of the "Heaven" benchmark include, native support of OpenGL, DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and DirectX 11, comprehensive use of tessellation technology, advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm, dynamic simulation of changing environment with high physical fidelity, interactive experience with fly/walk-through modes and ATI Eyefinity support. Windows 7 is supported and makes use of key DirectX 11 capabilities such as hardware tessellation, DirectCompute and Shader Model 5.0. New for the 2.0 benchmark are more art assets and an Extreme Tesselation mode.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The NVIDIA GTX 480 offers superior performance in this benchmark with the settings used. The tesselation performance is far superior to the performance generated by the HD 5870. While demos can show what the card can do, testing with an existing game engine is a better measure.

Testing:

Metro 2033 is a new game set in post apocalyptic Moscow. The world has become a cold, deadly wasteland where the only refuge left for humankind is in the metro subway systems. Kind of reminiscent of Fallout 3 but with a better story line. This game is developed by 4A games and is published by THQ, the publisher who brought us Bioshock. For this game I will be testing a section of the game called the Bridge with a five minute run through the game.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

In this new title, the GTX 480 shows a significant performance increase over the its main competitor, the HD 5870, in all four resolutions.

Conclusion:

When you get right down to it the GTX 480 offers up better performance than the HD 5870. That's the expectation the world had for this card. In 44 out of 48 tests run the GTX 480 delivered a higher level of performance, a pretty stout performance. In the four tests that it did not outright win, two showed performance equal to the HD 5870 and the two it lost were not by a large margin. With those kind of performance results I have to say that NVIDIA delivered a card that did what it was meant to do, deliver a higher level of performance. This was more evident in the newer games and DirectX 11 game and benchmark results where the GTX 480 cleaned house. The scoring in the Unigine 2.0 benchmark shows the strengths of the Fermi architecture with scores from the GTX 480 finishing almost 100% higher than the results of the comparison HD 5870 when the extreme tessellation preset is chosen. Metro 2033 testing showed that the performance in the Unigine testing was no fluke. The tesselation performance is a result of the all new Polymorph Tesselation engines that reside in each GPU cluster.  Much of the early talk about the Fermi third generation Streaming Multiprocessor architecture was geared toward GPU computing, but make no mistake, this is a video card built for gaming as shown by the results. However, there is so much more that this card can be used for besides gaming; there are an abundance of GPU accelerated applications to make your life easier, such as Badaboom, Vreveal, WinZip, Photoshop and more. For those into the distributed computing scene there is a client that takes advantage of the massive parallel architecture to really push your contributions higher to hopefully help find a cure for some really heinous diseases. NVIDIA's stereoscopic 3D Vision system is not new to the market but supporting it over three monitors is a whole new way to enjoy this technology. When running with three monitors you have what is called 3D Vision Surround. If you don't want to use NVIDIA's 3D Vision system you still can enjoy a surround experience with GT 200 and higher based video cards. The downside is that to run the surround setup you need to run two cards in SLI. If you are going this route you still have the monitor purchase but you just need two cards to really have the horsepower to drive the 746 million pixels per second in a 3DSurround setup. That does add to the cost but really, if you are going that way you have some cash to get there. Pricing is expected to be in the $499 range, or about 50 to 80 dollars more than ATI's HD 5870. Steep but the price point is going to be expected and puts NVIDIA at a point where ATI may not cut prices, making this a bad situation for consumers. Time will tell though.

When it came time to overclock the GTX 480 I was able to get a decent clock speed increase out of the card that showed nice increases in gaming scores across the board. There weren't any utilities already out but EVGA will have its Precision overclocking tool available that gives you the ability to push the clock speeds on the GTX 480. The clock speeds I reached amount to a 15% increase in the Core/Shader speed, from 1401MHz to 1608MHz, and an 11.5% increase on the memory clock speeds, from 1848MHz to 2115MHz. However, to reach this level of performance you need to make sure you have at least a 600 watt power supply with a native 6 and 8-pin PCI-E power connector. Max power consumption for the board is rated at 250 watts. I only saw close to that number while overclocked, with a total system consumption of 451 watts. At idle, the system consumes 206 watts. At stock speeds, the power consumption was about 25 watts lower at 424 watts. The cooling solution used on the GTX 480 looks pretty stout but with fan speeds left at auto the card heats up fast. I saw temperatures over 100 degrees Celsius using Furmark with the fan speeds on auto. Bump the fan speed to 100% and you get temperatures in the mid 60C range. However, you do have a noise penalty when doing this. At a fan speed of 70% I found a good solid balance between noise and temperatures. 80 Celsius is where the temperature peaked in my well ventilated Stacker 810 case. This put me a good 25 Celsius away from the maximum safe temperature. Just make sure your case is well ventilated or you may see the temperatures of the other components in the system increase and cause you other heat related concerns. Cooling those three billion transistors and 480 cores is gonna take some work.

ATI has filled its product stack from top to bottom so NVIDIA has its work cut out for itself, filling up its stack to compete with ATI at all price points. To achieve this, NVIDIA built a scalable architecture that uses GPU clusters so you can drop clusters (four on the GTX 480) to reach a performance and price point. It will be interesting to see how NVIDIA fills out its DirectX 11 portfolio. All things considered, NVIDIA stepped up to the plate (albeit rather late) and delivered gaming performance with visual quality. While the cards do not hit stores until the week of April 12, nVidia has assured us of an ample supply of cards available on launch.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: