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Graphics: MSI GeForce GTX 580 (N580GTX-M2D15D5)

Tom's Hardware's 2010 Gift Guide: Part 1, For System Builders
By: Chris Angelini

Nvidia had some real problems with its GeForce GTX 480. Not only was the card late, but it also ran hot, sucked down gobs of power, and created quite a bit of noise trying to keep up with cooling.

The GF110-based GeForce GTX 580, designed to rectify the flagship 400-series card’s issues, uses just as much juice. But it does so without the offensive acoustics, and it serves up a fair bit more performance in the process. We’ll take that sort of compromise in the name of frame rates that can’t be contested by any other single-GPU board. And good luck trying to keep up with the GTX 580 in an SLI configuration.

Where did all of the extra gaming muscle come from? Well, Nvidia was able to revise the GF100, which only featured 480 active shader cores of the chip’s 512 total. Not only is the resulting GF110 able to operate with all 512 cores turned on, but it’ll also tolerate much higher clock rates as well. Additionally, optimizations that found their way into GeForce GTX 460 (which launched after the GTX 480 and 470) could also be folded into GF110, yielding per-clock benefits as well.

All of those changes allowed Nvidia to hit a more compelling performance target. However, it still used roughly the same TDP ceiling, leaving the thermal issue to be addressed as well. The company tackled that by swapping over to a vapor chamber-based heatsink for more efficient heat dissipation. It also ditched the heatpipe-based design that caused so many folks to comment on the card’s super-heated exposed surface. Reinforcing on the blower-style fan went a long way to keep noise to a minimum, and an improved fan control algorithm smoothed out the rate at which the cooler ramps up, so it’s not as noticeable.

Nearly all of the cards available right now run at Nvidia’s reference frequencies—likely a result of limited headroom in the chip. After all, we had a non-reference roundup of GeForce GTX 580s planned, but every vendor except one pulled out. So don’t be disappointed if there aren’t many factory-overclocked boards available—the reference design is still very much a beast. In order to prove it, MSI sent over its N580GTX-M2D15D5, which centers on the same design as our review sample.  

At $525, it’s a pricey piece of hardware that can be outperformed by a couple of Radeon HD 6870s in CrossFire. If your aspirations are lofty, though, and you want two of these in SLI, you’re king of the hill. In the same vein, if you only have two expansion slots worth of motherboard space available to populate and can only use one card, this is as fast as it gets.

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