The State Of Graphics
Last year was full of ups and downs in the graphics market. First, Nvidia unveiled its GT200 graphics processor and a pair of boards centering on the chip. It wiped the floor with everything else out there—not exactly difficult given AMD’s mid-range Radeon HD 3800-series, which had already been trumped.
Then AMD pulled a rabbit out of its hat, launching the RV770 GPU and two boards based on that piece of silicon. The fastest Radeon HD 4870 wasn’t quite quick enough to best the fastest Nvidia chip, but it was fast enough that everyone knew the dual-processor Radeon HD 4870 X2 AMD had pre-announced during the launch would put the underdog on top.
Since then, AMD has been busy populating its lineup with mainstream and entry-level boards based on derivative architectures. The Radeon HD 4830 has turned into the least-expensive performance offering. The Radeon HD 4670 and 4650 form the meat of AMD’s mid-range lineup. And the Radeon HD 4500-/4300-series boards make up the entry-level.
Nvidia has responded to AMD’s challenge in a number of different ways. At the high-end, it launched its own dual-GPU card, the GeForce GTX 295. In the middle of its performance line, a less-handicapped GeForce GTX 260 with 216 shader processors gets the jump on AMD’s Radeon HD 4850 (and indeed the 4870 with 512 MB of memory, as you’ll see in the benchmarks here). And a 55 nm replacement for the GT200 yields the company’s latest GeForce GTX 285.
Of course, then there’s Nvidia’s emphasis on its value-adds: CUDA, PhysX, and 3D Vision, all enabled through the company’s software drivers. While we’d consider the trio of technologies to still be in their early stages of mainstream adoption, they’re all still technically advantages. AMD is working out the kinks in its Stream video encoder, doesn’t offer any sort of physics acceleration, and has been oddly quiet about its partnership with 3D monitor-maker iZ3D, which as we revealed at this year’s CES, gives you the same experience on AMD or Nvidia graphics hardware.
In Need Of A Mainstream Answer
While it’d seem to have all of its bases covered, we have to imagine that the massive 55 nm GT200 GPU is still far too large (read: expensive) to work into a card any cheaper than the GeForce GTX 260, leaving Nvidia without a suitable successor to the aging G92, a chip that’s nearly a year and a half old.
Fortunately for Nvidia, that relatively-geriatric architecture was designed and executed well enough, carrying over from a 65 nm process down to 55 nm. Even today, it’s able to do more than just compete against the RV770-based lineup from AMD—a fact proven by today’s GeForce GTS 250 launch.
But while the new board’s name might sound like something new wedged in between the GTX 260/285 and older GeForce 9800-series boards, the truth of the matter is that it’s G92 reborn. More specifically, it’s the GeForce GTX 9800+, a die-shrunk version of the GeForce GTX 9800, which was already a slightly-overclocked re-introduction of the GeForce 8800 GTS.