GeForce GTX 580 Goes To Eleven
It’d be naïve to think that Nvidia was happy with its GeForce GTX 480 launch. You don’t design a GPU with 512 shader cores, ship a flagship board based on that chip with some of them turned off, and then say, “yeah, we meant to do that.” Nevertheless, even the cut-back GF100 GPU was powerful enough to knock AMD’s Radeon HD 5870 down to the humble position of second-fastest single-GPU card. The performance picture painted by GeForce GTX 480 was actually quite good.
Less impressive was the finger-searing heat generated by GF100 as it went about its business, and in turn, the noise emanated from the blower that’d try to keep up with cooling. Two GTX 480s in SLI had to be spaced three slots apart, leaving enough room for ample air circulation. The situation was ugly enough that Nvidia even had to issue a list of recommended cases and motherboards able to cope with the card’s unique “qualities.” And so the fastest single-GPU card in the world became a bit of a pariah—not to the extent of the old GeForce FX 5800, but it inspired its fair share of satirical videos.
Very few folks knew that, by the time GeForce GTX 480 launched back in March, Nvidia was already working on its replacement—a GPU referred to as GF110. That part would go on to tape out two months later in May, setting the stage for today’s introduction. Call this a bug-fixed GF100 positioned to steal thunder from AMD’s upcoming Cayman launch if you must. Gamers care little about snarky accusations, though.
So, what really matters? Performance matters. Price matters. Features matter. Availability matters. And the competitive landscape matters.
Of course we’ll be digging into performance in the following pages. Nvidia says it’s shooting for an initial price of $500, which is right where the 480 sits prior to launch (though rebates commonly drop that to $450 or so). Feature-wise, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about—this card really is very GTX 480ish from a spec sheet perspective. And while I’ve heard claims to the contrary, I approached several of Nvidia’s board partners who are adamant that allocation of GeForce GTX 580 is markedly higher than GTX 480. Companies that received 70 or 80 cards for the prior launch are getting hundreds this time around. If you want to buy cutting-edge, you should be able to.
How about the competition? You can find Radeon HD 5870s for as low as $330 and Radeon HD 5970s sell for roughly $600 (though AMD did get one SKU on one Web site knocked down to $470 after rebate, in case that's a deal you can't pass up; no promises on how long it'll last). We all know AMD’s Cayman and Antilles parts are right around the corner, but the company remains tight-lipped about those boards, their performance, and availability, so they can’t be compared in any way here. Just know that they’re coming—sooner than later. Today, the Radeon HD 5870 and 5970 are our basis for comparison.
GeForce GTX 580 Arrives
And so Nvidia succeeds its flagship without really upsetting the current hierarchy of performance. The company’s fastest single-GPU card puts an even greater distance between itself and the competition’s fastest single-GPU card, but as you’ll see, is generally not as powerful as the fastest graphics card available: AMD’s Radeon HD 5970.
Truly, then, GeForce GTX 580 becomes the Fermi-based card that should have launched earlier this year. It’s here now, though, and what we’re seeing today is a far more compelling offering. The GF110 GPU is still hot, it still uses a lot of power, but the board that employs it handles both attributes far more gracefully, adding a healthy dollop of performance in the process.