It was certainly no secret that GeForce GTX 480 fell short of Nvidia’s aspirations. Nevertheless, the 480 still managed to outpace AMD’s Radeon HD 5870 (I’m not sure the Radeon HD 5970 was ever really in that board’s crosshair).
Nvidia armed the GeForce GTX 480 with an attractive feature set that included great performance in today’s games, design cues that’d help augment frame rates in more demanding geometry-heavy titles (it looks like the company’s projections are actually coming to pass through games like HAWX 2), CUDA support, PhysX, and 3D Vision. Weighing down that list was a more palpable collection of cons, including a high price tag, incredible heat, and a distractingly-loud cooler. Those dings were enough to hold us back from a recommendation.
Before the 480 even launched, though, Nvidia was back to the drawing board, righting some of what it knew enthusiasts would find wrong. Eight months later, we have the product of those efforts: GeForce GTX 580.
Is the 580 too little too late?
That depends on the type of buyer you are. On one hand, Nvidia addressed the noise issue. And while this board sports the same TDP as its predecessor, Nvidia’s engineers used the thermal headroom they freed up through rearranging the chip to crank the clocks and enable its 16th SM. Yay for more performance. What’s more, the GTX 580 should fill the 480’s price point, ducking in under $500. There’s not a whole lot new here, but we’ll certainly take those improvements and give the card a much more enthusiastic thumbs-up. As one of the company's partners jokingly said to me during a recent conversation, "It's like they go through this cycle of ego, reconciliation, and innovation. The last step is when we get good hardware." The GeForce GTX 580 is the culmination of that cycle, just as the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra fixed the FX 5800 back in 2003.
On the other hand, we all know that AMD is planning to unveil its high-end Cayman design before the end of the year—and there’s not a ton of time between then and now. Regardless of how Cayman performs, it’s a fairly safe bet that prices will shift to reflect the relationship between that that card and this one. There's a twist, though. Back when the Radeon HD 6870/6850 launched, we were given a date for the Cayman debut. As we inch closer to it and nobody anywhere knows anything about it (board partners haven't seen cards, system builders are still in the dark), it begins to look like there may be delays. From what I've heard, AMD won't even be briefing its partners until after that original embargo date passes.
Of course, I could just be wrong here, and AMD is simply doing a good job of maintaining a low profile to avoid cannibalizing sales of its fastest Radeon HD 5000-series cards. Sometimes, silence speaks volumes, though.
I’m normally fairly decisive, but this is one of those occasions where AMD and Nvidia are launching in such close proximity that it'd almost be silly not to see what happens with Cayman. That launch could be what cements this board's appeal. Or, it could completely justify the short wait. Without a doubt, though, AMD’s next single-GPU flagship stands to face much more intense competition than it would have in a world dominated by GTX 480.