We waited and waited. Eventually after somewhat of a delay nVidia launched their Fermi range of cards to much excitement from all of us. Or at least it was excitement until we realised that they had been reduced in performance in a vain attempt to get them to remain remotely cool, but even then they were woefully noisy and hot. A pair of GTX480s in SLI gave out a similar amount of heat to an exploding star, and about the same noise.
nVidia secretly went back to their labs and greatly revised the Fermi 100, and here it is. Much sooner than any of us expected we have the GTX580. This comes hot on the heels of the recently released AMD 6-series cards and so undercuts AMDs own high-end graphics package, the HD6990. As this is the first time for a while that nVidia have hit the market before the equal AMD card we can't wait to see how the gauntlet has been thrown down.
nVidia claim this is everything the GTX480 should have been, with all the hardware tricks and tweaks turned on and a greatly revised cooling solution. They go so far as to call it the best graphics card on the market. Of course claims and reality don't always meet.
Let's have a look at the specifications and see if this is a revolution or purely an evolution.
So what are the main points? Firstly nVidia have finally unlocked all the shaders so the card is operating at full power. The GTX480 had them cut from 512 back to 480, but here they're all available for our use.
Despite this nVidia have also given the core speed a kick up the behind and greatly increased the speed across the board which has the obvious benefits everywhere.
Slightly less obvious are some under-the-hood tricks employed to also reduce the load, and therefore heat, of the card whilst dedicating more time to producing high frame-rates. This is largely due to an improved algorithm that determines what is visible and what is hidden, and so the card spends less time rendering polygons that will be hidden on the z-axis. The other major change is the ability of the GF110 to filter a texture per clock cycle. This will have the most visible frame-rate benefits in games that use a lot of texture filtering such as the high-dynamic range option in the popular Bethesda range of RPGs.
So with that said, here are the specifications.
- New ZOTAC GeForce® GTX 580 graphics card
- World’s fastest DirectX® 11 graphics card
- NVIDIA® Fermi architecture – DirectX® 11 done right
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 580 graphics processor
- Engine clock: 772 MHz
- 512 unified shaders
- Shader clock: 1544 MHz
- 1536MB of GDDR5 memory
- 384-bit memory interface
- Memory clock: 4008 MHz
- PCI Express 2.0 interface (Compatible with 1.1)
- Microsoft DirectX® 11 with Shader Model 5.0 and DirectCompute support
- OpenGL® 4.1 compatible
- NVIDIA® CUDA™ ready
- NVIDIA® 3D Vision™ Surround ready
- NVIDIA® SLI™ ready (3-way)
- Hardware video decode acceleration technology
- HDMI 1.4a compliant
- xvYCC Color & DeepColor compatible
- Hardware-accelerated Blu-ray 3D ready
- ZOTAC® Boost Premium software bundle included
Externally the box follows the fairly standard Zotac arrangement although it's slightly larger than some we've seen. The yellow always looks attractive and makes a lovely change from the blues, greens and reds that we are pretty sick of by now.
As well as a window, which for a graphics card is fairly pointless, the top of the box is clear in its entirety.
Inside we have the copy of Prince of Persia Sands of Time, the driver disk and manual, and a fairly standard set of cables.
There must be some serious trickery going on in the wafers because the original cooler for the GTX480 was an absolute beast of a thing and yet the allegedly cooler and quieter GTX580 heatsink reminds us of nothing so much as the GTX285. If you were the proud owner of one of those you'll know they were amazing at being both of those things we love so much.
In keeping with the evolution of the GTX580 it needs a 8 and 6pin PCIe power despite having more go than its predecessor.
At the business end everything is fairly standard as befits a reference design, although it is odd to see the PCI bracket slightly lower than it should be. Not an issue at all, just a curiosity.
There is a much larger area around the fan to draw cool air in which is a boon if you're an SLI fan. So often card designs don't take into account that you might be running a pair so it's nice to see yet another small touch that can make the difference.
Up Close Cont
Under the shroud the GF110 is revealed in all its glory. A serious amount of holes around the GPU socket make sure the heatsink base is kept in very firm contact at all times.
Speaking of the heatsink it's actually a lot like any other heatsink you've seen from underneath, although there is a lot more ventilation around the fan than we normally see.
This is where the real change lies though. We're still amazed at the tiny fan offset in reference coolers, especially as this is the first thing to go in a third-party design.
Did Sir ask for a large chunk of copper? It's clear nVidia are serious about fixing the heat woes of the GTX480, because this is a monster heatsink in anyones book. A massive lump of copper and aluminium that should help clear all the heat quickly.
Finally a little silicon pornography in the shape of the GF110 chip itself. Slightly smaller than the original GF100 Fermi core, but it's still got a shed-load of transistors packed into its 40nm frame.
For our testing we're going to run the GTX580 against the reference GTX480 to see how well nVidia have improved their reference design, but also against the best of the GTX480s, the MSI GTX480 Lightning.
We could put it up against things like the GTX470, or HD5850 to try and pad out the graphs and force you to click through endless pages, but what's the point? We all know this is the single-GPU weapon of choice, so that's what we'll compare it to. We will save any comparisons to the high-end AMD cards until the HD69xx cards are released and then we will revisit.
ASUS Rampage III Extreme
Intel i7 950 @ 4GHz
6GB Mushkin Redline RAM
Corsair AX1200 PSU
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
The main problem of the previous card was how hot it was and how crippled it had to be compared to the design specifications. This meant that reference designs were almost entirely un-overclockable and it wasn't until we saw the MSI Lightning recently that a version appeared that had some overhead.
Thankfully as proof of the leap forward the GTX580 is over its Dad the GTX480 has a fair bit of room available to overclock and we managed to squeeze an extra 60MHz core speed out of it over the stock. Which is already 75MHz faster than the stock GTX480.
Of course this is really where the money is made, the bread buttered, and other metaphorical comments. Heat was the killer of the GTX480. nVidia have taken two steps to resolve this. Firstly of course is the change in the architecture and heatsink. Secondly though is slightly clever and/or sneaky. If we need to run a card to its knees we use FurMark. Most people do. nVidia know this and have played about so if the card knows that you're running a torture test, it underclocks the card to keep everything cool and within power-limits.
So if you were the type of site who only did that, then you'd imagine this is a very very cool card indeed as our graph below shows. Of course we also know that Crysis Warhead runs the GPU at 99% all the time and nVidia say that gaming performance isn't affected. It certainly doesn't detune the card at any rate because within five minutes we were rapidly heading towards 100°C.
In a lot of ways this could be disappointing, but it's not as bad as it seems. Firstly the card actually keeps going, whereas the GTX480 keeled over at every opportunity. Secondly, and to us as importantly, the card is quiet. Those GTX285 looks aren't misleading because the GTX580 is as quiet as a GTX285 was. Cue lots of gasps from the audience.
3D Mark Vantage
This is where dreams are made or shattered. It's obvious straight away that the nVidia dream is most definitely made. It annihilates all of our previous single GPU scores and runs very close to some dual-GPU ones too. Incredible performance. The only sad thing is that it's what the GTX480 should have been in the first place.
We know that 3D Mark isn't the be-all and end-all of things, but rather a hint at performance. Even still the GTX580 is Gatling Gun compared to the musket of the GTX480. Even the Lightning when overclocked, which is a performance behemoth, is left trailing in the wake of the new nVidia effort.
Every time we bring Unigine to the party we're always happy to see it, such is the level of eye-candy on offer. The main comparison here is obviously between the GTX580 and GTX480, and in this regards the Zotac spanks it quite hard indeed. Sure the Lightning bests it when overclocked, but that's the zenith of GTX480 possibilities, whereas this is a bog-stock reference card.
At 8 times AA we can see how the GTX580 is starting to struggle a little. We are not quite sure why. Maybe there is a built-in thermal detune and we're hitting it. It doesn't appear to be the case though. Although Unigine is notoriously hard to tame.
Alien vs Predator
AvP makes huge use of texture filtering with its outstanding lighting effects and so we'd expect the enhanced architecture of the GTX580 to really shine here and it certainly does. Any extra performance that tips the balance from under 60 to over 60 frames-per-second is a welcome improvement indeed.
Call of Duty Black Ops
Never let it be said that we're not at the cutting edge of releases here at OC3D. Sadly though the other thing that is as reliable as the tides is how many developers are frame-limiting their PC releases. Sure anything over 60FPS is pointless, but it's no good to us. We'll put it on the pile with Medal of Honor.
If modern gaming shows us anything it's that there are far too many FPS games. However we'll dust off the old stalwart Crysis Warhead anyway. In keeping with the latest line of nVidia GPUs, the GTX580 can keep this performance beast in check and happily ticking along at over 60FPS. Something that once seemed unheard of is now more than attainable. The MSI Lightning does beat it by quite a margin though, showing that the GTX580 is certainly an evolution rather than anything radically new.
The Dunia engine was rightly hailed as being fantastic when it was first brought to us with FarCry 2. Vegitation and destructability were amazing, but the fire was the absolute Daddy. Now it's starting to feel its age a little bit all of our cards on test manage to hold their end up comfortably even at these high IQ settings.
Before we roll on to our conclusion let's look at the top and bottom of the performance scale, starting with the top and the benchmark demo for Tom Clancy's HAWX 2.
A long while ago now we stopped using GRiD for our benchmarking because the frame-rates attained were becoming ludicrous, yet here we are with a game that isn't released and we're bashing through 200 FPS average with everything as high as it will go. Good optimisation or another bleh console port? We'll have to wait for the full game to see but for now you can be safe knowing that the GTX580 will give it a proper kerb-stomp.
The antithesis of HAWX 2 is Metro 2033. A game which massacres all but the highest performing systems. The GTX580 enhancements really show their hand here giving us a handful of frames above the older model. Whereas 30 or 40 frames would go un-noticed in HAWX, at these rates even two or three can make a difference to your enjoyment.
So after all that, is the GTX580 another GTX8800 or another FX5800?
When we first got the Zotac out of the box we have to confess we were somewhat taken aback. Considering the main problem with the GTX480 was it being hotter than Katy Perry wearing nothing but a smile the decision to go back to a cooler that appeared simpler at first glance was surprising.
The great news is that looks are deceiving. Under that austere shroud lurks a piece of copper and aluminium so big you could probably make a set of saucepans out of it. It's not just a size queen though because it definitely does the job.
With power comes noise and although we hate to hear our cards whining away all day, we know that a lot of you don't really care when the performance was as good as the nVidia offering. Thankfully the GTX580 is kept well under control in all but the most extreme circumstances without resorting to Delta levels of noise thanks to its redesigned cooler. It is hugely quieter than the old GTX480 and even a HD5970.
Performance is exactly as advertised. nVidia said it's the best single GPU, and we really can't deny that. If the GTX480 was an untamed beast, then this is a wolf in sheeps clothing. The performance is savage. Unrelenting. When started getting the first results up we were so stunned we double-checked. But it truly is an absolute stonker. Quicker than Tom when there is a beer on offer.
Surely all this must come with some downsides?
Well yes, of course it does. But they are not as bad as you may fear, in fact they really are two sides of the same problem.
The problem is the GTX480. It promised so much and delivered so little. Unless what you wanted was a way to contribute to global warming. If you've only just, and when we're talking about £400+ for a bit of hardware then any time in the last 12 months counts as only just, splurged on a GTX480 then the chances of you wanting to do it again are slim. The chances of getting a fair price for your old one are even slimmer. Although you can't say we didn't warn you of the risks when we reviewed it.
It's also about £100 more than the GTX480, and roughly the same as the GTX480 Lightning it was up against. So in one fell swoop nVidia have brushed under the carpet the whole GTX480 fiasco and hope you all get selective amnesia and rush out to buy the GTX580. Thankfully if you didn't buy a GTX480 there aren't any downsides, and if you did this is good enough to soothe the pain.
In the cold harsh world of hardware, where big is good, bigger is better and fastest is best, then you absolutely should rush out and buy the GTX580. It's a phenomenal achievement and is everything that we should have seen in the spring.
We can only mark it down on it following so closely on the heels of its father and being a bit pricey, but it's an easy winner of our Silver award and has such fearsome power it has to win our Performance award too.
Thanks to Zotac for kindly lending us the GTX580 for review. Discuss in our forums.