Nvidia GeForce FX 5900: a first look

Can Nvidia's latest graphics card finally challenge ATI's Radeon 9800? The jury's still out -- here's the opening address.

At the annual E3 gaming industry conference in Los Angeles, Nvidia has unveiled its hotly anticipated high-performance graphics card, the GeForce FX 5900. Set to hit stores in June for about $399 (about £250), the 5900 is being billed as ‘the industry's fastest graphics processor’. But the question is whether it can make up ground lost by its predecessor and help Nvidia reclaim the crown as the king of the graphics cards.

Can Nvidia’s GeForce FX 5900 finally challenge ATI’s Raedon 9800?
The graphics card race has changed dramatically from a year ago, when Nvidia was the undisputed champ over chief rival ATI. But after suffering from delays in getting out its GeForce FX line on time, and with ATI upping the ante with two strong releases, Nvidia is losing street cred by the day, which was only made worse by the poor performance of the promising GeForce FX 5800.

Screen from Battlefield 1942: Secret Weapons of WWII.
In our tests, the GeForce FX 5800 had a number of problems and was soundly bested in speed tests by competitor ATI's Radeon 9800. The new GeForce FX is clearly an attempt to reverse that trend, and Nvidia says that it has now fixed a number of the issues plaguing the poky 5800.

Lineage II running on GeForce FX 5900.
For starters, the 5900 loses the 5800's gigantic, noisy cooling fan; instead, it uses a new cooling system that increases airflow while drastically reducing fan noise. Nvidia has also moved to correct the 5800's poor performance when anisotropic filtering -- a technology designed to decrease jagged lines -- is activated, with Intellisample technology, which supposedly improves image quality when either the card's anisotropic or anti-aliasing features are in use. However, speed is the real name of the game, and Nvidia has made a few big changes to push this chip's clocking speed ahead of the pack. For one thing, the new GeForce FX has a 256-bit memory interface, matching ATI's highest, which should translate to a healthy speed increase over the FX 5800. And the 5900 boasts the addition of new UltraShadow technology, which is designed to allow for quicker rendering of light and shadows in games, making it easier for developers to create shadow effects.

How Madden NFL 2004 looks on GeForce FX 5900.
But is this new chip really the fastest game in town? The word on the street (and from Nvidia) is that this card is blazing through benchmarks. ZDNet's labs are currently testing this latest addition to Nvidia's GeForce FX family, and we should have our full review next week, with more in-depth information and our own testing results. Until then, the jury is still out on whether the GeForce FX 5900 can successfully dethrone ATI's Radeon 9800 as the reigning speed king.