It has been a long and bumpy road for Fermi, but with the GeForce GTX 580, which was announced today, Nvidia seems to be delivering on the promise of its new GPU architecture.
The first Fermi GPUs were late--partly because of 40nm manufacturing issues at its foundry, TSMC--and did not get great reviews. The GeForce GTX 470 and GTX 480 ran at slower clock speeds than anticipated, topped out at 480 processing cores (at least one of its 16 blocks of 32 processors each was disabled), drew lots of power and made more noise than competing cards. That left a big opening for competitor AMD, which began shipping its first 40nm DirectX11 GPUs, the Radeon HD 5800 series, back in September 2009, followed it up with a dual-GPU version, the 5970, a couple months later, and quickly rolled out lower-priced versions around the end of last year.
The brute performance of the GeForce GTX 480 was good enough to allow Nvidia to reclaim the title of world's fastest single GPU, but only by a small margin and it came at a high cost in both dollars and power compared with the Radeon 5870. Moreover the dual-GPU Radeon 5970 cost only a little more. Later versions of the GeForce 400 series and driver improved the performance per dollar equation, but feeling was that AMD had won this round.
The GeForce GTX 580 is the start of a new fight. It isn't just a slightly faster version of GF100 GPU used in the GeForce 400 series. Instead it is based on a GF110 GPU that Nvidia says has been "re-engineered from the transistor-level up" to increase performance and reduce power consumption. The specs seem to bear this out. The GTX 580 has the full 512 processing cores active (16 blocks of 32 cores), runs at faster GPU and memory clock speeds, and uses less power. It also has a new cooling design that reduces fan noise.
Several sites have posted reviews of the GTX 580 (links below), which is available starting today in graphics cards that cost $500 or more. Based on the reviews, the GTX 580 is around 10-20 percent faster than the GTX 480 depending on the test while using a little less power. That is good enough for Nvidia to claim (again) that it has the fastest single GPU, but the competitive picture is more complex. The dual-GPU Radeon 5970, which also starts at $500, remains faster and as The Tech Report points out, you could get even better performance form two of the new Radeon 6870 boards in a CrossFire configuration for the same price. Finally AMD is also expected to announce a new high-end GPU, the Radeon 6970 (code-named Cayman) around the end of this month, though there are rumors that this product may be delayed.
The GF100 introduced new features designed specifically for the emerging GPU computing market. The GF110 retains all of those features, but it is geared specifically toward Nvidia's traditional 3D graphics market making it a more competitive product for gamers and desktop enthusiasts.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 reviews: