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The GTX 580 is the most powerful single-GPU card solution, according to early testing. It delivers approximately a 10 percent bump from the GTX 480, but costs about 20 percent more.  (Source: T-Break)
Higher retail prices mean that you spend about 20 percent more to get a 10 percent performance boost

Today NVIDIA officially launched the GTX 580, the first card in its Geforce 500 Series.  Like AMD's Radeon 6000 series, the Geforce 500 series isn't a major architecture design and is still produced on the same 40 nm process by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Ltd.

Despite the fact that the card itself isn't exactly earth-shaking, this launch is clearly a big deal for NVIDIA, as it represents the company closing the gap on release time with AMD.  And the card reportedly picks up right where NVIDIA left off, boosting the company's high end performance even higher.  But how big an impact will it have?  Continue ahead for our thoughts.

The Card

The Geforce GTX 580 is absolutely a performance beast.  In some regards, it is basically an overclocked GTX 480.  But it also bumps the Shader Processor (aka "CUDA core") from 480 (with the GTX 480) to 512.  It also tacks on 4 extra "Special Function Units", taking the total to 64.

The die size has actually shrunk slightly to 520 mm^2, while the transistor count stayed steady at 3 billion. 

Clock speeds have been bumped up across the board.  The standard core clock jumps from 700 MHz to 772 MHz.  The shade clock is bumped from 1.401 GHz to 1.544 GHz.  And the GDDR5 memory clock is pushed from 3.696 GHz to 4.008 GHz.

Despite the clock speed increases, the TDP is down from 250 watts to 244 watts.  Impressive.

NVIDIA dubs the new architecture GF110, but essential this appears to be very similar to the GF100 architecture in the GTX 480.

Other than the clocks and number of processor units, pretty much everything else stays the same.  The memory bus is still 384-bits wide and there's still roughly 1.5 GB of it.

The clock increases yield roughly a 4.1 percent increase in pixel fill rate, a 17.6 percent increase in texture fill rate, and an 8.5 percent increase in memory bandwidth.

Clearly things are moving in the right direction for NVIDIA.

Moving on from the base electronics, NVIDIA's biggest addition is a new vapor-chamber cooler.  Vapor-chamber coolers are advantageous in that they run quiet and cool.  In fact, early reports are indicating that NVIDIA's cooler is indeed as effective as it claims at this.  The downside is that they can suffer corrosion issues you wouldn't get in a standard cooler, plus cost more -- for the hardware maker, at least (more on price later).

The card requires a 6-pin and an 8-pin power connector.  Up to four GTX 580's can be chained up in SLI.

Do Any of You Guys Want to go Fast?

NVIDIA and AMD clearly have different priorities.  If you "wanna go fast" NVIDIA appears to have the edge with its current lineup.  If you want the most bang for your buck, AMD looks to hold a slight lead.  With that regard NVIDIA is clearly prescribing to the Ricky Bobby mindset -- "if you ain't first, you're last".

The bad news is that the GTX 580 isn't the fastest card on the planet.  The good news, for NVIDIA is the GF110 is the fastest GPU on the planet, it appears, and the GTX 580 is the fastest single GPU card.

T-Break was the first to publish benchmarks for the card (they were the only ones bold enough to break the embargo).  They found that the new card, in DirectX 11 testing outperforms both the GTX 480 and AMD's Radeon 5870 2 GB model by at least 10 percent.  It's about 10-15 percent slower than the dual-chip AMD Radeon 5970 -- still an impressive feat.

At DirectX 9 and 10 benchmarks, the GTX 580 furthered its lead, beating even the Radeon 5970 at Farcry 2 and Street Fighter IV.  It earns roughly a draw at Starcraft II, which may not be overly meaningful, given that this is a very CPU-limited, GPU-friendly title.

The card also appears to be a decent overclocker, with T-Break reporting a stable overclock of 8 percent (to 832 MHz).

Is the Price Right?

The NVIDIA GTX 580 is clearly a tempting card, particularly for those enthusiasts who still feel some love for old green.  But can the company be competitive with pricing?

When we aired our piece on the upcoming card yesterday, many commented that the card was going to be "$600" and hence a poor deal.

Those fears seemed largely unwarranted.  NVIDIA is officially pricing the hot card at $499 USD.  While NewEgg.com  lists all of the cards at $570 USD or more, a 10 percent promo code takes the cost down to around the $500 target price ($520 to be more precise).  Considering that you can snag a GTX 480 for as cheap as $429 USD, the overall picture becomes a bit more clear -- you can get a roughly 10 percent real world performance increase by paying roughly 20.9 percent extra.  That's reasonably competitive in the enthusiast world. 

That said, NVIDIA and AMD clearly have different operating philosophies.  AMD launched its first 6000 series cards (in the Barts subfamily) -- the Radeon 6850 and 6870 -- late last month.  Really, these cards couldn't be farther from the GTX 580 in terms of target audience.

The Radeon 68[57]0 retail for a target price of $179 USD and $239 USD respectively.  That means that you could pick up two (!) Radeon 6870s, and still pocket $40, for the price it would take you to obtain the beastly Geforce GTX 580.

NVIDIA has been relatively competitive in dropping the price of its lower end Geforce 400 series models, but AMD seems to be doing a bit better in the price department.

Conclusions

Looking ahead AMD will soon launch its new and improved performance lineup -- led by the Cayman (single GPU) and Antilles (multi-GPU) subfamilies.  These cards should be the real test of the GTX 580's dominance, particularly the Radeon HD 6970 (Cayman XT).

It might be wise for enthusiasts to wait a couple weeks if you don't absolutely need the GTX 580 right now.  Once AMD launches its high end counterpunch, the prices of the new Geforce GTX 580 will likely drop.

By the same token, NVIDIA is almost invariably working on more budget-friendly Geforce 500 series entries.  Unlike Antilles and Cayman, though, much less info is available on when these budget models might launch.  So wait at your own peril.

At the end of the day, though NVIDIA has cut a roughly eight month lag (between its GeForce 400 series and AMD's Radeon 6000 series) to less than a month.  Clearly things are shaping up at old green.  Ultimately, though, the company may come to regret not targeting the higher volume market first, as AMD is doing.




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