Articles: Graphics

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Nvidia’s Fermi graphics architecture did not find its way to the market easily but now a GPU that is destined to be the flagship of the company's line-up as well as of the whole industry is moving up that road.

The GF100, the first graphics processor in the Fermi series, was meant to be the best among single-GPU solutions, but Nvidia had some serious problems with it. Notwithstanding its earlier negative experience with the G200 chip, the company once again tried to come up with a "world's fastest graphics processor" and packed as many as 3 billion transistors into the GF100. As the consequence of such complexity, the GF100 came out too big, sophisticated and hot even when manufactured on 40nm tech process. Its power consumption was huge as well. The GF100 had been meant to incorporate 512 unified stream processors, 64 texture-mapping units, 48 raster back-ends and a wide 384-bit bus to access a local bank of GDDR5 memory. While there were no significant problems with the graphics memory and RBEs, Nvidia did not succeed in achieving an acceptable yield of chips with the planned degree of complexity on the available manufacturing process. As a result, the new series' flagship model was released in a cut-down configuration with 480 stream processors and 60 texture-mapping units. Officially announced on March 26, 2010, the new card only emerged on the market in April, and in very limited quantities, too.

The GeForce GTX 480 graphics card delivered good, yet not exceptional performance for its class due to its cut-down GPU configuration and rather low clock rates. It proved to be unable to shake the position of the leader Radeon HD 5970. One reason for that was the misbalanced texture-mapping subsystem. The GeForce GTX 480 had only 60 TMUs and clocked them at a rather low frequency. Besides, its TMUs could not process textures in the FP16 format, which is rather popular in today's games, at full speed. Hardware reviewers all agreed that that was a bottleneck in the GeForce GTX 480 design. That was bad news for Nvidia and the situation called for improvements. The first news about the new successor to Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 appeared back in October.

Long before the official announcement of the GF100’s successor, it had been rumored on the Web that the next flagship core from Nvidia would have not only 512 stream processors but also 128 texture-mapping units to get rid of one of the bottlenecks of the Fermi architecture and make the new GPU competitive in the upcoming fight with the AMD Radeon HD 6900 series. Of course, winning such a fight doesn’t change the GPU developers’ fortunes much because expensive graphics cards account for but a small share in the total sales volumes. It is the affordable products selling at $200-250 and lower that bring in the main profit for both AMD and Nvidia. However, premium-class graphics cards are important for marketing reasons as they tell the whole world about the company’s ability to develop and produce advanced technological solutions. Being a technological leader is very positive publicity, after all. We, on our part, should confess that benchmarking top-end graphics cards is far more exciting for us, hardware reviewers, and for spectators, i.e. gamers. Again, this puts the rest of the winning company's solutions under the spotlight.

So how do the things stand right now? Nvidia has managed to deal a preventive blow to AMD by releasing its GeForce GTX 580 before the announcement of the Radeon HD 6900 series. The new top-end graphics card is going to prove that Nvidia has not lost its ability to develop super-fast graphics solutions capable of beating all its opponents. In this review we will check out what we can really expect from the new claimant to the throne of the 3D graphics realm.

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