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Nvidia GeForce GT 240: Family Portrait

Nvidia’s new entry-level gaming graphics card based on the 40nm GT215 core has the following specs (compared to its opponents from AMD as well as to similar products from Nvidia).

Click to enlarge

The new card comes in three flavors which differ in the type and frequency of graphics memory. The cheapest version is distributed among OEMs and equipped with cheap and fast DDR3 but the memory frequency is only 900 (1800) MHz, which limits the memory bandwidth to 28.8GBps. This is unserious even in comparison with the Radeon HD 4770.

The GeForce GT 240 GDDR3 has a memory bandwidth of 32GBps, but that’s not high, either. We guess that this version is going to be the most popular one on the market. Its recommended price is $99.

And finally, the GDDR5 version is competitive to the GeForce 9600 GT and Radeon HD 4770 in terms of memory bandwidth but is no match to newer solutions from AMD as well as to the G92b-based GeForce GTS 240. In fact, the latter card has no relation whatsoever to Nvidia’s new series except for the number 240 in the name. Nvidia just can’t help bringing some confusion into its product nomenclature.

Thus, it is from the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 that we can expect a more or less comfortable performance in modern games, perhaps not at high resolutions. It should be noted that at the time of the announcement of the GeForce GT 240 series there was only one Nvidia partner that had managed to roll out the GDDR5 version. It was Palit Microsystems. The company has introduced as many as five variants of the new card by now: one with DDR3, one with GDDR3, and three variants with GDDR5 including the pre-overclocked GeForce GT 240 Sonic that we’ve got for our tests.

Other than the memory, all GeForce GT 240 variants are identical. They are all based on the new GT215 core that is meant to replace the outdated G94, the heart of the GeForce 9600 series. We cannot say that the new chip is simple. Having only 96 shader processors, 32 TMUs and 8 RBEs, it incorporates almost as many transistors as the G92b which has 128 shader processors, 64 TMUs and 16 RBEs. The GPU die is smaller due to the 40nm tech process, though. Squeezing 727 million transistors into 139 square millimeters wasn’t easy. Nvidia had to cut the clock rates of the GT215 even in comparison with the 65nm G94, let alone the simpler GT216, to get to the required level of chip yield.

Thus, comparing the GeForce GT 240 with its closest relations and opponents, we can see that the GT215-based cards can only really substitute the GeForce 9600 GT in the GDDR5 variant. Although they are superior to their predecessor in terms of computing resources with 50% more shader processors, we cannot expect a 50% performance boost. Why? First, they have lower clock rates. Second, the GT215 has only 8 raster back-ends as opposed to the G94’s 16 RBEs. Although the latter parameter is but seldom a bottleneck in games and may only show up at high resolutions, even the ageing Radeon HD 4770 has 16 RBEs on board. We will check this all out in our practical tests, of course.

It is the processing of multimedia data that the GeForce GT 240 is obviously strong at. Like the previously released GT216 and GT218 cores (the GeForce GT 220 and GeForce 210 cards, respectively), the GT215 is equipped with the fourth-generation PureVideo HD engine and offers full hardware acceleration for both H.264 and VC-1 decoding. It can also output audio over HDMI. It is declared to support HDMI 1.3a but, as we noted in our GeForce GT 220 and 210 review, the lack of Protected Audio Path support means that the card cannot output HD audio in formats other than LPCM. ATI’s fifth-generation Radeon HD series is so far the only graphics card series to offer full support for Dolby True HD and DTS HD/DTS HD Master Audio.

Serving as a discrete PhysX/CUDA accelerator is one more application the GeForce GT 240 may be good at with its 96 unified shader processors. Of course, its computing resources are weaker than those of the Radeon HD 5750 or even Radeon HD 4770, but Nvidia’s GPGPU implementation is superior as yet and enjoys broader support from third-party software developers.

Summing it up, the GeForce GT 240 looks a worthy successor to the GeForce 9600 GT but Nvidia has fallen behind technically anyway. While ATI is already playing on the DirectX 11 field and its solutions have supported HD video decoding and audio-over-HDMI since ancient times (Radeon HD 3000/UVD+), Nvidia is only beginning to implement the transitional DirectX 10.1 standard. Besides, the success of the GeForce GT 240 is going to be strongly influenced by its pricing. The price must be much lower than that of the Radeon HD 5750 as the GeForce GT 240 cannot compete with the latter. GT215-based cards must not cost more than $100 in retail. A price of $80-90 would be even better. Otherwise, we don’t think the GeForce GT 240 will have any appeal in the customer’s eye.

That’s the end of the theoretical part of this review. We will now proceed to practical matters using two closely related products: Palit GT 240 Sonic and Gainward GeForce GT240 1024MB GDDR5 GS.

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