Nvidia’s release of the GF104 processor was a real breakthrough for the company which had not had an inexpensive chip to produce profitable mainstream graphics cards. The GF100 processor, the first in the Fermi series, was too expensive, hot, big and sophisticated to fill the part as the GeForce GTX 465 was a vivid example of: that GF100-based card could not deliver as much performance as its high price implied.
The GeForce GTX 460 has improved the situation dramatically. Now Nvidia offers two affordable solutions, the senior model of the new series being especially appealing: officially priced at $229, it supports all modern technologies including PhysX and CUDA and is much faster than the ATI Radeon HD 5830 and GeForce GTX 465, making the latter outdated.
Nvidia set the GPU clock rate of the new cards at 675 MHz for the main domain and 1350 MHz for the shader domain. With such parameters the GeForce GTX 460 1GB proved to be unrivalled in its price category. However, many manufacturers released pre-overclocked versions of that card. We benchmarked the Gainward GeForce GTX 460 GS GLH and found out that the GeForce GTX 460 1GB could challenge the Radeon HD 5850 and, occasionally, even the far more expensive GeForce GTX 470 if clocked at GPU frequencies of 800/1600 MHz. If viewed from a multimedia standpoint, the GF104 is the first GPU from Nvidia to support Protected Audio Path, so it can work with multichannel HD audio formats (Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio) that used to be supported by the Radeon HD 5000 series only. It’s better late than never. Thus, the GF104 is a real turning point for Nvidia. The company has caught up with AMD technologically and is now ready to counterattack.
The GF104 is known to have debuted on the market in a cut-down configuration. There are only seven active execution clusters within its core out of the total eight. In other words, it can only use 336 out of the 384 ALUs and 56 out of the 64 TMUs which are physically present. This reserve of resources may become available to users after Nvidia unlocks it and releases an updated GF104. We can’t make any predictions about what the performance of such a GPU might be but we can check the current GF104 out at frequencies above 800 MHz. After some looking around and probing into the overclockability of a few graphics cards, we selected a Palit GeForce GTX 460 Sonic Platinum for our experiment. Let’s have a look at its design first.