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NVIDIA FX5900 GPU’s – Preview

Will the FX5900 GPU’s help NVIDIA regain the place at the top or will it be another disappointment like the FX5800 Ultra was?


It is no secret that the launch of NVIDIA’s FX series of cards didn’t go as smoothly as expected. A paper-launch that promised a lot, followed by silence, more silence and then a high-end product that didn’t manage to touch the main competitor’s ‘old’ product – not what computer users expected. Would the FX be the start of NVIDIA’s downfall (like the delays were for Rendition and 3dfx)?

Nah, things are not as grim as some would like to portray. First of all, just because the FX was late, that does not mean NVIDIA didn’t have other products to sell. In fact – regardless of all problems, NVIDIA managed to keep their market share up. I guess all those GF4 Ti’s and GF4MX’s still sold pretty well. Second – the FX line is not just the FX 5800 Ultra. Even though the high-end card has failed to impress, the other FX products (FX5200 and FX5600) do perform well, given their market niche. So what to do about the high-end?

As has been said many times, NVIDIA has more than one team designing chips. So – even though the NV30 got delayed, the work on the NV35 (and probably NV40) moved forward as expected. This is why NVIDIA can reveal the FX 5900 (NV35) as their new high-end today. This preview will give you an idea of what the chip can do, as well as provide you with the first benchmarks. Can it compete with ATI’s finest?

Technical Info

What does the NV35 do different from the FX5x00?

Yes – finally! 256-bit memory interface. The number one complaint of the FX5800 has been fixed. NVIDIA probably never will admit that they were wrong in putting just a 128-bit interface on the FX5800, but who cares now. It should also be noted that NVIDIA has dropped DDRII memory and instead chosen to use the cheaper DDR memory. This should help keep the price down.

If we look at the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro, the new FX5900 will indeed be able to compete on a technical level (we’ll talk more about benchmarks later).

Let us look a bit closer on the things that have been improved:

  • 256-bit memory-interface. By doubling the memory paths, the FX5900 GPU’s can transfer twice as much data as the FX5x00 GPU’s. I don’t think I need to tell you why this is a good thing, especially at higher resolutions and with quality enhancement features turned on.
  • CineFX 2.0 The NVIDIA CineFX 2.0 engine optimizes all stages of the pixel pipeline, doubling the floating-point pixel shader power of its predecessor. This major jump forward translates directly to a 2× increase in floating-point shader power, and a visible performance boost from the faster, more efficient execution of pixel shader programs.
  • Intellisample HCT The updated Intellisample technology compresses color, texture, and Z data even more. This should allow for even more speed at higher resolutions and AA.
  • UltraShadow Basically it is all about accelerating shadows via both hardware and software. UltraShadow gives programmers the ability to calculate shadows much more quickly, by allowing them to define a scene ‘’bounding region’’, which limits calculations of lighting sources to objects within a specified volume. By limiting calculations to the area most affected by a light source, the overall shadow generation process can be greatly accelerated. At the same time, the hardware is able to do the shadow volume rendering in a single pass (in contrast, other graphical solutions use 2 passes to render stenciled shadow volumes). At the same time, the Intellisample HCT makes sure the shadow edges are properly antialiased.

Cool fan/heatsink that covers the memory. No more leaf-blower!


Enough of the technical talk. What can this puppy do? Scott took the FX5900 Ultra on a spin in his computer.


  • CPU: AMD 2700XP+
  • Motherboard: Asus A7N8X Deluxe Rev 1.04
  • Memory: 768MB Corsair XMS
  • HD: 120GB WD SE
  • Video card: FX 5900 Ultra (450/850) 256 MB and ATI Radeon 9700 Pro

    In this initial preview, we compare the FX 5900 Ultra to the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro. Unfortunately, we were unable to get a Radeon 9800 Pro in time for the preview, but we have a few coming in, so we hope to be able to update this preview with scores from both a Radeon 9800 Pro and the FX5800 Ultra soon. If we take the scores from my preview of the Radeon 9800 Pro, we see that it draws ahead of my 9700 Pro by 15-30%.


    Setting: Default

    Setting: 4xAA and 8x Anisotropic filtering

    Setting: no AA, no AF

    Setting: 4xAA and 8x Anisotropic Filtering

    Setting: No AA, No AF

    Setting: 4xAA and 8x Anisotropic Filtering

    Setting: No AA, No AF

    Setting: 4xAA and 8x Anisotropic Filtering

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