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Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 (GF110)

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 is finally here! With the newly improved and optimized Fermi architecture (GF110), the Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 is capable of higher performance vs power, temperature, and noise ratio.

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Introduction

For many, it felt like Nvidia took forever to launch their GeForce GTX 480 Fermi cards, with 3.2 Billion transistors and 512 CUDA cores (480 exposed). And while the launch was great and the performance was excellent, many expected a bit more from the 480. Several early buyers were quite dissapointed with the 480′s power consumption, temperatures, and noise. 7 months after the GeForce GTX 480 was launched, Nvidia is releasing their new flagship GPU, and the successor to the GTX 480: the GeForce GTX 580.

When the GeForce GTX 480 launched, it was aimed to excel at  tessellation. With 15 PolyMorph engines, the GTX 480 was able to outperfom ATI’s single-GPU flagship card, the HD5870 in tessellation-demanding applications due to the 5870′s single dedicated unit for tessellation. The GeForce GTX 580 has a total of 16 PolyMorph Engines, as compared to the 480′s 15. This allows for higher performance in games and applications that have high geometry processing and tessellation.

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 also comes with 512 CUDA cores, but this time all 512 cores are exposed and fully functional. There are more cores available for rendering data, and there is an extra PolyMorph Engine for better tessellation. The new improved and optimized chip is now known as the GF110.

The GeForce GTX 580 comes with lots of improvements over the 480, as we have previously mentioned. However, there are some other factors that also add to the performance of the 580. Firstly, the GTX 580 has full-speed FP16 texture filtering support, which allows the users to gain performance in certain texture-heavy applications. It also comes with new tile formats that could improve Z-cull efficiency. While all CUDA cores have been unlocked, and new texture and SM units have been added, the 580 also has a higher clock speed. We’ll take a look at that in more detail on the following pages.

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 is priced at $499 SEP as of 11/09/10, but as time goes by and vendors start coming out with their own designs, we will start seeing different price points for the GTX 580. Stock clocked cards should be around the $499 price range, while OC cards may be a bit more.

Nvidia’s New Demos

Nvidia also released some exciting Demos that showcase Nvidia’s tessellation capabilities on the GeForce GTX 580 video card. While these demos will play on the 400 series video cards as well, to have optimal single GPU performance, users will need a GeForce GTX 580 video card. The first picture is from Endless City, a tessellated city landscape generated by the GPU. All the fine detail in the buildings are tessellations and not bump maps that we are well aware of. All the lights in the scene are able to produce excellent shadows because we no longer use bump maps, but rather a higher polygon geometry count.

The second picture shows the Aliens vs. Triangles tessellation demo, in which users can modify the aliens with very fine detail. Once again, instead of having bump maps, the alien is very high detailed in geometry. This allows extra options to be integrated, such as making sure that if something interacts with the alien, the skin would change accordingly. This also allows for much higher quality rendering that was not possible with bump maps in the past.

Click Image For a Larger One

The GF110 Architecture – Improved / Optimized FERMI

As we mentioned on the previous page, the GTX 580 has went through a lot of architectural enhancements and the two major changes were the FP16 texture filtering, which helps with texture-intensive applications, and the new tile formats that improve Z-cull efficiency. The chart below from Nvidia shows how the architectural enhancements improved performance from the GTX 480, the extra performance granted from the faster clock speeds on the core and memory, as well as the extra 32 cores that were unlocked on the GTX 580, making it a true 512 CUDA core GPU.

Earlier there was a Nvidia GTX 480 video cards which had 512 cores, but the power consumption was also much higher. With the optimized GF110 chip, the GTX 580 can maintain the same power efficiency as the GTX 480, and still gain performance.

With the new GF110 chip, PolyMorph and Raster Engines have been added to help with tessellation. While the new PolyMorph engine helps with tessellation performance in games, the extra Raster Engine helps with the conversion of polygons to pixel fragments. Now with 16 PolyMorph Engines and 512 CUDA cores, the 580 is able to achieve a stunning 2 billion Triangles per second. That is a tremendous amount of polygons, something we would only see in Hollywood blockbuster movies. Now all of this can easily be rendered real-time with the GTX 580 GPU. Nvidia’s new demo Endless City shows this off, rendering and playing back everything in real-time.

The Radeon HD series video cards still have a much harder time with tessellation based benchmarks, which means that when games start incorporating extensive tesselation into their geometry, the Nvidia cards will have an advantage over their AMD counterparts. There are some games that already take advantage of tessellation, like H.A.W.X II (coming out on 11/12/10). The Unigine Heaven 2.1 benchmark also tests tessellation capabilities. While the tessellation visual improvement is very limited at the moment, we believe that tessellation will be taken much further in the future, making it possible to make characters, terrain, and objects much more belieavable than they are now.

For the GF110 design, Nvidia completely re-engineered the previous GF100, down to the transistor level. The previous chip had to be evaluated at every block of the GPU. To achive higher performance with lower power consumption, Nvidia modified a very large percentage of the transistors on the chip. They used lower leakage transistors on less timing sensitive processing paths, and higher speed transistors on more critical processing paths. This is why Nvidia was able to add the extra 32 cores to the final Fermi architecture, while also adding another SM to the chip.

To compare the power consumption of a GTX 480 to that of a GTX 580, we tried to overclock the GTX 480 as far as we could, trying to match the performance of the GTX 580. While it was difficult to reach the performance of the GTX 580 with our Galaxy GTX 480, we got within 2 FPS of the performance of the GTX 580. While the performance was very close, the shocking part was that we were using well over 100W of power. The performance-to-power consumption ratio is definitely improved on the GTX 580′s GF110 chip. The following chart compares the GTX 480 with the GTX 580 for overall performance per watt, showing that the GTX 580 can perform over 35% better than the GTX 480 in 3DMark Vantage.

For many of Nvidia’s previous video cards, the GPU’s thermal protection features meant that the GPU would be downclocked when at extreme temperatures. This would protect the cards from unwanted damage. However, with the release of stressing applications such as FurMark, MSI Kombustor, and OCCT, the latest video cards can reach dangerously high currents, potentially causing damage to components on the card. Nvidia integrated a new power monitoring feature into the GTX 580, which will dynamically adjust performance in certain stress applications if the power levels exceed the card’s specifications. These dedicated hardware circuitries run real-time, monitoring the current and voltage on each of the 12V rails. These rails include the 6-pin, 8-pin, and the PCI-Express edge connector.

Cooler Design

Nvidia made improvements when developing the GTX 580 based on what consumers said about the GTX 480. The thermal characteristics of the GF110 chip are also much better than of the GF100. We’ll go into more detail about the GTX 580 reference card’s cooling solution on the following pages. What we see on this chart is that the GTX 480 is roughly about 9-10 dBA higher than the GTX 580. Generally, a human perceives each 10 dBA increase as being twice as loud as the previous noise level. The GTX 580 will perform much quieter than any high-end card Nvidia has released in the past few years.

Based on the tests we did in our labs, the GTX 580 does indeed perform very quietly during high loads. We tested the thermal improvements and acoustic improvements on the card, and with our Silverstone TJ-10 chassis and some acoustic dampaning on each side panel, the GTX 580 was totally inaudible during gaming. The other fans in the system were a bit louder than the GTX 580. When we ran Furmark, the fan speed starts getting faster. However Furmark is not a real-life based application because it actually pulls more power and heat out of the video card than a real-life application would. Also, if we push the fan speed on the GTX 580 to 100%, we can definitely hear the fan loud and clear. During our testing period, we played Metro 2033 for about an hour in a closed chassis with no side ventilation, and the fan speed only reached up to 66%, which kept a very quiet environment for gaming.

The new cooling solution on the GTX 580 uses a special heatsink design, including what is called a vapor chamber. Think of the vapor chamber as a heatpipe solution, but instead of just contacting the heatsink fins in certain areas, the vapor chamber 100% contact with every fin of the heatsink. This helps tremendously by spreading the heat out over a large block of a heatsink.

The GTX 580 also has a new adaptive GPU fan control, and the card is designed for great cooling potential in SLI setups. The fan has been redesigned to generate a lower pitch and tone, which allows for lower acoustic noise. The back of the cover is designed to route the air towards the rear bracket, improving SLI temperature performance.

The vapor chamber is a sealed, fluid-filled chamber with thin layered copper walls. When the heatsink is placed on the GPU, the GPU quickly boils up the liquid inside the vapor chamber, and the liquid evaporates to vapor. The hot vapor spreads throughout the top of the chamber, transferring the heat to the heatsink fins. Finally, the cooled liquid goes around and returns to the bottom of the vapor chamber, allowing the whole process to restart again. The hot heatsink fins are cooled by the air being pushed through the fins of the heatsink.

Continue onto the next page, where we examine the Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 in more detail.

Specifications & Features

The difference between the older GTX 480 (GF100) and the new GTX 580 (GF110) becomes visible once we take a look at the specs for the GTX 580. We can clearly see that the number of CUDA cores has been raised from 480 to 512. The Graphics Clock, Processor Clock, and Memory Clock frequencies have also been increased, allowing the GTX 580 to get ahead of the GTX 480 quite a bit. The Graphics Clock has jumped from 700MHz to 772MHz, and the Processor Clock speed from 1401MHz to 1544MHz. The memory frequency has gone from 1848MHz to 2004MHz, allowing the user to achieve a fantastic memory frequency of 4008MHz. Of course these numbers can be overclocked, and even more support will come once the overclocking tools enable users to change the voltages on the card.

 

As a result of the GPU redesign, the GeForce GTX 580 also has a lower temperature threshold than its predecessor. Whereas the 480′s GF100 chip had a temperature threshold of 105C, the 580′s GF110 has a threshold of 97C.

While the TDP of the GTX 580 has also dropped to 244W (compared to the GF100′s 250W), the actual power consumption that we measured in Metro 2033 has not changed at all. Also, we still see the standard 6-pin and 8-pin power connectors on the GTX 580, so the main power design has not changed by much. It is important to understand that the following measurements were taken in real-life applications, rather than benchmarking applications such as FurMark or OCCT. Usually, FurMark and OCCT push the cards way past their standard specs, and depending on the settings, could report values that the card could not achieve in real-life situations.

 

The length of the card is also the same as the GTX 480, and while the main specs for SLI state that the card is designed for up to 3-way SLI, actual 4-Way SLI motherboards are capable of running 4 x Nvidia GeForce GTX 580s in 4-way SLI.

When the GTX 480 was released, it was designed for gamers that wanted to enjoy their games on the maximum graphics settings. The GTX 580 follows the same basis idea, ensuring that users can run high resolutions and high AA while still maintaining excellent performance. This becomes even more enjoyable when two GTX 580s are used in an SLI configuration. The chart below shows the advantages of Nvidia graphics over the AMD HD5870 in Xfire configuration.

Newer driver updates also help with SLI scalability issues in games, and these numbers are always improved for better performance. The chart also shows how Nvidia’s single GPU GTX 580 has more performance than AMD’s single GPU 5870. However, while we do not have a comparison between the HD 5970 and the GTX 580, our sources tell us that the performance is still better on the dual-GPU HD 5970.

What is CUDA?

CUDA is NVIDIA’s parallel computing architecture that enables dramatic increases in computing performance by harnessing the power of the GPU (graphics processing unit).

With millions of CUDA-enabled GPUs sold to date, software developers, scientists and researchers are finding broad-ranging uses for CUDA, including image and video processing, computational biology and chemistry, fluid dynamics simulation, CT image reconstruction, seismic analysis, ray tracing and much more.

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