Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The DOA 480

NVIDIA officially launched the Fermi architecture last week with the GTX 480 and GTX 470.

In the last generation, both NVIDIA and ATI lost their minds in regards to heat. High-end cards reached temperatures in the 85-90C (185-194F) range under load.

That was, well, ridiculous.

ATI mended its ways with the 5800 series of cards, released in late September of last year. The high-end 5870 was roughly 40% faster than the 4870, but it was also 10C cooler under load (77C) and about 5 dB quieter. I have a 5850, which is roughly 20% slower than the 5870 at 1920x1200 (my monitor's resolution), but it's 10C cooler under load than the 5870 and 3 dB quieter. It's the best combination of price, performance, and thermal management that I've ever seen in a video card.

So did NVIDIA follow this path? No.

The GTX 480 is 10-15% faster than the 5870 (a thorough Anandtech article is here), but the card hits 95C under load! Actually, because of a slight delay between reaching a temperature threshold and increasing the fan speed, Anandtech said that the card actually hit 98C.

Water boils at 100C. That's how freaking hot this card gets.

It's not just the 20C temperature difference on the card, though, or the 5 dB difference between the 480 and the 5870 under load (the 480 is really, really loud when the fan spins up). What I'm really curious about is how much faster your case fans have to spin with so much extra heat coming from the card. Some of that heat gets vented out the card's exhaust, but not all of it, and the temperatures inside your case must go up. So it's not just that the 480 is louder than the 5870--in all likelihood, the case fans will be louder, too.

At $499, the 480 has DOA written all over it. I wouldn't be surprised at all if only a few thousand cards are produced, and NVIDIA gets to a respin of the hardware as quickly as possible. Yields are still apparently very poor, and there can't be much of a threshold when the "good" cards reach 95C under load.

I do think they might have a future in the nuclear reactor business, though.

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