The Fastest GPU Around, but No New Features
The GeForce GTX 480 was supposed to be last year's graphics champ, but it didn't launch until March of this year. If the new GeForce GTX 580's quick arrival on the market (only six months after its predecessor) is surprising, that is only because its the GTX 480 was so late. Under the circumstances, it's hard not to be slightly disappointed by the GeForce GTX 580.
Its performance, mind you, is stellar. Thanks to a reworking of the GF100 GPU, nVidia can finally demonstrate what the architecture can accomplish when the chip is uncrippled and runs at a high clock speed. In our tests, the GTX 580 was roughly 20 to 30 percent faster than the GTX 480 (already quite a fast card) while drawing significantly less power; it's quieter, too. We couldn't be happier with its performance, and we can't wait to see what AMD's answer will be; the company's high-end Radeon 6900 series is expected soon.
Our modest disappointment is that the GeForce GTX 580 is little more than a fixed GeForce GTX 480. It's the graphics card that the GTX 480 should have been. nVidia is behind the curve on what we feel are important display options such as DisplayPort support, and the ability to drive three displays simultaneously from a single graphics card. New high-end products are the obvious place to introduce these types of features. With the exception of a couple tweaks to texture filtering and z-culling, however, the GPU didn't receive any architectural enhancements at all.
In some ways, it just goes to show how hard it is to bring a 3-billion-transistor, over-500-square-millimeter graphics processor to market. nVidia took six months longer than it expected to get its new design out the door, and another six months to get it right. Now that it has, we have no reservations in recommending the GeForce GTX 580 as an enthusiast-class graphics card for price-be-damned gamers. True, the Radeon HD 5970 is slightly faster on average, but cards that rely on two GPUs carry their own set of drawbacks--for instance, extremely long board length, high idle power use, and the inability to perform as well as they should on games that run in windowed mode (multiple-GPU cards work best in full-screen mode).
Though it took the company a year longer than intended, nVidia has finally released a graphics card that can fully display the Fermi architecture's capabilities, and they're impressive. Whatever qualms we may have about its lack of DisplayPort or its inability to drive more than two displays with a single card, the GeForce GTX 580 certainly makes good on nVidia's promise to deliver the fastest single-GPU graphics card.
Be sure to read our review of the GeForce GTX 580.