capsule review

Nvidia GeForce GTX 570: Power in Spades, and the Price is Right

At a Glance
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 570

    PCWorld Rating

    Nvidia's GeForce GTX 570 delivers the power and improved efficiency of the revamped Fermi architecture at a palatable price point.

A scant few weeks after the launch of the GeForce GTX 580 comes Nvidia's next salvo in the battle for your bucks: the GeForce GTX 570. A cool $350 (as of 12/7/2010) gets you a taste of the revamped Fermi architecture that's baked into the GTX 580, at a cost that should be a bit more palatable to the fledgling graphics card enthusiast.

Nvidia's GeForce GTX 480 came and went without much fanfare, which didn't bode well for the GPU manufacturer's first foray into the DirectX 11 market. The Fermi architecture proved powerful but unwieldy, resulting in a desk-bound jet engine that crushed benchmarks whilst making you fast friends with the electric company. The GTX 580 took things back to the drawing board, re-tooled at the transistor level to reduce heat, power consumption and operating noise while simultaneously edging out the GTX 480 in performance.

With the "World's Fastest" feather tucked into their cap (for now), Nvidia took a slightly more economical route with the GTX 570. They scaled down the specs and shaved $150 off of the asking price, without skimping too much in the way of performance. The GTX 570 offers a slightly lower core clock speed than the 580: 732MHz, versus the latter's 772MHz. It also offers 480 shader units (Nvidia calls them CUDA cores), versus the 580's 512 shader units. The underlying GF110 architecture remains exactly the same -- for a full breakdown, be sure to check out Jason Cross' deep dive on the GTX 580 and Nvidia's Fermi architecture.

The GeForce GTX 570's $350 price tag places it alongside AMD's $300 Radeon HD 5870. That card is just over a year old but remains a hardy competitor, having topped the charts for what seems like ages. For our tests, we pitted the GTX 570 against the aforementioned Radeon HD 5870, with the recently launched $240 Radeon HD 6870 tucked in for good measure.

Performance: Unigine Heaven

Synthetic benchmarks generally aren't indicative of a GPU's real world performance, but they're an accepted industry standard, and can give us a general idea of how a card's performance will pan out in the real world. They're also an opportunity to stress cards in ways that individual applications can't, to really give us an idea of a particular component's operating range.

First up is Unigine's Heaven benchmark, a synthetic test for a DirectX 11 game engine (click the image to see the chart). It stresses tessellation, dynamic lighting and shadows, and offers extensive environmental detail. Nvidia has been beating the geometric-realism drum for some time now, so it's unsurprising that their card excels where geometry heavy tests are concerned. AMD has also taken note: their newer, mid-range card edged out its high-end predecessor, a nod to the 6870's improved tessellation engine.

Performance: 3DMark 11

3DMark 11 is the new Direct X 11 based iteration of Futuremark's popular benchmarking tool, and it's designed to put systems and their components through their paces. 3DMark 11 offers up a set of environment demos, based under water and in a dense jungle. The tests vary between stressing lighting and tessellation, and feature scenes packed with complex shadows and geometry.

We tested the cards at the Extreme (1920-by-1080 resolution) and Performance (1280-by-720 resolution) profiles. The GTX 570 maintains a lead over both cards, though the distance becomes less substantial under the Extreme settings. Of particular interest is the 6870, nipping at the heels of its beefier sibling.

Performance: Dirt 2

Codemasters' Dirt 2 is a DirectX 11-based rally racer, and features an excellent built-in benchmark. We used the retail version, with all of the details settings turned up to full.

Performance results here are similar to those we saw under the synthetic benchmarks: the GTX 570 leads the pack by as much as 45% over the 5870, regardless of whether or not anti-aliasing is enabled. The 6870 does an amicable job of keeping pace with the pricier 5870, aided in part by its improved tessellation engine.

Value and Efficiency

Performance across a spate of games -- including Just Cause 2 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat -- followed suit, with Nvidia's GTX 570 leading the pack, followed by AMD's 5870, and then the 6870. While the high marks look good for Nvidia, it becomes prudent to take cost efficiency into account.

By averaging our benchmark results for our real-world games tests and dividing by the price of the card, we arrive at a metric we call the Dollars per Frames per Second -- lower is better here. While the $350 GeForce GTX 570 outpaces the aging 5870, the $240 Radeon HD 6870 stands out as a pretty good deal. It may not post the strongest results, but solid performance (even in light of the competition) and that mid-range price tag give it a competitive edge.

The final piece of the GPU puzzle is power utilization. The Fermi architecture is well known for being a bit of a power hog, and the GTX 570 doesn't disappoint. While idle, it uses 115W of energy. The 5870 uses 108W while sitting idle, while the 6870 uses 103W. Under load, the GTX 570 gobbles up 345W -- just shy of 25% more power under load than the 5870 (277W), and just over 40% more power than the 6870 (246W).

When taking overall power efficiency into account, the three cards find themselves in a bit of a dead heat. The GTX 570 makes up for its power hungry operation by churning through frames faster. The 6870 handles its tasks a bit more efficiently, maintaining a respectable performance overall, while being far gentler on your energy bill.

As expected, clipping a few bits off of the category-leading GTX 580 still results in a potent graphics card. The GTX 570 delivers the same impressive, revamped Fermi architecture, at a price point that's likely in reach for many who balked at the idea of paying $500 for a GPU.

AMD has yet to return fire on the high end of the GPU market, despite repeated assaults from Nvidia -- first with the GTX 480, and now with the GTX 580 and 570. With the holiday season upon us and enthusiasts eager to tuck new components into their chassis, it stands to reason that AMD's high-end retort is right around the corner. But until AMD's answer hits the market, shoppers in the market for a powerful part at a respectable price have a compelling option to add to their wish lists.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Nvidia's GeForce GTX 570 delivers the power and improved efficiency of the revamped Fermi architecture at a palatable price point.

    Pros

    • Stellar Performance

    Cons

    • Lacks DisplayPort Support
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