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It has been more than a year since nVidia revealed its new GPU architecture, called Fermi. The flagship GPU of the Fermi line, GF100, is a monster at more than 500 square millimeters and 3 billion transistors. Its size and complexity led to manufacturing problems that caused a six-month delay before it finally reached gamers in the GeForce GTX 480. Even after the delay, nVidia had to disable some parts of the GF100 chip and still had on its hands a graphics card that was widely criticized for being too hot and too noisy. Now, six months later, the GF110 GPU debuts in the nVidia's new flagship graphics card, the GeForce GTX 580. It is essentially a remaking of the GF100 that corrects the problems that plagued that chip earlier this year.
Let's take a look at the specs for the new graphics card, matched against nVidia's previous flagship graphics card and against AMD's fastest two competing cards. The Radeon HD 5870, now a year old, is still the fastest AMD-based graphics card equipped with a single GPU. Though the Radeon HD 5970 is the fastest single graphics card from the AMD camp, it is essentially two 5870 graphics cards on the same board; call it "CrossFire on a stick." This design yields high performance, but the HD 5970 is quite expensive in addition to being big, heavy, and hot.
The GeForce GTX 580 is very much like the GTX 480. The 480 had one of the GF100's 16 shader modules disabled, which effectively removed 32 of the shader units (nVidia calls them CUDA cores), four of the texture processing units, and one of the geometry processing engines. The new GF110 chip in the GTX 580 is nearly the same, but this time nVidia fully enables all of the chip's functional units. Note the discrepancy in number of shader units between the AMD and nVidia cards in the chart above; this reflects the fact that the numbers are not directly comparable. Due to the different ways in which the nVidia and AMD chips are designed, a single shader unit in nVidia's chip can do more work than one in AMD's chip. It is also larger, which explains why there aren't as many of them in the GPU.
Don't miss our review of the nVidia GeForce GTX 580.
Next: GF100 Unleashed