nVidia GeForce GTX 580: The Fastest GPU Money Can Buy

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Performance: Synthetic Benchmarks

nVidia promises that this $500 card, its new flagship, will be the fastest GPU that money can buy. That's hedging a little bit: Technically, the Radeon HD 5970 is a single graphics card, but it uses two GPUs. Still, we think it's worthwhile to compare the GeForce GTX 580 to the Radeon 5970, if only because the latter is the fastest single graphics card you can buy that uses AMD's technology; it's also a longer card that doesn't easily fit into a midsize desktop PC case. In addition, we'll compare the GeForce GTX 580 to the Radeon HD 5870 (the fastest single-GPU card that uses AMD's tech) and to the GeForce GTX 480 (nVidia's previous best card, which uses a very similar GPU).

We performed all of our benchmarks on a system configured with an Intel Core i7 980X CPU, and 6GB of RAM, and running 64-bit Windows 7.

Let's start with the Unigine Heaven benchmark, a synthetic test of a real DirectX 11 game engine, currently licensed by a number of smaller games. The test is rather strenuous and forward-looking, featuring high detail levels, dynamic lighting and shadows, and lots of tessellation. We ran the test at the middle "Normal" mode. This geometry-heavy test favors nVidia's architecture, and the new GTX 580 did great on the measure--around 20 percent faster than the GTX 480 and nearly 80 percent faster than the Radeon HD 5870.

FurMark is a synthetic OpenGL-based test that renders a torus covered in fur. It's rather simple, but no test we're aware of stresses a GPU more thoroughly. It's a great way to see just how hot your graphics card will get, and how much power it will use. In the test results, you can see the effect of the new power draw safeguard kicking in. During this test, the GeForce GTX 480 got extremely loud and hot, and drew far more power than it was supposed to. It sounded like a leaf blower, though it also ran very fast. In contrast, the GTX 580 limited the power draw and scaled everything back to a reasonable level. If anything, the power restraint was too aggressive, as the AMD chips significantly outpaced the GTX 580. This test isn't a very useful example of real-world performance, but it does nicely illustrate the power safeguard in action.

Though it's getting a little long in the tooth, 3DMark Vantage is a standard still commonly used in synthetic graphics benchmarks. The engine utilizes DirectX 10 only, though a new version of 3DMark geared for DirectX 11 should be coming soon. We present the 3DMark score with standard settings for the "High" and "Extreme" profiles. AMD's dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 won this contest, but not by much.For its part, nVidia's new card ran impressively fast, given that it is equipped with a single GPU. AMD's best single-GPU card, the Radeon HD 5870, was left far behind.

Next: Real Game Performance

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