|Zotac GeForce GTX-480 Fermi Video Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Tuesday, 11 May 2010|
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Closer Look: Zotac GeForce GTX480
So far, 2010 has been an exciting year for game developers. Microsoft Windows 7 (and updated Windows Vista) introduced gamers to DirectX-11, allowing video games released for the PC platform to look better than ever. DirectX-11 is the leap in video game software development we've been waiting for. Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) is given emphasis in DX11, allowing some of the most detailed computer textures gamers have ever seen. Realistic cracks in mud with definable depth and splintered tree bark make the game more realistic, but they also make new demands on the graphics hardware. This new level of graphical detail requires a new level of computer hardware: DX11-compliant hardware. Tessellation adds a tremendous level of strain on the GPU, making previous graphics hardware virtually obsolete with new DX11 game titles.
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 is an elusive product; or perhaps exclusive is the appropriate term. The original product launch brought reviews aplenty, but store inventory was nearly non-existent. Zotac changes the outlook with a healthy supply of GeForce GTX 480 video card kits, SKU ZT-40101-10P.
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX480 replaces the GeForce GTX285 as their most powerful single-GPU desktop graphics card. Assuming the same double-bay card height and 10.5" long profile, the ZOTAC GeForce GTX480 adds a more robust thermal management system with five heatpipes (four are exposed) transferring heat away from the GF100 GPU to an exposed heatsink.
Video frame buffer memory specifications change with the GTX480. The 512-bit memory interface of the GTX285 is replaced by a 384-bit version, which features 1536MB of GDDR5 vRAM operating at 924/3696 MHz clock and data rates.
Other changes occur in more subtle ways, such as with the device header panel. While keeping to the traditional design used for GeForce 200-series products, the GTX 480 simply replaces the S-Video connection with a more relevant HDMI 1.3a A/V output. NVIDIA has retained dual DVI output on the GTX 480, which means that at least two GeForce video cards will be needed for a GeForce 3D-Vision Surround functionality. As with past GeForce video cards, the GPU offers two output 'lanes', so all three output devices cannot operate at once.
The new 40nm fabrication process opens the die for more transistors, now increased from 1.4-billion in GT200 GPU present on the GeForce GTX 285, to an astounding 3.2-billion built into the Fermi GF100 GPU and used with the ZOTAC GeForce GTX480 (and also the GTX470).
One particular difference between the GTX285 and the GTX480 is heat. While the exposed heatsink does well-enough to remove a portion of heat from the 700MHz GPU, the exhaust vents begin to expel hot air from initial start-up. The GF100 GPU is located closer to the exhaust panel than GT200 was, and although the heatsink and heat-pipes are improved over previous designs, the operating temperature runs warm even at idle. We explore operating temperatures later in this article.
NVIDIA designed the GTX 480 for 250W, however the 6+8-pin power connections are good for up to 400W on demand. Keep this in mind when shopping for a power supply unit; NVIDIA recommends a 600W PSU for the GTX480, but 800W would be a safer suggestion.
Similar to the GeForce GTX285, both the GTX470 and GTX480 offer triple-SLI capability. Technically SLI and triple-SLI are possible, but careful consideration for heat must be given to the GTX480. Under load the ZOTAC GTX 480 video card reached 85°C in a 20°C room with no additional cooling assistance from the computer case. Upon close inspection of the printed circuit board (PCB), there's an opening behind the blower fan that allows intake air to be drawn from either side of the unit.
The PCB is a busy place for the GeForce GTX480. Many of the electronic components have been located to the 'top' side of the PCB, so to better accommodate the fully-grown 530 mm2 GF100 GPU and its 3.2-billion transistors. 480 CUDA cores operate at 1401 MHz, which keeps a firm lead over ATI's 850 MHz Cypress-XT GPU that measures 334 mm2 and fits 2.154-billion transistors.
In the next several sections, Benchmark Reviews explains our video card test methodology, followed by a performance comparison of the ZOTAC GeForce GTX480 against several of the most popular graphics accelerators available. The GeForce GTX480 replaces the GeForce GTX 285, and directly competes against the ATI Radeon HD 5870; so we'll be keeping a close eye on comparative performance.