|ASUS ENGTX460 DirectCU TOP/2DI/1GD5|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Sunday, 08 August 2010|
Page 19 of 20
Editor's Opinion: NVIDIA Fermi
My opinion of NVIDIA's Fermi architecture has changed over the past several months, as they've developed their graphics processor to fully embody the originally unclear long-term plan. Testing with NVIDIA's GF100 GPU held its own set of challenges, and many times the video cards based on this graphics processor seemed condemned by the inherited legacy of problems. From the flagship GeForce GTX 480 down to the GTX 465, Fermi impressed gamers with strong FPS performance... and that was about it. Thermal output and power consumption were unfashionably high, to which ATI constantly and consistently focused their marketing attacks. Then along comes GF104 on the GeForce GTX 460.
NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 460 not only changes the collective opinion of their Fermi architecture, it also changes the GPU landscape. ATI held the upper hand by releasing a DirectX-11 video card first, but they've painted themselves into a corner with their Evergreen GPU. Unlike NVIDIA's Fermi architecture, which can shape-shift as desired, ATI's Cedar, Redwood, and Juniper GPUs are all simply slices of the same processor: Cypress. This is where intelligent consumers will spot the flaw: ATI came to the (video) card game and showed their entire hand from the first deal, while NVIDIA had a few spare aces up their sleeves. NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 480 is only 15/16 of the complete GF100 package, and we're just beginning to see what's possible with a 7/8-whole GF104 GPU. It's unknown what NVIDIA has planned for the GF102, GF106, and GF108... although the speculation is rampant.
So now ATI and NVIDIA are even-Steven in the running for DirectX-11, and all that they need are video games to increase demand for their product. This becomes a real problem (for them both) because very few existing games demand any more graphical processing power than games demanded back in 2006. Video cards have certainly gotten bigger and faster, but video games has lacked fresh development. DirectX-10 helped the industry, but every step forward received two steps back because of the dislike for Microsoft's Windows Vista O/S. Introduced with Windows 7 (and also available for Windows Vista with an update), enthusiasts now have DirectX-11 detail and special effects in their video games.
NVIDIA GeForce Fermi Graphics Card Family
Even if you're only after raw gaming performance and have no real-world interest in CUDA, there's reason to appreciate the GF100 GPU. New enhancement products, such as the NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision Gaming Kit, double the demands on frame rate output and hence require more powerful graphics processing. This is where products like the GeForce GTX470 and GTX480 deliver the performance necessary to enjoy the extended gaming experience. I'm a huge fan of GeForce 3D-Vision, which is why it's earned our Editor's Choice Award, and Fermi delivers the power necessary to drive up to three monitors. The newly dubbed NVIDIA 3D-Vision Surround (stereo) requires three 3D-Vision capable LCD, projector, or DLP devices and offers bezel correction support. Alternatively, NVIDIA Surround (non-stereo) supports mixed displays with common resolution/timing.
Even some older game titles benefit by the Fermi architecture, beyond just an increase in frame rates. For example, Far Cry 2 will receive 32x CSAA functionality native to the game, but future NVIDIA Forceware driver updates could also further add new features into existing co-developed video games. Additionally, NVIDIA NEXUS technology brings CPU and GPU code development together in Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 for a shared process timeline. NEXUS also introduces the first hardware-based shader debugger. NVIDIA's GF100 is the first GPU to ever offer full C++ support, the programming language of choice among game developers.
Fermi is also the first GPU to support Error Correcting Code (ECC) based protection of data in memory. ECC was requested by GPU computing users to enhance data integrity in high performance computing environments. ECC is a highly desired feature in areas such as medical imaging and large-scale cluster computing. Naturally occurring radiation can cause a bit stored in memory to be altered, resulting in a soft error. ECC technology detects and corrects single-bit soft errors before they affect the system. Fermi's register files, shared memories, L1 caches, L2 cache, and DRAM memory are ECC protected, making it not only the most powerful GPU for HPC applications, but also the most reliable. In addition, Fermi supports industry standards for checking of data during transmission from chip to chip. All NVIDIA GPUs include support for the PCI Express standard for CRC check with retry at the data link layer. Fermi also supports the similar GDDR5 standard for CRC check with retry (aka "EDC") during transmission of data across the memory bus.
The true potential of NVIDIA's Fermi architecture has still yet to be seen. Sure, we've already poked around at the inner workings for our NVIDIA GF100 GPU Fermi Graphics Architecture article, but there's so much more that goes untested. Well into 2010, only a beta version of the Folding@Home client is available. The difference between work unit performance on the GeForce GTX 400-series is going to surpass ATI's Radeon HD 5000 series equivalents without much struggle, but it's uncertain how much better the performance will be compared to the previous-generations.