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Manufacturer: MSI
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Another Fermi debuts

It is the inevitable march of technology - we see a new GPU released at the high-end of the price spectrum and some subset of it will find its way to the low-end. The slow drizzle of cards in this series started with the 580 and 570, based on the same Fermi architecture as the GTX 400 cards (with some improvements in efficiency), continued with the GTX 560 Ti in January and with the GTX 550 Ti that we are seeing today.Introduction

It is the inevitable march of technology - we see a new GPU released at the high-end of the price spectrum and some subset of it will find its way to the low-end.  It could be merely days apart, or it could be months, as we see here with the GTX 580 release coming way back in November of 2010.  The slow drizzle of cards in this series started with the 580 and 570, based on the same Fermi architecture as the GTX 400 cards (with some improvements in efficiency), continued with the GTX 560 Ti in January and with the GTX 550 Ti that we are seeing today.

But does this new low cost option from NVIDIA stack up well against competition from AMD or from their own previous designs?  Let's first find out the basic specifications of the GPU and dive into the benchmarks.

The GeForce GTX 550 Ti GPU

The GeForce GTX 550 Ti (previously dubbed GF116) continues with the trend NVIDIA has perfected of taking large GPUs and shrinking them down to fit into different price segments, in this case the ~$150 mark.  While the GTX 580 is a beast of silicon with 512 shader cores and a 384-bit memory bus to keep it fed, the GTX 560 Ti was shrunk to 384 cores and a more manageable 256-bit memory bus.

The new GTX 550 Ti GPU will feature half as many cores at 192 with a matching 192-bit memory bus.  You might remember that the GTS 450 card (that was resting in a similar price point) also came with 192 shader processors but only a 128-bit memory interface with its 1GB of GDDR5 memory.  This time around the added width and high clock speeds will give the GTX 550 Ti a much improved memory system.

In terms of pure memory bandwidth, the GTX 550 Ti will provide 70% more than the previous generation which is always good news for gamers on a budget; the memory runs at 1025 MHz in the reference designs compared to the 900 MHz of the GTS 450. 

Speaking of those reference specifications, here they are.  At 900 MHz core clock, the GTX 550 Ti will without a doubt be faster than the GTS 450 (that ran at 783 MHz) - but if there was any other outcome we would be completely perplexed.  The real questions is how it is will fare against other similarly priced components that exist today. 

The 116 watt power consumption of the GTX 550 Ti comes in at 10 watts higher than what the reference GTS 450 cards were rated at.

NVIDIA is confident that the performance edge that the GTX 550 Ti offers will make it the new best option for gamers looking for a ~$150 graphics card.  Above you can see the performance improvements that are associated with the clock increases from the GTS 450 to the GTX 550 as well as those associated with the 192-bit memory bus interface. 
 
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Manufacturer: AMD
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Antilles Architecture and Design

The AMD Radeon HD 6990 4GB card has been known by the media and even gamers since the first announcements from the Cayman launch last year but finally today we are able to discuss the technology behind it and the gaming performance it will provide users willing to shell out the $700 it will take to acquire. Stop in and see if your mortgage is worth this graphics card!

"Look at the size of that thing!"
-Wedge Antilles, in reference to the first Death Star

Graphics card that are this well endowed don't come along very often; the last was the Radeon HD 5970 from AMD back in November of 2009.  In a world where power efficiency is touted as a key feature it has become almost a stigma to have an add-in card in your system that might pull 350-400 watts of power.  Considering we were just writing about a complete AMD Fusion platform that used 34 watts IN TOTAL under load, it is an easy task to put killer gaming products like the HD 6990 in an unfair and unreasonable light. 

But we aren't those people.  Do most people need a $700, 400 watt graphics card?  Nope.  Do they want it though?  Yup.  And we are here to show it to you.

A new take on the dual-GPU design

Both AMD and NVIDIA have written this story before: take one of your top level GPUs and double them up on a single PCB or card design to plug into a single PCI Express slot and get maximum performance.  CrossFire (or SLI) in a single slot - lots to like about that. 

The current GPU lineup paints an interesting picture with the Fermi-based GTX 500 series from NVIDIA and the oddly segregated AMD HD 6800 and HD 6900 series of cards.  Cayman, the redesigned architecture AMD released as the HD 6970 and HD 6950, brings a lot of changes to the Evergreen design used in previous cards.  It has done fairly well in the market though it didn't improve the landscape for AMD discrete graphics as much as many had thought it would and NVIDIA's graphics chips have remained very relevant. 

With the rumors swirling about a new dual-GPU option from AMD there was some discussion on whether it would be an HD 6800 / Evergreen based design or an HD 6900 / Cayman contraption.  Let's just get that mystery out of the way:

With the VLIW4 microarchitecture we absolutely are seeing a dual Cayman card and with a surprisingly high clock speed of 830 MHz out of the gate with lots of headroom for the overclocker in all of us.  There are 1536 stream processors per GPU for a total of 3072 and a raw computing power of more than 5 TeraFLOPs.   This is analogous to the HD 6970 GPU that shares the 1536 shader count but runs at a clock rate of 880 MHz.

The memory architecture runs a bit slower as well at 5.0 Gbps (versus the 5.5 Gbps on the HD 6970) but we are still getting a full 2GB per GPU for a grand-spanking-total of 4GB on this single card.  Load power on the board is rated at "<375 watts" and just barely makes the budget for PCI Express based solutions with the provided dual 8-pin power connectors. 

You might remember that AMD introduced a dual-BIOS switch with the HD 6900 cards as well that would allow users to easily revert back to the original BIOS and settings should their overclocking attempts take a turn for the worse.  For this card though, they are taking a slightly different approach by having the switch pull duties as an overclocking option directly, pushing up the clock frequency from 830 MHz to 880 MHz.  That might not seem like that dramatic of a change (and it isn't) but more noticeable is the change in voltage on the GPUs (going from 1.12v to 1.175v) and what that does to the power consumption and PowerTune options on the card for further tweaking.  More on that below.
 
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Manufacturer: General
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The eternal debate

Without a doubt, one of the most frequent questions we get here at PC Perspective, on the PC Perspective Podcast or even This Week in Computer Hardware, is "do I need to upgrade my graphics card yet?" The problem is this question has very different answers based on your use cases, what games you like to play or are planning on playing in the future, what other hardware is in your system, etc and thus can be a very complicated situation.

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA
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The Galaxy GeForce GTX 560 Ti GC

The GeForce GTX 560 Ti GPU was released to the world earlier this week and we have a handful of retail options in the lab to poke with the testing stick and see what turns up. With a card from Galaxy, MSI and Palit, we see how much performance gain you'll see with their stock overclocks as well as how high we can push the GPU with the improved coolers.

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA
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GeForce GTX 560 Ti GPU

NVIDIA has been preparing the new GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB card for quite a while now. I'm not sure I can say the same about the Radeon HD 6950 1GB card, but the results are the same. Two new graphics cards in the ~$250 range go head-to-head with each other for dominance in this lucrative price point and how they compare to other cards in that same segment.

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Manufacturer: Galaxy
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A quick brief on WHDI

The Galaxy GeForce GTX 460 WHDI is the world's first graphics cards built around the Wireless Home Digital Interface standard and promises to bring uncompressed wireless video technology to the world of your PC and the power of the GTX 460 graphics chip. Does it work as promised and can WHDI really change the way you think about your HTPC?

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA
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Mobility Goes Mainstream

NVIDIA is in the console world, courtesy of Sony's failure to predict how 3D graphics have evolved combined with the limitations of the Cell processor and archticture. NVIDIA was able to slip in with a console optimized GeForce 7900 GPU, and the PS3 was given the ability to compete with Microsoft and the XBox 360. Here we are six years later and NVIDIA is approaching the overall performance and capabilities of that console GPU in a mobile, low power form.

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Manufacturer: Galaxy
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Single slot cooler

Galaxy might still be a lesser known graphics card vendor in the US but they are still pushing the envelope as far as or further than anyone else today. The GeForce GTX 460 1GB Razor card is the first and only air cooled single slot option on the market with this gaming power. Is it worth the added cost though? That depends on your configuration and our review!

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA
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2011 Already?

2010 was a tremendous year in terms of graphics. We saw both leading companies flesh out all of their DX11 offerings, and there were some distinct surprises and disappointments from both companies. 2011 looks to be a different beast, but as we head into the new year let us take a look where the two giants stand in terms of desktop graphics.

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Manufacturer: AMD
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The New Cayman Architecture

The new Cayman architecture from AMD is the first big change to the GPU in some time introducing a new VLIW4 design as well as improved tessellation and AA performance. But can the HD 6970 and HD 6950 stand up to the power of the GF110-based GTX 580 and GTX 570 cards and how does PowerTune technology get into the mix?

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Manufacturer: AMD
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A much needed update

AMD's Catalyst Control Center was in a desperate need of an update and today AMD is in the final stages of releasing one. We have a quick preview of the new Catalyst Control Center 2 with some mostly aesthetic changes and a few functional ones that should make frequency CCC users happy.

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA
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Another GF110 Part

The new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570 1.25GB graphics card brings very similar specifications to the GTX 480 with slightly improved clocks and a lower price that should please gamers looking for a holiday upgrade. But how does it compare to the best from AMD's single GPU offerings or even the high-end GeForce GTX 580?

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA
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GF110 is a new GPU

NVIDIA is back with another new GPU, the GF110 aka the GeForce GTX 580. NVIDIA released the GTX 460 to target the $200 price point and now they are back to elevate their high-end game yet again with the full 512 CUDA core option we were always promised. How much better is it than the GTX 480 and what about that oddly placed dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970?

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Manufacturer: AMD
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A new architecture we are all very familiar with

The new AMD Radeon HD 6800 series cards are here! Do the new HD 6870 and HD 6850 live up to the hype surrounding them over the past months and can their new $200 price tag stick it to NVIDIA's GTX 460 cards like AMD is hoping? Stop in and read the full review for the details!

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Manufacturer: MSI
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MSI upgrades the GTX 460

The MSI GeForce GTX 460 HAWK graphics card is one of the best GF104 cards we have tested with a potent combination of hardware, software, cooler and overclocked settings. Of course with a design like this the stock settings were just the beginning as we pushed the clock speeds over 900 MHz!

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Manufacturer: Galaxy
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The GeForce GT 430 GPU

The new GeForce GT 430 GPU is a replacement for the GT 220 that was never quite card that we fell in love with. NVIDIA's Fermi-based GF108 chip is definitely a better performance than anything from the GT200 generation but can it keep up with the AMD Radeon HD 5570 and HD 5550 GPUs and make a case for itself?

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Manufacturer: Asus
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ASUS makes it better

ASUS is known for creating some truly unique graphics cards that differ wildly from the reference designs we are used to seeing. The ROG Matrix HD 5870 card with 2GB of memory is just that with overclocking options you need to see. For the more tame of us, there is the V2 HD 5870 that is cheaper and much simpler in feature set.

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Manufacturer: AMD
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The final piece of the FirePro puzzle

The FirePro V9800 4GB graphics card is the new king of hill from AMD for the professional user and with support for 6 displays, it has a lot to offer. The Fermi-based Quadro cards offer strong competition in the performance field but in terms of features the FirePro line is still difficult to beat.

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA
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GF106 and the cores that love it

The new GeForce GTS 450 1GB graphics card is based on a completely new GF106 GPU that takes the Fermi architecture and pulls it back a bit more to make a lower cost, more efficient unit. Starting at $120 or so, the GTS 450 is the cheapest NVIDIA DX11 part available but how can it compare to the Radeon HD 5770?

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Manufacturer: Sapphire
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Sapphire gets triple DVI working

Sapphire is the first card manufacturer to figure out a way to integrate a DisplayPort to HDMI/DVI adapter on the PCB of the card itself. What does that matter? Well it does enable the use of Eyefinity configurations without the need for an expensive active adapter thus lowering cost of entry for budget gamers that want an extra gaming setup. Come see if this card is worth the price!