Fermi 460, GTX 470/480 Availability, and SLI

Subject: General Tech | April 28, 2010 - 06:16 PM |
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    Though NVIDIA has had a rough road with the GF100 chip, which powers the GTX 470 and 480 graphics cards, it seems as though they may be having some better results with the upcoming chip which powers the GTX 460 (not currently announced).  This will be a cut down version of the GF100 chip, though details are sketchy if this is a new design or if these are just scavenged GF100 chip with portions fused off.

    What we are hearing is that supply for the GTX 460 is going to be significantly better at launch than what we have seen so far with the upper level products.  Exact details on the chip are scarce, but supposedly each chip will contain 384 CUDA cores.  If this is true, then two of these in SLI could be a very powerful solution, and likely rival (if not exceed) the HD 5970 in performance as well as a lower overall price.  Considering where the GTX 470 is, we can assume that the GTX 460 will come in around $269 to $299.  Compare this to the rare HD 5970 which go from $699 to $749.  Two GTX 460s should easily outperform a HD 5970, and cost anywhere from $200 to $100 less than the AMD card.

A snapshot from today showing a goodly number of GTX 470s and one or two GTX 480s available for purchase.  Only a $10 premium on that MSI card, and it comes with your choice of one of three games.

    If this is in fact a new chip being used for the GTX 460 (and I personally think it is) then likely it has benefited from the learning curve that was obviously ridden by the engineers on GF100.  Remember that first silicon for GF100 was received in early Summer, 2009.  Issues encountered with TSMC’s 40 nm process were documented, but the overall design of the GF100 was apparently too far gone to make significant changes without delaying the chip for another 6 to 8 months.  With this theoretical new chip powering the GTX 460, they could have integrated design changes into the chip before it was taped out.  If this is the case, then the 460 will likely achieve similar initial yields (if not slightly better than) to the Cypress chip from AMD.  My gut feeling here is that the GTX 460 will be the product that gets NVIDIA a lot of their steam back.  While the GTX 470 and 480 have not exactly been disappointments, their negative characteristics and poor availability were not a plus.

    Speaking of availability, GTX 470s this week became very common across multiple online vendors.  We have seen a spattering of GTX 480s as well, but they either sell out quickly or are well above MSRP.  This past week Drew Henry went on record saying that the GF100 chip is not experiencing yields of below 20%... but neither did he say that they were significantly above that.  Needless to say, availability of cards based on this chip is continuing to improve over this past month since they were released in March.

Motherboards like the MSI Big Bang Trinergy rely on the NVIDIA nForce 200 chip to provide 3 way SLI support that is fully licensed.  This likely will not be the case going forward, especially considering that NVIDIA is not actively developing new chipsets for the Intel and AMD markets at this time.

    Finally we move onto SLI.  Something that certainly has not been in the public eye for some time.  Last generation parts from NVIDIA are overshadowed by DX11 cards from both AMD and NVIDIA, and the GTX 470 and 480 parts have been in such limited supply that very few online review sites have had two to stick together.  Well, that is going to change here shortly.  The aforementioned GTX 460 will renew interest in SLI due to its price and overall performance (and probably better power draw figures and heat production).  And we will see AMD SLI support rise from the ashes.  I have heard that Asus is attempting to license SLI on their 890FX based motherboards.  I also have heard of another specific implementation from another motherboard manufacturer that shall not be named as of yet.  While NVIDIA will not be producing new AMD based chipsets, the motherboard guys have a market niche that they need to fill.  Consider as well the excitement that the Phenom II X6 1090T has brought to the table, and we may see a renaissance of SLI on the AMD platform.


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