Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 review

Is the GTX 480 the fastest and best graphics card ever built?

Nvidia GeForce GTX 480
Nvidia's GeForce GTX 480 is the fastest single-GPU card on the market - but it comes at a price

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gtx 480

With this focus Nvidia's hoping that, unlike when the first DX10 cards came out, this top-end card will still be a worthy part when full DirectX 11 games hit the shelves with heavier and heavier reliance on tessellation.

We've already seen the DX11-lite titles such as STALKER: Call of Pripyat and DiRT 2, which bolted on some effects to buddy up with the launch window and possibly some shared budgets with AMD, but it's only really the likes of Metro 2033 that are developed with DX11 more in mind.

In our tests it was Metro 2033 that brought the GTX 480 to its knees, especially when we ramped up all the effects at Nvidia's target resolution of 2560x1600.

So it will run the DX11 games of the future, but maybe not at such eye-bleedingly high resolutions. Still, AMD's HD 5870 struggled to even manage a single frame per second on Metro 2033's top settings compared to the, still judderingly slow, GTX 480 numbers of 18fps.

So there it is then in black and white; the GTX 480 is definitely faster than AMD's HD 5870. But then we all knew it would be; Nvidia could in no way justify coming out with a card six months later than its main competition and not be faster.

But how much faster? Contrary to popular tech press rumours, it is by a fair margin across the board.

Impressive performance

The first DX11 benchmark, Unigine's Heaven 1.0, is a test that heavily incorporates, and ably demonstrates, the power of tessellation. At the standard HD res of 1920x1080 the GTX 480 is over 35 per cent faster than the HD 5870 and in the mutated DX11 goodness of STALKER: CoP it's more than twice as fast.

Call up AMD's flagbearer of DX11, DiRT 2 and the GTX 480 comes in at 52fps. As you'll see on the next page, in the more modest surrounds of the DX10 stalwarts, Far Cry 2 and World in Conflict, the numbers still favour the Nvidia card .

But the GTX 480 is definitely not the fastest graphics card on the planet. Nvidia will have to make do with the runners-up prize of the "the fastest single-GPU card on the planet" tagline as AMD's dual-GPU HD 5970 still rules that roost, dropping frames to the GTX 480 only in DiRT 2 and STALKER: CoP.

Nvidia fermi

In the only tessellation-heavy benchmarks we've got outside of Nvidia's own tech-demos, Heaven and Metro 2033, the AMD card still shows a fair lead. Of course that ought to be expected from a multi-GPU solution, but shows that even with only two of its Cypress tessellation units it can best the GTX 480's 16.

The HD 5970 though is still, at cheapest, a £560 card and only then if you can find it in stock anywhere. And this brings us to something of a surprise feature of the first Fermi-based cards; the price.

Now, at £429, the GTX 480 by no means a bargain GPU, but definitely far cheaper than the £600 price-tag which was being bandied around only a few months ago by people reportedly in the know. Considering the HD 5870 is currently sitting around the £299 mark that gives the GTX 480 a nice little price-point to fall into.

This is obviously how Nvidia has come up with the price, knowing how the GTX 480 compared to the competition. The £429 price is the most it felt it could charge before they expected gamers to figure they might as well go for a HD 5970 instead.