nVidia GeForce GTX 470 Fermi - Fermi Architecture

By Edward Chester

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

Fermi, then, is the overlying architecture that the chips used inside the GTX 480, GTX 470, and future nVidia cards will be built on. It shares some of the basic elements of the last few generations of nVidia designs but due to the demands of DirectX 11, quite a few elements have been rethought.

Starting with what is the same, the basic building block of Fermi is still the CUDA Core (Core) or Stream Processor as it used to be known. This little processor is the basic number-crunching unit that does the donkey work in terms of calculations for rendering all those pretty graphics in your games or churning through data for other GPU accelerated tasks like video encoding and ray tracing. However, moving up a level, while things still look vaguely similar they are fundamentally different.

In G80 and GT200 - the chips used to power the 8800GTX and GTX 280, respectively - these Cores were clustered together into groups of eight in what is called a Streaming Multiprocessor (SM). Above this was the Texture/Processor Cluster (TPC), which added texture units and more memory to proceedings. With Fermi, though, an SM now includes 32 Cores and four texture units as well as something called the PolyMorph engine, which requires us to go back to basics to explain.

Contrary to what you might think, a graphics card doesn't do everything when it comes to rendering a 3D scene on your computer. The CPU actually sets up the wire frame model onto which all the fancy effects you see are then plastered. However, because a CPU is doing so many other things – like AI, physics, animation – at the same time, these wireframes have to be kept quite simple to maintain a decent level of performance. This is why, despite all the advances in graphics we've seen in recent years you still get games characters with pointy heads and corrugated iron that when you get up close you realise is completely flat – it's just too computationally intensive to construct all the triangles required to accurately represent the complex surfaces of a realistic world.

The solution (in part) is to pass over some of the work of creating the basic geometry of a scene to the GPU. This is done using two basic techniques called tessellation and displacement mapping, which make their debut for DirectX-based games with the new DirectX11 API.

No Tessellation - Tessellated - Displacement Mapped

Tesselation works by simply filling in the gaps between the vertices of a basic wireframe model, creating a much more realistic, smooth surface. It doesn't add more detail but just gets the model to a stage where it has a more natural look.

Meanwhile, a displacement map is a texture (2D image) that expresses height information that when applied to a model is used to alter the relative position of vertices in the model. This adds all the little details of the model that really bring it to life. The result is infinitely more realistic 3D models that inherently require less other graphical trickery to make them look life-like. Because it's actually affecting the core geometry as well, other graphical effects, like applying shadows, are greatly improved as they follow the accurate lines of the complex model rather than the basic one, i.e. you don't get pointy shadows.

ilovethemonkeyhead

March 29, 2010, 10:24 pm

it's good to see a review of the 470, instead of the 480. at the moment there are hacks available that allow you to run an ati card with a small nvidia card, to take advantage of physx and other tech. though ati are apparently racing towards 32nm manufacturing, nvidia will have quite a bit of catching up to do.

merty boy

March 29, 2010, 10:44 pm

Ouch. Your review seems to reflect what everyone else is finding. Of the two cards (gtx470 & GTX 480), i think the 470 is the way to go, I dont think im brave enough to put the 480 in my rig what with its power consumption, heat and all. The technology is good however, and as an HD5850 user I still find physx a draw. The difference in price and the added worry of thermals etc are still enough to put me off though.

Tim Sutton

March 29, 2010, 10:52 pm

Looking back over my graphics card history, it's been an almost perfect alternating ATI/nVidia sequence, from my very first TNT2 via in no particular order a couple of All In Wonders (brilliant things, wish they still existed), a 7900GS and an 8800 GTX up to my current HD 4890.





I was hanging on till Fermi made an appearance for my next upgrade but the signs were never good. It's a real shame, this series of nVidia cards won't even force ATI to lower prices. It's the heat of the thing under load that worries me more than the poor price/performance ratio, I'd be very unhappy with an air-cooled solution in terms of longevity, and SLI with the heat these things produce will require an asbestos case.





So the sequence ends here, it's 5870 time. nVidia will hopefully return to form next time around.

RazorA

March 29, 2010, 10:56 pm

On the face of it the 470 seems to be the better value for money card when compared to it's bigger brother the 480. However, I can't see how they can get away with pricing it around the same mark as a HD 5870, when the latter will offer more performance overall; plus factoring in the power consumption and the heat issues it just doesn't make sense. Considering the 470 was made to directly compete with the HD 5850, nVidia must be counting on their loyal fans to make that card a success.





P.S. Your charts for Crysis has the key label GTX 480 instead of GTX 470

Manni

March 29, 2010, 11:33 pm

@Edward: good review, thanks, although something is probaby wrong with the drivers for the latest nVidia, some benchs are much lower than in other reviews.


There is another thing that you didn't mention (sorry if I missed it) which goes against nVidia, and it's the lack of HDMI socket and HD Audio compatibility. With any card in the 5xxx range, you can bitstream HD Audio from a bluray using TMT3 or PowerDVD9. I'm surprised you haven't mentionned this huge lack in the latest nVidia (it's probably worth mentionning in the review, as to me it would brings the feature score down to 8 or 9). I bought a 5850 two months ago (upgrading from a 8800GTX) for my gaming/htpc/video editing rig, and I'm glad I did... So thanks again for aleviating any form of buyer's remorse for me!

Runadumb

March 29, 2010, 11:51 pm

Such a disappointing show from Nvidia but im glad to see ATI really back in the game. With their die shrink due soon I my next card may very well be ATi. Haven't had one since the X800 (i think). I might miss Physx but it not going to stop me jumping ship

Caleb9ce

March 30, 2010, 2:44 am

@Ed





On the Crysis graphs you have mentioned the card tested as GTX 480 instead of 470.

Manni

March 30, 2010, 2:29 pm

@TR: I see that you are still sending your poor readers to the cowboys (an understatement) at Overclocker.co.uk. Do you have any financial interest with this company, or are you simply ignoring the negative feedback from a majority of those who had to deal with them recently and couldn't get any kind support (especially in relation to refund/exchange due to faulty goods)? They are rude, incompetent and unhelpful, and it doesn't do any good to your reputation to channel sales to them. If you don't believe us, buy something reasonably exepnsive from them (anonymously of course), like this nVidia 480GTX when it's available, and try to get a refund for faulty goods within the first 28 days, telling them it doesn't work in your computer. I'd be interested to know which kind of support you get.

Kieran

March 30, 2010, 4:59 pm

@Manni





actually i have had brilliant customer services from them.





When my 4870X2 broke last year and overheated (hitting over 100 degrees) as soon as i told them they said fine ship it to us, within 2-3 weeks i had a bran new replacement and an overclocked edition of that so i can't say i can complain about there service.

Edammer

March 30, 2010, 5:57 pm

Also @Manni





I also have had good service from Overclockers.


I recently sent my Motherboard and Processor back after a fault. This was many months (6+) after buying the items.


They tested the Processor and returned it when no fault was found (no cost to me).


They sent me a new Motherboard after it tested faulty, again no cost to me.


My only complaint was that the website did not update to let me know whats going on.





I also find them to be very good on price.

Manni

March 30, 2010, 6:22 pm

@Kieran


I guess you were lucky. My recent experience with them has been atrocious, and I'm not the only one. They'll never see my money again.

Ian Mayall

March 30, 2010, 6:47 pm

They replaced my 8800 GTS without an issue the last time I upgraded but then again Scan is only 15 miles away from me these days.

Xiphias

March 30, 2010, 6:51 pm

The GTX 470 is a good card, just compare it to the GTX 285 numbers and if ATI had been delayed six months it would have got some very good reviews. Unfortunately it's not quite good enough but with the potential I'd bet on it beating ATI on the refresh.

Castalan

March 30, 2010, 7:00 pm

@manni





I'll add to the previous comments - I've given up buying my bits and pieces when I build a PC from elsewhere and only shop at overclockers - I've always found them to be really helpful ( I've emailed them questions about motherboards and memory and they answer with good information prior to purchase )





They are fairly good on price - in fact I've emailed them about an item they were stocking which was more expensive than elsewhere - and they reduced the price to match the next day.





In fact the only reason I don't buy from them is if they don't stock the item I want.





I also have quite a few friends just as nerdy as me who all buy from overclockers regularly.





And before you accuse me of it - no - i am not an employee or have any other non disclosed interest in overclockers ......

Metalex

March 30, 2010, 7:35 pm

I see Overclockers.co.uk still get negative comments after all these years. I'm sure some of you have had good service from them, but time and time again this company have had complaints of poor customer service levelled against them. It's not really that surprising considering some of the unsavoury characters that work for that company.





I remember when somebody hacked into their forums and got access to the private admin and moderator sections, then promptly uploaded them for all to see. That was quite an eye-opener, as it highlighted the disdain they have for their customers, not to mention the racist behaviour they allowed on their forums in both these private posts and general posts. A thoroughly unpleasant company in almost every regard.

Manni

March 30, 2010, 7:42 pm

@Edammer


Well, I guess I was unlucky then:).


More seriously, my problem was not when a product was undeniably faulty and needed replacement. It was when there was a design fault on a video card (the ATI 5850), which didn't work in my motherboard when at least four other cards worked without any issue. I had to take my RAID card (an Adaptec 1430SE) out and reorganise all my storage to free enough ROM space to allow the computer to boot with the ATI in. When I know that it works fine with a 8800GTX, a GT240 and an ATI 5770, to me it was clearly a design fault in the 5850 (it needs too much ROM space to be comnpatible with a RAID adapter). They refused to hear anything.


Same thing with a Netgear DM111P. It works, except it disconnects at least once every 24h, and needs a manually reboot to reconnect. To me, this is a design fault. In both situations, there was no reason to get an exchange, as the internet is full of DM-111P users experiencing the same fault. They wouldn't hear anything (and didn't even know that graphics card needed some memory space to allocate their ROM to boot).


The problem is not when you need a replacement from them, it is when you need a refund.


Once they have taken your money, you will never see it back.


All the other - good - suppliers I have dealt with would have accepted the card back and issued a refund, as this was in the first two weeks of use.


I agree their prices are good, but I know now how they can get these prices.


@Ian Mayall: are you talking about OCuk or Scan? Scan is great, they know what they are doing and will get my business.

Binnsy

March 30, 2010, 8:26 pm

@Manni,





Are you the one I was going over this last time overclockers came up? I honestly forget.





To echo some of the others I've had perfect service from them as well. I had no problems buying my origional kit (a full pc and monitor rushing me nearly £1800) and when I did have to come to use there warrenty service they diagnosed, and replaced my faulty ram, with higher spec replacments, within 18 hours of the machien getting there. This was all done free of charge outside of the valid warranty period by a good 8 months.





Fantastic service imo.





I'm glad to see that there is more people echoing my views this time I felt like I was fighting a one man battle last time.





But yes, to the car, if it was about £100 cheaper I would be very interested, but not at this price point.

Ian Mayall

March 31, 2010, 2:04 am

As my post says Scan I would think that I mean them!





The Netgear issue is a problem with the Manufacturer, not the Retailer so I wouldn't expect Overclockers to replace it, a faulty network unit would just not work at all or would work for 5 minutes, 24 hours is a design or firmware issue. Should have got an 834 model instead although I do have to reboot both of mine (a PN and a G) about once a month.

Manni

March 31, 2010, 3:46 am

@Ian Mayall


Fine, it didn't make sense to mention Scan the way you did as we were discussing OCuk, but noted.


Re the Netgear, you should know that the contract is between the reseller and the buyer. Under the sales of Goods act, the product has to be fit for purpose. If it had been something more expensive, I would have taken the time to write a recorded letter, but frankly, I don't have the time or energy to deal with such morons. They are cowboys, and I'm glad at least some of you are happy with them.


The 834 is a router/access point, I have three of them thank you very much, I needed an adsl2+ modem to work with my WNDR3700. I had to buy a Draytek Vigor 120 to replace the DM111P. Contrary to the netgear, it works, and it doesn't need to be rebooted every day or every month.


End of story as far as I'm concerned, life is short. No worries, I won't start another one of these fruitless discussions, I just can't believe TR keeps sending them customers, but after all, that's not my problem.

Jay4d0

March 31, 2010, 4:46 am

"The Netgear issue is a problem with the Manufacturer, not the Retailer so I wouldn't expect Overclockers to replace it"





this is WRONG it's UK law that the warrenty stands with the seller (aka the retailer) and they themselves HAVE to refund, repair or replace the faulty goods, and if it is an issue with the manufacturer then it is then the retailer that then has to deal with them, after you have been delt with and recieved your refund, repair or replacement.





- it is a very common excuse/delying / hope you shut up and go away tactic that some companies (even the big ones) give to try and save themselves the trouble of dealing with faulty goods


- it is also becoming increasingly common that the average consumer also thinks that it is not the sellers fault and it the manufacturers but as is always said - know the facts and the law

colonelclaw

March 31, 2010, 8:56 pm

Whilst I've limited experience of Overclockers I will say their service was average. For me, there's no UK retailer that can touch Scan; they are consistently cheap and extremely knowledgeable, plus they've never complained to me when I've returned things. In my office we've been using Scan almost exclusively for 4 years and have never had any problems. I've personally built 10 1U Supermicro Twin rendernodes all from parts bought there and nothing has gone wrong on any of them, which is quite an achievement when you consider they've been switched on and had 100% CPU load for between 1 to 2 years each.





Sorry if this sounded like a bit of an advert for Scan, but they are bloody good.





Meanwhile back in the land of graphics... If NVidia don't drop their prices sharpish then they face a massive loss of market share. Price parity between the 470 and 5850 is the absolute minimum. A healthy competitive market needs NVidia back on form, and right now they're simply not good enough.

Hans Gruber

April 1, 2010, 1:59 am

The nVidia GeForce GTX 285 is becoming more available again, and at a reduced price, closer to £240 which makes it seem like far better value now but then, if you've got £240 to play with you might as well go for a Radeon 5850 and get better overall performance I guess.





Fermi is completely out of the question for me (and many others). Extremely expensive, extremely hot running, and extremely disappointing though I expect nVidia, with a refresh, will release a refabbed GPU that will help it run cooler and perform better overall in the not too distant future (3 months or so?). I guess they'll tag a 5 on the end, so far making a 475 and 485 GTX series maybe? For me, I've gone back to ATI after a long run of using nVidia cards.





As far as suppliers go, so long as they don't affect the review's impartiality and the supplier isn't a renowned scam-artist, I'm all for including links to them. I've used Scan, Overclockers and Ebuyer many times and had both good and bad experiences with all three. Sometimes you seem to get sterling service and at others it can really be torturous; there's nothing worse than being fobbed off by someone who's both ignorant and rude so I empathise with those who've had trouble.





Joining the Hexus forum for Scan is an excellent way to secure better help if and when a product goes wrong. As an example, I purchased a 1TB Samsung hard drive that utterly refused to be seen by my then Gigabyte motherboard and Scan's Hexus forum representatives were very courteous and just said to RMA it. As it happened I didn't need to in the end (after finding a software tool to fix the disc so the mobo bios could see it). I expect people would get better support from the Overclocker's forum but have never tried it myself.





As with Manni's example, sometimes hardware conflicts are difficult to diagnose and wouldn't normally fit under the 'fault' category. How a company deals with you in this instance makes the difference, and clearly OCers could have done much better helping him out. It's the confidence to use an online supplier that determines whether you're going to return and use them or not, though price is very much the crucial determinant to using some place other another in the first instance.

Jerome

April 1, 2010, 6:29 am

I like the engineering Nvidia are doing. If game developers pull their finger out soon and use whats available, the games are going to have a good performance increase soon. So i'm buying 1 GTX 470 for my 15" monitor from ebuyer for £308 as i'm on a small budget and it should do till epic have created Unreal engine 4(expected 2012, i'm saving up!). Note that Ebuyer offer a good service too. If an item is faulty they send a courier to your home for collection and delivery, for free.

Jerome

April 3, 2010, 2:42 am

Thanks for the good review. Nvidia GPU'S are highly adveanced. The Zotac Nvidia GTS 250 I'm running now has 128 CUDA processing cores and the old card I had was a Powercolor ATI 4730 (I had two of these and sent both of them back to Ebuyer because of an 'Arctic Cooler' cooler breakdown and no signal) with 640 processing cores. My Nvidia rules. It plays Farcry 2 on ultra specs and maximum AA with ease while the ATI managed high specs with 2xAA with more difficulty. That proved to me that Nvidia are the gamers hero because rendering real time games with all the bells and whistles is their speciality. I read that Fermi has evolved CUDA cores, that is lovely news.

Aitch

May 26, 2010, 3:20 pm

@ Metalex





Those are some strong criticisms dude - do you have any actual proof?

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