By all accounts the GeForce GTX 480 is not the beast we were hoping it would be. It's main competitor, the Radeon HD 5870 is no slouch, so beating it in almost every test is a real accomplishment, however in many cases it wasn't a great deal faster which makes it harder to justify a price step up against the 6 month old Radeon.
As we understand it, Nvidia will already be selling the GeForce GTX 480 well below its intended price at $499. At this price point the card will be some ~$100 more expensive than most Radeon HD 5870s. On average when Nvidia's new flagship managed to outperform the Radeon HD 5870 it was around 16% faster, yet we are not sure gamers will want to pay a 20% premium for this.
Here is a quick breakdown of our performance tests running at 2560x1600 between these two contenders: The GeForce was 16% slower in Battlefield Bad Company 2, 13% slower in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat and 5% slower in Wolfenstein. It was only slightly faster in Batman Arkham Asylum, winning by a 4% margin, just 1% faster in Resident Evil 5, 10% faster when testing with CoD: Modern Warfare 2, and 12% with Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
The GTX 480 fared rather well in Metro 2033 with a 15% lead, Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts with 14%, World in Conflict Soviet Assault with 22%, Crysis Warhead with a bold 31% advantage, and finally Far Cry 2 with a huge 35% margin. Nevertheless, as you can see, there were only a few instances where Nvidia's latest graphics card truly shined and managed to outperform the Radeon HD 5870 by a considerable margin.
The GeForce GTX 480 appears to offer a somewhat balanced value, fitting right between Radeon HD 5870 and the Radeon HD 5970 in terms of both price and performance. Unfortunately we can't help but feel that if Nvidia had priced it closer to the 5870 then AMD would really have something to worry about. That's what makes the more affordable GeForce GTX 470 such an interesting prospect. For $349, the card belongs to completely different price bracket and at least on paper it doesn't seem to be that much slower -- sadly, Nvidia was unable to provide a sample.
Pricing concerns aside, there are a few solid facts that are not going to change about this card. The GeForce GTX 480 is a power addict in desperate need of some rehab. The card sucked down a whopping 28% more power than to the Radeon HD 5870 under load. Given that it rarely offered a similar performance bump, it's fair to say that the GTX 480 is considerably less efficient.
All this power usage results in yet another problem with heat generation. The GTX 480 is one of the hottest -- and noisiest -- graphics card available. In terms of operating temperatures it's able to make even the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 look rather tame.
Widespread availability of both GeForce GTX 480 and GTX 470 cards is expected for the week of April 12th. The first batch of cards to hit the market will all be Nvidia designed, but down the line you can expect to see further upgrades made by manufacturers.
The GeForce GTX 480 is fast but given the extra time Nvidia had to work on the card and tweak it to perfection, we would have at least expected to do without the heat/power compromises. As drivers mature these Fermi-based graphics cards will likely become even faster, but we may also suggest Nvidia revises its pricing strategy which could make or break sales once the cards become available next month.