The GeForce GTX 580 was an unorganized launch from our perspective. Nvidia was unable to help with samples and the board partners we spoke to were foggy on the launch day details. In short, it was a bit of a mess and we were a little late with our coverage. However, this delay has afforded us extra time to see how pricing panned out for both Nvidia and AMD.
At launch, the GeForce GTX 580 carries a suggested retail pricing of $499, while retailers are charging about $30 extra on average. We're starting to see a few cards appear at list price, but most remain around $529. Meanwhile, the GTX 480 is going for around $449, making it only slightly cheaper than the GTX 580. On the other side of the fence, Radeon HD 5970 boards are not as abundant as they were a few months back, but you should still be able to grab one for anything between $630 and $700.
In the 13 games we tested, the GeForce GTX 580 was on average a match to the Radeon HD 5970, 25% faster than the GeForce GTX 480 and 46% faster than the Radeon HD 5870. If you ignore the Tessellation-enhanced results from Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, the GTX 580 was 7% slower than the Radeon HD 5970 and 33% faster than the Radeon HD 5870.
With that in mind, picking between AMD's dual GPU offering and the GTX 580 will come down to more than just performance and price. For instance, the GTX 580 uses slightly less power and operates a bit cooler. The GTX 580 showed a handsome 22% lead over the GTX 480, so we can easily justify the 11% increase in price, and while the GTX 580 is 46% faster than the Radeon HD 5870, it costs 47% more.
The GTX 580 isn't much of an upgrade for GTX 480 owners, so folks with the original Fermi flagship should hang onto their cash for the time being. That said, the GTX 580 is far more compelling for anyone looking to buy a new high-end graphics card. Whereas the GeForce GTX 480 was a tough sell because of its high power consumption, extreme heat and loud operating volume, the GTX 580 is much more efficient. Yes, it still consumes a lot of power, but its lowered thermal output and tolerable operating volume make it a far less compromising product.
The GeForce GTX 580 is unquestionably the fastest single-GPU graphics card available today, representing a better value than any other high-end video card. However, it's not the only option for those looking to spend $500. Dual Radeon HD 6870s remain very attractive at just under $500 and deliver more performance than a single GeForce GTX 580 in most titles. However, multi-GPU technology isn't without pitfalls, and given the choice we would always opt for a single high-end graphics card.
Nvidia's GeForce GTX 580 may be the current king of the hill, but this could all change next month when AMD launches their new Radeon HD 6900 series. AMD was originally expected to deliver its Cayman XT and Pro-based Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 graphics cards sometime during November, but they have postponed their arrival until mid-December for undisclosed reasons. If you don't mind holding off a few short weeks, the wait could be worth some savings or potentially more performance for the same dollars depending on what AMD has reserved for us.