With so many GPUs available these days, it can be hard to know what's what. This week we're explaining what to look for in a graphics card and assessing five of the best models on the market.
NVIDIA wheels out the big guns with the GTX 580, which offers blistering graphics performance and a whole host of GPU fixes.
It's amazing how quickly the entire graphics card industry can be turned on its head. At the end of 2009, AMD jumped to the lead with its 58XX series, delivering true DX11 performance while NVIDIA was left floundering, struggling to get the Fermi chip at the heart of its GTX 480 cards to work. It took another six months before Fermi finally arrived, but it wasn't decisive enough to wrench the lead back from ATI. However, as 2010 came to a close Fermi finally came good, with the revised version known as GF110 GPU landing in this GTX 580 video card.
With more stream processors, a faster core and shader clock, faster memory and a whopping three billion transistors, this new improved Fermi should deliver significantly faster performance. But at the same time, NVIDIA has taken a close look at the thermal issues that plagued the GTX 480, with a couple of innovative solutions. As with the GTX 570, an entirely new heatsink offers excellent cooling without sounding like a hive of hungover wasps. The thermal tinkering has extended to the silicon level, with a range of new techniques helping to keep the overall temperature lower. As a result the GTX 580 isn't nearly as loud as the GTX 480, but it's not exactly silent either - expect a moderate noise level to be heard just above the rest of your case's components.
So how does the new Fermi perform? Staggeringly quickly as a matter of fact. In all benchmarks barring those that are basically CPU limited (we're looking at you, Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising), the GTX 580 came second only to the ridiculously expensive, dual GPU ARES card. When compared to AMD's fastest single GPU solution, the 6970, there's no competition; the GTX 580 outclassed it in all of our tests.
If you demand the ultimate in gaming graphics performance, don't want to go down the finicky multi-GPU route, and have a generous trust account from your generous parents, the GTX 580 is the only option. Well, until AMD or NVIDIA releases something better in a couple of months' time...Available from NVIDIA, retailing for $650
.APC rating: 9/10 (Editor's Choice)