Zotac GeForce GTX 470 £320

7th May 2010 | 13:50

Zotac GeForce GTX 470

Is Nvidia's GTX 470 an AMD Radeon HD 5870 beater?

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

It's the killer £300 card. Your move, ATI

Like:

Faster than HD 5870; Cooler than GTX 480; Smaller than GTX 480; Only needs twin 6-pin power

Dislike:

Still pricey; Very noisy; Thin on the ground

Zotac GeForce GTX 470: Introduction

This is it, the more relevant take on Nvidia's latest GPU, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 470.

Representing the more affordable side of the Graphics Fermi 100 (GF100) GPU, the GTX 470 is being lined up to take out AMD's single-GPU hero, the HD 5870.

Zotac was the first company to thrust the slab of warmed silicon into our sweaty grasp, so here's their take on the great green hope.

When the Nvidia GTX 480 first rocked up last month you could colour us impressed. In terms of single-GPU performance it's the fastest thing on two power connectors, blowing AMD's HD 5870 out of the water with a clear lead in the benchmark tables.

That said, it's retailing for nigh-on £200 more than AMD's competing card and so should be delivering such a lead over its rivals. Unfortunately for Nvidia, it couldn't garner a lead over the pricier still AMD Radeon HD 5970, AMD's twin-GPU monster.

Also read: 15 best graphics cards in the world today

In both price and performance terms then it stands alone in between the competition's cards, forging a quite lonely furrow. The superior AMD Radeon HD 5970 is nearly £100 more and the weaker AMD Radeon HD 5870 is getting on for £200 cheaper. What Nvidia need then is to bring in a card that can directly compete with at least one of AMD's cards. And so the Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 is born.

So we want to know how these blazing boards perform and we're sure you do too. So without further speculation let's get down to the facts about NVIDIA's great green hope, the GTX 470.

Zotac GeForce GTX 470: Specs

gtx 470

Being priced directly in competition with the AMD Radeon HD 5870, the GTX 470 represents a reasoned attack on AMD's flagship single-GPU card. A quick look at the specs though and it's clear this isn't a just straight up fight.

This is the same graphics processor that's been giving the twin-GPU AMD Radeon HD 5970 a run for its money, though admittedly a rather chopped down version. So what's been chopped out of the GTX 470's GF100 then?

Nvidia fermi

Well, the full Fermi GPU sports 16 streaming multiprocessors (SMs) with 512 little CUDA cores (or shader units in its more common parlance) doing the grunt work.

This was cut back for the GTX 480 to 15 SMs and 480 cores, presumably to increase usable GPU yields from the expensive but rather broken GF100 wafers.

Nvidia's big silicon knife has come out again for the GTX 470, cutting that down to 14 SMs with a functional total of 448 CUDA cores.

Clock speeds too have been slashed, with the GTX 470 coming in at a bizarre 607MHz (that extra 7MHz quite obviously making all the difference) compared to the GTX 480's nice and clean 700MHz.

You've only lost 8 ROPs and 256MB of graphics memory though and that memory bus is now 320-bit rather than 384-bit; so it looks like that blade has been wielded pretty smartly by the NVIDIAN engineers.

That leaves us then with a functional core speed of 607MHz, shader clock of 1215MHz and memory clock of 1674. Coupled with that there's that 320-bit memory bus, coping with 1,280MB or GDDR5, and a final total of 40 ROPs.

When you put that up against the HD 5870 AMD is hoping that its higher clockspeeds and extra shader units will be enough to offset the shorfall in ROPs, memory capacity and memory bus.

But these are very different architectures and we're definitely not comparing apples and apples here in terms of the GPU specs themselves.

GF100 architecture

The proof though is in the graphical pudding, and more especially the tessellated icing on top. Damn, I'm getting hungry now… But yes, the tessellation performance of Zotac's GTX 470 card is going to be key to its chances now, in the future and in its battle with AMD's Radeon HD 5870.

Nvidia sees tessellation as the great hope for PC gaming going forward and was so desperate to make sure it had the best architecture to take advantage of the Big M's new API that it was willing to wait half a year after the software hit user's machines before releasing a graphics card capable of using all that tessellated goodness.

While initially this seemed like a risky strategy it's looking like it could well pay off for the green side of the graphics divide.

AMD made sure it had DX11 cards ready and waiting (though not necessarily on the shelves thanks to its own yield issues) for the launch of DX11, but in relative architectural terms Nvidia claims it only really pays lip-service to tessellation.

With the single tessellation unit of AMD's Cypress chips compared to the 16 tessellation units wrapped up in each of Fermi's SMs it's immediately obvious where Nvidia sees the future of PC graphics.

Despite the fact that the GF100 GPU is a big, blazing hot, power-hungry beast of a chip - in short a very, very Nvidia chip – it is also rather neatly designed. In terms of layout it's very much like a traditional CPU, with independent sections all emptying into a shared Level 2 cache.

This means that it is designed from the ground up to be well versed in the sort of parallelism that Nvidia is aiming for from its CUDA-loving graphics cards.

AMD's solution in its Cypress chips, the GPU powering the HD 58xx series, outputs its data directly into the DRAM. Compared with Nvidia's solution, which keeps all the date on the chip before the final output, the AMD cards could well be overloading the valuable graphics memory far more.

But how does the GTX 470 perform when put up against the great and the good from AMD's graphics stable? We're just about to find out...

Zotac GeForce GTX 470: Performance

Zotac geforce gtx 470

Well, the results are actually pretty damned good for the green side of the graphics divide. Almost across the board the GTX 470 comes out on top of the HD 5870, its only bum note being the comparatively poor showing in Metro 2033.

As one of the games heavily using tessellation in its character models the fact that it is behind the HD 5870 is somewhat strange. This strangeness is compounded by the relative results in the thoroughly tessellation-heavy Heaven 2.0 benchmark.

In the testing process the HD 5870 garners 28fps in our Metro 2033 benchmark while the GTX 470, powered by a GPU built from the ground up to be tessellation-friendly, only managed a slightly poorer 26fps.

When you consider that's at the full HD resolution of 1920x1080, with all the bells and whistles turned on (bar the Nvidia-centric PhysX niceties), that's still not a bad showing.

The AMD Radeon HD 5870 is practically half the speed of Nvidia's GTX 470 though when it comes to the Unigine Heaven benchmark, a benchmark that has been recently updated to version 2.0 to include a specific 'extreme' mode for its tessellation pathways.

The AMD card is in single figures at 9fps compared with the Nvidia card's 17fps. AMD's brilliant HD 5970 only manages to garner a result of 20fps, which goes to show just how powerful even the cut-down GF100 in the GTX 470 is when it comes to the DX11 poster-child of tessellation.

In general DX10 gaming too the GTX 470 shows a definite lead over the AMD shaped competition. In Just Cause 2 the GTX 470 is a full 25 per cent faster at the eye-popping 2560x1600, 30" panel resolution. There's clear water in the DX10 stallwart of Far Cry 2 as well.

So, it's done its job then; the GTX 470 is measurably better than AMD's HD 5870. The issue remains though that both these cards are over £300, and that most definitely is not where the sweet spot is for graphics cards these days.

A quick scan over the benchmarks shows that only the very latest of releases need anywhere near this much graphical grunt, and only then when absolutely everything is turned on.

Zotac GeForce GTX 470: Benchmarks

Heaven 2.0

  • GTX 480: 21
  • GTX 470: 17
  • HD 5870: 9
  • HD 5970: 20

Metro 2033

  • GTX 480: 33
  • GTX 470: 26
  • HD 5870: 28
  • HD 5970: 42

STALKER

  • GTX 480: 34
  • GTX 470: 15
  • HD 5870: 13
  • HD 5970: 19

DiRT 2

  • GTX 480: 52
  • GTX 470: 43
  • HD 5870: 41
  • HD 5970: 54

Far Cry 2

  • GTX 480: 64
  • GTX 470: 51
  • HD 5870: 45
  • HD 5970: 69

Just Cause 2

  • GTX 480: 25
  • GTX 470: 20
  • HD 5870: 15
  • HD 5970: 30

All games at 2560 x 1600, except Metro 2033 at 1920 x 1080

Zotac GeForce GTX 470: Verdict

gtx 470

So the GTX 470 represents a clear win for Nvidia then in a place where it absolutely had to have one. In performance terms alone this means the green company's holding the second and third position behind AMD's awesome, but awesomely expensive, HD 5970.

But things are only set to become even stickier in the coming months as the full Fermi lineup begins to roll out and AMD starts the refresh wagon a-rolling.

With the vast majority of games available right now though around £200 is the most reasonable people ought to be spending on a new graphics card. That then brings the HD 5850 to the fore, though there are rumours Nvidia is looking to bring a GTX 460 to the table in June which could take care of that duel.

We liked

Despite the sticker that appears in every retail box, proclaiming the possible finger-burning heat of the card, the GTX 470 is a far cooler card than it's bigger, beefier brother, the GTX 480.

During full load the GPU hovers around the 60 degrees Centigrade mark, where the GTX 480 was sometimes hitting over 90 degrees Celsius.

The fact that there is so much clear water between the equivalently-priced HD 5870 and this Zotac card is especially pleasing. Nvidia has done well pitching this card directly against AMD's top single-GPU card.

We disliked

The noise the stock cooler makes under full load can be a mite distracting - it's almost like going to back to the bad ol' days of ATI's turbine-like fans on the X1900 XTX. We're definitely looking forward to seeing the different manufacturers releasing their own cooling designs if Nvidia ever release the designs later on.

We also think, like with the HD 5870, that £300 is too much for the normal user to be asked to pay for a card that isn't the top of the line. A price sitting closer to the £200 or even £250 mark would have seen the GTX 470 being heralded as the best card in the world. Instead it's only a very good card.

Verdict

AMD have definitely lost this battle as it stands with the GTX 470 comfortably out-performing the HD 5870.

That though is only as it stands right now, as we write the overclocked HD 58xx series is on the test benches going through their paces, and we'd hope that would mean a drop in price of the vanilla HD 5870s. The 2GB overclocked versions of the HD 5870 is claimed to be getting much closer to the performance of Nvidia's Fermi cards, and that could spell trouble once more for the green company.

You'd also think AMD would follow its previous form with us seeing a redesigned card with the HD 5890 moniker tipping up in the Summer or Autumn.

That said, with Nvidia's latest still desperately short on stock AMD might well be reticent to drop its prices until there's actually physical cards out in the wild to really test it's own GPUs.

Still, the GTX 470 is a very good card, and does exactly what Nvidia needed it to do. If you can find one then right now it is the £300 card to buy.

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