How Fermi stacks up
SAN JOSE, Calif. Nvidia Corp. has officially rolled out adapter cards using its latest high-end graphics processor, code-named Fermi, to a cool reception from analysts and reviewers. They say the chip does not have a dramatic performance advantage over graphics processors rolled out last fall from archrival Advanced Micro Devices, although Fermi could make deeper in-roads into supercomputers than AMD's offerings.
Using a proprietary metric that ranks price, power consumption and performance figures, market watcher Jon Peddie Research (Tiburon, Calif.) gives AMD's HD5870 graphics adapter cards nearly twice the score of Nvidia's GTX480 cards.
"AMD has significantly lower power consumption and smaller die, while Nvidia has not that big a performance advantage," said Jon Peddie. From that perspective, "AMD is the hands down winner," he said.
Early reviews are telling gamers a similar story. One report noted the Nvidia board consumes about 400W compared to 270W for AMD and suggested game players should save their money by continuing to use the AMD boards.
Peddie said the Nvidia board only provides a 2.5 percent performance advantage on the popular Futuremark 3DMark Vantage benchmark and about 11 percent boost over AMD on high-end games such as Resident Evil. It provides an average 48 percent performance gain on more complex benchmarks measuring features such as tessellation, however that is in part due to the use of more memory on the current Nvidia adapter card.
AMD should be able to largely eliminate that performance advantage when it releases a card with 2 Gbytes memory as early as next week, Peddie said
The AMD chip also has a significant cost advantage due to a smaller die size. Nvidia's Fermi uses 3.2 billion transistors compared to two billion for AMD's part, and AMD has been able to pack those transistors in a more efficient manner, Peddie said.
Nvidia claims its new boards offer an average 27 percent faster performance than competing GPUs when running the latest games based on Microsoft's DirectX 11 application programming interface. It will have two versions of its first Fermi boards generally available in mid-April. They were first announced in September.
Architecturally, "the two chips dramatically different in design," said Peddie.
The AMD chip uses as many as 1,600 32-bit cores, although some configurations require more than one die. The Nvidia chip uses about 480 cores, but can pack as many as 512 cores.
However Nvidia's Fermi also packs a variety of features that don't affect game play but do make the chip well suited for use as a co-processor in technical workstations and supercomputers. They include ECC memory protection and double precision floating point enhancements.
Nvidia has posted technical papers both on its new boards as well as on the computing capabilities of Fermi.