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Nvidia's GeForce GTX 570 graphics processor

In a class of its own?

The torrent of new hardware pouring into Damage Labs here at the end of 2010 is absolutely stunning. Just as we were putting the finishing touches on our massive multi-GPU mash-up last week, a package arrived containing yet another video card to review. Yet that card was not what we might have expected: a new Radeon based on the forthcoming Cayman GPU. Instead, we were greeted with a black-and-green box containing a pre-emptive strike from Nvidia in the form of the GeForce GTX 570.

The GTX 570 is based on a de-tuned version of the GF110 graphics chip that powered the GeForce GTX 580 into first place in the single-GPU performance sweeps last month. We pretty much expected a slightly slower variant of the GF110 to hit the market sooner or later, but I have to admit that I wasn't entirely excited about the prospect. We already seemed to have our value leaders in the form of the Radeon HD 6850/6870 and higher-clocked variants of the GeForce GTX 460, and we had our performance leader in the GTX 580.

Heck, though, I just wasn't thinking it through. Here's the basic proposition for the GTX 570: performance equivalent to—or a little better than—the GeForce GTX 480, only with power draw and a price range similar to the GTX 470's. If you're familiar with the current GPU landscape, you'll know that's a very solid proposition indeed. We're talking about one of the fastest graphics cards around for well under 400 bucks. Obviously, Nvidia wanted to get this puppy to market in time to greet the upcoming Radeons. Those Radeons could now have some very formidable competition with which to contend.

GeForce GTX 470 607 448 28 40 3.4 Gbps 320
GeForce GTX 480 700 480 30 48 3.7 Gbps 384
GeForce GTX 570 732 480 60 40 3.8 Gbps 320
GeForce GTX 580 772 512 64 48 4.0 Gbps 384

Let's face it: video cards are multiplying like cockroaches these days, with different models coming out seemingly every week. When I was younger, smarter, and more wildly enthusiastic about, well, everything, I could quote specifications for each and every CPU and video card available almost instantly. These days, I'm lucky to remember to brush my teeth, so tools like the table above are a must. I've included both the GTX 400- and GTX 500-series cards because the silicon on which they're based is incredibly similar. The GF110 chip in the 500 series has exactly the same number and configuration of functional units as the GF100 GPU in the 400 series. The major differences are lower power draw and doubled FP16 texture filtering rates in the GF110.

Nvidia has selectively hobbled the GF110 in creating the GTX 570, but the reductions aren't terribly drastic. Only one of its 15 shader multiprocessor partitions is disabled, as is one of its six memory controller/ROP partition combos. The GPU's core clock speed is down 50MHz from its elder sibling, as is the base clock frequency of its 1280MB of GDDR5 memory. The result, as I've mentioned, is a video card whose basic capacities match those of the GeForce GTX 480 pretty closely. We'll explore the particulars a little further in the following pages.

One happy consequence of these cuts is the fact that the GTX 570 only requires dual six-pin auxiliary power inputs, whereas the GTX 580 requires an extra-strength PSU with an eight-pin connector. Otherwise, the 570 looks very similar to its sibling, right down to the 10.5" board length and dual-slot profile. Under that angular cooling shroud is a vapor chamber cooler similar to the one on the 580, but Nvidia tells us the 570's cooler isn't quite as beefy.

Aww, isn't that cute? Our reference card from Nvidia has made friends with a retail GTX 570 from Zotac. The Zotac card arrived yesterday morning, a bit late in the review process, but we found time to drop it into an SLI pairing to run through a subset of our usual tests. You'll see partial results for this config on the following pages, to give you at least a taste of the GTX 570's multi-GPU performance.

This Zotac card runs at the same base clock frequencies as the reference model, and Nvidia expects cards like it to sell for $349.99 at online vendors, with availability starting today. We may see higher-clocked versions of the GTX 570 selling at a bit of a premium, as well.