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Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics processor

A perfect mate for Sandy Bridge?

I don't wish to alarm you, but two very powerful things are converging upon us simultaneously. First, we have the introduction of a new video card from Nvidia aimed smack dab at the soft, chewy center of the price-performance curve. Second, and even more consequentially, we're on the cusp of a potentially huge upgrade cycle, prompted by one Miss Sandy Bridge, Intel's sparkling new mid-range CPU. We recently polled you, our faithful readers, about your upgrade plans for Sandy Bridge, and more than a quarter of voters said they intend to upgrade either immediately or "soon." Those are astonishing numbers, if you think about it.

Mash those two facts together, and you have an inevitable outcome: a number of interested parties would really like to sell you one of these new video cards—or something like it—to go with your new system. AMD, Nvidia, and their partners are pumping up their performance, hacking away at prices, and doing everything else they can do grab your attention. Happily, that means some really nice choices should soon be available to you via your favorite online retailer.

One of those choices is our headliner today, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics card. And yes, the name ends in "Ti"—that's not a typo. To decode it, look not toward the Texas-based chip company or the rapper. Instead, think periodic table. This is the GeForce GTX 560 "Titanium," believe it or not, a name that hearkens waaaay back to 2001 and the GeForce3 Ti graphics card. (Yes, in a shocking example of career stagnation, I was reviewing graphics cards back then just as am I today.) We'll explain the reasons behind this peculiar naming choice shortly, but first, let's consider the revamped GPU that drives the GTX 560 Ti.

Please welcome the GF114
If you've been following the veritable truckload of new GPU releases over the past four months, you'll know that Nvidia has been following up its famously late-to-market GeForce GTX 400-series graphics processors with a reworked GTX 500 series that's arrived in more timely fashion. The somewhat shaky GeForce GTX 480 gave way to the world-beating GTX 580, based on a very similar chip with higher clock speeds, more units enabled, and lower power consumption.

The GF114 hides out under a big metal cap

The GTX 560 Ti's release follows the same basic template. The card is based on the GF114 graphics processor, a reworked version of the GF104 graphics processor that lies under the heatsink of every GeForce GTX 460. That reworking has involved tuning the chip's design to better fit TSMC's 40-nm fabrication process. To improve performance and lower power consumption, Nvidia has used faster transistors in the speed-sensitive paths on the chip while deploying low-leakage transistors elsewhere. Beyond those tweaks, the GF114's architecture is essentially the same as the GF104's, with no other notable changes. (The GF100-to-GF110 transition included an upgrade to the texture filtering hardware to allow full-rate filtering of FP16 formats, but the GF104 already had that capability.)

width (bits)
die size
process node
GF114 32 64/64 384 2 256 1950 360 40 nm
GF110 48 64/64 512 4 384 3000 529* 40 nm
Barts 32 56/28 1120 1 256 1700 255 40 nm
Cayman 32 96/48 1536 2 256 2640 389 40 nm
*Best published estimate

At long last, Nvidia has relented from its policy of trying to keep die sizes obscured. The GF114's die size is, officially, 360 mm². Chip size isn't a terribly important metric for most folks to know, but it does give us a sense of what a GPU costs to manufacture. The GF114 looks to be just a little smaller than AMD's Cayman chip but considerably larger than the Barts GPU used in the Radeon HD 6800 series.