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    NVIDIA GeForceFX 5900 Ultra (Reference)

Product :

GeForce FX 5900 Ultra

Manufacturer :

NVIDIA

Reviewed by :

Wayne Brooker

Price :

N/A

Date :

June 13th, 2003.

 

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Introduction

In an eerie half light a tumble weed rolls silently across a sparse, featureless landscape. Vultures circle above waiting for the next set of weary bones to pick clean while earthbound scavengers scurry through the baking dust. Oh yes, the world of the graphics card outcast isn't a good place to holiday by any stretch of the imagination. Ati know, they've been there, and now NVIDIA know it too as they've been looking for somewhere to check in there for a few weeks now.

Much as I want to defend NVIDIA for the huge impact they've had on the graphics industry I'm not going to. They're big boys now and I'm sure they're perfectly capable of taking the punches being thrown at them squarely on the chin. Nor am I going to be rubbing salt into the already festering wounds. They're a young and savvy company who don't need the likes of me pointing out their mistakes to them. They've become all too painfully aware of these mistakes for themselves and will no doubt learn from them.

Let's therefore summarise the situation in simple, factual terms with a little opinion thrown in for good measure. Way back at the dawn of time NVIDIA launched a legendary card, the GeForce. This card redefined the computer graphics industry in way none of could have imagined. It may not have been the fastest of cards by today's standards but it showed that moving some of the burden of rendering a complex 3D scene from the CPU to a dedicated GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) was indeed feasible. Graphics cards from here on in would never be the same again.

For many a year Ati struggled to introduce a product that could compete, and yet good though some of them were, they never quite had what it takes to dethrone the undisputed graphics champions. That is until the introduction of a graphics card that if I'm being brutally honest, deserves far more plaudits than it has so far received, the Radeon 9700 Pro.
The Radeon 9700 Pro took everything that NVIDIA had achieved and packaged it in a compact, unspectacular looking graphics card that set new standards for visual quality and performance. A card that in many ways deserves a similar legendary status to that of the first GeForce.

NVIDIA, being the dynamic company they are fought back with a card doomed to difficulties before it ever reached the taping out stage. The move from 0.15 to 0.13 microns was proving a major headache, yields were so poor that the card wasn't likely to become financially viable in any reasonable time frame, and the gamble on the readiness of DDR2 to power their beast was at best optimistic. DDR2 was hot, expensive and far from ready for a role in mainstream graphics cards. And to cool the toasty DDR2 memory chips NVIDIA also needed a far more aggressive cooling system than the market had seen before on a mainstream product, an incredibly noisy cooling system that went on to become the butt of many a cruel joke as NVIDIA tried in vain to defend their decisions and sell the idea to an increasingly picky public. NVIDIA couldn't understand it, when they last looked, just before they all got buried chin-deep in the task of getting the NV30 ready to roll, noisy PC's were all the rage? People were splashing out tens of dollars on CPU coolers that came with dual, high RPM fans that sounded like someone drilling a hole in a rock. What they hadn't realised while they'd been so totally absorbed in preparing their new baby for the big time was that PC users had grown up. Gone was the need for noisy, costly, brick sized copper coolers, fans that could slice carrots and power supplies that sounded like a jet engine and in came the quest for the silent PC. Heatpipes, thermally controlled fans and large, passive sinks had replaced loud and crude brut force cooling and this just made the troubled NV30 based GeForce FX5800 Ultra stand out like a sore thumb. Further tamed by its suffocating 128bit memory bus the FX 5800 Ultra was always going to be, if you'll excuse the term, peeing against the wind.

Okay, so NVIDIA made a mistake, a misjudgment, they're not the first company to do it and they won't be the last. What's happened since then however with regards 3DMark03 is for you to read about on other sites. I know too much about what's gone on behind the scenes to make any fair and unbiased comments but let's just say the problem isn't restricted to NVIDIA and that turning the whole event into a witch hunt is achieving nothing towards the final goal of offering accurate and repeatable benchmarks that fairly and accurately reflect a graphics card's true performance and potential.

Anyway, back to the tale. Realising that the 5800 Ultra was doomed to failure NVIDIA were swift to tackle its major weaknesses, those of noisy cooling, heat creation and a rather limiting 128bit memory bus, by dropping it like a hot rock and replacing it with a new product, the FX 5900 Ultra, and it's this very card I'm looking at today. They could have redesigned the cooling to make it quieter but chose not to, this in itself suggests there was more to dropping the 5800 Ultra than just noise. Talk is that that the 5800 Ultra was just too complex and expensive for NVIDIA partners to tool up and start manufacturing for themselves, then again there's always talk of something or another. What matter at this stage is that the FX 5900 Ultra is here and those who shelled out on a 5800 Ultra, who may well be thinking they were well and truly stitched up, still have a card that performs well and is likely to become a collector's item in time so perhaps it's not as bad as it seems.

FX 5900 Ultra FX 5800 Ultra 9800 Pro 9700 Pro
GPU Die Size
0.13
0.13
0.15
0.15
Core Speed
450 MHz
500 MHz
380 MHz
325 MHz
Memory Frequency
425 MHz DDR-I
(850 MHz)
500 MHz DDR-II
(1000 MHz)
340 MHz DDR-I
(680 MHz)
310MHz DDR-I
(620 MHz)
Memory Bus
256-bit
128-bit
256-bit
256-bit
Memory Bandwidth
27.2 GB/s
16 GB/s
21.8 GB/s
19.8 GB/s
Pixel Fill Rate
3.6 GP/s
4 GP/s
3.04 GP/s
2.5 GP/s
Render Pipelines
8
4
8
8
Textures Per Pipeline
2
2
1
1
Vertex Shader
2.0+
2.0+
2.0+
2
Vertex Shaders
Floating Point Array
Floating Point Array
4
4
Pixel Shader
2.0+
2.0+
2.0 (F-buffer)
2.0
Pixel Instructions
1024
1024
Unlimited
64
Anti-Aliasing
Off - 8X
Off - 8X
Off - 6X
Off - 6X
AA Type
Multisampling
Multisampling
Multisampling
Multisampling
Bandwidth Saving Techniques
LMA III
LMA III
HyperZ III+
HyperZ III
Enhancements
Intellisample HCT
Intellisample
SmoothVision 2.1
SmoothVision 2.0
AGP Rates
1X - 8X
1X - 8X
1X - 8X
1X - 8X
RAMDAC
2 x 400MHz DACs
2 x 400MHz DACs
2 x 400MHz DACs
2 x 400MHz DACs
Connections
TV-Out, VGA, DVI
TV-Out, VGA, DVI
TV-Out, VGA, DVI
TV-Out, VGA, DVI

 

The GeForceFX 5900 Ultra now features an extra 5 million transistors weighing in at a whopping 130 million of them! It has also increased the FX5800's memory bandwidth from 16 to just over 27GB/sec. On the downside we see memory frequency dropped from 500MHz to 425MHz (effectively 1GHz to 850MHz) and the core clock reduced from 500MHz to 450MHz. The 400MHz RAMDACs, 128bit colour precision, 0.13micron process and full support for DirectX9.0 make it through intact.

 


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