GeForce GTX 295 Performance Pre-Preview
For the past six months NVIDIA’s been racing to shrink their entire GPU lineup to 55-nm. With the company currently embroiled in a price war with ATI, shrinking their graphics lineup from 65-nm to 55-nm is extremely important to improving the company’s bottom line. The smaller process benefits NVIDIA by reducing their manufacturing costs, while consumers also benefit thanks to reduced power consumption (and thus heat output). In theory, this also opens the door to improved overclocking chances as well, although in the case of TSMC’s 55-nm process, many of the high performance features found at 65-nm are removed in order to minimize costs.
In any case, shifting GPU production from 65-nm to 55-nm is a win-win for NVIDIA and the consumer.
Nowhere is this more imperative than at the high-end segment of the graphics market. NVIDIA’s GT200 GPU is a massive chip with 1.4 billion transistors and a 576mm^2 die size. In fact, some reports
have suggested the manufacturing cost for NVIDIA is over $100 per GT200 die alone. With GeForce GTX 260 prices falling from $400 at launch to nearly $200 today, getting these costs down is obviously important.
Besides production costs, the other problem NVIDIA currently faces with GT200 is its performance. While the chip is considered to be the fastest overall GPU on the market today, it isn’t as significant a performance leap as previous next-generation offerings. The performance jump from the 7800 GTX to the 8800 GTX for instance was greater. In our GeForce GTX 280 Performance Preview article, we found that the GTX 280 was generally outperformed by a pair of GeForce 8800 GTX cards running in SLI.
ATI exploited this reality with the Radeon 4870 X2. Boasting two RV770 GPUs clocked at 750MHz and 2GB of GDDR5 memory, the 4870 X2 is universally considered by all to be the world’s fastest graphics card. This is a title NVIDIA had held for nearly two full years. To add insult to injury, the Radeon 4850 X2 2GB recently took the second spot
behind the 4870 X2, relegating the GeForce GTX 280 to third place in performance.
Shrinking GT200 to 55-nm helps solve this second problem for NVIDIA.
To tackle this issue, two strategies were available to NVIDIA: they could use the smaller process to add more shaders to GT200 and hope for higher clocks as well, or they could use the smaller process to resurrect the GX2 formula of fusing two GPUs onto one graphics card. Integrating two 65-nm GT200 GPUs onto one board isn’t feasible, as the TDP of such a board would be too high: one GTX 280 card has a max board power of 236 watts.
While rumors suggested
NVIDIA planned to offer enhanced GT206 and GT212 GPUs to combat ATI, ultimately NVIDIA opted for the second strategy of integrating two 55-nm GT200b GPUs onto one card to recapture the #1 position in graphics performance.
The GeForce GTX 295 is the designation NVIDIA has chosen for this beast. Armed with two 55-nm GT200b GPUs and 1.792GB of GDDR3 memory, the GeForce GTX 295 shares traits with the GTX 280 and GTX 260. It’s a hybrid of sorts that’s been designed to dethrone the Radeon 4870 X2. But does it accomplish its mission? Let’s find out!