Summary: While the GeForce FX 5900 XT has been stealing the spotlight in the mainstream segment, NVIDIA has been quietly refining its GeForce FX 5700 Ultra: just recently they began shipping 5700 Ultra boards with GDDR-3 memory. This new memory type boasts lower power consumption and therefore generates less heat, NVIDIA has also bumped the memory clock up to 950MHz. In this article we see how the new GDDR-3-based GeForce FX 5700 Ultra compares to the original as well as RADEON 9600 XT and GeForce FX 5900 XT. To spice things up a bit, we've also included benchmarks with the full retail version of UT 2004. See how the new card fares in this article!
GDDR-3 (short for graphics double data rate-3) is a new memory type developed specifically for graphics. ATI and NVIDIA have been working closely with memory manufacturers throughout the development of GDDR-3. With GDDR-3 the focus is on power, not performance. GDDR-3 runs at a lower voltage than DDR2, allowing it to consume less power than older memory types (assuming clock speeds remain equal).
As a result, memory manufacturers can hit higher clock speeds more easily than if previous memory types had been used. Another added benefit is that board manufacturers can implement cards with more memory – a 512MB DDR or DDR-2 card would require more power circuitry and a more expensive board design than a 512MB GDDR-3 card would. In addition, GDDR-3 modules are available in higher densities than DDR-2: NVIDIA’s 128MB GeForce FX 5700 Ultra GDDR-3 board only requires four GDDR-3 memory modules; 128MB DDR-2 boards had eight memory modules (four on each side of the board). Therefore, the heatsink found on the bottom of GeForce FX 5700 Ultra DDR-2 boards isn’t necessary for GDDR-3 cards.
Latency is a little higher for GDDR-3 than GDDR-2. To offset this, NVIDIA has increased the clock speed on their GDDR-3 boards to 475MHz (950MHz effective). This is an increase of 25MHz over the original DDR-2 based GeForce FX 5700 Ultra, and allows the board to at least equal the performance of its predecessor. We also found a few cases where performance actually improves by a few percentage points. This move is similar to the faster memory modules ATI integrated on its 256MB RADEON 9800 PRO boards, which utilized DDR-2 memory modules.
Price and availability
NVIDIA first began shipping GDDR-3 GeForce FX 5700 Ultra boards in February, so boards should begin hitting retail in the next few weeks. XFX was the first company to jump on to GDDR-3, announcing their board shortly after NVIDIA’s announcement, so they’re expected to be first to market with a retail sample. NVIDIA expects GeForce FX 5700 Ultra board prices to remain the same regardless of memory type used.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Call of Duty – OpenGL
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Quake III - OpenGL
Unreal Tournament 2004 – Direct3D
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
Unreal Tournament 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004
While DDR2 consumed less power than conventional DDR memory, DDR2 modules also generated significantly more heat than DDR. NVIDIA learned this lesson with GeForce FX 5800 Ultra and ATI with RADEON 9800 PRO 256MB. In order for manufacturers to scale to higher clock speeds an alternative was needed. Enter GDDR-3.
By incorporating GDDR-3 on their GeForce FX 5700 Ultra line, NVIDIA is able to get their feet wet with this new memory type, and they’re able to cut a few components off their GDDR-3 boards in the process. We also found that the memory modules on the GDDR-3 5700 Ultra board generated less heat than the DDR2 modules used on original GeForce FX 5700 Ultra cards. This could make it a suitable candidate for small form factor systems, or any other application where keeping heat to a minimum is a priority.
Despite all of this, GeForce FX 5900 XT remains our recommended graphics card for the mainstream segment. It features NVIDIA’s more powerful NV35 graphics core and a wider, 256-bit memory interface. This combination gives it the performance edge, and it only sells for a little bit more than GeForce FX 5700 Ultra.
In fact, it’s because of the GeForce FX 5900 XT that we wouldn’t be surprised if some board manufacturers passed on the GDDR-3 variant of GeForce FX 5700 Ultra. 5900 XT cards are still the hottest product on the market right now, and it’s no small secret than NVIDIA will soon be unveiling its next generation technology.
We see the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra with GDDR-3 as a stepping-stone of things to come in the graphics industry. Unlike DDR2, GDDR-3 appears to be holding up to its promise of higher clock speeds without excessive power and heat. This should allow manufacturers like ATI and NVIDIA to continue to scale to higher memory speeds and even opens the door to graphics cards with 512MB of memory or more.
Buckle up everyone, because things are about to get really interesting!
SIDEBAR: What do you think of the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra with GDDR-3 memory? Did NVIDIA do the right thing by releasing it or would they have been better off waiting? Share your thoughts in the news comments!
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