Summary: Priced from $199-$229, the GeForce GTX 460 cards brings NVIDIA's Fermi architecture to new price points. And armed with 336 CUDA Cores, 7 PolyMorph Engines for tessellation, and high clocks, it doesn't disappoint when it comes to performance...and power or GPU temps. See how the board performs in comparison to cards ranging from the GeForce 8800 GTS to the Radeon 5830 in 3D gaming, PhysX, and 3D Vision in today's article!
The release of NVIDIA’s graphics cards based on the Fermi architecture was a long time coming. Suffering delay after delay, they missed the dawn of the DirectX 11 era by more than 6 months. Following the September launch of the Radeon HD 5800 series, AMD/ATI celebrated with champagne and caviar as their products were harder to find than a Wii in December of ’06. Meanwhile, the Big Green was forced to sit idly by and subsist on little more than a dwindling supply of outdated GeForce GTX 200 GPUs.
With the release of the GTX 480 in April, however, NVIDIA took back the performance crown, if only a little less fantastically than many were hoping they would. Though gains over ATI’s flagship GPU ranged anywhere from 5% to 20%, the cost was equal or greater increases in both power consumption and heat production. Nevertheless, GeForce was back on top, and that was enough for some people.
But not NVIDIA.
They didn’t want to merely reclaim their position as the top of the enthusiast heap and rest easy knowing that people with more money than they know what to do with had something new to brag about. Nay! They wanted to engineer a DX11 product specifically for the mainstream gamer – something that offered much of that world-class Fermi performance found in their flagship GeForce GTX 480 without putting a hole in your budget two miles wide. That product, my friends, is the GeForce GTX 460.
Custom-designed from the ground up to bullseye that perfect combination of value and performance, a GTX 460 has more than half the horsepower of a GTX 480 at less than half the price. NVIDIA compares it to a “Hunter” class unit – though lighter and less powerful than the “Tank” (GTX 480), it’s less costly, more agile, and potentially just as deadly. That’s bad news for its rival, the Radeon HD 5830…
As previously mentioned, the GeForce GTX 460 isn’t simply a neutered GTX 480. Codenamed GF104, the GPU inside of it has been designed to deliver as much performance in a smaller chip as possible. To accomplish this, NVIDIA integrated a number of changes inside the GPU’s Streaming Multiprocessors (SMs, for short).
To start, NVIDIA increased the number of CUDA cores inside each SM. While the GF100 chip used in the GTX 480/470/465 has 32 CUDA cores per SM, the GF104 has 48, a 50% increase.
With more CUDA Cores per SM, NVIDIA needed to keep the increased CUDA Cores fed with data. To accomplish this, they doubled the number of dispatch units from two in GF100, to four in GF104. As a result, two instructions can be dispatched per warp, for a grand total of four instructions per clock per SM.
Finally, the number of special function units (SFUs) and texture units were doubled from 4 in GF100 to 8 in GF104.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. I’m sure you’re wondering about the particulars and how the GTX 460 stacks up to other graphics cards. Below is a chart comparing it to its direct competitor – the Radeon HD 5830 – as well as its bigger, badder brother – the GeForce GTX 480.
As you can see, the major difference between the two GTX 460 reference SKUs is the memory. Both feature high quality VRAM running at 900MHz (3.6GHz effective), but the additional amount and bus size lend a significant bandwidth advantage to the 1GB version. Two other, slighter discrepancies can be seen in power consumption and ROP count. It is also worth noting that the 1GB version has 512KB of L2 cache versus the 768MB board’s 384KB.
Comparing raw figures like memory bandwidth and texture fill-rate, it would appear the Radeon HD 5830 has the advantage. However, we’ve found traditional performance metrics like these don’t always prove to be a good indicator of actual gaming performance.
Many of you are no-doubt pleased to see that the GTX 460’s power consumption is significantly less than that of the GTX 480. A whopping reduction of nearly 40% is a welcome improvement, indeed, considering the 480’s operating temperatures peak in excess of 90 degrees C. We’ll go into more detail about that on the next page.
GeForce GTX 460 reference design
The GTX 460’s appearance is much more modest than that of the GTX 480. A clean, shiny black finish adorns the dual-slot cooling apparatus that covers the length of the card, subtly accented with signature green. Definitely leaves plenty of space for third-party board makers to paint their logo and/or mascots without the heatsink showing…
There are three outputs on the GTX 460: two DVI and one mini-HDMI. The latter accommodates compatibility with Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio. There is only one SLI connector, which means you can’t do 3-way SLI with these. That may not be a bad thing, considering a pair of GTX 470s may serve you better if your graphics budget is upwards of $600+. Keep in mind that you can’t mix the 768MB and 1GB version of the GTX 460 for SLI; it has to be a pair of one or the other.
At first glance, the GTX 460 reference cooler doesn’t appear to be particularly efficient. The entire second slot is a vent for improved air flow, but since the enclosure is incomplete, there are gaps along all sides of the circuit board where warm air will be able to leak out into the case. A plain 75mm blade fan situated in the middle of the card blows straight down on the GPU, which itself is covered by a copper core with dual-heatpipes leading up into a large aluminum heatsink.
However, it does succeed in keeping the board sufficiently cool while remaining practically inaudible at all times. Even under load, neither the 768MB nor 1GB version of the GTX 460 reached higher than 70 degrees C. On top of that, they don’t make enough noise to be heard over a few quiet case fans. Clearly this video card’s energy efficiency and deceptively effective cooling solution are a winning combination.
The 768MB version of the GTX 460 will retail for $199, while the 1GB version will cost a bit more, carrying an MSRP of $229. NVIDIA is making a point to have these available immediately at launch (July 12th), so you should be able to find at least the 768MB model in stores now. The 1GB variant will follow as closely behind as possible, definitely within the next two weeks. Actually, if you check Newegg right now, you ought to see several SKUs already available.
Intel Core i7-920 Bloomfield @ 3.6GHz (Turbo Off)
EVGA X58 3-Way SLI
6 GB OCZ Gold Triple-Channel DDR3-1600 @ 1440 MHz
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 768MB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 1GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 896MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB (Used as PPU in PhysX tests)
ATI Radeon HD 5830 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB
1 TB Western Digital Caviar Black
Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Unigine Heaven 2.1
Default settings for this program include High shaders and Normal tessellation.
4x MSAA in this game is too demanding for the GTX 460 768MB, so the tests were run using adaptive anti-aliasing, instead. Even two 768MBs in SLI will choke and average below 10 FPS – it has to do with the lower amount of VRAM, which is apparently just under some sort of coincidental threshold… The GTX 460 1GB, as well as the other DX11 cards tested, can run the game with 4x MSAA just fine.
The above results are averaged from the four tests the STALKER: Call of Pripyat benchmark runs – Day, Night, Rain, and Sunshine. The last test is really heavy on the “god rays” and so runs about half the FPS of the other tests, bringing down the average framerate that you are likely to experience in the game.
Both the Bokeh Filter and GPU-Simulated Water settings were left off for these tests. Though they may be pretty, those setting require the video card be CUDA-compatible and take a big chunk out of the framerate. Naturally, it wouldn’t make sense to burden the GeForce cards and give the Radeons an unfair advantage.
Only the Low PhysX option is available in the standalone benchmark.
1x is the lowest available setting for anti-aliasing.
*Motion blur was disabled, as per NVIDIA’s instructions for the best 3D experience.
FPS is capped at 60 with 3D Vision enabled.
We were really impressed with this latest offering from NVIDIA. You almost have to do a double-take when you’re learning of the theoretical capabilities of the GTX 460; it’s like, “Can they really do that?” Turns out they can, and they did. As if the GF104 chip wasn’t a feat of engineering in and of itself, they have the gall to sell it for $200! Looks like they weren’t messing around when they set out to create something specifically targeting that irresistible sweet spot.
The GTX 460 1GB comes out on top of the Radeon 5830 in every single game tested. At 1920x1200, the 460 is 25% faster in STALKER, 16% faster in RE5, 12% faster in Metro 2033, 28% faster in DiRT 2, and 15% faster in Crysis, to name a few. Even the 768MB version beats it sometimes, despite the 5830 being considerably better-endowed. Though the performance boasted by either GPU is nothing to scoff at, it’s safe to say that NVIDIA has succeeded in wresting the title of “fastest mainstream graphics” away from their rival.
As for how the GTX 460 stacks up to the previous generation of GeForce graphics cards, it’s actually very close with the GTX 275. Both versions of the 460 perform on par with or better than the 275 in just about every DX10 game test, even when PhysX and/or 3D Vision are enabled. Two GTX 460 768MBs in SLI evenly traded blows with dual GTX 275s, which are substantially more expensive. Obviously, there’s no contest where DX11 support is available.
Power consumption and cooling performance have been improved by leaps and bounds over the high end of the GTX 400 series. While the GTX 460s are the overall best performers out of the cards tested, they’re also among the most energy efficient. Because of this, temperatures never rose above 70 degrees C under load, nor did the cooling fans need to rev up enough to become audible over a few quiet case fans.
Whether you pay $199 or $229, the GTX 460 is an amazing performer for the price, not to mention the added value from terrific overclocking potential. Gains of 20-25% were easily had on core clocks and memory clocks, leading to directly proportional increases in performance. That’s more than the difference between the 768MB and 1GB versions, so you could certainly save $30 that way if you like.
Meanwhile, the cooler – which is identical for both versions of the reference board – has no problem silently preventing temperatures from increasing any more than a hair. NVIDIA intentionally built-in a good deal of thermal headroom specifically so that the gamer on a budget could squeeze that extra bit of performance out of the GTX 460 without worry. Surely, a proficient overclocker could tweak the voltage some and push it even further than we did.
NVIDIA is predicting that those mainstream gamers who have been waiting for something to replace their 9800 GTs will really latch on to the GTX 460. It’s certainly a fantastic way to break into the DX11 era for cheap, considering it beats the similarly priced Radeon HD 5830 while bringing exclusive features like PhysX, 3D Vision, and CUDA to the table. As much as some gamers seem to despise these GeForce-only perks, anyone in their right mind would have to take them into consideration when looking for a new graphics card.
The GTX 460 is shipping as you read this, with more than a dozen board partners churning out a variety of designs. There are already a whole bunch available on Newegg, in both the 768MB and 1GB varieties. Some have stuck with the reference design, merely printing their artwork on the cooler, but we’ve included images of the more interesting SKUs on this page. If all goes well, NVIDIA should have a big hit on their hands. As AMD/ATI moves to respond, maybe we’ll finally see some pricing competition for this generation, which is always good for us.
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