Upgrading your PC can be a fraught experience, especially when it comes to finally choosing one component over another. Never has this been more true than with graphics cards, where both AMD and Nvidia offer a huge array of cards, clogging the £150 - £300 price range with numerous closely competing GPUs and configurations.
With the big guns of the GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB and GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB occupying the high end, and the GeForce GTX 460 shifting down in price, Nvidia has lacked a competitor at the £200 price point. With the discontinuation of the GeForce GTX 470 1GB, AMD has had this price point to itself with the Radeon HD 6870 1GB and to a lesser degree, the Radeon HD 6950 2GB. As we predicted though, Nvidia is gunning for the £200 sweet spot of price versus performance with the release of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB.
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Fermi Mk II
After the initial disappointment of the first round of Fermi graphics cards last March, Nvidia’s design tweaks for its mid-range GeForce GTX 460 cards were a surprising success. While the number of GPCs (graphics processing clusters) was cut down from four to two for the smaller GPU, the SMs (Streaming Multi-processors) contained 48 stream processors each rather than the 32 per SM of the high-end GTX 470 1.3GB and GTX 480 1.5GB GPUs. As the GTX 460 shipped with seven SMs (with an eighth disabled) the GTX 460 packed 336 stream processors, a generous 70 per cent of the stream processor count of the ferocious GTX 480 1.5GB.
The GF104 GPU used in the GTX 460 range also benefited from much lower power requirements and waste heat, allowing the GPU clock speeds to be pushed much higher than those of the larger GPUs of the GTX 480 1.5GB and GTX 470 1.3GB. The resulting performance made the GTX 460 1GB and 768MB the mid-range stars of 2010. The overclocking headroom of the cards was also legendary, and from a stock core clock of 675MHz we’ve managed to push some cards to 900MHz – an increase of 33 per cent.
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With the arrival of the GTX 580 1.5GB and GTX 570 1.3GB Nvidia returned to the original Fermi architecture, this time implementing low leakage transistors for areas of the GPU that weren’t critical to performance. This not only lowered the overall power draw of the chips, but allowed clock speeds to be pushed higher, making these new GF110 GPUs much more friendly than the hot and hungry first-gen GF100 GPU. These revised Fermi GPUs also had increased fp16 capabilities, which Nvidia claims improves performance by 4-12 per cent.
The GTX 560 Ti is a combination of the GF104 chip used in the GTX 460 range with the manufacturing improvements and enhanced capabilities of the GF110 design. Nvidia has also unlocked the eighth SM that was present in the GF104 architecture. Codenamed GF114, this GPU is an extremely exciting proposition – as far back as November we were salivating over the prospect. Is our rough prediction of a 40 per cent jump in performance in comparison to the GTX 460 1GB correct? We couldn’t wait to find out.