While 2003 is barely three months old no product has generated more discussion than NVIDIA’s GeForce FX. In fact, earlier this year we conducted a poll asking which hardware technology you were most looking forward to. AMD’s Athlon 64, Hyper-Threading, and ATI’s R350 were among the list of choices. 28% out of 11,441 votes were for GeForce FX, making it the top response in our poll. Clearly NVIDIA has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Unlike previous launches in its recent past, with GeForce FX NVIDIA is playing catch up to ATI. ATI was first to market with a DirectX 9 accelerator, the RADEON 9700 PRO, and followed that up with its mainstream solution, the RADEON 9500 series. All NVIDIA had to counter with was its line of AGP 8X-enabled GeForce 4 products, which were based on an architecture that was over six months old. Complicating matters even further is GeForce FX’s next-generation architecture. Whenever a product is perceived as being “all new” public anticipation grows even further. And when the industry is as highly visible as 3D graphics (no pun intended), you’ve got a lot to live up to.
Therefore, when GeForce FX was officially unveiled at Comdex last fall, we, as well as several other members of the press were all over every morsel of information NVIDIA was divulging. We knew NVIDIA would be pushing its CineFX architecture and the enhanced programmability it brings, but important details such as clock frequencies and price were still being determined. We were able to spend some time with a prerelease GeForce FX engineering sample before the show began, but obviously the board we played with was very different than the board we’re testing today.
GeForce FX Variants
Which brings us to March 2003, just over two months since GeForce FX was announced. We now know that two GeForce FX models will be available, the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra which ships at 500MHz core/500MHz memory (1,000MHz effective) and features NVIDIA’s controversial FX Flow cooling system, and the GeForce FX 5800. Unlike the Ultra model, the GeForce FX 5800 is clocked at a more conservative 400MHz core/400MHz memory (800MHz effective) and doesn’t require FX Flow, although we’ve learned that many third party manufacturers will be using cooling units that consume the PCI slot adjacent to the AGP slot. The MSRP of the 5800 Ultra is $399 while the GeForce FX 5800 is priced at $299. In terms of availability, the only manufacturer to ship so far has been BFG Technologies, which began shipping their 5800 Ultra cards last week. From what we’ve heard from our sources, samples of Ultra cards are extremely limited right now, while the 5800 won’t be available for a few more weeks. This certainly isn’t good for NVIDIA, as ATI’s follow-up to the RADEON 9700 PRO is confirmed to be less than a month away from release.
In any case, we were able to get our hands on a GeForce FX 5800 Ultra sample and have run a gamut of tests with it against ATI’s RADEON 9700 PRO. In this preview article we’ll briefly go over the GeForce FX architecture as well as its drivers and the card itself, before diving into the real important stuff: image quality and performance.