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ED#09 : The NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra : The Real 5800 Ultra?
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ED#09 : The NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra : The Real 5800 Ultra?

On May 13th, 2003, NVIDIA lashed back at its competitors with new GPU and chipset releases. The two-pronged assault involved the GeForce FX-line of GPUs and the nForce2-line of motherboard chipsets. In this editorial, we will be taking a closer look at NVIDIA's latest GPU!


The New GeForce FX 5900 Ultra GPU

Designed to make up for the disastrous 5800 Ultra, the new 5900 Ultra (NV35) GPU offers a glimmer of hope to NVIDIA-fans worldwide. The press release was upbeat and even sported favourable quotes from the likes of Tom Pabst and Anand Lal Shimpi. What caught my eye most was this statement :-

"When running one of the industry's highly anticipated benchmarks - Doom3 from id Software - the NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra recorded more than a 45% performance increase over the nearest competitive product."

That's some boast, even though most of it probably came from the fact that Doom 3 is currently heavily optimized for NVIDIA GPUs. But is the NV35 GPU truly that revolutionary?

Let's compare it against the now-buried GeForce FX 5800 Ultra (NV30) GPU :-

GeForce FX 5900 Ultra
GeForce FX 5800 Ultra
Graphics Core
Graphics Core Freq.
Fill Rate
3.6 billion texels / sec.
4.0 billion texels / sec.
Memory Interface
Memory Technology
Memory Freq.
Memory Bandwidth
Manufacturing Process
0.13 microns
0.13 microns

What's glaringly obvious is the use of the 256-bit memory interface. Coupled with the DDR memory running at 425MHz, the new GeForce FX 5900 Ultra boasts 70% more memory bandwidth than the 5800 Ultra! That alone makes the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra a more enticing GPU than the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra.

The GeForce FX 5900 Ultra also boasts of improved floating point pixel shader performance via CineFX 2.0, shadow volume acceleration via Ultrashadow and better compression via Intellisample HCT. The new CineFX 2.0 almost doubles the floating point pixel shader performance of the 5900 Ultra over that of the CineFX 1.0 used in the 5800 Ultra.

However, other than those improvements, the core essentially remained the same. If you ask me, it looks more like a tweaked 5800 core with a new 256-bit memory interface, rather than a totally new core. Perhaps this is the GPU the 5800 Ultra was supposed to be.


How Fast Is It?

So, how well will it run? According to NVIDIA, pretty darn well! Here's NVIDIA's comparison of the GeForce FX 5900 (NV35) against the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB.

Impressive... especially since the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB only started shipping one day before the launch of NVIDIA's new GeForce FX 5900 Ultra! Talk about coincidence... :)

While the new ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB comes with 256MB of DDR-II memory running at a slightly higher clock speed of 350MHz, preliminary benchmarks showed that it performed about the same as its 128MB brother. Therefore, expect the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra to beat the new Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB with the same margins.


The Boards

NVIDIA's plans include several different grades of cards based on the same GPU. Here are details of their specs and price grades :-


GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256MB

  • Core clock : 450MHz
  • Memory clock : 425MHz
  • AGP 4X/8X
  • DVI + VGA + TV / VIVO
  • Price : $499 ESP
  • Available : June '03


GeForce FX 5900 128MB

  • Core clock : To be announced
  • Memory clock : To be announced
  • AGP 4X/8X
  • DVI + VGA + TV / VIVO
  • Price : $399 ESP
  • Available : June '03


GeForce FX 5900 Value 128MB

  • Core clock : To be announced
  • Memory clock : To be announced
  • AGP 4X/8X
  • DVI + VGA + TV
  • Price : $299 ESP
  • Available : July '03



Thanks to NVIDIA, we have an assortment of eye candy for you to feast on.

The NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra GPU

The NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra reference card

The NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra reference card
All pictures courtesy of NVIDIA Corporation



It appears that NVIDIA have learnt from their mistake with the 5800 (NV30) -series of GPUs and come up with a much better GPU. It didn't take them much to do it. A few internal tweaks and the use of a 256-bit wide memory interface allowed NVIDIA to quickly come up with the 5900 (NV35) GPU. But the results are quite remarkable.

The release of the NV30 was a disaster, considering the fact that it performed only about as well as the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro which had been in the market for months! But NVIDIA is evidently back on its feet with the NV35. With the 5900 Ultra's greatly improved performance, NVIDIA takes the top spot and finally delivers what it promised with the NV30.

Although their asking price of $499 is a little hard to swallow, the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra does perform better than the similarly priced ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB. If you really have the cash to throw and want nothing but the best, there's no question about which card to get.

But personally, I think $499 is way too much to spend on a graphics card, even for bragging rights! It would be smarter to wait for the cheaper GeForce FX 5900 128MB and GeForce FX 5900 Value 128MB cards. Or wait till ATI delivers its next GPU. That will certainly force NVIDIA to lower prices across the line and make the NV35 cards far more affordable.

Well, the ball is now in your court, ATI!


Questions & Comments

If you have any questions or comments about the new NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra GPU, please feel free to post them here! We look forward to hearing from you! :)

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