Chip on its Shoulder - the Geforce GTX 460
With the release of the Fermi architecture earlier this year, NVIDIA brought some amazing new features to high end gamers. Although it arrived late to the party (by some six months) and did not deliver the projected specifications (TSMCís 40nm yield problems contributed to NVIDIA not being able to deliver a 512 SP part), the 480 CUDA Core-equipped and very high-bandwidth GTX 480 has proven to be more than a worthwhile competitor to ATIís high-end Radeon 5000 series cards.
However, while ATI has since completed their top-down product release, giving gamers DirectX 11 video card options at all price points, NVIDIA has continued to soldier on with older technology, namely the Geforce 9 series, 200 series, and 300 series (for OEMs). While the NVIDIA lineup as a whole is definitely competent at each respective duty per price point, it is leaving gamers wishing for more, hoping for more inexpensive Fermi-based gaming options.
After the release of the GTX 470 and 480, NVIDIA did address this with the GTX 465, which provided all of the features of the higher-end GF100 cards, albeit with a lower price (and lower performance). This card was placed at the bottom of NVIDIAs enthusiast category with an introductory price of $279, placing it just slightly out of reach for performance-segment gamers who generally spend $199-$229 for a gaming video card.
NVIDIA is now ready to address the performance segment with the GTX 460, being released in two variations at a $199-$229 price point. Although its name may suggest that it is architecturally almost identical to the same as the 352 CUDA core-equipped GTX 465, this is not the case. The GTX 460 is based on an updated architecture NVIDIA calls GF104.
As you can see, the GTX 460 isnít just a GTX 480 cut in half. NVIDIA very carefully tweaked the Fermi architecture in an effort to make the GPUís performance more efficient, so that a loss of CUDA cores would not simply result in a lower performing ship with similar TDP characteristics and a linear loss of performance. Even the SM units are a bit different.
The bottom line is that an optimized and lower-heat/lower noise tweak to Fermiís marchitecture is now available with the two GTX 460, which also had design goals to be a very solid performer in DirectX titles that utilize tessellation. By now most graphics card enthusiasts know that tessellation is not easy for a GPU to do; it comes at quite the cost. Given that many performance-class gamers play a mix of older and newer titles, NVIDIA could have allowed the tessellation capabilities of Fermi to decrease dramatically in order to focus on DX9/DX10 performance, but it appears that they have done everything they could to preserve, and possibly enhance GF104ís clock-for-clock tessellation capabilities. Also, by increasing the Special Function Unit count per SM from 4 on GF100 to 8 on GF104, rendering procedural shaders such as moss, slime, blood, frost and wear & tear should be made easier. So despite the fact that the new GTX 460 runs on cut-down memory bus and features (in one variant) less video RAM, at least on paper it looks like it could be quite a solid performer for the money, which as I spoke of earlier, is quite important to the $200 segment of potential buyers. I could go on, and wax technical about GF104 for a few more paragraphs, but honestly I don't have the best handle on that kind of stuff, and I think that this review is best left to focusing more on the tangibles brought forth by the release of this GPU, in the style that I normally use in my reviews and forum posts (not the spam, the actual worthwhile posts... look hard enough and you'll find them).