NVIDIA has just released its GeForce 560 Ti and for those of you who are not familiar with NVIDIA’s line-up, this is the graphics card that would be at the “sweet spot”, which means that it provides the best bang for the buck. If you’ve been following NVIDIA products in the past, the “Ti” name extension has been used for this type of products before: the GeForce 4 Ti was called “the perfect product”, and this is surely with that in mind that NVIDIA has resurrected the “Ti” name extension (for Titanium) for the GeForce 560. So, is it a “perfect” product and should you get it? Let’s take a look.
Who’s the target audience?
Although GeForce cards are often associated with ultra-high-end gaming, most people can’t (or won’t) buy a $499 (or more) GPU. In fact, I personally find it much more cost-effective to use the mid-range $200 cards, which are typically about as fast as the last-generation high-end products.
If you look at the Valve hardware survey, which is based on their Steam delivery platform (think of it as an iTunes for games), 60% of gamers use an NVIDIA card.
If you dig into the graphics cards section, you’ll realize that most of these cards are relatively old -if not outright antiquated-, and that’s precisely the customers that NVIDIA wants to serve (again). Basically, 80% of those cards will be easily outperformed by the new GeForce 560 Ti. NVIDIA estimates that GeForce 8800GT owners will get a 3X performance boost on average, this is huge (in frames per second, or FPS).
To make a long story short: anyone who cares about good gaming and image quality at a reasonable cost should continue reading :)
What’s new in the GF 560 Ti?
As it is the case with any new graphics processor (GPU), performance is at the forefront of any upgrade. From an architectural perspective, NVIDIA has optimized its chip design to improve the core frequency (to 960MHz from 822MHz) so that more data is processed per second. The company has also added 48 CUDA processing cores (for a total of 384). Each core processes vertices and pixels. Finally, the GeForce 560 Ti has better performance per watt than the GeForce GTX 460, the card that was previously occupying a similar price point. Overall, NVIDIA expects a 33% performance increase over the GeForce GTX 460 1GB.
Overall, we’re looking at “cheaper, faster, better” – this is the desired outcome of applying Moore’s law (cubed) to a semiconductor product.
Great but what does this do for me?
A big performance boost lets you do a couple of things: 1/play new games that use the latest features and graphics 2/revisit existing games, but with graphics settings (or stereo 3D) maxed-out (WoW can look pretty decent that way). In both cases, you basically get more eye-candy, it’s that simple. (I’m assuming that you’re reading this because you do like eye-candy).
DirectX 11: as NVIDIA targets old graphics cards owners, it’s obvious that DirectX 11 (DX11) might be a big factor when contemplating the acquisition of this GPU. As DX11 games are going to roll in, it will become harder to resist the temptation of using tessellation, a feature that is used not only to add details, but sometimes to increase performance as well (by removing details not visible on far-away objects).
In the grand scheme of things, you also get improvements in game Physics, image processing or video compression (if apps do support those). I usually consider all this to be a great “side effect” of having a fast graphics card, but it is rarely the reason why people buy one to start with. Graphics performance is still the primary driver.
Talking about performance, let’s look at the numbers. Unfortunately, I don’t have a GF 8800 GT at the office, but we can compare the GF 560 Ti to the once mighty GTX 280. Check the numbers and scroll down. (PC Specs: Core i5-2500K, 3.3GHz, 4GB, Win7 32).
As I mentioned earlier, the GeForce GTX 280 was once upon a time the fastest NVIDIA graphics card that was sold for nearly $600 back then (!). Now, the $250 GeForce 560 Ti easily beats it at a much lower price point. The GTX 280 is not sold anymore, so that’s an easy choice. It might be harder to choose between the GTX 460 1GB which can be found at $150 (online) and the $250 560 Ti. If you care about power efficiency, the 560 Ti is the way to go, but if you only seek performance/$, you might check benchmark and prices again – a $100 drop is work a few more clicks.
Obviously, you also have offerings from AMD. With the Radeon 6950 2GB priced within $50 (above), the competition isn’t very far from a value perspective.
In the end, it might come down to the DirectX 11 tessellation support where NVIDIA dominates – by a good margin.
Warning: all cards are not created equal
I’d like to add a note to tell you that despite using the same chip, all cards are not created equal. While some add-in board makers will sell cards that are faster than the reference design that we’ve been using, others might sell cards that are slower. The action item is to check reviews for the actual card that you want to get, and not just rely on the overall chip performance described here.
The GeForce 560 Ti is indeed the card of choice for Direct X11 games, and my guess is that as new DX11 titles roll in with native support for tessellation (instead of an “afterthought” in most many games), the value of the 560 Ti will only become more obvious. If you care only about today’s games, the competition provides some interesting options. This is a solid product, and if you are in the intended target (owner of an old card), GF560 Ti it will rock your world.