GeForce FX 5900 Ultra Preview

GeForce FX 5900 Ultra Preview - Page 1

The GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 
A Preview And Performance Analysis With NVIDIA's New Killer

By - Dave Altavilla
May 12, 2003

Here we are again, with another installment of my pixel is faster than yours.  Why is it that Graphics Cards create so much buzz in the PC Enthusiast market?  Perhaps it's because Processors, Motherboards, Memory and Drives are just a little too sterile, in terms of the what Marketing Weasels can spin up for the general public?  We here at HotHardware, actually get fairly jazzed up about a next generation Motherboard Chipset or CPU but then again, some of us don't get out much.  Companies like Intel, AMD, SiS and VIA, do an excellent job of marketing obviously, creating brand name recognition in the industry.  However, like Intel's Pentium 4, even the average Joe, buying a pre-built Dell or Gateway PC, has a clue what a GeForce or a Radeon is.  Yes sir, Graphics Cards are just plain sexy, well depending on your perspective anyway.

On the other hand, designing, building and marketing a 3D Graphics Card, is a tough gig these days.  End users are getting more savvy, when it comes to features and frame rates.  Next generation game engines are getting more realistic and demanding with each new title.  Price points continue to drive downward, eating into profits.  Finally, the ASIC design and manufacturing process for these new Graphics Processors, is really beginning to require bleeding edge technology and "bleeding edge" is usually not synonymous with the high volume production levels required in this market.  And so we came to realize NVIDIA's immense heartburn over their failed attempt at their next generation flagship GPU, the NV30.  Although the NV30 had all the makings of a competitive product, cost structures and heat dissipation issues hampered the new chip, which was also well over 6 months late to the market.  As such, NVIDIA planned low quantity production runs, in an effort to push the NV30 out the door as more of a noise maker, both literally and figuratively.  The writing was on the wall; NV30 was simply not a volume production vehicle.  NVIDIA had to react quickly, spin the chip and in turn, minimize collateral damage that was being done by their rival ATi, with their wildly successful Radeon 9700/9800 product lines.

Today, NVIDIA's launches their "end game" for the flagship GeForce FX GPU, the NV35 or GeForce FX 5900 Ultra.  That is to say, that with everything the NV30 should have been, NVIDIA hopes to win the hearts of the enthusiast back with this Spring refresh product.  In an effort to finally knock ATi off their perch in high end 3D Graphics, NVIDIA has turned this revamped NV35 architecture on a dime and moved to tweak image quality issues, that were plaguing current driver revisions.

Today, we'll try to show you how far NVIDIA has come, with the GeForce FX 5900 and whether they have a new "killer" product in their arsenal.


Specifications & Features of the NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra
What the NV30 should have been...

NV35 and GeForce FX 5900 Ultra:
.13u Manufacturing Process
256-Bit GPU - 450MHz Clock Speed
Flip-Chip BGA Package with copper interconnects
Up To 8 Pixels Per Clock Processing
1 TMU Per Pipe (16 Textures per unit)
256-bit Memory Architecture
CineFX 2.0 for Cinematic Special Effects
"UltraShadow" Hardware Shadow Acceration
2x floating point pixel shader performance of NV30
256-bit Memory Architecture
256MB of DDR/DDR2
2nd Generation compression & caching
256MB High Speed Frame Buffer
AGP 4X/8x
Full DirectX 9.0 & OpenGL Support

CineFX 2.0 for Cinematic Special Effects
Intellisample HCT -

Next Generation Antialiasing, Anisotropic Filtering and Compression
Hardware Acceleration for Shadows
Full DX9 Compliance
64-Bit Floating-Point Color
128-Bit Floating-Point Color
2 x 400MHz Internal RAMDACs
Long Program length for Pixel and Vertex Shading
Unified Vertex and Pixel Shading instruction set
Unified Driver Architecture
nView 2.0 - Multi-Display Technology
Digital Vibrance Control 3.0


850MHz DDR
256-Bit Bus Width
128MB & 256MB Memory Capacity
3rd. Generation Lightspeed Memory Architecture
Effective bandwidth - 27.2GB/s actual @ 850MHz













For this article, we had the opportunity to work with a pre-production board and as such, this piece should only be considered a "preview" for what is to come with the retail product.  Our GFFX 5900 Ultra board is noticeably longer than the retail board, that is shown in the pictures above the specification section at the top of this page.  However, clock speeds, specifications and performance should all be identical to the retail product.    Our preview board shown here, is actually within ATX specifications but the retail reference design will be 1 inch shorter, about the length of the Leadtek Winfast A300 board in the picture above this section. 

The major difference between NV30 and NV35 (or GFFX 5800 Ultra and GFFX 5900 Ultra) is the memory bus width.  The NV35 is equipped with a 256 bit wide memory bus, for twice the bandwidth clock for clock versus the NV30.  However, the GFFX 5800 Ultra's memory is 150MHz faster than the NV35's, at 1GHz, versus 850MHz DDR for the GFFX 5900 Ultra.  Regardless, the GFFX 5900 Ultra has a crushing 27.1GB per second memory bandwidth spec, versus the 16GB/sec levels found in the NV30 and 21.8GB/sec found in the Radeon 9800 Pro.  This should bode well for the NV35 in high resolution and AA testing.

NVIDIA has also tweaked their "CineFX" Engine (now version 2.0) and the NV35 now boasts 2X the Pixel Shader performance of the NV30, with this new chip.  They've also optimized and tweak their image quality Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering engine a bit, now calling it "Intellisample HCT".  Finally, NVIDIA also added hardware processing support for shadow acceleration, which we'll cover in detail shortly for you.  Other than that, the NV35 has all the DX9 ready feature set of the NV30 and more, with a few optimization here and there.

A Note On Noise Levels:
We know, you're already wondering about the fan noise aren't you?  Suffice it to say that, although this fan is far from "quiet", it is significantly quieter than the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra's setup.  The fan does spin up during 3D game play but it is very much bearable and once installed inside a closed chassis, it's relatively quiet.  Is it as quiet as the HSF assembly found on a Radeon 9800 or 9700 card?  No, it definitely is not.  However, it's completely tolerable and should only offend the shrewdest of "Silent PC" enthusiasts.  Finally, as you can see, NVIDIA needed to stick with the two slot design with this card, since the heat sink assembly is beyond standard AGP/PCI slot spacing.  However, remember this is a reference board we're testing here.  3rd party OEMs could possibly deliver something in a single slot design, when this board hits retail.


New Product Line, New Features


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