NVIDIA'S GeForce FX 5950 Ultra

NVIDIA'S GeForce FX 5950 Ultra - Page 1

NVIDIA'S GeForce FX 5950 Ultra
NV38 takes flight propelled with a new driver set

By David Altavilla
October 23,  2003

Let's see, how should we start this one off?  We think you deserve to be spared the marketing hype, positioning, branding, buzz and sputter on this launch.  "Launch", now there's a marketing word if I ever heard one.  What Marketing Weasel got the royalties for that catchy one?  "Let's call our new product introduction a "launch", kind of like a rocket, you know?  That will sound really cool!"  So, why the cut-to-the-chase, no punches pulled attitude, with this HotHardware article, you're thinking?  Well, suffice it to say that we feel, you the readers and PC enthusiasts, have swallowed enough PC Graphics Marketing fluff-n-nutter this fall, to last you a lifetime (and you may have guessed, so have we here).  So, it's only fitting that the we dig into the introduction of NVIDIA?s new flagship GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, with the proper perspective, sans the spin, sizzle and dazzle that NVIDIA (and others) are so well known for producing at "the launch".

So, let's start with that "proper perspective" then, shall we?  This is an ultra high end card, plain and simple.  It has a $499 MSRP and utilizes the fastest GPU and memory that NVIDIA can muster from their production lines at the moment.  It is built to order, only for those of you that have enough coin kicking around, to drop on something that could cost almost as much as an entire low end PC.  ATi's direct match-up to the GeForce FX 5950, is the Radeon 9800XT, which is as equally expensive and is also the fastest thing in 3D that ATi can punch out at the moment.  So there you have it... the backdrop.  That's all you need to get you started on this showcase and evaluation.  The GeForce FX 5950 Ultra is NVIDIA's answer to the ATi Radeon 9800XT.  Both cards are supposedly targeted at giving the end user, the best gaming experience money can buy, in image quality, leading edge 3D visual effects and speed.  "No compromises"... Damn... that Marketing Weasel sneaked in there again.

Next, we have specs, features and benefits, detailed here for your edification.  Bring the marketing filter though, you never know when the weasel could strike.

Specifications & Features of the 256MB GeForce FX 5950 Ultra
The GeForce FX 5900 series pushed to the edge


NV38 - GeForce FX 5950 Ultra GPU
Core Clock Speed 475MHz - 3D Mode
Core Clock Speed 300MHz - 2D Standard Operation


  • 256
  • 950MHz DDR
  • 256 bit Memory Interface

    • AGP 8X including Fast Writes and sideband addressing
    • 0.13 micron process technology for higher levels of integration and higher operating clock speeds
    • Advanced thermal management and thermal monitoring
    • 40mmx40mm, BGA1309, flip-chip GPU package
    • Memory Bandwidth (GB/s) 30.4
    • Fill Rate (texels/sec) 3.8 Billion
    • Vertices/sec 356 Million
    • Thermal Silent, dual-slot Fan-sink

    • Advanced pixel shaders deliver 2x the floating-point pixel shader performance of previous generations
    • Support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 (DX9) pixel shader 2.0+
    • Support for DX9 vertex shader 2.0+
    • Long pixel programs up to 1,024 instructions
    • Long vertex programs up to 256 static instructions with up to 65,536 instructions executed
    • Dynamic, conditional execution and flow control
    • Architected for Cg and Microsoft HLSL for maximum compatibility with next generation content
    • 128-bit, studio-quality, floating-point precision computation through the entire rendering pipeline
    • Native hardware support for 32-bpp, 64-bpp and 128-bpp rendering modes
    • Up to 16 textures per rendering pass
    • Support for sRGB texture format for gamma textures
    • DirectX and S3TC texture compression
    • Optimized for 32-bpp, 24-bpp, 16-bpp, 15-bpp, and 8-bpp modes
    • True-color, 64x64 hardware cursor alpha
    • Multibuffering (double, triple, or quad) for smooth animation and video playback
  • State-of-the-art full-scene anti-aliasing
  • Supports 2x, 4x, and 6x modes with programmable sample patterns
  • Advanced anisotropic filtering
  • Supports up to 16 bilinear samples (in performance mode) or trilinear samples (in quality mode) per pixel
  • 2x/4x/6x full scene anti-aliasing modes
  • Adaptive algorithm with programmable sample patterns
  • 2x/4x/8x/16x anisotropic filtering modes
  • Adaptive algorithm with bilinear (performance) and trilinear (quality) options
  • Bandwidth-saving algorithm enables this feature with minimal performance cost


    • Increased visual quality at higher resolutions through advances in compression, anisotropic filtering, and antialiasing technology
    • Fast antialiasing and compression performance
    • Support for advanced lossless compression algorithms for both color, texture, and z-data at even higher resolutions and frame rates
    • Fast z-clear
    • Accelerates shadow volumes for next generation games
    • Accurately maintains visible shadows, while discarding non-useful information (culling and clip planes)

    • Integrated NTSC/PAL TV encoder supporting resolutions up to 1024x768 without the need for panning with built-in Macrovision copy protection
    • DVD and HDTV-ready MPEG-2 decoding up to 1920x1080i resolutions
    • Dual, integrated 400MHz RAMDACs for display resolutions up to and including 2048x1536@85Hz
  • Dual DVO ports for interfacing to external TMDS transmitters
  • Internal TV support
  • VIP 1.1 interface support for video-in function
  • Microsoft Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) support for multiple video windows with full video quality and features in each window

    • DVC image sharpening controls, DVC color controls

    New Driver Features - NVIEW 3.0
    (Detonator 52.16 and beyond)

    • New and improved nView multi-display wizard
    • More robust profiles let you save and restore display driver settings in profiles to allow for game settings.
    • Gridlines allow users to divide up the monitor into separate regions and quickly reposition and resize application windows.
    • The nView toolbar docks to the top or bottom of the desktop and provides quick access to all nView functionality.
    • Mouse kinematics allow users to quickly view hidden windows, clean up the desktop, or switch between multiple desktops.
    • Microsoft® Internet Explorer® pop-up blocker gives you more control over your web viewing.

    Once again, the crib notes version of the specs and features above, can be summed up in two easy words, "speed bump".  That is to say, if you've seen our GeForce FX 5900 (NV35) article from back in May, you've already seen the architecture and salient features of this new card.  The differences are obvious, the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra brings a 25MHz GPU core speed boost, along with a 100MHz DDR memory speed increase as well (total speeds, 475MHz core and 950MHz memory).  Other than that, the only thing that has changed since May, is the physical PCB design and of course the new cooling solution, that NVIDIA went with on this product's reference design. 

    GeForce FX 5950 Ultra

    GeForce FX 5900 Ultra



    GPU Cooling 1 step forward...

    NVIDIA has made improvements, in our opinion, to the GPU cooler portion of their reference design, as well as the fan assembly.  The GPU cooler is a shrouded mini version of what looks like an aluminum finned CPU cooler, with a similar metal clip retention mechanism.  The black turbine fan is larger now, nearly 2.5 inches across in diameter, versus the 1.5" fan that is on the GFFX5900 reference design.  This larger fan spins much slower, as with the Radeon 9800XT's larger fan, but also pushes more air volume per RPM, over the heat-sink areas of both the GPU and memory heat-sinks.  The good news is, while this is the fastest GeForce FX 5900 series product yet, it is also the quietest high end board from NVIDIA, we've had in the lab in a long time.  It is nice and quiet in fact, on par with the R9800XT, while ramped up to its higher 3D gaming speed settings, but just a tad louder than the R9800XT when in 2D mode.


    RAM Cooling 2 steps back?

    However, what is surprising here is that NVIDIA actually cut back on the DRAM heat sink surface area dramatically.  As you can also see, the GPU sink is actually insulated on the front side of the board, from the green RAM sink plate, with a rubber bushing of some sort.  The "net-net" (hey, the Marketing weasel is back!), is that the green RAM sink cooling plate operates at an alarming temperature level... and we do mean ALARMING.  After gaming with this card for even 10 minutes, in any relatively intensive scenario, you can't touch the green top plate, that comes out perpendicular to main plate area.  You'll burn your finger.  While we're sure the temperature levels on this plate are within specifications, for all the high temp wiring used inside today's modern PC, it sure doesn't instill confidence in the reference design; not to mention, the radiated heat it will churn out inside a PC chassis.  To make matters worse, our first FX5950U card had overheating problems and had to be replaced, since it would show graphical anomalies and eventually lock up. 

    Having noted all of these trials and tribulations, we had with the first GFFX 5950U we received, the final unit we tested worked flawlessly and even overclocked fairly well, as you'll see in the pages ahead.  Regardless, the green RAM sink plate on the GFFX 5950 reference design, runs just plain "scary" hot.  We're sure that there will be more than one NVIDIA third party board partner, that will implement their own GFFX 5950 Ultra heat sink design and they'll most likely provide better cooling for the DDR DRAM on these boards, that is running at a blistering 950MHz.

    Back-side cooling for the GFFX5950U reference design is identical to the 5900U, which again will most likely change at the retail product level for some manufacturers.   Let's move out to drivers and image quality, topics we're sure you're all hot and bothered about as well.

    The Drivers & Image Quality Comparisons

    Tags:  Nvidia, GeForce, Ultra, force, fx, ULT, id

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