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NV40 & R420, First Look
Written by Spode (07/May/04)
Page 1 of 3

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The past few months have been quite tough for reviewers as a whole, with both nVidia and ATi deciding to launch their next generation technologies at almost identical times. This means there is a lot of information being bantered around and a lot to take in and conclude from. It's nice to see a card that is not just another speed bump but this time we've had our work cut out. This article is part 1 of 2, focusing on the technology changes as we move to R420 and NV40. We have tried to summarise these into a digestible format, analysing the facts and hopefully presenting our conclusions in a simple way to understand.

The Architecture

The most notable and most talked about change in architecture for both generations, is that of pipelines. nVidia have taken the leap from 4 pixel pipelines to 16 pixel pipelines, ATi making a similar jump from 8 to 16. On top of this, they have both moved to 6 vertex shaders.

Joining the 9600, ATi have finally bought the rest of their range forward from a 150nm fabrication process to 130nm, something nVidia did for the NV3x generation. Both have decided to use the new, and in effect faster, GDDR3 memory modules; this allows potentially higher clock frequencies due to the GDDR3's low power design which results in lower heat dissipation requirements. So for GDDR3 voltage drops from 2.5v to 1.8v and permits the removal of terminating resistors.

Encoding and decoding of MPEG 1,2,4 and WMV9 video is new to nVidia but has been present in ATi cards since R300. Both are apparantly programmable, but the solution nVidia offers, involves a rather large chunk of the die which ATi makes use of the pixel shaders. We won't be able to comment on which is better until we test it in more detail, but I would be inclined to think nVidias solution is superior.

Power & Heat

Power and heat have been greatly talked about with these products. As you may have heard, NV40 requires two molex style connectors directly to the card. This has raised all sorts of questions about heat output, cooling, and power supply requirements. R420 on the other hand has almost exactly the same power requirements as a 9800XT while performing at a considerably faster speed. We put this to the test, in this article here.

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