MSI has not yet had the chance to give the GTX 480 their own Lightning treatment, so for the time being they are offering their version of the reference design with slightly higher specification components.  This really is not entirely exciting, as the reference GTX 480 board had to be somewhat overbuilt in the first place.  The upside to the improved components is a bit of peace of mind for users spending $400+ on a video card they expect to use for several years.  Considering the power draw and heat produced by the GTX 480 chip, the few extra dollars spent on better components could result in a product that will statistically be more trouble free than competitors’ products when viewed over several years of use.

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The HD 5870 is actually slightly longer than the GTX 480.  Both weigh about the same, but the single HD 5870 does have the advantage of being able to drive 3 monitors in a single card configuration.

    The “Pick Your Poison” option is a nice extra for users, as few other companies have any kind of software bundle with their GTX 480 cards.  This is in addition to whatever special is going on that is being pushed by NVIDIA, and can be applied to other cards as well.  As mentioned before, expect to see Metro 2033 (which I didn’t have a chance to test with this review) bundled with these cards fairly soon.

    What really should be the focus here is the amount of extra features a user will get when purchasing a GTX 480.  While AMD has a very compelling product of its own, and does not suffer from the heat and power issues the GTX 480 has, it simply is not able to satisfy as many checkboxes as the NVIDIA product.  Certainly as OpenCL and DirectCompute mature and are adopted by more developers, we will see the utility of AMD’s offering increase.  But as of now, CUDA is king in the GPGPU world, and NVIDIA arguably has much better software support for its latest generation GPUs when it comes to those applications and workloads.  Products like Badaboom, vReveal, and PhysX are available now and work on NVIDIA GPUs.  NVIDIA’s 3D Vision support is yet another feature that is also quite mature, and works very well on many readily available titles.

    The use of a good case did alleviate many of the noise and heat issues, so much so that most users will not mind having one of these cards.  If it is a cluttered and small case with poor airflow, then this is certainly not the card to purchase for such a situation.

    NVIDIA will continue to optimize performance and functionality in their drivers for this still new architecture.  They also will continue to work with other software vendors to get them to utilize CUDA to accelerate their applications.  Some of these developers will use it, while others might look at the bigger picture and choose to work with OpenCL and DirectCompute.

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The GTX 480 likely needs that entire vent outlet to keep itself cool, while the HD 5870 makes do with 1/3 of that space.  This allows the dual DVI/HDMI/DisplayPort configuration that is very popular.

    Even though the GTX 480 has some significant downsides, I still can’t help but like what I see.  The technology is really quite fantastic when looking at it for what it is.  I believe Fermi can be a very successful architecture.  The only problem is that it did not line up with the 28 nm process that will be introduced next year.  In many ways the GTX 480 is more in line with the Radeon HD 2800XT than the aforementioned GeForce FX 5800 in terms of designing a part a little too aggressive considering the process technology at hand.  But the significant difference between the GTX 480 and those products is that it actually performs where it should, and is a class leader in terms of features and functionality.

    MSI has brought a very good card to market based on the reference design, and it can be found online after MIR for around $420.  This makes the GeForce GTX 480 much more competitive with AMD’s HD 5870, which retails for around $389.  MSI has a 3 year warranty on parts and labor.

    The GTX 480 certainly is not perfect, but neither is it dog of a card waiting to be relegated to the trash-heap of history.  It performs as it should, has become far more affordable as of late, and brings the richest feature-set of any card of this generation.  But if a user is planning on running two or three cards in SLI, they better make sure they have a power supply that will support it!

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For a combination of build quality, a fair software bundle, and one of the lowest priced GTX 480s around, the MSI N480GTX M2D15 is given the Editor’s Choice Award.

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