The Old and New Top End
The GTX 480 is now the odd card out.  It can be had from between $359 to $499, depending on the model.  It is really only about as fast as the GTX 570, but it does have the slightly larger frame buffer which can be a benefit in a handful of games.  Slightly poorer thermals, power draw, and noise will likely make most buyers look towards the GTX 570 or HD 6970.  It is still a good card, but at a relatively geriatric 9 months old and being surpassed by newer, better models, these cards will likely see some hefty discounts.  This is nice if a user has been waiting for the prices to drop to grab a second card for some SLI action.  If there is one area that NVIDIA has excelled in with the latest generation of DX11 cards, it is multi-GPU scaling.

What to Expect from Desktop Graphics in 2011 - Graphics Cards 5

The GTX 570 really fits along the lines of the GTX 460 in that it offers outstanding performance for its price point.  It was so good at what it did, it essentially forced AMD to lower their introductory price of the HD 6970.

At the top end there really only stands NVIDIA with the GTX 580.  Sure, AMD has the HD 5970 and they dropped their prices on these cards upon the introduction of the GTX 580, but stock has dwindled and prices have again risen to the $700+ level.  The GTX 580 really is a big improvement on the GTX 480, and the price reflects this.  It also is pretty scarce.  While the GTX 570 and HD 6970 are well represented, the GTX 580 has far fewer actual products available to consumers.  On Newegg as of December 28, 2010, there are four available cards ranging in price from $510 to $530.  Other online retailers have fewer available cards or none at all.  This is not particularly surprising, as the GTX 580 utilizes a very large chip, and I am sure yields and bins for the top end product are not exactly flowing off the line in unprecedented numbers.  This is likely the reason why there are so many GTX 570s out there; getting fully functional chips at those speeds and power draws are pretty rare as compared to the ones which fit into the GTX 570 power/thermal envelope.

2010 was a very interesting year in graphics to say the least.  NVIDIA has somewhat re-invented itself, and has caught back up (and perhaps in some ways surpassed) AMD.  AMD really stepped up their design prowess by introducing the first full lineup of DX11 cards.  Both companies have taken the curveball that TSMC and GLOBALFOUNDRIES have thrown them, and have released updated cards that are a step above what they previously had.  But through it all, I am still amazed by what NVIDIA was able to do with the GTX 460 cards, how cheap they have become, and how truly competent they are in pretty much any situation.  Certainly AMD caught up with the HD 6850, but only after the GTX 460 had been out for around 5 months.

What to Expect from Desktop Graphics in 2011 - Graphics Cards 6

The Cayman chip that powers the HD 6970 is the largest GPU that AMD has produced yet.  It rivals the size of the then large R600 which powered the Radeon 2800XT.  Unlike the R600 though, the Cayman series actually delivers against its primary rival.

2011 may not be nearly as exciting for users as this past 1.5 years has been, but it will likely have a few surprises from not just AMD and NVIDIA, but also Intel and their latest integrated graphics in the upcoming Sandy Bridge series of parts.  From all indications, it will shake up the integrated stronghold that AMD has kept with the 880G/890GX parts.  We also will see the first Fusion parts from AMD gain a foothold in the market, and hopefully a much more robust desktop CPU/GPU combination with Llano in a timely manner.

The graphics manufacturers really are the rock stars of the PC technology world.  I’m sure they will give us plenty to talk about in the year to come.  We also must start considering that the next generation of console parts are likely in the beginning stages of design.  It will be fascinating to see if the current alliances are maintained, or outside forces like ARM and Intel will elbow into this very high profile market.

Further Reading:

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