iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Thinness rules!
0.09 Calibre, a Volley from California:
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GTX/GT (G71),
GeForce 7600 GT (G73)

Part 4: NVIDIA Editor's Day 28.02.2006

Arrival to Santa Clara

A smiling well-groomed Mexican-looking driver with the nameplate "Vorobiev, iXBT.com", half empty dark nocturnal airport in San-Francisco, warm Californian rain and shiny black limousine - that's how ended my twenty-hour flight from Moscow to San-Francisco.

Most of the trip was already over, but I still had to get to Santa Clara - my destination point, where to attend NVIDIA Editor's Day, which gathers representatives of the leading IT publishing houses so that they could hear about new products from the giant graphics chipmaker.

A short drive in a comfortable limousine on an empty highway in the dead of the night glided past. The polite driver periodically queried about the situation in Russia, how we live through cold winters, and why make such a long voyage to the homeland of indians. He found out that Communism was discontinued 15 years ago and that Moscow was much more modern in some respects than San-Francisco, to say nothing of San Jose or Santa Clara.

As we were engaged in conversation, the car inconspicuously branched off and obediently stopped at the red light. None of other cars around, profound silence, and only a powerful V-shaped engine was rumbling under the Lincoln bonnet. The night landscape was relatively dull. No habitual abundant Moscow illumination, low houses - almost all of them offices. If I hadn't been warned that the event would take place in Santa Clara, I would have taken this town for San Jose, which also houses offices of many IT companies. However, it turned out that Santa Clara is a suburb of San Jose. So the similarity of these two towns is not accidental.

Several more turns and I saw a brightly illuminated Mariott sign, where all guests of the Editors Day were lodged.

The morning sun lit a quiet scenery that could be seen out of the window in my room.

In fact, Santa Clara is a quiet town. Quiet traffic, quiet people, who almost always drive instead of walking. A few quiet taverns. Cameras at each cross-roads to play a wet blanket on fast drivers.

I couldn't believe that this town had a decent theme park "Great America".

Encyclopaedias provide scarce information on Santa Clara. As a rule, you will find something like this:

Santa Clara is a town in the western part of the USA, California; San Jose suburb. 85 thousand residents (1974). It's situated to the South of San-Francisco, agricultural center of Santa Clara valley. Food (fruit and grapes) and radio-electronic industries. University. Santa Clara was founded in XVIII century.

Indeed, I have nothing to add. Perhaps, that's how a town in the Silicon Valley should look like. It's a very clean and neat town.

By the way, ATI Technologies office was situated right opposite the hotel :-). So competitors are close by even in NVIDIA's fief.


The event itself took up almost the entire next day. We had to breakfast in a presentation hall. Everybody signed NDA in the hotel hall before the trip,

where we promised to keep silence before the specified date. Adam Foat was shining in expectation of a coming squall of information, which must fall on the heads of the arrived journalists.

Everybody knew the primary reason for editors from all over the world to gather here - of course, to learn everything about the new graphics chips GeForce 7900GTX, 7900GT and 7600GT. We'll speak about them a tad later. There were other interesting reports.

I'd like to start with Quad SLI - a cherished dream of any gamer: four 7800GTX or 7900GTX cards in a single system.


Tony Tamasi

vice-president of technical marketing department narrated about advantages and prospects of the new project.

A question from the audience: What's the target audience of a Quad SLI system?

Tony Tamasi:

SLI allows to look into the future, a year ahead, how games will look like and what performance they will offer. Quad SLI allows to look two years ahead. Enthusiasts have been looking forward to something like this for a long time! As far as I know, our competitor hasn't even planned to offer such a solution.

A question from the audience: What will be the price for Quad SLI with 7900GTX cards?

Tony Tamasi:

I cannot really say so far. Thousands of dollars. But there are still those who want to buy such computers. They will be manufactured by three vendors only and it will be up to them to dictate prices.

A question from the audience: Why only three vendors?

Tony Tamasi:

Quad SLI is a very powerful and state-of-the-art system. So its components must be selected with special care. It's no secret that the main problem of such systems is power supply stability and sufficiency. That's why we work with a limited circle of manufacturers, as we must be sure that the systems are reliable and ready to operate in any mode. You should remember that you need an appropriate display to reveal the full potential of Quad SLI. In our case it's modern 30" monitors from DELL supporting 25601600 and even higher.

A question from the audience: Does NVIDIA cooperate with PSU manufacturers in this respect?

Tony Tamasi:

Yes, we do. We have a close cooperation with them. We even think about distributing a SLI Ready logo for PSUs sufficient for SLI systems.

Bill Henry

director of mobile products management for NVIDIA told us about new NVIDIA solutions for the notebook market.

Now mobile users will be also able to take advantage of the SLI power. For 7800GTX chips only so far. But no doubts, there will soon appear a faster modification, based on its desktop counterpart.

Nevertheless, a 20" display and SLI, based on GeForce 7800GTX, will allow to get maximum performance in games on notebooks, which is illustrated on the next slide:

A large part of his presentation was devoted to the new operating system Microsoft VISTA, which is the first OS requiring a powerful GPU to reveal its full potential.

There are different attitudes towards this system. Some people are rightfully indignant. They point out that most office computers, usually equipped with integrated video (by the way, Intel video, as a rule) will not be supported by the new OS.

They see it as a fix-up of GPU manufacturers and Microsoft, who try to raise sales of modern discrete solutions with the help of the software giant. Others think that the new OS is a revolutional step forward. Anyway, NVIDIA is developing a new control panel for MS VISTA. Next month we shall see a preview of drivers with a new panel. NVIDIA announces future compatibility with the new OS of its 6- and 7-series chips as well as 6-series cards with TurboCache.

But let's proceed to the most important part. New chips GeForce 7900 and 7600.

We were given a lot of interesting information. Part I of our article contains some tidbits from this presentation.

It was conducted by Toni Tamasi and Rob Chomber.

Of course, there were some foul words uttered about the competitor :). We were given a lot of comparison graphs:

Sometimes, games and modes were selected to demonstrate maximum advantage of these cards, but there were also fair comparisons (we compared them with our own results).

Here we can see combinations of chip features with their dimensions. Pay attention to the number of ALUs, being the same in the X1900 XTX and 7900 GTX. How come? We already spoke about approaches to the notion of a pixel pipeline or processor. We have already read articles that the X1900 XTX has 16 pixel pipelines instead of 48 (in the strict sense of the word), but each of them is equipped with three ALUs, so there are still 48 shader operations.

I want to note here that the notion of a pixel pipeline hasn't existed for a long time already, it got eroded. Pixel output depends on a number of ROPs. Their number is the same in R580 and G71 - 16. The only difference is in the number of pixel shader units, which help output a pixel for fewer cycles. R580 got 48 of them. And G71 has got 24. Strictly speaking, both have 16 pipelines. How many ALUs are there in each unit? Everybody says that 2. How can we check it up? 16 units with three ALUs or 48 units with one ALU, or the R580 has 96 ALUs. There is a fine point here: to check it up, we need special tests without texturing to eliminate operation of texture units, which are evidently in the minority. There are no such tests so far. We shall analyze this issue in future.

Chip efficiency per unit of die surface was illustrated well by the example of F.E.A.R.

But ATI CrossFire was subjected to the most severe criticism from NVIDIA. We were shown a slide with a very long list of games, which supported SLI. But a lion's share of them was allegedly not supported by CrossFire.

Of course, that's not an issue to take a word for it. Firstly, NVIDIA employees, who compiled this table, do not work in ATI and cannot possibly know everything, that is possess complete information on what games are actually supported by CrossFire. Secondly, this information was based on some CATALYST version. As is well known, drivers can be updated - ATI does it each month. That's why this list could be outdated by the time of this presentation. Of course, CrossFire does not have an impressive list of supported games so far, as it was launched later than SLI. But I can assure you that you will be given a contrary situation at an ATI's presentation, that is lots of games supported by CF, that are not supported by SLI. :)

There was a very interesting report on prospects of X-HD video in games. It's no secret that traditional gaming resolutions are 1024x768, 1280x1024, 1600x1200, dictated by CRT dimensions. And how will a game look like at 1920x1200?

NVIDIA cooperates with game developers to introduce wide video output, which will give more freedom to gamers. A little is left to do: to introduce such monitors to the masses; only TFT of course, which are quite expensive so far.

But this issue is very interesting and promising. Fortunately, we have added 2048x1536 resolution to our 3Digests and this review of new products. Yep, it's not X-HD, but it's quite large to heavily load an accelerator. If a video card copes with this resolution and offers decent gameplay, it will offer so much the more at 19201200.

President of the company took the floor at the end of the event.

NVIDIA President

The most interesting part for me personally was Jen-Hsun Huang's answers, president of NVIDIA. Jen-Hsun produces an impression of a reasonable man and a master-businessman. Questions were raining down and each of them was answered by Jen-Hsun. Here are the most interesting ones.

A question from the audience: What's your attitude towards DirectX 10 (DX10)?

Jen-Hsun Huang:

DX10 is very important to us. I will be very disappointed, if we are not the first (to support DX10). It's our business to be the first. To be the first in everything that we do.

A question from the audience: Is the 7900GTX card a maximum what NVIDIA can currently offer? Does NVIDIA have problems with a potential?

Jen-Hsun Huang:

Sometimes you have to design a chip the size of a table… I know how to do it, I actually did it :-) That was GeForce FX :-). I know that many people laughed at us because of the chip dimensions and noise. But sometimes it's the only solution available for the current moment. The 7900GTX is currently what we can offer to our customers and we are very proud of this product.

A question from the audience: In what sectors shall we see NVIDIA in future years?

Jen-Hsun Huang:

We do what we like. We like to participate in people's lives. What's in prospect? Certainly consoles, certainly PC, certainly mobile devices. We shall not manufacture DVD players, Digital TVs are also too simple devices for us, as they have only two operating modes: they work or they don't work, that's boring! Digital SetTop Box etc. simple things are not for us.

A question from the audience: ATI strives to occupy the Middle-End market of video accelerators, where they are currently weak. And NVIDIA is actively trying to occupy the market of high-performance cards. Does it speak of a changed company strategy?

Jen-Hsun Huang:

We try to be present in all segments. Entry-level cards are more critical to prices than to performance, that's true. We know how to win here: you just have to drop prices, but we need profits to develop. We spend up to 50% for R&D.

A question from the audience: The current limiting factor is a CPU. Why launch such powerful cards, if processors from AMD and Intel cannot load the latest graphics solutions to the brim.

Jen-Hsun Huang:

Yep, we have been always told that CPU is a limiting factor. But there would always appear a new faster processor. Now we can see multi-core processors. We have no doubts that the resolution will be growing constantly. CRT monitors are a thing of the past already. So there will be always a need in faster processors and more powerful video cards.

A question from the audience: How will you develop your partnership with Intel now? You can see now that NVIDIA shows more interest in AMD partnership.

Jen-Hsun Huang:

Profits of a given project are always important to us. AMD does not manufacture chipsets on its own, while Intel works on all market segments and is not always interested in deep cooperation. Besides, we have an opinion that tight cooperation with AMD will be more profitable for the current moment. Half of computers sold in the USA last year were equipped with AMD processors.


Editors Day was over. I couldn't resist a temptation to have a swim in an outdoor swimming pool. Fortunately, it was +17 outside - not that cold for most Russians.

Water activities of one of the hotel guests fascinated the other people and soon there appeared surprised faces in windows. I decided to go to sauna not to shock the locals and visiting natives. Then I returned to my room to have a nap, as I had to start for the airport at four in the morning.

At seven o'clock on Tuesday my plane left San-Francisco and "just" at 11:30 on Thursday I arrived at Sheremetievo 2 and was explaining to a customs officer why I had so many cards and absolutely no other luggage :)

PS: Unfortunately, this material does not allow us to uncover all future NVIDIA products, as many of them will be in "the embargo list" for some time. Read our news!

Alexander Vorobiev (vorobiev@ixbt.com)
Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com)

March 13, 2006

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