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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460
Graphics-chip manufacturer NVIDIA released its GeForce GTX 400-series video cards in March of this year, based on what it called the 'Fermi' architecture. Named the GTX 470 and GTX 480, these cards supported all of the latest technologies and remain the most-powerful GPUs available. However, they were very expensive, used a lot of power and generated a significant amount of heat.
The company later released the GTX 465, offering less performance but at a lower price point. While it was still powerful, this graphics card was based on the same design as the higher-end cards. This meant that it was expensive to produce and still had many of the drawbacks of the other cards in the GTX 400 family.
Now, in mid-July, NVIDIA has released the GeForce GTX 460. Despite the similar name, the card uses a redesigned graphics processor called the GF 104. This new chip is a lot smaller than the one used in all of the older models, though it still has plenty of power. The result is a graphics card that uses less electricity, generates less heat and is a lot cheaper to produce - which means it costs less to buy!
The product of this redesign is a chip that has 336 'Cuda' or 'shader' cores - compared to 352 for the GTX 465 and 480 for the GTX480. Each of the cores can be thought of as a mini-processor, and the more that a graphics card has, the more work that it can do at once.
The other part of the puzzle, though, is the speed that these cores run. The smaller chip in the GTX 460 creates quite a bit less heat than then the other cards, so it can run at higher speeds. The default clock speeds are 675MHz for the main part of the chip and 1,350MHz for the shader cores. This is quite a bit faster than the GTX 465 and almost as fast as the top-of-the-line GTX 480.
Lastly, this new card comes in two models - one with 1,024MB of memory and one with 768MB. A larger amount of dedicated graphics memory is especially important for advanced effects and playing games at high resolutions. While both versions use the latest GDDR5 graphics memory running at the same speeds, the higher-capacity model has a wider memory interface. Simply put, this can be thought of as the lanes on a motorway - the wider the road, the more cars that can travel along it at the same time. Similarly, a wider memory interface allows for more information to be moved to and from the graphics memory at once.
On top of this, the card supports all of the same technologies that the other cards in the Fermi family do. This includes DirectX 11 for the best graphics, PhysX for advanced physics effects in games and 3D Vision support to allow games to be played in 3D.
NVIDIA's main competitor in the graphics card market is ATI. Its latest Radeon line of GPUs - the 5800 series - were released before NVIDIA's offerings and also support many of the latest technologies. Not only does this include DirectX 11, but ATI cards also support Eyefinity, which allows up to six monitors - depending on the outputs on the back of the card - to be attached to a single graphics card for ultra-high-resolution gaming.
The two main rivals to the GTX 460, in terms of price, are the Radeon HD 5830 and the Radeon HD 5850. The HD 5830 is, on average, around 10 per cent slower than the 768MB GeForce card and around 20 percent slower than the 1,024MB model when playing modern games. The HD 5850 tends to be a little faster than the GTX 460, but only by a margin of around five per cent over the 1,024MB version.
In terms of competition from NVIDIA's own range, the closest competition is the GeForce GTX 465. Though it features a slightly more powerful core, the newer GTX 460 offsets this by running at higher speeds. Accordingly, the cards are evenly matched, with the GTX 465 performing somewhere in between the two GTX 460 models.
Even at launch prices - which are traditionally quite high - the GTX 460 offers excellent value for money. The 1,024MB model will cost around £185, while the 768MB card will cost £163, both of which are below the approximately £200-plus that the GTX 465 etails for. These cards offer a remarkable amount of graphics processing power for a relatively small amount of money, then.
The prices also stand up well to AMD's offerings. The Radeon 5830 etails for around £165, while the more capable 5850 costs around £230 (at the launch date of the GTX 460). Considering the performance differences, the NVIDIA cards offer better value for money. However, the prices of the Radeon cards are expected to fall as a result of this new card's launch.
The GeForce GTX 460 also offers a number of features that are unique to NVIDIA cards, such as PhysX support and compatibility with the company's own 3D Vision system for 3D gaming. The card also allows for bit-streaming of high-definition audio from Blu-ray discs. While this feature is available on ATI cards, it is the only desktop GeForce card that currently supports it.
Finally, the GTX460 has support for SLI technology, which allows two identical NVIDIA graphics cards to be paired up to work together in a single system. While two of these cards cost around the same as the flagship GTX 480 card, at around £375, they perform around 20 percent better in games, on average. This means that an extra card can be purchased at a later date when a little extra power is needed to provide an instant performance boost. This does require a compatible motherboard, however - meaning mechanical two x16 PCIe slots and certification for SLI usage, as found on most mid-to-high-end Intel chipsets.
NVIDIA's GTX 460 is a very good graphics card. The redesigned chip allows the cards to be smaller, cooler and less power-hungry. This also means that the fans on the card don't need to work as hard to keep everything cool, making them a lot quieter.
As a single card, it provides excellent performance at a very affordable price, resulting in very good value for money. The more-powerful 1,024MB version is only a fraction more expensive and shows a noticeable performance boost in graphics-intensive games, offering even better value. Support for a variety of the latest technologies only adds to this.
The card also allows for two cards to be linked together, significantly increasing performance. Not only does this solution perform better than a GeForce GTX 480 for around the same price, but it allows for an easy upgrade at some point in the future.
In all, the GeForce GTX 460 brings a lot of power, features and flexibility for users on a budget of under £200.