Too Little, Too Late 1514

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The Bad News

In a sentence, the nForce FX does little better than a Radeon 9700 Pro in some things, and usually does worse when you want to use some of that raw power to spiffy up the image.

For those dubious advantages, you end up with a space-chewing, heat-pumping, noise-making, GPI-throttling video card.

The Worse News?

This is pretty bad for nVidia, and you need to ask yourself, why?

Is this simply the future? Will any video card out to lay claim to the throne in the near future end up being a space-chewing, heat-pumping, noise-making, GPU-throttling video card?

Or is this not the future but nVidia? Did they just push the specs too hard given current manufacturing technology?

It’s clear now why nVidia swallowed the delays and waited for 0.13 micron technology; the damn thing might have become molten at 0.15. Was this a design that really should have waited for yet even smaller manufacturering processes?

You get the impression that nVidia focused more on future features this generation, while ATI designed to deliver the best they could for the here and now. The problem with nVidia’s approach is that all those future advances will probably only serve as space heaters in this card, by the time the features get used, it will be outdated.

Or did nVidia just design for numbers? Were the designer told, “Make the GPU run at 500MHz and the memory at 1GHz and to hell with the consequences?”

Or, hard as this might be to believe given the delays, is this just a rush job? Is this the Willamette of video cards?

Had nVidia planned and designed the next generation of card to be the “regular” FX5800 only to find out that ATI had blindsided them with a different design approach and their planned card just wasn’t good enough? After finding that out, did they decide that the only quick answer to the Radeon 9700 was to crank up the design as far as it could go (only to find TSMC wasn’t quite up to it, making it a slow answer)?

This seems to be the most likely explanation.

It’s very hard to believe nVidia designed a card like this because they thought it was a good idea. It’s so environmentally unfriendly at a time when even the performance loons notice the noise. Would you design that air boondoggle that still leaves the heatsinks close to 70°C unless you absolutely had to?

Another indicator of that is that nVidia apparently isn’t bringing the NV30 design down to the sub-$200 market. Instead, we’ll see NV31 and NV34, and the fact that we haven’t heard diddly-squat about them seems to indicate they went back to the drawing board last fall to come up with a saner, cheaper (but not necessarily too quick) design on those.

None of this excuses nVidia for being caught flatfooted. These are just likely explanations for why nVidia got caught flat-footed.

A Hobbyist’s Challenge

While looking at all the heat descriptions, I kept thinking, “This is a job for water cooling.”

I bet this would be an ideal card for those who are willing and able to strip away all that air duct stuff and put waterblocks whereever needed. Unfortunately, there’s only about 87 of you out there who’ll do that.

It’s pretty hard to recommend this card to the hydrophobic. This is the equivalent of adding a second CPU to your case. The Radeon 9700 Pro is bad enough as is; I use it to warm my fingers in a chilly basement. It pumps out enough heat from the backend to adversely affect overclocking by heating up the North Bridge in an open-air environment.

The FX is even worse. Just imagine what it will do in a closed environment in systems that don’t approximate wind tunnels.

If heat isn’t enough to convince you to go wawa, how about noise? Anandtech measured this card at 77 decibels. That is loud. Let me put it this way, buy this card and you’ll never complain about loud power supply fans again; you won’t be able to hear them over this.

Still not enough to give up air? Then forget about this card.

The Really Bad News. Maybe

If you need a medium-priced video card sooner rather than later, this is all really bad news for you. ATI will hardly need to reduce prices to remain competitive, and that probably means no 9700 performance for $150 any time soon.

Yes, you can try the Radeon 9500 128Mb hack, but with an estimated 30% failure rate (see January 12 articles), that’s no sure thing, either.

What we have to hope for is ATI deciding to put market share ahead of profits. If so, I’d wait until these NV31s come out, and if they weren’t competitive against a regular 9700; I’d bring the price of those down to about $180, and put the Radeon 9500s around $130.

That would really ring nVidia’s clock, which is pretty rung already.

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