AMD is in the process of refreshing its 40 nm Evergreen GPUs, with a new family of GPUs dubbed "Northern Islands". The first Northern Islands hardware -- the Radeon HD 6850 and Radeon HD 6870 -- has launched, belonging to the budget-friendly Barts subfamily. A dizzying array of other product subfamilies are also reportedly incoming -- Antilles, Caicos, Cayman, Turks, Blackcomb, Seymour and Whistler. The one to probably keep your eyes on most closely is the Antilles series, AMD's high-performance line. AMD's aims for single-GPU supremacy rest on the Radeon HD 6990, an Antilles card set to launch before the end of the year.
NVIDIA was late to the gate during the last round, and its numerous 400 series delays ultimately cost it the lead in the discrete graphics market.
This time around NVIDIA hopes to counter AMD, much more quickly as it is reportedly preparing to release the Geforce 500 series, its own 40 nm refresh of the Geforce 400 series.
A couple of weeks ago NVIDIA briefly posted the name of what will presumably be one of its first discrete GPUs in the lineup -- the Geforce GTX 580. This week NVIDIA was busy (officially) showing off the new GPU running a nifty multiple tessellation map demo and the new Call of Duty: Black Ops. It was also revealed during the demonstration that the card has a vapor cooling shroud.
NVIDIA says the new vapor shroud cuts the noise levels by 7 decibels and allows the system to run cooler. The shroud operates similar to the shrouds Sapphire has used for some time on its AMD Radeon GPUs -- it's basically a sealed liquid cooling system. A coolant liquid in the shroud circulates over the hot GPU, picking up its thermal energy. The vaporized liquid travels to the fan, cools off, condenses, and then is recirculated, completely the circle of (cooling shroud) life.
With the new shroud NVIDIA hopes to end its noise woes, returning to Geforce 200 series levels. Of course that improvement will likely come at a cost to NVIDIA's bottom line, as vapor shrouds certainly command a premium over traditional coolers. NVIDIA clearly is still struggling with heating issues, so rather than utilize a noisy, high flow fan like the 400 series, this time around it is opting to pay a bit more for a nicer solution. Will that be reflected in the price? We shall see.
When it comes to performance, though, NVIDIA is unequivocal in its belief that it will reign supreme. At the teaser event, the company's Director of Technical Marketing, Tom Petersen brags, "This is the fastest DirectX 11 GPU on the planet."
If those statements are accurate, and NVIDIA is able to the launch its new models quickly, it stands to regain much ground on AMD, assuming competitive pricing. Of course NVIDIA was optimistic about launching the 400 series in 2009, but reality eventually became an April 2010 launch, so don't count your GPUs before they hatch.
NVIDIA is clearly feeling the heat from AMD as its slashing the prices on its mid-range GPUs. The company writes: As you are likely writing about the upcoming Radeon 6800 series launch, we felt it was important that you're up to date on the latest GeForce GTX 400 series pricing.
We'd like to inform you of new suggested retail pricing (SEP) for one of our most popular GPUs, the GeForce GTX 460 1GB. The new SEP for the GTX 460 1GB is $199.99. As always, the SEP is just a suggestion and you'll likely find retail boards from our partners at multiple price points. We expect many standard boards to sell in the $180s-$190s, and OC boards to sell for $209+.
In addition to the GeForce GTX 460 1GB, we'd also like to mention new pricing on the GeForce GTX 470. The SEP of this GPU is now $259.99. The GeForce GTX 470 offers more tessellation engines than GTX 460, making it ready for the most demanding DX11 games on the market today, and just as important, the games of tomorrow.
And responding to accusations from AMD that the price cuts were temporary, NVIDIA replies:
Further to our e-mail last night about the GeForce GTX 460 1GB/GTX 470 price adjustment, please rest assured that our price adjustments are in fact permanent. Any claims that our pricing update is temporary are patently false.
So are these price cuts another sign of an impending Geforce 500 launch and the official start of round two of the DirectX 11 wars? Or are they just a desperation tactic as NVIDIA grapples with a new round of delays? The answer to that should be apparent in weeks (or months) to come, once we see when the new vapor-equipped Geforce 500 hits the world markets.