Posted Wed, Mar 31, 2010 by Sardu
Over the next couple of years we're bound to start seeing more and more MMOGs that push the graphics envelope above and beyond anything we’ve witnessed so far with the current generation of titles. While certain upcoming games like Star Wars: The Old Republic are being built with lower system specs in mind, there are still plenty of others like Final Fantasy XIV and TERA that will no doubt push the upper limits of what current tech is capable of at the highest settings. While it remains to be seen exactly which of the upcoming games will spark the next massive wave of upgrade fever among PC gamers, at PAX East 2010 the team from Ten Ton Hammer got a preview of the new GPUs that could very well become some of the hottest sellers whenever that wave finally hits.
Having led our team of L4D 2 survivors to safety at the end of our hands-on demo of the Immerz KOR-fx forced feedback unit, Mattlow and I discovered we had a little bit of time before our next appointment. The massive NVIDIA booth was close by so it seemed like a no brainer to hop on over to see what kind of tech they brought to the show. I knew they would be heavily promoting their 3D Vision technology, but I had no idea we’d be getting a chance to experience it on demo stations decked out with dual GTX 480s running in SLI.
The NVIDIA GTX 480
The NVIDIA GTX 470
Now, normally I wouldn’t consider myself to be much of a ‘graphics whore’ but I have been known to be one of those PC gamers that buys new graphics cards more often than a new pair of shoes. After all, you can still walk around in an old beat up pair of combat boots, but once your GPU starts to show signs of aging it’s only a matter of time before you realize that shiny new game you want to buy simply won’t run until you drop down some cash for an upgrade, and I typically try and at least stay ahead of that curve.
That said, I was already intrigued by what I saw graphically at the various demo stations NVIDIA had set up throughout their booth, but then learning the price points for the new GPUs - $499 for the GTX 480 and $349 for the GTX 470 – was certainly an unexpected surprise. Especially when you consider that NVIDIA’s current high end cards are still selling at around the $500 range for the GTX 295 and $350 for the 285s (which, by the way, we discovered will soon be phased out, so if you’ve been considering picking up a second or third 285 for your SLI rig, you may want to consider doing so sooner rather than later… though then again soon you’ll be able to pick up the new 470s for roughly the same price.)
The majority of games on display were set up with NVIDIA’s 3D Vision, which is one of those things that may sound like a gimmick in print, but as it turns out genuinely does add a hefty amount of immersion to your PC gaming experience for most newer titles. Certain MMOGs still have a ways to go before all the kinks are worked out – for example in EverQuest II character and NPC names don’t always properly render in 3D mode – but then other titles such as World of Warcraft can look pretty awesome, especially in dungeons and raids where there’s a lot going on visually at any given point and there are plenty of spacial reference points thanks to interior architecture etc. Many FPS titles also benefit from players having a much more realistic perspective on their surroundings. So rather than assuming relative distance of your targets, with a little bit of trial and error you can begin to more accurately pinpoint their range relative to that of your current weapons.
Later that same day, the full Ten Ton Hammer team made our way to the main lecture hall to see the official unveiling celebration for the new NVIDIA cards. Apparently we weren’t the only ones curious to learn more about the new GTX 400 line, as somewhere around 3,000 gamers were on hand as well. Throughout the hour long presentation, General Manager of GeForce NVIDIA Drew Henry revealed many of the details on what makes these new cards so powerful, as well as announcing that they would be available through their various retail partners on April 9th.
One feature highlighted both in their booth demo and during the celebration event is the PolyMorph engine, which will feature prominently in games supporting DirectX 11 and uses GPU-accelerated tessellation. In laymen’s terms, tessellation allows for a much more cinematic graphical experience, as environments and characters will appear much less blocky and can be highly detailed without causing framerates to drop. Drew Henry also explained just how powerful the new 480 GUPs are noting, “It’s got 3 billion transistors in it. And to put that into context, 3 billion transistors is the same as 4 Intel QuadCore Core i7 CPUs.”
If 3D Vision weren’t enough, the 400 series will also be 3D Vision Surround ready with the NVIDIA Driver Release 256 due out sometime next month. During the live stage presentation it was hard to really get a good impression of how 3D Vision Surround enhances gameplay enough to be worth the much higher barrier for entry. (3x 120Hz ready monitors or DLP TVs are required to get the full surround effect, as well as 2 or more graphics cards in SLI mode) but it did at least provide us an interesting glimpse into what the technology is capable of.
While much of what was shown likely won’t be fully utilized in many MMOGs in the short term, looking ahead at the long list of titles currently in development I expect that many of the 400 series’ features will play a sizable role in the high end graphics department over the next couple of years. For those of you interested in seeing the full list of specs for the GTX 480 and 470, be sure to head on over to the official NVIDIA site, and then share your thoughts on the newest of the new in GPUs right here in our forums!