Nvidia has been a late entrant to the DirectX 11 graphics card market. It launched new high end graphics cards a few months ago but it has struggled in the price/performance stakes against ATI. In part this is due to ATI's DirectX 11 lineup being older and more mature, but it is also down to the immense complexity of Nvidia's Fermi architecture.
In order to stay price-competitive with ATI, Nvidia launched the underwhelming GeForce GTX 465, which was a drastically cut down version of Nvidia's high end GPU. This was very much an interim product, designed to keep the Nvidia name out there while it readied its assault on the mainstream. This has taken the form of the GeForce GTX 460, which uses a new chip based on the Fermi architecture and in the process avoids the problems that have plagued the high end.
Gone are the heat and noise issues that come part and parcel with the high end GTX 470 and 480 cards. The GeForce GTX 460 uses two 6-pin power connectors and is designed around a 160W TDP (the GTX 480 has a 250W TDP). It has 336 CUDA cores and comes with 768MB of GDDR5 running on a 192-bit memory bus.
Nvidia's reference design has the GPU running at 675 MHz and the memory at 1350 MHz. We have tested ASUS' ENGTX460 DirectCU TOP, which is factory overclocked to 700MHz core and 1400MHz memory. This will bump up benchmark results a tiny amount, but the scores will still be indicative of the performance that you will see across the board with the 768MB version of the GTX 460.
We have compared the GeForce GTX 460 to the GTX 465 and we were stunned with the results. In Crysis the GTX 460 managed 55 frames per second at high detail - a touch faster than the GTX 465, which managed only 54 fps in the same test. Similarly, in Just Cause 2, the GTX 460 managed an average of 26 fps, exactly the same as the score achieved by the GTX 465.
This is respectable performance for a mainstream graphics card. The Just Cause 2 benchmark score is on the edge of playable, but you would easily be able to lower the levels of antialiasing and texture filtering to get the framerate up.
After a pretty underwhelming start to its DirectX 11 lineup it seems that Nvidia is finally hitting its stride. The GeForce GTX 460 is the first such product to hit a price/performance sweet spot, giving high end performance for under $300. You won't be able to use high levels of antialiasing and filtering, but the GTX 460 is more than capable of rendering the latest games with all the bells and whistles turned on.