Wednesday, August 20, 2008

AMD's Revenge

For nearly two years, the only GPUs I recommended were made by Nvidia. After the AMD-led acquisition, ATI was simply no longer competitive in the graphics business. The ATI that obliterated Nvidia with its Radeon 9700 was long forgotten, and Nvidia had been doing so well that we didn’t even really notice. Nvidia’s product releases were good enough that we didn’t even pick up on the fact that we were suffering because of a lack of competition (more on that in a bit).
The first sign of competition from ATI came with the RV670, the basis for the Radeon HD 3850 and 3870. Nvidia preempted the RV670’s launch by releasing one of the best values in PC graphics I’ve ever seen: the GeForce 8800 GT. Nvidia rained on ATI’s parade, and although the RV670 was competitive, it merely got an honorable mention as it was good but not great. Our review on Anand Tech of the 8800 GT was aptly titled, “The Only Card That Matters.” ATI really hated that.
During Nvidia’s launch of its successor to the G80 (the GPU that was the basis for the GeForce 8800 GTX), we began to get the feeling that something may be wrong. While Nvidia’s GT200 is a tremendously impressive GPU, it is simply priced too high. The GeForce GTX 280 carries a $650 price tag and is generally outperformed by Nvidia’s own $500 GeForce 9800 GX2. The GT200 is also a strictly high-end GPU, leaving the 8800 GT and the new 9800 GTX to occupy the $200 and $300 price points, respectively.
Then came AMD’s revenge.
The RV770 is a much larger, faster, and improved version of the RV670. But speed alone doesn’t tell the whole story here; the RV770 launched as the Radeon HD 4850 and 4870, priced at $199 and $299, respectively. The main differences between the two are clock speeds and memory bandwidth, but at these prices AMD as completely reset performance expectations—even more than Nvidia did with the 8800 GT last year.
The $199 Radeon HD 4850 is generally faster than Nvidia’s GeForce 9800 GTX. It is so fast, in fact, that Nvidia had to drop the price of its 9800 GTX from $299 down to $199 to remain competitive. But even with the 9800 GTX’s lower price, the Radeon HD 4850 is still the better overall buy.
The Radeon HD 4870, at $299, now finds itself without a competitor from Nvidia. It is clearly faster than the 9800 GTX and in many cases out performs the GTX 260, priced at $399.
Herein lies the benefit of competition that we were missing with AMD/ATI not putting much pressure on Nvidia for the past couple years. While Nvidia continued to advance technology, the only reason the GeForce 9800 GTX moved to $199 when it did was pressure from RV770. And I suspect that the GeForce GTX 260 is going to have to move down to $299 very quickly.
At the end of last year, AMD saw a hole in Nvidia’s product line and went after it with the Radeon HD 3850 and 3870. Fortunately for Nvidia, it had a flexible enough chip at the time that it could scale, target, and respond to the AMD threat with the GeForce 8800 GT. This time around, Nvidia is caught in the middle of a couple transitions: First, GT200 just started shipping and it will be a while before it can be cost-reduced, and second, Nvidia just began shipping 55nm GPUs. While it’s completely within Nvidia’s ability to respond to the threat posed by RV770, AMD’s timing has ensured that any response will be after the Radeon HD 4800 series has had a chance to do well in the market.
If you need a new graphics card and plan on spending either $199 or $299, the Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 are the best you can get.

Source : Computer Power User


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