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The RV770 GPU looks to be an unequivocal success on almost every front. In its most affordable form, the Radeon HD 4850 delivers higher performance overall than the GeForce 9800 GTX and redefines GPU value at the ever-popular $199 price point. Meanwhile, the RV770's most potent form is even more impressive, in my view. Onboard the Radeon HD 4870, this GPU sets a new standard for architectural efficiency—in terms of performance per die area—due to two things: a broad-reaching rearchitecting and optimization the of R600 graphics core and the astounding amount of bandwidth GDDR5 memory can transfer over a 256-bit interface. Both of these things seem to work every bit as well as advertised. In practical terms, what all of this means is that the Radeon HD 4870, a $299 product, competes closely with the GeForce GTX 260, a $399 card based on a chip twice the size.

I have to take issue with a couple of arguments I hear coming from both sides of the GPU power struggle, though. AMD decided a while back, after the R600 debacle, to stop building high-end GPUs as a cost-cutting measure and instead address the high end with multi-GPU solutions. They have since started talking about how the era of the large, "monolithic" GPU is over. I think that's hogwash. In fact, I'd love to see a RV770-derived behemoth with 1600 SPs and 80 texture units on the horizon. Can you imagine? Big chips don't suffer from the quirks of multi-GPU implementations, which never seem to have profiles for newly released games just as you'd want to be playing them, and building a big chip doesn't necessarily preclude a company from building a mid-sized one. Yes, Nvidia still makes high-end GPUs like the GeForce GTX 280, but they also make mid-range chips, too.

One example of such a chip is the 55nm variant of the G92 that powers the GeForce 9800 GTX+. If Nvidia can deliver those as expected by mid-July and cut another 30 bucks off of the projected list price, they'll have a very effective counter to the Radeon HD 4850, nearly equivalent in size, performance, and power consumption.

At the same time, Nvidia is trying to press its advantage on the GPU-compute front by investing loads of marketing time and effort into its CUDA platform, with particular emphasis on the potential value of its GPU-accelerated PhysX API to gamers. I can see the vision there, but look: hardware-accelerated physics has been just around the corner for longer than I care to remember, but it's never really happened. Perhaps Nvidia will succeed where Ageia alone didn't, but I wouldn't base my GPU buying decision on it. If PhysX-based games really do arrive someday, I doubt they'll make much of an impact during the lifespan of one of today's graphics cards.

On top of that, AMD has made its own considerable investment in the realm of heterogeneous computing—like, for instance, buying ATI, a little transaction you may have heard about, along with some intriguing code names like Fusion and Torrenza. We got a refresher on AMD's plans in our recent talk with Patti Harrell, and they're remarkably similar to what Nvidia is doing. In fact, AMD was first by a mile with a client for Folding@Home, and Adobe showed the same Photoshop demo at the press event for RV770 that it did at Nvidia's GT200 expo—the program uses a graphics API, not CUDA. Nvidia may have more to invest in marketing and building a software ecosystem around CUDA, but cross-GPU standards are what will allow GPU computing to succeed. When that happens, AMD will surely be there, too. TR

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