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So who competes with whom?
We have an awful lot of results from different video cards in the following pages, and you probably want to know which cards compete with which others. In some cases, we can give a fairly straightforward answer. For instance, the Radeon HD 4850 generally matches up against the GeForce 9800 GTX+. Prices for both are around $150 right now. Similarly, the Radeon HD 4870 1GB matches up pretty directly against the GeForce GTX 260 at somewhere near 250 bucks, and the Radeon HD 4870 X2 is the closest rival to the GeForce GTX 295 at between $450 and $500.

However, in all of the cases I've cited above, AMD's pricing generally undercuts Nvidia's. We found this to be true back in November, when we did a pretty extensive analysis of video card pricing, and although prices have dropped considerably since then, the general trend holds. In some cases, like the Radeon HD 4870 X2 versus the GeForce GTX 295, the price difference is substantial—$50 to start, more if you factor in mail-in rebates on the 4870 X2.

Other cards have no clear direct competitor. The GeForce GTX 285 falls into this category. At between $379 and $400, its closest competition from the Radeon camp is either the 4850 X2 at $300 or the 4870 X2 at $450. And none of this is taking rebates into account, which can cloud the picture even more while also ripping some people off. (I love rebates.)

Now that you're as confused as I am, we can proceed to our performance results.

Test notes
We conducted our tests on a brand-new GPU test rig, which looks like so:


That's a Gigabyte EX58-UD5 motherboard, 6GB of Corsair DDR3 memory rated for operation at up to 1600MHz, and lurking under the cooler is a Core i7-965 Extreme processor. The cooler itself is impressive, innit? It's a Thermaltake V1 AX, and it's nice and quiet, which gives us a little more room for acoustics testing.

All in all, this test system is incredibly fast, and at long last, we're able to test both CrossFire and SLI on the same motherboard. Ahhh.

The detailed info about our tests systems is shown in the table below. One thing I do want to point out is that we're using the version of the GeForce GTX 260 with 216 SPs, as opposed to the older version with 192. Nvidia says it's now shipping all new GTX 260s with 216 SPs, so any 192-core stragglers on the market still should be older cards.

Also, please note that several of the cards we tested have higher clock speeds than the baselines established by AMD and Nvidia. The EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 card we tested runs faster than stock, as does the Asus GTX 285 and the Asus Radeon HD 4850. These are real, shipping products, and they are warranted by their makers at their given clock frequencies.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and the results were averaged.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Core i7-965 Extreme 3.2GHz
System bus QPI 4.8 GT/s (2.4GHz)
Motherboard Gigabyte EX58-UD5
BIOS revision F3
North bridge X58 IOH
South bridge ICH10R
Chipset drivers INF update 9.1.0.1007
Matrix Storage Manager 8.6.0.1007
Memory size 6GB (3 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Dominator TR3X6G1600C8D
DDR3 SDRAM
at 1333MHz
CAS latency (CL) 8
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 8
RAS precharge (tRP) 8
Cycle time (tRAS) 24
Command rate 2T
Audio Integrated ICH10R/ALC889A
with Realtek 6.0.1.5745 drivers
Graphics
Asus EAH4850 TOP Radeon HD 4850 512MB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.12 (8.561.3-081217a-073402E) drivers
Dual Asus EAH4850 TOP Radeon HD 4850 512MB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.12 (8.561.3-081217a-073402E) drivers
Visiontek Radeon HD 4870 512MB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.12 (8.561.3-081217a-073402E) drivers
Dual Visiontek Radeon HD 4870 512MB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.12 (8.561.3-081217a-073402E) drivers
Asus EAH4870 DK 1G Radeon HD 4870 1GB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.12 (8.561.3-081217a-073402E) drivers
Asus EAH4870 DK 1G Radeon HD 4870 1GB PCIe
+ Radeon HD 4870 1GB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.12 (8.561.3-081217a-073402E) drivers
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 2GB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.12 (8.561.3-081217a-073402E) drivers
Palit Revolution R700 Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.12 (8.561.3-081217a-073402E) drivers
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 512MB PCIe
with ForceWare 180.84 drivers
Dual GeForce 9800 GTX+ 512MB PCIe
with ForceWare 180.84 drivers
Palit GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB PCIe
with ForceWare 180.84 drivers
EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 896MB PCIe
with ForceWare 180.84 drivers
EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 896MB PCIe
+ Zotac GeForce GTX 260 (216 SPs) AMP²! Edition 896MB PCIe
with ForceWare 180.84 drivers
XFX GeForce GTX 280 1GB PCIe
with ForceWare 180.84 drivers
GeForce GTX 285 1GB PCIe
with ForceWare 181.20 drivers
Dual GeForce GTX 285 1GB PCIe
with ForceWare 181.20 drivers
GeForce GTX 295 1.792GB PCIe
with ForceWare 181.20 drivers
Hard drive WD Caviar SE16 320GB SATA
OS Windows Vista Ultimate x64 Edition
OS updates Service Pack 1, DirectX November 2008 update

Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing. Their quality, service, and support are easily superior to no-name DIMMs.

Our test systems were powered by PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W power supply units. The Silencer 750W was a runaway Editor's Choice winner in our epic 11-way power supply roundup, so it seemed like a fitting choice for our test rigs.

Unless otherwise specified, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.