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Test notes
You'll have to forgive us. Since Nvidia sprung this card on us in the middle of last week, and since we rather presumptuously had plans this past weekend, we were not about to go and formulate a revised test suite and produce an all-new set of benchmark results for this card and thirteen or so of its most direct competitors, with all new drivers and new games. Instead, we chose a strategy that very much mirrors Nvidia's, recycling a past product for a new purpose. In our case, we decided to rely upon our review of the GeForce GTX 285 and 295, published way back on January 15, for most of our test data.

This unflinchingly lame, sad, and altogether too typical exercise in sheer laziness and feckless ridiculosity nets us several wholly insurmountable challenges in our weak attempt at evaluating this new product and its most direct competitor. First and foremost, of course, is the fact that video card drivers have changed one or two entire sub-point-release revisions since our last article. So although we tested the GeForce GTS 250 and Radeon HD 4850 1GB with recent drivers, the remainder of our results come from well-nigh ancient and unquestionably much slower and less capable driver software, because everyone knows that video card performance improves 15-20% with each driver release. Never mind the fact that the data you will see on the following pages will look, on the whole, entirely comparable across driver revisions. That is a sham, a mirage, and our other results are entirely useless even as a point of reference.

As if that outrage weren't sufficient to get our web site operator's license revoked, you may be aware that as many as one or two brand-new, triple-A PC game titles have been released since we chose the games in our test suite, and their omission will surely cripple our ability to assess this year-and-a-half-old GPU. This fact is inescapable, and we must be made to suffer for it.

Finally, in a coup de grace fitting of a Tarantino flick, two of the games we used were tested at a screen resolution of 2560x1600, clearly a higher resolution than anyone with a $150 graphics card would ever use for anything. Ever. Do not be swayed by the reasonable-sounding voice in your ear that points out both games were playable at this resolution on this class of hardware. Do not be taken in by the argument that using a very high resolution serves to draw out the differences between 512MB and 1GB graphics cards, and answer not the siren song of the future-proofing appeal. Nothing about this test is in any way "real world," and no one who considers himself legitimate as a gamer or, nay, a human being should have any part in such a travesty. You may wish to close this tab in your browser now.

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
Gigabyte Radeon HD 4850 1GB PCIe
with Catalyst 9.2 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 GTS 250 Superclocked 1GB PCIe
with ForceWare 182.06 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.