This certainly isn't the outcome we expected going into this little exercise. Given AMD's expanded involvement with game developers and a claimed across-the-board increase in driver performance, we expected the Radeon HD 7950 to assert itself as the best choice in its class. Instead, the Radeon's performance was hampered by delays in frame delivery across a number of games.
Our first instinct upon seeing these results was to wonder if we hadn't somehow misconfigured our test systems or had some sort of failing hardware. We test Nvidia and AMD GPUs on separate but identical systems, so to confirm our numbers, we switched the cards between the systems and re-tested. The Radeons still exhibited the same patterns of frame latency, with no meaningful change in the results. We wondered about the possibility of a problem with our Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X card or its Boost BIOS causing the slowdowns, but swapping in an older, non-Boost Radeon HD 7950 card from MSI produced very similar results.
We're also quite confident the problem isn't confined to a single set of drivers. You see, this article has had a long and difficult history; it was initially conceived as an update comparing Catalyst 12.8 and 12.11 beta drivers. However, driver updates from AMD and Nvidia, along with some additional game releases, caused us to start testing over again last week. I can tell you that we've seen the same spiky frame time plots in most of these games from three separate revisions of AMD's drivers—and, yes, Catalyst 12.11 is an improvement over 12.8, all told, even if it doesn't resolve the latency issues.
In the end, we're left to confront the fact that the biggest change from our prior graphics reviews was the influx of new games and new test scenarios that stress the GPUs differently than before. (The transition to Windows 8 could play some role here, but we doubt it.) For whatever reason, AMD's combination of GPU hardware and driver software doesn't perform as well as Nvidia's does in this latest round of games, at least as we tested them. That's particularly true when you focus on gameplay smoothness, as our latency-focused metrics tend to do.
Speaking of which, we can show you the overall performance picture using our famous value scatter plots. The performance results come from all seven of the games we tested, averaged via a geometric mean to reduce the impact of outliers. The prices come from current listings at Newegg for the exact cards we tested. As always, the most desirable combinations of price and performance will be located closer to the top left corner of the plot.
Pop back and forth between the 99th percentile and average FPS plots, and you'll see two different stories being told. The FPS average suggests near-parity performance between the 7950 and the GTX 660 Ti, with a tiny edge to the GeForce. The 99th percentile frame time, though, captures the impact of the Radeon's frame latency issues and suggests the GTX 660 Ti is easily the superior performer. That fact won't be a surprise to anyone who's read this far.
Armed with that info, we can dispense with the talk about game bundles, rebates, and pricing shenanigans that might shift the value math in favor of one camp or another. Instead, we have a crystal clear recommendation of the GeForce GTX 660 Ti over the Radeon HD 7950 for this winter's crop of blockbuster games. Perhaps AMD will smooth out some of the rough patches in later driver releases, but the games we've tested are already on the market—and Nvidia undeniably delivers the better experience in them, overall.I'm forced to be concise on Twitter.
229 comments — Last by Geonerd at 9:45 PM on 01/02/13
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