ATI HD 4870 1GB vs. NVIDIA GTX 260/216 896MB: Follow-Up

by Rob Williams on December 8, 2008 in Graphics & Displays

Two weeks ago, we published a performance comparison between NVIDIA’s GTX 260/216 and ATI’s HD 4870 1GB. What we found was that NVIDIA had the upper-hand, both in performance, and efficiency. Today, we’re re-testing ATI’s card with their new 8.12 driver, to see if it can increase performance enough to sway our decision as to which is the better card.

Page 8 – Pricing, Final Thoughts

In the last article, we took a look at current pricing, because in the end, that alone can make a world of difference. At that time, NVIDIA’s GTX 260/216 proved to be $30 less expensive on average, even before a mail-in rebate. So let’s take a look at current figures:

    ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB

  • ASUS – $264.99 ($244.99 after MIR)
  • Diamond – $274.99
  • Gigabyte – $274.99
  • HIS – $249.99 ($239.99 after MIR)
  • PowerColor – $274.99 ($254.99 after MIR)
  • Sapphire – $239.99 ($224.99 after MIR)
    NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 / 216 896MB

  • eVGA – $259.99
  • BFG Tech – $269.99 ($249.99 after MIR)
  • Galaxy – $299.99
  • Gigabyte – $274.99 ($244.99 after MIR)
  • XFX – $299.99 ($269.99 after MIR)
  • Zotac – $294.99 ($254.99 after MIR)

(Prices as of Dec 8, 2008)

Since our last look at these two cards, the landscape changed dramatically. While NVIDIA was clearly the least-expensive offering just two weeks ago, that’s no longer the case. On ATI’s side, the current median is $263.32, while NVIDIA’s is $283.32. If main-in rebates are taken into consideration, ATI’s revised median becomes $252.49, while NVIDIA’s is oddly enough identical to ATI’s without the rebates, at $263.32.

It’s rather incredible what stark changes are seen here. Despite the fact that NVIDIA’s offering was $30 less expensive on average as of two weeks ago, they’re now $20 more expensive. That’s an adjustment of $50! It’s as though the prices hiked as soon as we published just how great of a card the GTX 260/216 was. Whew, I didn’t know we had that kind of power!

Final Thoughts

When writing a head-to-head article and we see one of the models dominating the other, it’s not so difficult to come up with a conclusion. That was the case with our article two weeks ago. NVIDIA’s offering proved to be faster, more power efficient, and cheaper. It’s impossible to misinterpret that. NVIDIA clearly had the better card. It’s simply something that couldn’t be argued.

But, things have changed so much since then, that the decision of which card is better is far more difficult. Performance aside, NVIDIA’s card is still more efficient overall. It draws less power, and runs cooler. Those are two nice pluses if you are looking to be energy efficient and want your PC to run as cool as possible, while still packing the power you crave.

From the performance aspect, ATI made some nice improvements with their 8.12 driver, and they’re reflected here. Although the HD 4870 1GB didn’t manage to overtake NVIDIA in every test, they did catch up in some, and even overtook in a couple. Those couple being Crysis Warhead and Fallout 3. We also saw some great performance in non-holiday titles as well, which included S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky and Unreal Tournament III. In fact, we found that ATI performed better on all the non-holiday titles used here.

To fine-tune our results a little bit more, let’s take our highest-available resolution for each game, 2560×1600. This resolution is the most intensive available right now, and as a result, it’s a good one to see where one GPU excels over another. If we take a look at performance data at that resolution for each game (1920×1200 for Dead Space), we see that ATI performed the best in four titles (Crysis Warhead, Fallout 3, Clear Sky and UT III), while NVIDIA lead the other four (Call of Duty: WaW, Dead Space, Far Cry 2 and Left 4 Dead). From that standpoint, the cards appear to be almost identical, each having their own set of games in which they excel.

That wouldn’t have been the same case two weeks ago, since ATI’s updated driver did improve performance in certain games, especially Fallout 3 and Crysis. But thanks to the driver, and the price fluctuation, ATI’s card is now a much more attractive offering. Why NVIDIA’s card raised in price is pretty obvious. NVIDIA had many editors take a look at the performance of their card, and when it became public knowledge just how great it was, the prices were jacked, while ATI’s were lowered.

The conclusion? There is no conclusion. Given the pricing information above, I think both cards come out equal. ATI’s card costs $20 less, but isn’t quite as powerful as NVIDIA’s card in certain games (most notably, Call of Duty: World at War). On the other hand, NVIDIA’s card costs $20 more, but it runs a bit cooler, is more power efficient, and supports PhysX, which may be a big thing next year. It’s really difficult to conclude on this one, so it’s a matter of choosing what’s more important, money saved now, or the certain perks that NVIDIA’s card carries (namely PhysX). The good thing? It’s difficult to go wrong with either.

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Rob Williams

Rob founded Techgage in 2005 to be an 'Advocate of the consumer', focusing on fair reviews and keeping people apprised of news in the tech world. Catering to both enthusiasts and businesses alike; from desktop gaming to professional workstations, and all the supporting software.

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