We have test data on 12 graphics cards in seven games that enable us to make recommendations about upgrading your gaming platform. We are going to use summary diagrams for the sake of readability.
The ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 stands out among single graphics cards. Well, it has one PCB but two RV770 processors, being in fact a single-PCB CrossFire subsystem. It is everywhere faster than Nvidia’s flagship GeForce GTX 280 and sometimes faster than the SLI configuration built out of two GTX 280 cards.
The display resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 pixels are the most important ones in this price category as you won’t pay $400-500 to play at low resolutions. At 1920x1200 the Radeon HD 4870 X2 wins five out of the seven tests, hitting the performance limit in Spore and losing in Dead Space only because of its dual-processor architecture. Its frame rate remained comfortable even in the latter case, the gap from the GeForce GTX 280 being only 10% then. The overall picture is the same at 2560x1600.
The choice in this category may seem obvious but you should keep it in mind that the highest performance of the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 card is accompanied with a high level of power consumption, heat dissipation and noise and the potential problems typical of homogeneous multi-GPU solutions this card belongs to. Besides, it is considerably more expensive than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 280. Notwithstanding the conservative architecture, the latter remains the fastest single-processor graphics card available today. It will make a good choice if you don’t want to play at 2560x1600 and don’t want to have the 250W heater of a dual-core Radeon inside your computer.
As for the multi-GPU solutions included into the Premium category, they do not seem worth the trouble of buying and assembling them because of the small performance benefits they provide. This is especially true for the 3-way ATI Radeon HD 4870 CrossFireX subsystem that only provides a substantial performance gain in The Witcher and Devil May Cry: 4. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 280 SLI subsystem sported good scalability in Mass Effect and Race Driver: GRID, but that’s not enough for us to recommend you to build it unless you absolutely don’t care about how much money it will cost you.