The Premium class includes not only single graphics cards but also multi-GPU tandems, so we should discuss the results of these two groups separately.
It’s clear that the Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire is the best in 1280x1024 resolution except for Hitman: Blood Money and Tomb Raider: Legend. ATI’s technology for combining the power of two graphics processors doesn’t work in these two games and even leads to a performance reduction to below the level of the single Radeon X1900 XTX in the latter case. That’s not a big issue, though. CrossFire technology is younger than its opponent SLI and hasn’t yet acquired support for as many games. And Nvidia’s SLI tandems aren’t spotless, either. Just take a look at the graph next to Prey and Titan Quest where the GeForce 7900 GTX SLI and the GeForce 7950 GX2 are slower than the ordinary GeForce 7900 GTX. This is why it’s hard to tell definitely which multi-GPU configuration is a better buy. Choose according to your personal preferences. But we want to remind you that the Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire consumes more power and produces more noise than a pair of GeForce 7900 GTX cards working in SLI mode.
The Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 finds itself in an intermediary position. It is an ordinary SLI tandem architecturally, but a single graphics card technically, even though with two PCBs and with compatibility limitations. On one hand, it is fast enough to be considered the best single-card solution in the Premium class today, but on the other hand, it is still far below the level of the GeForce 7900 GTX SLI and Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire. You should be aware that the GeForce 7950 GX2 is not free from all the disadvantages of SLI technology. Particularly, it doesn’t provide any performance gain in Prey and Titan Quest just like the GeForce 7900 GTX SLI.
In the competition of the two fastest single-chip graphics cards the GeForce 7900 GTX is a little faster than the ATI Radeon X1900 XTX in nearly all of the games included into this review, except for Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends.
Switching to 1600x1200 resolution solves the problem with the SLI systems in Titan Quest and they are not slower than the single GeForce 7900 GTX anymore. The overall picture remains the same, though. The Radeon X1900 XTX is still behind the GeForce 7900 GTX despite the more efficient memory controller. ATI Technologies had expected a rise in math1ematical complexity of pixel shaders and designed its GPUs by the formula “3 pixel processors per 1 TMU”, but this doesn’t work yet in current games, at least when it comes to average performance. In certain cases, particularly in TES IV: Oblivion, the 48 pixel processors help improve the minimum speed considerably.
Prey doesn’t support non-standard display resolutions, so it is not on the list now. The GeForce 7900 GTX SLI is still the fastest multi-GPU tandem. The most advanced single-chip cards from ATI and Nvidia are equals now: the Radeon X1900 XTX doesn’t overtake the GeForce 7900 GTX, but is as close as possible to it.
So, it’s hard to give any definite recommendations about the Premium class, especially when it comes to multi-GPU platforms. However, Nvidia’s SLI still looks more mature than ATI’s CrossFire. The GeForce 7950 GX2 stands out among single-card solutions with its superb performance, but it is a dual-GPU card, so it’s not quite correct to compare it directly with single-GPU products. Moreover, the GeForce 7950 GX2 has all the deficiencies of SLI technology, particularly the lack of any performance growth or even a reduction of speed in games that are not supported in Nvidia’s ForceWare driver.
As for single-chip single-card solutions, the GeForce 7900 GTX is in the lead but not by much. The 24 TMUs help this card feel confident in high resolutions with enabled FSAA. This is also the case when the game contains a lot of pixel shaders with multiple texture lookups or just a lot of high-resolution textures. On the other hand, the Radeon X1900 XTX, though having a somewhat lower average performance in comparison with the GeForce 7900 GTX, often surpasses the latter in minimum speed thanks to its ability to process more pixel shaders simultaneously. Thus, it provides a bigger speed reserve in games that make wide use of visual effects created by means of math1ematics-heavy shaders. So, your choice will probably depend on what particular games you are going to play.