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So we have just tested two off-the-shelf graphics cards based on the top-end graphics processors from ATI and NVIDIA. What do they offer the user?

EVGA e-GeForce FX 5950 Ultra boasts the VIVO function and a nice set of accessories. The card follows the reference design, without any new-fangled LEDs, shiny fans or thermal pipes, but leaves an impression of a highly reliable product. The cooling solution used on the card occupies the PCI slot next to the AGP, but this is its only disadvantage. In spite of my apprehensions, it produced very little noise.

As for the performance level, EVGA e-GeForce FX 5950 Ultra is a good rival to ATI RADEON 9800 XT in modern games. However, as soon as there are more games using DirectX 9 pixel shaders, the EVGA card as well as any other GeForce FX 5950 Ultra-based card, may find itself lagging behind RADEON 9800 XT.

NVIDIA seems to have squeezed the GeForce FX to the last drop releasing its GeForce FX 5950 Ultra. Overclockers have little to do here. As out tests show, extreme overclocking of this GPU provides a maximum performance gain of 20%. Yes, that’s a nice extra, but I don’t think it is worth the trouble of taking the soldering iron into your hands and losing the warranty.

I think NVIDIA will try to minimize the risk of GeForce FX 5950 Ultra falling far behind RADEON 9800 XT in the upcoming games that use DirectX 9 pixel shaders. They will cooperate with the developers or optimize their drivers for some specific games. This would bring a better effect than extreme overclocking. These application-specific “optimizations” are a controversial topic, you may have your opinion about them. Anyway, I am sure that NVIDIA will do its utmost to avoid any performance failures with the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra.

As for games we will play in a more distant future, there will be other graphics processors (based on NV40 and R420), while GeForce FX 5950 Ultra and RADEON 9800 XT will both become obsolete by then.

PowerColor RADEON 9800 XT graphics card left an agreeable impression, too. Like the EVGA card, it closely follows the reference design from ATI. It features a “flat” cooling system built of copper and using thermal pipes that occupies only the AGP slot. It is typical that this card is also quite noiseless. It looks like the manufacturers got to improving the acoustical characteristics of their graphics cards: even the most powerful products are not heard against the other sounds from the system case nowadays.

PowerColor RADEON 9800 XT performs at a level with the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra in gaming tests, but is better in games that use “hard” pixel shaders. The advantages of the VPU architecture show their best in such tests. That’s why I don’t worry about the future of RADEON 9800 XT. Until next-generation graphics processors come into mass production, RADEON 9800 XT will remain an indisputable leader of gaming 3D graphics.

So, the answer to the traditional question “What should I buy?” lies in the irrational sphere – depending on your loyalty to one of the two brands. The price factor and availability may become the most important factors, too, considering that NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra and RADEON 9800 XT provide the same level of performance.

Watch the prices and stay tuned!

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