The fight is over and the heavyweights are leaving the ring. Who is the winner then? Strictly speaking, the Radeon HD 4890 CrossFireX and GeForce GTX 285 SLI belong to somewhat different weights because the latter is considerably more expensive. However, they did fight and we should examine the results in more detail to see if this comparison makes sense.
The relatively inexpensive configuration based on the new RV790 processors from ATI takes a good start, being a mere 3% slower than the more expensive opponent on average. Moreover, this configuration is either faster or comparable to the GeForce GTX 285 SLI! It is far slower in three games only: Far Cry 2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky and World in Conflict: Soviet Assault. The advantage of the Radeon HD 4890 CrossFire over the GeForce GTX 285 SLI is higher than 20% in such games as F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.
We also found out that the dual-processor RV790-based configuration is no worse or even better than the triple-RV770 one, being only 1% slower on average. The exceptions are Prince of Persia and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. but the Radeon HD 4870 3-way CrossFireX does not have any practical advantage at 1280x1024 anyway.
At the resolution of 1680x1050, which seems to be the most popular among modern gamers on the PC platform, the advantage of the GeForce GTX 285 SLI tandem over the Radeon HD 4890 CrossFireX is even lower at an average 2%. The biggest gap is in Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., but the next update of the GeForce driver is going to solve this problem. The situation is overall more equal in comparison with the resolution of 1280x1024.
Comparing the Radeon HD 4890 CrossFireX and the Radeon HD 4870 3-way CrossFireX, the latter is still ahead in Prince of Persia and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. but the performnance growth is not worth the money and trouble associated with the high noise, heat dissipation and power consumption of such a subsystem.
Notwithstanding the different price categories, the fighters equal each other at 1920x1200: the GeForce GTX 285 SLI has an average advantage of less than 1%. It is 32% ahead of the Radeon HD 4890 CrossFireX in Mass Effect but 37% behind it in Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. In most other tests the difference is no bigger than 2-4% to either side, excepting Call of Duty: World at War, Far Cry 2 and World in Conflict: Soviet Assault. Thus, both platforms are suitable for the resolution of 1920x1200, and you should just take into account what games you are going to play. Alas, we can’t test them subsystems in all the games available on the market.
At the highest resolution there is no gap between the two multi-GPU solutions at all. Nvidia wins 8 and loses 7 tests but has a serious advantage in Far Cry 2 only (17%). There is also only one serious defeat – by 20% in Crysis Warhead. That’s rather funny considering the kinship of the two games.
People who love flight simulators can find a good use for a Radeon HD 4870 3-way CrossFireX subsystem together with a 30-inch monitor since it delivers comfortable performance in Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. even at 2560x1600 at the highest graphics quality settings plus full-screen antialiasing. Or perhaps you should wait for a Radeon HD 4890 X2?
Anyway, the Radeon HD 4890 CrossFire has proved to be a worthy opponent to the GeForce GTX 285 SLI configuration. The latter is generally faster at low resolutions, but ATI’s configuration secures a draw at 1920x1200 and higher resolutions. Therefore, we can expect it to be faster than the GeForce GTX 285 SLI tandem from the same price category. We will check this out practically in an upcoming review.
As for practical recommendations for gamers, it would not be wise for us to make them basing on our list of 15 games only, especially as you should take into account the display resolution you are going to play at. Still, we can note that if you want maximum performance in Crysis Warhead or Far Cry 2, you should consider building a GeForce GTX 285 SLI, but a Radeon HD 4890 CrossFireX configuration would be better for F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin or Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.