Since the release of the Radeon HD 48xx series of graphics cards based on AMD/ATI’s Radeon processor, competition between the GPU developers has become tougher in every market sector. It would be even more correct to say that Nvidia, after having ruled unchallenged in nearly every price category for a while, has now got problems fighting for customers. According to an analytical report from Jon Peddie Research, AMD won 5% of the graphics card market from Nvidia in Q3. The company owes this success to the triumphant introduction of the Radeon HD 48xx series in the first place. Now AMD has 40% of the market while Nvidia keeps 60%, but the red team is going to push its advances further.
Spurred by the financial crisis and lowering demand, Nvidia has prepared itself to a radical cut in the pricing of its GeForce 9800 GT and 9600 GT series as well as of the GeForce GTX 2x0. The former cards do not provide a comfortable frame rate at high-quality settings and high resolutions in modern games but can suit a low-end computer. As opposed to them, the GeForce GTX 280 and 260 are the best option for overclockers among Nvidia’s cards. This option will become even more appealing after the expected price cut. The GTX 280 may get as cheap as $375 and the GTX 260 may drop to $235 in price, according some sources. We just have to wait and see.
Nvidia doesn’t limit itself to price cuts only, though. The GeForce GTX 260 has a dangerous opponent, the Radeon HD 4870, which is generally somewhat faster at high-quality display modes and is cheaper in retail (although the recommended prices of both cards are identical at $299 at the time of my writing this). Therefore, besides the prospective price reduction, Nvidia has released a reinforced version of GeForce GTX 260 that features not 192 but 216 unified shader processors. This is only 24 processors less than in the top-end GeForce GTX 280. There are also rumors on the Web about new drivers from Nvidia that are going to be released soon to push the performance of these cards up to a new level.
And what about AMD/ATI? Judging by what information you can get from the available sources, the company is not much concerned about Nvidia’s planned attack. The RV790 processor is looming in the horizon but we can’t be sure we’ll see RV790-based cards by the end of this year. Well, why should AMD/ATI worry at all? The Radeon HD 4670, 4830, 4850 and 4870 models are actually faster (or at least no slower) than their opponents and cover the entire price range from $80 to $300. And surely AMD has some reserves to lower the recommended prices when necessary.
As opposed to Nvidia’s G200 processor, the RV770 chip, the heart of Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 cards, always came with all of its shader processors active and available. The graphics card models were differentiated by frequencies and memory type. The amount of graphics memory is 512 megabytes on every reference card whereas the GeForce GTX 260, the market opponent to the Radeon HD 4870, has 896 megabytes. Many graphics card vendors corrected this deficiency with their own hands by installing 1024MB of memory on their versions of Radeon HD 4870. One such card from Palit is going to be tested in this review in comparison with the new GeForce GTX 260 card (with 216 stream processors) from Leadtek.