Articles: Graphics

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‘Well, in OUR country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you'd generally get to somewhere else -- if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing.’
‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

“Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll


Resting on the laurels is undoubtedly very pleasant but also very dangerous occupation. And it is twice as dangerous in the information technology field, including the gaming 3D graphics market. Just recall the confrontation between ATI Radeon 9700/9800/X800/X850 and Nvidia GeForce FX, when the former was at the peak of success for a long time and the latter couldn’t produce an adequate response without efficient graphics architecture available. Everything changed in a wink when Nvidia launched the world’s first GPU with Shader Model 3.0 support - NV40 (GeForce 6800), and then G70 (GeForce 7800). ATI solutions that looked so winning against the background of GeForce FX lost their appeal and the company had to catch up. Their first attempt, R520 (Radeon X1800) turned out not very successful. Only the second try, R580 (Radeon X1900/1950) became a worthy rival to the leader. However, Nvidia didn’t keep its hands in pockets either and soon responded with their new GeForce 7900 family.

After the launch of Nvidia G80 (GeForce 8800), ATI was behind the leader for quite some time. The announcement of R600 (Radeon HD 2900) turned out not very successful. As for its successor, RV670 (Radeon HD 3800), it was technologically more advanced, but still not fast enough to compete against high-speed Nvidia solutions. All it could do was help ATI stay afloat in those difficult days.

ATI’s eternal rival kept reaping the fruits of their labor, however, it was way too early to celebrate the final victory yet. And that was the exact same mistake ATI had made before. No wonder that June 25 2008 was a total shock for Nvidia. On that day ATI announced their new RV770 core that not only set new performance and price standards, but also overthrew the former leader to the outsider camp. At that time ATI had already long been graphics division of Advanced Micro Devices and their financial situation improved dramatically. Nvidia, on the contrary, started losing its territory making one mistake after another. Remember, for instance, how much they bet on a super-complex and extremely expensive G200 core.

However, by 2009 Nvidia already managed to fix most if their mistakes having launched a 55nm G200, and starting to offer simpler and cheaper graphics card modifications based on it. They even won back the title of the fastest graphics accelerator designer when they responded to the Radeon HD 4870 X2 challenge with their own high-end dual-GPU solution. Luckily, ATI was smarter this time: since they had excellent architecture that proved its technological advancement and marketing efficiency at their disposal, they decided to prevent any possible power seizure on Nvidia’s part by launching an enhanced version of their RV770 that could work at even higher frequencies. 

This is pretty logical strategy keeping in mind that the gap between Radeon HD 4870 1GB and Radeon HD 4870 X2 has set in as pretty significant by now, because Radeon HD 4850 X2 that was intended to fill it in, hasn’t become popular among the graphics card makers. This gap was immediately taken over by Nvidia with their extremely successful GeForce GTX 285. Luckily for ATI, GTX 285’s retail price still remains pretty high, despite all Nvidia’s price cuts: they are way beyond $300, which works like a psychological threshold for many gamers.

In other words, there is real demand for a powerful graphics adapter priced below $300, even though it is still not as big as the demand for sub-$200 graphics solutions. Therefore, the launch of Radeon HD 4890 is a very timely and logical event that should prevent a dangerous counterattack on Nvidia’s part and help ATI keep the regained performance-mainstream gaming market territory. This new defensive weapon is based on the new RV790 graphics processor, which was officially launched on April 2nd. Our today’s review is going to talk about this new GPU and graphics cards based on it.

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