Video Wars: AMD-ATI RV770 vs. Nvidia GT200
The video card world is one of the most extreme manifestations of what is already the Bizarro alternate dimension of high technology. Most industries are happy to settle with a three, four or even longer product cycle to allow enough market penetration to be able to amortize the research and development that went into the unit. This product cycle is sometimes longer... Honda is still marketing a 125 single and 250 twin motorcycle engine designed in the early 1960s and many current model Buick owners are not aware that their 3800 V6 engine was designed and launched in 1961. Yet in the high tech world, product cycles rarely if ever reach the one year mark and are sometimes measured in weeks. This blinding pace of model introductions which trump and effectively invalidate most of their current product lineup was recently taken to new heights by Nvidia and AMD-ATI.
Nvidia recently introduced their GT200 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), which was incorporated in their series of high end video cards, the GeForce GTX 280 and GeForce GTX 260. When Nvidia says high end they really mean high high high end, as the GTX 280 sells for almost $700 and can be set up in a dual or triple card configuration to suit those game players who simply have to run Crysis at 87.6 zillion frames per second and won't let a paltry $2,000 video card budget get in the way.
Within a matter of a couple of weeks, AMD-ATI (whose main raison d'etre lately has been to entertain industry watchers about what lame crippled junk they could try to foist on the market), absolutely rushed to market the RV770 GPU which although not designed to go toe to toe with Nvdia's much more powerful and pricey GT200 series, came in at an extremely attractive price point. The Radeon HD 4870 and its little brother the Radeon HD 4850 were not overly remarkable from a sheer standard setting performance standpoint, but were priced well below comparable cards in the Nvidia product line.
Nvidia didn't take this sudden launch from its "going down for the third time" competitor lightly and absolutely hurled into the marketplace the 9800 GTX+, which is a 55nm die shrunk and higher clocked 9800 GTX, while chopping its prices down so hard that anyone who had just purchased a 9800 GTX will want to sue.
The Radeon HD 4870 and 4850's main feature set includes 800 stream processors, 40 texture units and 16 ROPs, with a 956,000 transistor count. The only real difference between the 4870 and the 4850 is that the core clock is slowed down to 625 MHz in the latter and that the big brother features 3600 MHz data rate GDDR5 memory as compared to the lil' guy's 1986 MHz data rate GDDR3. This setup allows for memory bandwidth of 115.2 GB/sec in the senior 4870. Compare these specs to AMD-ATI's previous high end card the Radeon HD 3870 which had a measly 320 stream processors and 16 texture units on a bandwidth of 72 GB/sec even when it was running at least at 775 MHz, and its quite evident that the 48xx series represents a massive leap forward in performance.
Nvidia maintains the performance crown however. This new GT200 architecture allows for a memory bandwidth of 111.9 GB/sec in the junior GTX 260 and a staggering and breathtaking 141.7 GB/sec in the gargantuan GTX 280! Yikes! Combine this with the 448 bit memory bus width in the GTX 260 and the 512 bit memory bus in the GTX 280, they leave the 256 bit memory bus width cards such as Nvidia's 9800 GTX and 9800 GTX+ as well as all the ATI Radeons in their dust.
AMD-ATI has decided that since it simply can't compete in the technological sweepstakes any longer, it will try to take down arch-enemy Nvidia on price point. Net street prices of $169 have already been spotted on the Radeon HD 4850 and it's likely to be seen south of $150 soon. As much as I can rail against the prospect of anyone buying a product from a company that is in such horrible financial and executive shape as AMD-ATI, even I have to begrudgingly admit that it represents the best bang for the video buck on the market today!