Video Card Roundup - September 2008

hardnrg - 2008-09-16 21:43:53 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: hardnrg   
Reviewed on: September 22, 2008

Introduction:

If you have been gaming on a PC for quite some time, you've probably realized by now that the single most important component of your computer, for gaming performance, is the graphics card. It is said in the computer games industry that audio accounts for roughly 10% of the gaming experience, and the about 90% is visual. Obviously, good gameplay makes it a good experience, but here we are talking about the instantaneous experience, what you see and hear.

Console game development works within extremely confined limits, and tries to make the most of the graphics hardware.   PC game development, however, is often designed to scale the 3D engine so that the game performs at a playable level on mainstream cards, brings flagship cards to their knees, and possibly even allows the game to be played on entry level cards.

So, which card is right for you? Do you have a unquenchable hunger for the highest performance? Would you rather find the best value card? Or, would you like to get find a middle ground between maximum performance and bang-for-buck?

 

The Contenders:

Granted, the CPU, RAM and motherboard configurations were not always the same, but all configurations were fairly even matched   All the graphics cards will be compared against each other in one large group.

Asus EN8800GT TOP
     
Asus EN9800 GTX
     
EVGA GTX 260 FTW
     
Foxconn 9800GTX
     
Gigabyte 9800GT
     
Gigabyte NX88T512HP v1.0 (8800GT)
     
Gigabyte GV-R485-512H-B (HD4850)
     
MSI R4850 (HD4850)
     
Palit 9800GX2
     
Palit GTX260
     
Palit GTX280
     
Palit HD4850
     
PowerColor HD4850
     
PowerColor HD4870
     
PowerColor HD4870 PCS+
     
Sapphire HD4850
     
Sapphire Toxic HD4850
     
Sapphire HD4870
     
Sapphire HD4870 X2
     
Visiontek HD4870
     
XFX 9800GTX
     
XFX 9800GX2
     
XFX GTX280
     
ZOGIS 9800GTX
     

 

 

Specifications & Features:

The details on the technical specifications and features of each graphics card can be viewed on the respective pages of their reviews.

Methodology:

In the last graphics card roundup, only the top four cards were shown in the graphs for each comparable benchmark, in terms of performance and performance per dollar.

This time, I'm going to do it differently, and show all the cards in the graphs in ascending price order so that similarly priced cards will be next to each other.

Another change in this roundup is that, instead of showing the eight comparable benchmarks, I will be presenting the ratings for each category as an index value calculated from all the benchmarks at 1680x1050 and 1920x1200 resolutions. This is to reflect the overall performance in all 3D games and summarise all the data to make it easier to compare the cards.

The categories used in this roundup are as follows:

I've added the third category because I want to see if some of the high performance cards are also good value, and vice versa. If a card is really cheap and ends up being the best value, but is the worst performer, is it really good value or is it more bottom of the barrel? That's what I'd like to show in the final category.

 

Price:

The performance figures are taken from each product review, but in order to compare the value of the cards I need to look at the current retail price of each card.

Rather than use any particular retailer, I chose to use Google Product Search, Froogle, to find the 5 lowest prices and then took the average of those values.   So if any one retailer has a random mega-sale or whatever right now, the averaging will be a fairer representation of the price as compared to simply taking the lowest price.

Here are the current prices, in ascending order:

 

Graphics card Price $USD
Gigabyte NX88T512HP v1.0 (8800GT) 136
Gigabyte 9800GT 144
Sapphire HD4850 171
Asus EN8800GT TOP 172
Palit HD4850 176
PowerColor HD4850 177
Gigabyte GV-R485-512H-B (HD4850) 188
MSI R4850 (HD4850) 199
XFX 9800GTX 206
Sapphire Toxic HD4850 211
Foxconn 9800GTX 223
Sapphire HD4870 265
ZOGIS 9800GTX 266
Visiontek HD4870 272
PowerColor HD4870 276
Palit 9800GX2 287
PowerColor HD4870 PCS+ 290
Palit GTX260 298
XFX 9800GX2 318
EVGA GTX260 FTW 330
Asus EN9800GTX 357
Palit GTX280 431
XFX GTX280 443
Sapphire HD4870 X2 533

 

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Head-to-head:

In this comparison category, the framerates from all the benchmarks were normalised against the highest scoring card and multiplied by 100, to give an index score on a 100 scale. The individual index scores from each benchmark at 1680x1050 and 1920x1200 resolutions were then averaged to give an overall performance index score across all benchmarks.

The benchmarks that were measured in each review are as follows:

 

 

Performance - Stock speeds

 

 

Performance - Overclocked speeds

 

 

It's comes as no surprise that the latest dual GPU cards, the Palit 9800GX2, and Sapphire 4870X2 score the highest. At the same time, it's interesting to see how close the single GTX260 and GTX280 cards compare in terms of performance, despite them being priced lower than the performance leader, the Sapphire 4870X2. The most surprising result of this comparison, to me, is how the 9800GX2 is neck-and-neck with the 4870X2, especially when overclocked, even though it costs considerably less.

There is a loose rule-of-thumb that the higher priced cards are the best performers. Remember that the cards are ordered in the graphs by ascending price. As the prices increase, the performance doesn't necessarily increase proportionately as sometimes you get less performance! So let's take a look now at the performance when taking the cost of the card into consideration.

 

Head-to-head:

In this comparison category, the previously overall index scores were divided by the price of the card, to give a new index score based on the performance per dollar.

Naturally, the same benchmarks compared in the last category are used to calculate the value index:

 

 

Value - Stock speeds

 

 

Value - Overclocked speeds

 

 

It's quite clear that the price drops of the 8800GT and 9800GT cards, as well as the competitive prices of the HD4850 cards, make these cards the best value for money. You are getting a lot of 3D performance for your money, and if you're on a tight budget, you can make a smart decision on your choice of graphics card.

As the prices increase, the value starts to drop off quite a lot. So, this is the big revelation? The more expensive cards are a rip-off?

If you recall how the performance basically increased as the price went up, wouldn't it be nice to see a rating of the card's performance and value? That's what I'd like to see.

 

Head-to-head:

So, this is the category in this graphics card roundup that wasn't in the last one. Hopefully here we can see which cards are good value for the money, and great performers, too.

It's all well and good having really good value for money, but are you actually buying a really cheap card just to end up with a card that needs to be upgraded within a few months, as it won't be able to keep up with the new games coming out? Wouldn't you rather buy a card that was a bit more capable, but not a rip-off? Do you want to have your cake and eat it?! I don't know about you, but I like to eat my cake.

The performance and value indexes for each card were averaged, again for the same benchmarks:

 

 

Best of Both - Stock speeds

 

 

Best of Both - Overclocked speeds

 

 

So, things change once again when we look at performance and value at the same time. At stock speeds, the Palit 9800GX2 is the clear winner, with all the HD4850-based cards nipping at its heels.

Cranking up the clocks we see the Sapphire HD4850 taking the lead, with the Palit 9800GX2 falling to 2nd place, again followed by the HD4850 cards.

 

Conclusion:

For the currently available decent cards, 8800GT and upwards from nVidia, and HD4850 and up from ATi, I really enjoyed seeing a side-by-side comparison of all the cards reviewed at OCC. Seeing the Performance and Value categories is something I am used to, but the "Best of Both" category really showed me where my money would be right now.

And the winners are...

 

Roundup winner:

Palit 9800GX2
"What's this?" I hear you say. Previous generation technology winning the roundup? Yes! Possibly because SLI is better supported in games as compared to Crossfire, or possibly because ATi never get it's drivers optimised for months. Whichever way you look at it, this card gives you massive performance in all games, neck and neck with the 4870X2, but at a fraction of the price. If you buy this card, you are getting flagship performance at a sensible price.

 

 

 

Roundup runner-up:

Sapphire HD4850
But, one person's sensible is another's ridiculous. Even if you can afford the higher performing cards, you might not want or need cutting-edge 3D performance. The thing is though, all the HD4850 cards are surprisingly capable in the newest games, but Sapphire's card proved its superiority in this roundup, even surpassing Sapphire's own Toxic version when overclocked! All whilst being right at the highest value point.

 

While some of the cards tested here include a few varied systems the bulk of the cards compared are run with our standard test rig. While of course there are driver improvements over time as each technology becomes more mature that allow the mature hardware to increase in performance slightly. The main focus on this roundup is the performance value of each product based on current cost and performance. As you follow the reviews we have upgraded our drivers and continue to show the improvement that these drivers allow. When this happens the hardware used in a comparison is again retested to gauge the performance with the latest driver set. Our latest reviews reflect the current scoring and may not be indicative of earlier testing with a less mature or first release driver.