Monday, December 12, 2005

ATI, NVIDIA, and the High End

I rode Nvidia's ass pretty hard for at least six months. They were blatantly cheating on benchmarks, their signature card sounded like a vacuum cleaner, and it even required a separate power connector. ATI's top end was faster, had better image quality, was much quieter, and consumed far less power.

I also wrote about ATI's upcoming Crossfire solution as being more effective than Nvidia's SLI because there was a default rendering method for games without specific profiles, unlike SLI, where there was no default.

Man, things can change in six months.

Nvidia released the 7800 GTX, which is an outstanding card. Tremendously fast, much quieter, and a terrific card overall.

ATI released nothing.

There was an engineering issue with their next generation design that took almost five months to find and fix. When they finally did release their new generation of cards (just a couple of months ago), no one cared. The X1800 XT produced absolutely zero buzz. It consumes a huge amount of power, requires a separate power connector, and it's loud. And while it's very competitive with the 7800 GTX, Nvidia released the 7800 GTX 512, which is faster in almost every benchmark.

Even worse for ATI, even though Crossfire is now available, the default super tiling rendering method (in lieu of a game-specific profile in the drivers) produces significantly poorer performance for a dual-card setup than for a single card. Ouch. And ouch again.

Right now, at least, Nvidia owns the high end.

I would have normally written about this months ago, but both of these companies have made a serious strategic error by no longer supporting AGP with their high-end cards. All these super-fast, expensive cards are lots of fun to read about, but 75% of the market is still AGP, and none of those people can buy these new cards, because they're PCI-E only. Even if the AGP version was slower, they'd still clean up by offering one.

Since I can't upgrade without building a new system, my interest in the new technology has really gone down. But I'll give Nvidia credit for improving their product and regaining the technology lead. And if I build a new system for my birthday in April, which is a possibility, I may go with SLI instead of Crossfire, even though I've used ATI cards exclusively for over two years now.

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