To see if I could see any differences in IQ during gameplay I fired up the NVIDIA and ATI systems side by side. For NVIDIA I enabled 16x SLI FSAA with 16x AF and at both Quality and High Quality levels â€“ the latter of which disables all the optimisations. For ATI I used 14x AA and 16x AF, with Adaptive AA enabled.
I couldnâ€™t in all honest spot any differences in the filtering, though a more in depth test might have. There was a clear difference with FSAA and ATI did seem to have the edge but to be honest it was very difficult to call. In Call of Duty 2 at 1,600 x 1,200 having everything shoved up to maximum killed performance but the older Counter-Strike was far more accommodating. Overall ATI edges it but Iâ€™d be happy with either and as image quality in games is so close I wouldnâ€™t suggest using it to make a purchase.
In my opinion, when cards are this closely matched, the things that make a difference is how easy the cards are to live with. In this regards NVIDIA has two things going for it. Firstly, its driver control panel is a lot more user friendly. ATIâ€™s Catalyst control centre is improving, but itâ€™s still far too slow to launch and too clunky and busy in its layout. NVIDIAâ€™s is better.
Secondly thereâ€™s the noise pollution issue. In my opinion graphics cards are should behave as the Victorians said children should be â€“ that is seen and not heard. And while NVIDIAâ€™s cards are mature and well-mannered â€“ ATIâ€™s are boisterous and unruly and if they were in my system Iâ€™d be pushing for expulsion.
Letâ€™s hope ATIâ€™s board partners sort this noise out as it detracts from ATIâ€™s otherwise accomplished and very powerful cards.
The final factor though is price. In response to NVIDIAâ€™s launch ATI has lowered its prices and you could pick up a reference clocked Connect 3D X1900 XTX for Â£346, while the cheapest 7900 GTX we found was Â£381 from XFX.This makes ATI currently faster, more fully featured and cheaper.
Overall though, NVIDIA has done what it set out to do and produced a successor to 7800 GTX that's faster, more efficent and reasonably affordable.
ATI therefore retains its king-of the-hill status but if youâ€™re upgrading youâ€™re motherboard and are thinking of going dual GPU then really both ATI and NVIDIA are worthy of consideration. ATI has a performance and feature edge, though NVIDIA can claim wider support and more mature drivers, which are easier to live with. If youâ€™ve got an SLI motherboard and donâ€™t feel like buying a new one the thereâ€™s no reason not to say with NVIDIA. However, the performance of the 7900 GTX is such that Iâ€™d say that itâ€™s only really worth upgrading from a 7800 GT and only then for the enthusiast with cash to flash. With 7800 GTX and above, the increase isnâ€™t worth it.
Stay tuned for follow ups on 7900 GT and 7600 GT and retail board reviews.