Image Quality and Verdict

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 – the latter of which disables all the optimisations. For ATI I used 14x AA and 16x AF, with Adaptive AA enabled.

I couldn’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 I’d be happy with either and as image quality in games is so close I wouldn’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. ATI’s Catalyst control centre is improving, but it’s still far too slow to launch and too clunky and busy in its layout. NVIDIA’s is better.

Secondly there’s the noise pollution issue. In my opinion graphics cards are should behave as the Victorians said children should be – that is seen and not heard. And while NVIDIA’s cards are mature and well-mannered – ATI’s are boisterous and unruly and if they were in my system I’d be pushing for expulsion.

Let’s hope ATI’s board partners sort this noise out as it detracts from ATI’s otherwise accomplished and very powerful cards.

The final factor though is price. In response to NVIDIA’s launch ATI has lowered its prices and you could pick up a reference clocked Connect 3D X1900 XTX for £346, while the cheapest 7900 GTX we found was £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 you’re upgrading you’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 you’ve got an SLI motherboard and don’t feel like buying a new one the there’s no reason not to say with NVIDIA. However, the performance of the 7900 GTX is such that I’d say that it’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 isn’t worth it.

Stay tuned for follow ups on 7900 GT and 7600 GT and retail board reviews.

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