Enthusiast Graphics Card Comparison - NVIDIA and AMD head-to-head

Manufacturer: General

A quick lineup comparison

After publishing our look at the new GeForce GTX 460 we had several requests for an article that quickly compared the relevant NVIDIA and AMD options from top to bottom for the enthusiast PC gamer. I threw together some graphs comparing the $200 cards, $300 cards and $400+ cards from both vendors and added some of our own analysis to help gauge the market as we see it today.After our stunning review of the GeForce GTX 460 this morning we have had several requests for a look at the performance comparing the enthusiast class products from NVIDIA and AMD in one spot.  I spent some time this morning gathering all the data points and wanted to present it here to get the info up while the topic was hot. 

The goal is simple: compare the most similarly priced solutions from AMD and NVIDIA head to head. 

  • GeForce GTX 480 ($449) versus Radeon HD 5870 ($399)
  • GeForce GTX 470 ($309) versus Radeon HD 5850 ($299)
  • GeForce GTX 460 ($229) versus Radeon HD 5830 ($199)

The new GeForce GTX 460 and the Radeon HD 5830, as well as the GTX 470 against the GTX 5850 create direct head-to-head comparisons with their nearly identical prices.  The battle between the GTX 480 and the HD 5870 is a little more one sided since the GTX 480 is a more significant price jump. 

Let's take a quick look at some of select benchmarks.

  • Testing Configuration
  • ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution X58 + nForce 200
  • Intel Core i7-965 @ 3.33 GHz
  • 3 x 2GB Corsair DDR3-1333 MHz
  • Intel X25-M G2 160GB SSD
  • PC Power and Cooling 1200w Turbo Cool PSU
  • NVIDIA Driver version: 258.80
  • ATI Driver version: 10.6 + CrossFire X update


These first three tests show that NVIDIA's GeForce options have a definite lead in performance over the equivalent AMD Radeon 5000-series cards.  We are more inclined to throw out the Batman results because of the AA debate in that engine, but Far Cry 2 and HAWX are major gaming titles that deserve attention. 

Resident Evil 5 and World in Conflict continue to show the performance advantages the NVIDIA cards hold over the Radeon options but also show the scaling going from the GTX 460 to GTX 470 and GTX 480. 

Our two DX11 tests continue to show that NVIDIA's GPU options offer higher performance than the Radeon cards though in DiRT 2 that difference is pretty minimal.  Particularly interesting is the performance scaling between the NVIDIA cards in the Metro 2033 test.  The move from the GTX 460 to the GTX 470 is dramatic: 73%!  Obviously the GTX 470 still has some noticeable advantages over the GTX 460 that might not be readily apparent for the $80 price increase.

While the GeForce GTX 460 showed power consumption close to that of the Radeon HD 5830 while offering better performance, the GeForce GTX 470 and 480 use a dramatic amount of additional power to get the performance results we showed you above.  While the HD 5850 is slower in our testing than the GTX 470, it does use 33% less power than the NVIDIA option and the HD 5870 uses 44% less power than the GTX 480.  These are not small gaps by any stretch and the fact that the HD 5870 uses 25% less power than the GTX 470 mainstream option indicates that point further.

That is why so many in the media were high on the GTX 460 - it has performance levels that really match the power requirements it has over the HD 5830.  NVIDIA's other options might be great performers but they are power hogs and along with that comes heat and fan noise.  Many gamers don't care about those aspects of their graphics card purchases though, and I completely see the validity in that stance, but quite a few others DO and when all the details are added up it might be a tougher call than the benchmarks at first indicate.

Closing Thoughts

There had been a prevailing thought that with the GTX 460 coming in at the sweet spot price for PC gamers on a budget and the GTX 480 being the "king" of the single GPU graphics cards, the GeForce GTX 470 would be lost in the shuffle.  Based on our performance testing in the graphs above that isn't the case - the added performance you can get for the $80-100 price jump is noticeable, especially in a game like Metro 2033 that is using every available resource to render.  In most cases the gap between the GTX 460 and GTX 470 is smaller than that between the GTX 470 and GTX 480, but based on pricing that makes sense as well.  The GTX 470 has the concerns of power consumption and heat that the GTX 460 does not have; another point to debate.  But overall the GTX 470 has a definitive place in the NVIDIA lineup of GPUs. 

Coming up later this week we are going to be looking at the GTX 460 in SLI configurations and how they compares to a single GTX 480 - considering the near price parity there it should be interesting to see what comes of that.  And what about NVIDIA Surround or even 3D Vision?  Can these cards be powerful enough for a good user experience in those titles?

  • GeForce GTX 480 ($449) versus Radeon HD 5870 ($399)
  • GeForce GTX 470 ($309) versus Radeon HD 5850 ($299)
  • GeForce GTX 460 ($229) versus Radeon HD 5830 ($199)

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