Well, hopefully you’ve had a good look at our performance numbers over the last few pages, and are probably as surprised as we were with how little the GTX 480 offers in extra performance over the HD 5870 in many of the benchmarks we’ve performed. While there are a few games in which the GTX 480 was faster, there are many resolutions in our test games where the HD 5870 comes out on top. Clearly, the GTX 480 is not the world's fastest single-GPU card.
First, the good news: Colin McRae: Dirt 2 is a game where the GTX 480 convincingly beats its competition. At 1,680 x 1,050 with 0x AA its minimums are 30 per cent higher than the HD 5870 - but given the cost of this card, and the fact it's a top-end design, we're more interested in how it performs at higher resolutions, and at 1,920 and 2,560 its advantage in terms of minimum frame rates is around 20 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.
These results are despite our use of the Catalyst 10.3 drivers, which bring a serious performance improvement in Dirt 2 for all the HD 5xxx cards. One caveat however: the ATI card can still comfortably power the game along even at the highest settings - if you've got a HD 5870, you're not going to find the game is running slowly, and so in that respect, the extra power the GTX 480 offers isn't useful.
Switch to STALKER: Call of Pripyat and the scores for Nvidia are as bleak as the game's post-apocalyptic levels. While STALKER games have tended to favour ATI hardware in the past the gap in performance between GTX 480 and HD 5870 is significant, with the HD 5870 at least ten percent faster than the GTX 480 at every resolution. The HD 5850- a card which is about half the price of the GTX 480 - isn't too far behind the GTX 480 either. This is despite Call of Pripyat making extensive use of DirectX 11 features such as tessellation which the GTX 480 is supposedly designed for. While we have admittedly not tested with 4x or 8x anti-aliasing due to STALKER’s very high performance requirements, it’s disappointing to see the GTX 480 come up so short.
Performance in Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising is mixed. At 1,680 x 1,050 the GTX 480 delivers a lowly 30fps minimum, the lowest of all the cards on test (presumably due to unoptimised drivers and a primarily CPU based test), as the resolution and anti-aliasing rises performance improves. At 1,920 x 1,200 with 4x AA the GTX 480 stretches its minimum frame rate lead over the HD 5870 to an impressive thirty-eight per cent, but is still outperformed by the year old dual GPU GTX 295 by a small margin. This is by far the largest gain over the HD 5870 however and at the most demanding 2,560 x 1,600 settings, the GTX 480’s minimum is 21fps (20fps with 4x AA), compared to 21fps (12fps with AA) for the HD 5870. Without AA, the cards are equal, although with AA, the GTX 480 wrangles a small advantage.
Crysis is still the daddy when it comes to benchmarking graphics cards and while Nvidia’s current set of drivers delivered some eratic results for the older GT200 based cards at some resolutions, the gap between the GTX 480 and Radeon HD 5870 is fairly small across almost every resolution and anti-aliasing level. Where the GTX 480 is able to put some distance between itself and its ATI rival is when you're piling on 4x AA at 1,680 x 1,050, and even then the gap is 4fps, which is 21 per cent. Curiously, the HD 5870 marginally outpaces the GTX 480 at 8xAA in terms of the average frame rate and lags by less than five per cent in terms of the minimum.
Bad Company 2 is rapidly becoming a favourite here in the office and thanks to being incredibly demanding is sure to attract attention by those considering a graphics upgrade. Good news for the GTX 480 then, which offers conclusively superior performance to the HD 5870 when anti-aliasing is enabled and which marginally leads with 0xAA too. At 4x AA the minimum performance advantage is ten percent on both the minimum and average frame rate and while the HD 5870 manages to match the GTX 480 on average frame rates at 0x AA, the Radeon trails on minimum frame rates by roughly ten percent - Nvidia's card seems happier with high levels of AA.
This review focuses entirely on what the GTX 480 is like to own for gaming PC, and we haven't touched on CUDA or PhysX performance, GPGPU uses or folding@home. We plan to investigate these uses over the next few weeks in dedicated in-depth articles, along with deeper investigations as to the tessellation capabilities of the Fermi architecture versus ATI's Cypress design. Stay tuned!