There are some things in life that are more important than the latest and greatest in PC hardware; friends, family, social interaction etc. Today we're going to eschew such unnecessary distractions to get our teeth around what we've all been foaming at the lips for over the last couple of months - the new video cards from ATI and nVidia.

Under the guillotine today we have ATI's new Radeon HD 4850, and from nVidia the GeForce GTX 280. We've also got the more recently announced 9800GTX+ (sort of). A big shout out to Playtech for once again providing the graphics cards and test bench for today's review.

Firstly let me come clean and admit that I completely counterfeited the results of the 9800GTX+ by using a factory overclocked XFX 9800GTX XXX edition. The only difference in terms of raw performance between the 9800GTX and 9800GTX+ are the clock speeds, and the XXX version we have here is clocked almost identically to the upcoming 9800GTX+, so you can expect basically the same performance from the GTX+ once it's released, which should be in the coming few weeks.

Anyway, we all know the 9800GTX, so the newer card here from nVidia today is the GTX 280. Whilst not a radical change in architecture from the G80 and G92 series of chips that the jolly green giant has released in the last couple of years, the GTX 280 has received plenty of performance boosting enhancements to give it the edge over its predecessors. First and foremost, the amount of shader processors (the cores inside the chip that actually do the graphics processing) has been dramatically increased. While the G80 and G92 based chips (from the older 8800GTS cards to the latest 9800GTX) had between 96 and 128 shader processors, this latest card features a whopping 240 of them.

Memory bandwidth has also been increased to 512-bit and this has allowed a complete gigabyte of local memory to be built into the card. We'll see how these figures convert into raw performance shortly.

Now to the first card released by ATI from their latest 4000 series. Again, these cards are hugely different to the previous 3000 series of cards, but the amount of stream processors has jumped from 320 on the 3850 and 3870 to no less than 800 on the 4850. ATI's stream processors work in blocks of five so this is roughly equivalent to 160 shader processors on an nVidia card, just in case you were wondering why there was such a large difference. The memory interface has been left at 256-bit, and total onboard memory is also unchanged at 512 MB. Minor architecture changes have been made to the core which ATI claims has improved things like antialiasing performance, so here's hoping that pans out once we hit game time.

Today we have not one but two of the ATI cards, one from Asus and one from Sapphire, so we can Crossfire them together for added performance. They are both based on ATI's reference design so no difference in specification exists between them.

Enough yapping, let's get things started...

Specifications

Test system

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 @ 3.6GHz
Ram: 4GB Dual Channel DDR2-900 @ 4-4-4-12
Mobo: Asus Maximus Formula @ 450MHz FSB
PSU: Silverstone OP700 700w
Screen: LG L246WH-BN 24" 1920x1200 5ms LCD
O/S: Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit SP1
ATI Drivers: Catalyst 8.6 Hotfix for Radeon 4000 Series
nVidia Drivers: 177.35 WHQL for GTX280, 175.16 WHQL for 9800GTX

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