Today AMD/ATI has retaken the performance crown for the first time in over 2 years, not content with that they also likely to take second place too. With the release of the 4870X2 and in short order the 4850X2.
AMD have ended any chance of Nvidia retaining the top spots and the bragging rights associated with being able the hold the performance crown.
ATI already hold the midrange price/performance lead with its 4850 and 4870 GPU's. Now they have made a pair of them combined on the same PCB with spectacular results.
As the NDA lifts on ATI's new cards the internet is awash with benchmarks. All showing that the 4870X2 comprehensively beats the Nvidia GTX 280. And given the performance of the 4850 in crossfire beating the GTX 260 it follows that the 4850X2 will do the same.
The 4870X2 has the same exact specs (no underclock for the memory this time) as two single 4870's GPU's and paired with 2X1GB GDDR5 costing $549. The 4850X2 follows this pattern with a pair of 4850's with 2X1GB of GDDR3 costing $339. Interestingly the Nvidia GTX 280 was $649 at launch.
With the 4870X2 ATI also introduces a sideband feature. This adds direct PCIe2 communications between the CPU's without the need to go through the PCIe switch. This decreases latency and adds additional bandwidth. At the same time ATI has given the 4870X2 a PCIe 2 bridge chip.
Also from the reviews circulating that this card performs just as well in a 8X PCIe slot as it does in a 16X Slot. If that's found to be the case it will be a big deal to midrange motherboard owners who have a pair of 8X PCIe slots.
So overall it looks like the top spots are going ATI's way for now. It already has the midrange covered by the 4850 and 4870 and will likely attack the low end with the launch of the 44XX and 46XX presumed to be around the corner too.
But what is Nvidia likely to do about ATI's current strength?
Well nothing yet it seems with Nvidia going with a Monolithic design for the GTX 2xx series they have limited themselves on scope on what's achievable until a 40nm die shrink comes along. Whereas ATI use a much smaller design on the 48xx series can pair them up on a single PCB.
So it's doubtful that Nvidia will be able to increase clock speed by much and it almost certainly rules out any GTX 280 X2 derivatives due to heat space and power requirements.
So it's looking more likely that the talk of Nvidia pulling out of the chipset business to concentrate on their GPU division is in fact correct.
Nvidia is going to have to pull out all the stops on this one. With the GTX 2xx series the only way to increase performance is to make the parts smaller which aren't any help to them until 40nm comes along and that is going in to 2009 around the same time as Intel will join the discrete CPU market with its GPU based on multi core-x86 line. ATI/AMD could also do similar with its CPU designing talent.
Leaving Nvidia with a single GPU design and not many places they can go with it. It would be reasonable to assume then that it's going to take all of Nvidia's know how to come up with a completely new chip or more likely chips design.
Will it be able to? It's going to be an exciting time in the next 6 months for the Graphics Card market.