New Nvidia chip neck-and-neck with Radeon

Analysis: According to new tests, the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra is only slightly faster than ATI's Radeon 9700 Pro. But that is only part of the story

Consumers who have been holding off on a PC upgrade until Nvidia's latest graphics cards hit the market are in for a disappointment, according to a new evaluation by ZDNet Reviews.

(Read the preview here.)

A preview of an add-in card based on Nvidia's upcoming high-end Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra chip found that, surprisingly, the chip did not offer a substantial performance gain over rival ATI's high-end offering, the Radeon 9700 Pro. Radeon 9700 Pro cards have been available for several months, while Nvidia's offering will not appear until late February or early March, because of the difficulties of switching to a new manufacturing process.

"The surprise is that Nvidia's best efforts haven't resulted in a card that's any faster than the Radeon 9700 Pro," ZDNet's reviewer wrote, adding that performance should improve in coming months as software is optimised for the chip.

A run of the 3DMark 2001 SE benchmark showed that the GeForce FX's biggest lead over the Radeon card comes at a resolution of 1,600 by 1,200 without anti-aliasing, but this is a difference of less than 10 percent. "At other settings, the Radeon 9700 Pro delivers results that are practically identical to or even better than those of the Nvidia card," the preview found.

Some other design decisions have led to an unorthodox form-factor for the high-end Nvidia card, which includes a noisy and bulky cooling system and must be connected directly to the PC's power supply. However, the full cooling system should only be needed for the most powerful of the new GeForce FX line, according to ZDNet's reviewer.

Is all lost for Nvidia? Not necessarily, since the new chip includes many next-generation features aimed at upcoming games that use advanced lighting techniques based on many textures and vertex shaders. "Theoretical tests give an indication that the GeForce FX will be an outstanding card in upcoming games, such as Doom III," the preview predicted.

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