Lately, I've been reading up a lot on the reviews (this site and others) on the latest and greatest nVidia and ATI cards. I've come up with a couple questions regarding development of the drivers and performance of next gen. cards w.r.t. older cards. I've noticed that sometimes older cards will perform better than the supposed followup card. For example, the 9800 X2 can outdo the GTX280 on some specs, not all, but some. My question is, why? Is this a reflection of mature drivers for older cards, yet not so for new cards? I see comments that say specs will improve with new drivers, for instance with the new 4800 series cards.
The bottom line question, is buying a new card going to provide added insurance with newer/better drivers coming in the future for newer hardware?
Well as far as the 9800GX2 being faster than a GTX280, you have to remember that the 9800 as two GPU's running in SLI while the 280 has only one GPU. So for games that support SLI, the 9800 will usually be faster.
Hmm I gota admit I'm having some trouble answering your question, but I'll give it a shot.
The GTX280, being the new top of the line card, is undoubtedly going to be priced quite a bit higher than any other card on the market(Nvidia or ATI). This is simply because people are willing to pay that premium for the faster card. Now, the 9800GX2 was Nvidia's previous top of the line card, and when it was first released earlier this year it was priced higher than anything else at the time. So naturally when the GTX280 came out, the price of the 9800 dropped. I hope this helps =)
As far as drivers go, they do tend to improve for a while after the release of the cards. This is because issues that didnt happen during the development of the drivers or that they simply didnt have time to iron out properly before launch are addressed for the first few months after release. Its always happened like this, some cards have seen greater benefits and some less so.
Things are a bit of a mess at the top of the Nvidia tree at this moment in time, as jumpman said some situations suit differant cards better than others. some do better at higher resolutions and some will do better with a heavy texture load.
Nvidia themselves are a bit to blame for this as they have released to many cards that are too similar in my opinion, some will probably stop being produced soon and hopefully that will clear the position up a bit, hopefully.
The problem with the 9800GX2 is that it suffers from what is called microstuttering - basically it will periodically bottom out its framerate when its under a great deal of gpu stress, especially when doing antialiasing
This is a typical problem for dual linked gpu arrays; although the gtx200 series doesn't tend to have this problem for whatever reason, at least not yet anyways. This might change in the future with higher end games, but its hard to say at this point as even games like Age of Conan and Crysis aren't causing gtx200 gpus in SLI to experience these frame bottom-outs even when under high stress.
Anyways, the gtx200 series are a lot better than 9800gx2 in gameplay - it might beat it on a benchmark but that really doesn't tell the whole story.
Likewise, there are a few benchmarks where you will see the 9800GX2 outperform the ATI 4870 - don't be fooled though because the 4870 is a much better card than the 9800 GX 2 because its simply much more consistant in performance~
the gtx 280 was just lowered in price to 500... not including rebates... w/ rebates you can get them for like 450
and the gtx 260 is down to 350... and w/ rebates you can get it under 300