NOT looking for the price,but,put head to head is the ATI Radeon HD 5850 - 1GB no match for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470 - 1.2GB? From the benchmarks I've seen this to be true. I plan to be running this on a AMD Phenom™ II X4 965 Black Edition Quad-Core CPU .
According to Anandtech.com, GTX 470 is between 2% to 8% faster than ATI HD 5850. If the directx tesselation matters to you that much, go with GTX 470. 2 months back, at 280 dollars, I thought HIS HD 5850 iCooler V (plain) was a better deal than 340 dollars on a GTX 470 because then at 340 dollars you are really close to HD 5870 which seemed to perform better in benchmarks than GTX 480 (and way better than GTX 470). But of course you get more memory with GTX 470 than HD 5850.
While PhyX on nVidia cards can be useful in games, I saw some tesselation demos, and I could live without it even at the highest resolution with all settings set high. You know, PC gaming these days is really what we make of it
On AMD platform, I would go with ATI chipset. I am using my ATI card on an intel based platform because I thought Phenoms were very power hungry when I built my computer. Talking about power, ATI card (especially the HIS branded ones run well under 65 degrees under full load, thus will last longer). Just a pointer.
I wouldn't say "No Match". Still, the GTX 470 is generally a little bit faster, but it also uses more power and generates more heat, especially when you overclock it. The 5850 seems to do well enough when overclocked though especially if it has a good aftermarket cooler.
To answer your original question as you asked it - yes, the 470 is faster than the 5850. For all that is known and published, there is no difference in the useful life of these cards.
The 5850 competes by offerring a different set of benefits, as described in the posts above. Whether the 470 or the 5850 is better depends on which features are more important to you, personally. Including cost/performance
If you are interested in raw performance comparions - including hpower, temp, FPS, use this tool:
It's redundant, but yes the GTX 470 is faster than the ATI 5850. And as others said, it does run cooler and uses less energy. Cheap GTX 470's are about $300 where as cheap ATI 5850's are about $255. So there's a decent price gap between the two.
Also the ATI 6000 series is days away as I understand, so pricing may change over the next month.