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If you have any hope of playing the latest games in their full glory (by which we mean max'ed out details) and at high native LCD resolutions, we can’t overstate how important it is to have a powerful graphics card in your system. For our purpose here, we chose cards from ATI and Nvidia, covering (at the time) a snapshot of the available gaming solutions priced roughly $100 and up.
The dual-GPU ATI Radeon HD 5970 is currently the most powerful reference gaming card you can buy. Each GPU is clocked at 725 MHz and features 1600 shader processors, 80 texture units, 32 ROPS, 1 GB of GDDR5 clocked at 1000 MHz, and a dedicated 256-bit memory interface.
This beastly flagship card is slightly over a foot long and will set you back nearly $700. But you're essentially getting two full-fledged Radeon HD 5870s with clock speeds lowered to match the Radeon HD 5850, all packed onto a single PCB.
AMD's fastest single-GPU card is the Radeon HD 5870, which adds the latest-generation features, while matching the performance of the former dual-GPU Radeon HD 4870 X2. The card measures 11 inches long and has the same basic specs as each GPU on the Radeon HD 5970, but with 850 MHz core and 1200 MHz GDDR5 clock speeds.
Asus EAH5750 Formula
The affordable Radeon HD 5750 has 720 shader processors, 36 texture units, 16 ROPS, and a 128-bit memory interface. Asus fits this card with a unique non-reference “Formula fansink” design and a different array of connectivity ports. But the GPU is clocked at 700 MHz and the 1 GB of GDDR5 at 1150 MHz, just like a reference card.
BFG GeForce GTX 295
Representing the flagship of Nvidia’s GTX 200-series is the BFG GeForce GTX 295. Unlike the original GTX 295s, built on two PCBs, this newer revision features two GT200b GPUs on a single PCB.
Sporting a total of 1792 MB GDDR3 (896 MB per GPU), two 448-bit memory interfaces, a 576 MHz core clock rate, a 1242 MHz shader clock, and a 999 MHz memory clock, each GPU has the general specifications of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 260. However, the GPUs themselves boast a full 240 stream processing cores, like the GeForce GTX 285, GeForce GTX 280, and GeForce GTX 275.
BFG GeForce GTX 285 OCFU
This BFG GeForce GTX 285 OCFU represented the most powerful single-GPU card available back during our first round of testing. Its features include 240 shader processors, a 712 MHz core clock rate, a 1620 MHz shader clock rate, 1 GB of GDDR3 memory running at 1332 MHz (2664 MHz effective), and a 512-bit memory interface. These are extremely high (albeit overclocked) clock rates right out of the box, backed by BFG’s lifetime warranty.
For Part 1 and Part 2 testing, we down-clocked this board to reference GeForce GTX 285 speeds of 648 MHz (core), 1476 MHz (shader), and 1242 MHz (memory). In Parts 3 and 4, we utilize BFG’s factory overclock speeds listed above.
BFG GeForce GTX 260 OCX Max Core 55
The BFG GeForce GTX 260 OCX Max Core 55 combines 216 shader processors, 896 MB of GDDR3 memory, BFG’s highest factory overclock on a GeForce GTX 260 of 655 MHz core, 1404 shader, and 1125 MHz on the memory clock (2250 MHz effective). Of course, it's also covered by BFG’s lifetime warranty.
We again down-clocked this board to reference speeds of 576 MHz core, 1242 MHz shader, and 999 MHz memory frequencies for initial testing in Part 1 and 2, but run BFG’s OCX Max Core 55 speeds during this round of testing.
ATI Radeon HD 4890
Representing AMD’s top single-GPU card from the Radeon HD 4800-series, the Radeon HD 4890 has the same vital GPU specifications as the Radeon HD 4870 X2, such as 1 GB of GDDR5 memory, 800 shader processors, 40 texture units, 16 ROPs, and a 256-bit memory bus. However, the RV790 graphics processor made it possible for AMD to serve up higher clock rates (up to 850 MHz on the core and 975 MHz memory).
Special thanks to Asus, AMD, and Nvidia for arranging the graphics hardware needed to make this entire series possible.
Editor's note: Just to preempt any confusion about the graphics cards being used in Part 4, allow me to reiterate Paul's introduction. We're using the same boards featured in Part 3 in order to enable comparisons between the Intel- and AMD-based platforms. Moving forward, you'll see Part 5 including GeForce GTX 400-series boards.