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ATI Radeon HD 4890: Playing To Win Or Played Again?

Last year, ATI straight-armed Nvidia into slashing the prices on its GeForce GTX 280 and 260 cards, while prices on its own offerings held up extremely well given a lack of new competition.

This year, Nvidia is rolling with a 55 nm die shrink and e-tail prices that might displease shareholders, but certainly give game enthusiasts something to celebrate. With prices on GeForce GTX 260 Core 216s hovering between $180 and $190 online (with rebates dropping that to $160 in many cases), this isn’t June of 2008, where a surprise attack from ATI rocks Nvidia’s world.

At the same time, ATI’s existing Radeon HD 4870 1 GB costs just a tad more than the GTX 260 Core 216 and, in return, is able to best the Nvidia card in a number of our tests. At $170-$180 after rebates from a number of different vendors, that’s a great choice as well.

Yes, the RV790 GPU is a brand new piece of logic. Yes, it does enable quite a bit more headroom in ATI’s architecture. But at the end of the day, the Radeon HD 4890 is good for a fairly consistent 10% performance boost over the card it will succeed (and push down to the $180-ish price point to battle the GTX 260). Will 10% ever mean the difference between turning anti-aliasing on, or stepping up from 1680x1050 to 1920x1200? A thousand times, no. Flip through the benchmarks—at no point does an extra three frames at 30 fps turn into a significantly better gaming experience. And at a $250-ish estimated price point, you’re talking about spending an extra $75 or $80 bucks to get those few frames.

If it turns out that rebates and price cuts push the Radeon HD 4890 somewhere between $200 and $210, it would be deserving of a look and some hands-on time with the re-designed core to push its overclocking limits (Update 2: ATI says it is shooting for prices, with rebates, around $220. That's still a little higher than we'd like to see, but certainly more aggressive than the $260 we were initially expecting. As of launch, however, prices on seven models of the HD 4890 start at $249 with instant rebates). Otherwise, the Radeon HD 4870 1 GB and GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 at their current levels are just too good to skip over for what amounts to a very similar experience. At least in the case of the HD 4870, you get the exact same feature set, including DirectX 10.1 support, too.

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