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A closer look at ATI's current price/performance lead over Nvidia

Analysis of the results

As we reported yesterday, an Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 with an index score of 17.97 performs almost 18 times better than the Nvidia GeForce 5900. Although the 7950 GX2 has the best overall performance score of all the non-SLI, non-Crossfire setups, ATI's Radeon X1900 XTX sells for $370.75, which is 26.9% less than what we project a hypothetical Nvidia card would sell for ($507.43) if Nvidia were to make one whose performance score was also 15.63 (note the slight correction). The 7950 GX2 sells for $575.14 on average.

Despite that, Nvidia's 256 MB GeForce 7900 GT may be the price/performance leader among all graphics cards currently available, with an index score of 15.58 and an average price of $287.69. A hypothetical ATI card with the same index score, we project, would sell for $404.50; and the nearest real-world competitor is ATI's top-of-the-line Radeon X1900XTX at $370.75. (ATI's release of the Radeon X1950XTX just yesterday could shake up that scenario a bit.)

Meanwhile, ATI's best price performer overall comes in the middle of its product line: The X1600 XT sells for an average of $109.47, according to PriceGrabber, with an index score of 5.62. As wild as this might seem, the older X700 Pro sells for only four cents less on average ($109.43), yet scores only a 3.99 on the index. If Nvidia were to manufacture a card with a 5.62 score, our curve would project its price at $184.98. Among the cards Tom's has tested, however, performance jumps dramatically between the GeForce 6800 at 4.51 and the GeForce 6800 GT at 6.19. There's also a big price gulf there as well, from $131.04 for the 6800 to $234.50 for the 6800 GT. Just above the GT in performance is the 6800 GS, with a score of 7.41. It proves, however, to be the much better deal at $194.55 on average.

One of the things we learn right away from analyzing both performance and price averages is that they are not as perfectly, linearly scalar as manufacturers would like you to believe. Among older models, for instance, ATI's Radeon X1300 Pro, with an index score of 3.19 and an average price of $115.31, doesn't compare to its allegedly older counterpart, the X700 Pro which scores a 3.99 and sells for $109.43. And with an index score of 10.63 and a price of $474.01 on average, according to PriceGrabber, the Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX Extreme is nowhere near the bargain as the 256 MB 7900 GT, scoring 15.58 and priced at $287.69 on average.

On a price/performance chart, the price a consumer wants to see plot points heading is toward the lower right - lesser cost, greater performance. Right now, it's an Nvidia card that's the furthest in that direction: the 7900 GT. One reader wrote us this morning to question our original headline's conclusion, given the 7900 GT's position, of ATI being the leader across the board. To respond, our conclusion is based on the current state of the market as a whole, for which there will always be exceptions. In earlier years, when the automotive industry used to be held to standards of price/performance, one manufacturer could hold an across-the-board lead, while another usually had a breakaway hit that bucked the trend. This is the case today with Nvidia bucking the ATI trend at this one plot point.

But helping ATI's case is the fact that even its top-of-the-line systems (the new X7950 XTX nothwithstanding) fall at or below the company's projected curve, demonstrating that even its best cards provide respectable value without artificial premiums. Nvidia's GeForce 7950 GX2 also falls below its company's projected curve at the top of the line, but notice how those cards in the middle don't fare nearly as well.

Keep in mind: You're looking at a snapshot of the overall graphics market, taken yesterday, which is in a state of flux. Just because ATI has the lead today doesn't mean it will keep that lead toward the holidays. Also, as Tom's Hardware Guide continues to test even the models of cards it's tested once or twice or three or four or even five times before, the performance numbers may also change. When Tom's Hardware Guide releases a new set of performance benchmarks, we'll want to reassess every plot point you see here, both horizontally and vertically.