Nvidia’s new GeForce GTS 250 isn’t really new at all. It’s the same GeForce GTX 9800+ that already took its share of licks in the press for centering on the same architecture as the GeForce 8800 GT. But it was a damn good architecture, which explains why it’s making yet another appearance under a “re-aligned” naming convention.
Besides, why should Nvidia have to design something completely new based on the large, expensive GT200, just to say it has a mainstream card that runs as fast as its old GTX 9800+? When AMD is able to usurp the G92 architecture at a more aggressive price point, Nvidia will be compelled to answer back, just as it did with massive price cuts when AMD shocked the market with its Radeon HD 4870 last year.
Price and performance are relative figures, folks. A GeForce GTX 280 at $649 is a bargain if you're an affluent enthusiast and the fastest competing card is a Radeon HD 3870. But a $299 Radeon HD 4870 turns that outlook upside down. The same holds true at the mainstream. Fault Nvidia for "re-branding" hardware if you will. It's hardly a secret that the GTS 250 centers on G92, though, and reading one review–any review–will provide you with the card's vital stats, if nothing else.
The Real Story
With that out of the way, let's talk prices. The least-expensive GeForce GTX 9800+ boards we were able to find two days before the GTS 250 was set to launch cost $144. The least-expensive Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 cards were $164 and $139, respectively. Thus, the GTX 9800+ is priced right between the two AMD boards.
Lo and behold, it also performs right in the middle of the Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 cards. Of course, that was BFG's overclocked OC Edition board in our benchmark tests, which might cost a couple of bucks more, but is expected to still fall squarely between the two Radeons.
Should GeForce GTS 250 cards start trickling out at prices that exceed AMD's 512 MB Radeon HD 4870, the answer seems clear: stick to the AMD board. However, if the GTS 250 cards are, in fact, serving as direct replacements for the GTX 9800+ (without any sort of price hike), the "re-aligned" GTS 250 boards do have a place in Nvidia's mid-range lineup. Moreover, if prices go the other way and undercut AMD's Radeon HD 4850, the higher-performing GeForce GTS 250 would be our favored mainstream solution. For what it's worth, Nvidia is targeting $149, which is roughly in line with the outgoing GTX 9800+ and right where we'd expect a competitive market to peg the board.
We've already covered the new card's performance as it pertains to AMD's Radeons. But it seems fairly certain, given our benchmark results, that the small overclock and extra 512 MB of GDDR3 memory don't really affect the card's standing against its predecessor until the resolution/detail settings are taxing beyond the point of playable frame rates anyway. For the most part, it isn't worth paying more money for the extra 512 MB–in which case, the 512 MB GeForce GTS 250 might be a better buy at $129.
Update: As is seemingly inevitable on the eve of one vendor's launch, the other announces plans to cut prices. AMD has just confirmed reductions on all Radeon HD 4800-class GPUs. At the time of writing, though, the price tags on page two of this piece are accurate, not counting mail-in rebates (which change as often as the base prices themselves). AMD is clearly looking to line its Radeon HD 4870 512 MB up against the GeForce GTS 250. But for now, at least, the Nvidia board still falls roughly in between AMD's two fastest 512 MB single-GPU cards.