If you’re looking for a decent high performance graphics card, you’ll have to make one very important decision: GeForce or Radeon? The two brands dominate the graphics card market leaving little room for other competition, but that’s not to say the rivalry between the two isn’t fierce - far from it, in fact. ATI and NVidia have consistently matched the other’s offerings in a long-lasting game of one-upmanship, with the war between the Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 275 being just one excellent example of the close match between the two.
ATI’s Radeon 4890 was released in mid-2009 in a bid to establish a stronghold over the mid-tier graphics market. They certainly weren’t expecting NVidia to hit back almost immediately with the release of the GTX 275, a card which challenges the Radeon 4890 in almost every respect. Let’s quickly go over how the two compare:
The ATI Radeon HD 4890 features 1Gb of on-board video RAM and a 850Mhz processor, making it an extremely powerful card in its own right and a reasonable step up from its predecessor the HD 4870. Keep in mind that the card was designed to be overclocked and can reach speeds in excess of 1Ghz, so experienced users may tend towards this card for those properties. The NVidia GeForce GTX 275, on the other hand, packs 896Mb of video RAM and 1.4Ghz processor. Both cards support high-definition video and have external slots for various playback capabilities. Power consumption is about equal, at both stress rates and idle standing. So far, so good - and pretty hard to see any clear winner.
This is, arguably, the thing you’re looking for when you buy a graphics card. While specifications are indeed important, a huge number of other factors like resource optimization and gateway utilization come into play when you...well, start playing. Games are hard work, after all. So how do the cards fare across a spectrum of games? The results are interesting. Overall, the slightly cheaper GeForce GTX 270 handles substantially better with most games than the Radeon HD 4890, outperforming in typical benchmark games like Call of Duty, Far Cry 2 and Crysis Warhead. The Crysis Warhead result is especially interesting, because the 4890 actually matched the GTX 270 when anti-aliasing was turned on, but fell noticeably behind when anti-aliasing was off.
Nevertheless, the Radeon HD 4890 still outgunned the GTX 270 in a fair few games, including Fallout 3, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. In H.A.W.X, the 4890 really showed off its strengths, clocking a very sexy 41 frames per second on the game which often leaves graphics cards for dead (although incidentally, the 4890 was trumped by the GTX 270 in Left 4 Dead itself). However, while the Radeon reigned supreme with a very large margin in a few games, it was still pipped by the GTX 270 in terms of consistently superior performance - at a lower price, too.
The Verdict: They may both be a year old, but the Radeon 4890 and GeForce GTX 270 are still excellent buys for hard-core gamers and high-definition enthusiasts alike. Overall, the GTX 270 gets our vote, although the Radeon’s impressive overclocking capacity means that overclockers and pro users may find they get more out of it than the less-adaptable GeForce.