New GPUs: nVidia 8800 GT and ATi 38x0

Both nVidia and ATi (AMD these days) have now released their new midrange cards. Links are to Anandtech reviews.

Something odd is going on. First, at the end of October, nVidia release the 8800 GT. A new midrange card to repace the decidedly lackluster 8600 GTS, made on a smaller process to reduce heat production and make it cheaper to produce.

The odd thing is, its too good.

In fact, its better than the 8800 GTS, nVidia's currently-actually-purchasable high end card. And it was slated to appear at midrange prices.

While nVidia has, recently at least, managed "hard" launches (def: the product is widely available at launch), the GT is in short supply. Where it is available it is selling for 25% higher than list, at least in theory, as no-one seems to have any to sell.

But wait, there's more.

Today ATi released their new midrange cards, the 3850 and 3870. They are slated to appear at less than the GT.

The 3870 is about 85% as fast as the GT, which may match the comparative prices. The 3850 is a little less fast, but another chunk cheaper.

For the last couple of years, nVidia has had a definate edge in performance. It hasn't been worth getting an ATi card for a while now. Given the GT's good performance, and ATi's relatively unimpressive cards recently, you might suspect that the 3870 outperforms ATi's current high end card, the 2900 XT.

You would be right. Also, the 3850 has most of the performance of a card they list at more than twice the price.

So, if you're looking to buy a graphics card soon, don't buy high end, unless you find it listing for less than the midrange (unlikely IMO, as I suspect retailers will easily be able to unload them on unsuspecting people looking for the biggest model number).

If the 3870 lists for 85% or less of the price of the GT, then it probably wins in "bang per buck". The 3850 is likely to be good on that too. That said, if you can find a GT for sale, it has the highest performance outside a 8800 Ultra, and doesn't cost much more than the 3870 in all probablility.


I don't think I'd describe the GTS as high-end (when compared to other GF 8 series cards.) When I got mine, there were two choices, GTS and GTX, with the GTX being the faster of the two. Then they introduced the Ultra and 8600/8500 to extend the range both up and down, but that still left the GTS as the third slowest and third fastest card in the family. Pretty firmly mid-range, if you ask me.

I'd always epxected the GT to more or less replace the GTS - it's got (roughly) the same amount of texture memory as the GTS (more than the basic, but less than the big one), and I wasn't surprised when the new process yielded good performance improvements.

As for buying the top end; I'd agree; you never should unless you're after a) bragging rights, or b) as much performance as you can possibly get, and not interested in money at all (which would be me.) You always pay a hefty premium for being at the top. The GTX and Ultra both have half as much memory again as the GT and consistently benchmark noticeably (bit not massively) faster, and they go for 1.5 (GTX) or 2 (Ultra) times the price. Fine if you can afford it, but not exactly economical.

Now, the important question for me, is when we're going to see the next generation of high-end cards. Do you think we'll get an super-mega-ultra 8800, or are we going to see a 9800 series any time soon? I only ask because... well, it would be nice if SOMEONE could actually play Crysis. ;)

AggroBoy's picture

It's interesting that there hasn't really been anything on the next generation cards yet. Maybe both ATI and Nvidia are playing it close to their chests for some reason.

8800GT certainly looks to be where it's at for now as the best bang per buck.

That the 8800 is faster than the GTS is not that surprising die shrink to smaller process does lead to faster performance plus they probably took the opportunity to make a few tweaks while they were at it as well. It's the sort of thing chip companies do they take out all the "fuck it we'll fix that in software" work arounds and just good enough bodges ;)

Evilmatt's picture

It depends on the person doing the definition really ;)

Even nVidia seems a bit confused about it. There's two ways to look at segmentation, price and model number. The GT is modelled like a high end (8800) but priced like a midrange (not a million miles from the 8600). So its either a very cheap high end card or a very powerful midrange priced card, depending how you look at it.

The surprise isn't that the chip with those features and die shrink is faster than the old gen, its where they priced it. That said, process shrinks haven't been a free pass to more performance for some time now, as Intel and AMD have found to their cost...

The Ultra is off in its own category, one I hereby dub "Silly". Even before the GT it was ridiculous. Now it looks even worse. That said, maybe it'd play Cyrsis ;)

Given they've just released a midpriced card which performs nearly as well as their mass-availability flagship (the GTX, the Ultra is a "special edition" IMO) I would expect either a respun high end (8900 or 8950 would be my guess) or, as you say, a 9800 in the next six months.

Given the GT is already near the top end of their feature set, my money would be on a next generation part, priced as high as the initial 8800 series and in relatively short supply. That would mash ATi into the ground in the high end (not that the bulk of the revenue will be from that high end, but people generally buy from the company on top). ATi are talking about a dual chip crossfire-on-a-card version, which makes me think their next gen is further off, most likely 9 months to a year.

Next year I'll look back at this comment and queitly evaluate how wrong I was ;)

DirectX10.1 makes tri- and quad- SLI/Crossfire more practical, by allowing more than 3 frames to be rendered ahead of time. This might mean more reasonable gains from such a setup. I think three way midrange might start falling into the same sort of affordability window as SLI 7900 did a while back.

Won't help for some games though ;)

byrn's picture

Surely we'd have heard about it if they had a 9800 even remotely close to ready? You know, the usual "leaked rumours" about it being more than twice as fast as the last fastest card... and about "someone's friend at nvidia" who saw it running Crysis in a lab at 1600x1200 8xAA with everything on very high at 40fps with unoptimised drivers!

My guess, like yours, is a 8900, based on the new process, sometime in the next 6 moths (basically, as soon as ATI start to look like catching up to the GTX.) I don't know if they've got the thermal headroom for a single card SLI part yet, but that would certainly be an interesting development (and a bit annoying.)

AggroBoy's picture

Nah, they won't start leaking while they can maintain a premium on the GTs. We'll start hearing about it after christmas I reckon. Three months of hype is about right.

The GT is supposed to be less toasty than the old chip, but I doubt they'll go for the dual chip card given their better performance and the widespread availability of dual PCI-E graphics slot mobos...

byrn's picture

yeah that's very odd, the 8800 series is collectively nearly a year old now and of the replacements there has not been a peep. There were rumours and leaked details of the 8800's for months preceding their arrival. Either Nvidia have killed all their spys or they have nothing remotely ready yet.

Evilmatt's picture

I invite you to see how wrong I am ;)

byrn's picture

Byrn, you're fucking hilarious. ;-) I shall be watching that calendar carefully.

You're like Lack-Of nostradamus.

brainwipe's picture

Byrnie, you could embed the entire calendar in a post/page/blog post, so those currently without a gCalendar account can see your genius...

babychaos's picture

or lack of ;)

Good idea mate, I'll give that a go in a bit

byrn's picture

Pete's right, you 'll have to paste it as 'Full HTML', though.

brainwipe's picture