Value and Efficiency
Our test lineup consists entirely of high-end graphics cards--products for performance-oriented enthusiasts who aren't terribly concerned with finding the best bargain available. The GeForce GTX 580 is likely to sell for a suggested price of $500. nVidia tells us that the supply of GTX 580 cards will be small for the first few weeks, so prices may temporarily go a bit higher. The GeForce GTX 480 has dropped to $450, while AMD has adjusted the prices on its high-end cards a little: The Radeon HD 5870 starts at about $340 and the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 took a big price cut down to $500 to match nVidia's latest and greatest.
Nobody wants to spend more than is necessary, and everyone wants to know which product delivers the most bang for the buck. To find out, we averaged the benchmark results for all of our real-world game tests and then divided by the price to arrive at a metric we call dollars per frames per second. On the chart below, lower numbers are better: They signify spending less to get equivalent performance.
Thanks to AMD's recent price cuts, all four cards deliver fairly similar performance per dollar. Though the Radeon HD 5870 is significantly slower than the other three cards, it is also considerably less expensive. The only clear advantage appears at the very high resolution of 2650 by 1600 with no antialiasing, where AMD's cards offer more oomph for the money.
nVidia says that it worked hard to optimize power utilization on the GeForce GTX 580, and it shows. Despite running at a higher clock speed, the GTX 580 delivered power reductions of about 20 watts both at idle and under full load. The lower-performing Radeon HD 5870 took the crown for power use here; but among the faster and more-expensive cards, the GTX 580 doesn't look bad at all. Somewhat surprisingly, it uses more power under load than AMD's dual-GPU card, but it uses less power at idle.
By dividing the average frames per second for each card on all of our game tests by its power use under load from the previous chart, we arrive at a measure of watts per frames per second. Instead of simply identifying how fast the cards were or how much power they used, this chart calculates their power efficiency. Here again, lower numbers are better.
As you can see, the purple bar is consistently much shorter than the green bar. This indicates how much progress nVidia has made with the GF110 GPU. Despite being the same size as the GF100 and having the same transistor count, the GF110 enabled the GeForce GTX 580 to deliver significantly better performance than the GTX 480 did, while lowering power consumption. It even turned in better performance per watt than the Radeon HD 5870.
Next: The Fastest Graphics Card Around...for Now