When using anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, the Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 had an immediate and significant advantage over the NVIDIA GeForce 9800GTX competition and the earlier Radeon HD 3870. Like the Radeon HD 4850, when the HD 4870 wasn't using advanced rendering techniques, it had fallen behind the 9800GTX. With id Software's Doom 3 with 8x AA, the Radeon HD 4850 was almost 30% faster than the GeForce 9800GTX. When it came time to test the Radeon HD 4870 in the same configuration, it was over 50% faster than the GeForce 9800GTX. The biggest performance delta was with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars where the Radeon HD 4870 was 68% faster than the 9800GTX and 25% faster than its Radeon HD 4850 sibling. In the open-source Nexuiz game even, the Radeon HD 4870 was 32% faster than the 9800GTX. When turning on both 8x AA and 16x AF, the Radeon HD 4870 remained on top in every test with a striking lead.
Unfortunately, we're still waiting on our NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260/280 samples to arrive, but so far it looks as if AMD has positioned itself in a prime position on not only Windows but also on Linux. If you are not using any advanced image quality settings, the NVIDIA GeForce series will remain in the lead position, but once fully utilizing the graphics processors through anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, the RV770 ends up clearly smacking the 9800GTX and likely the GTX 260/280. Incidentally, the Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870 are priced well below their NVIDIA competition. The Radeon HD 4870 at $299 USD while the GeForce GTX 260 costs over $100 more than that and the GTX 280 will in total set you back over $650.
These tests were delivered from all single graphics cards and upon CrossFire officially launching for Linux we will deliver the full MultiGPU results for both the Radeon HD 4850 and 4870. We have been told by AMD that CrossFire is scaling very well on Linux and with the slower GPUs the performance is almost doubling. Certainly, times will be interesting as the summer ends out.
At this time a Linux desktop user interested in a premiere choice of graphics is left to decide between NVIDIA with its proprietary driver for OpenGL support and a very expensive graphics card or ATI with a choice of using an open-source driver or their proprietary Catalyst (fglrx driver) suite for OpenGL support and a graphics card that will just set you back $200 or $300. If you desire even more, you can bundle two of them together and it will still cost less than a GeForce GTX 280. Aside from the pure Linux advantages, the RV770 graphics processor has other advantages when it comes to the power efficiency, use of GDDR5 memory, and the TeraScale Graphics Engine. Some of the caveats, however, is that on the NVIDIA side they are generally better regarded as having improved support for using WINE / Cedega and there are a few other scenarios where they have the upper-hand (more AA/AF options, a more feature-rich GUI control panel, the NV Extension, etc). NVIDIA though does have a thorn stuck in itself right now when it comes to its troubling 2D Linux performance. What is clear though is that their performance advantage on Linux is quickly eroding and the advantage they once had of beating AMD to delivering product support for new products in their alternative OS drivers.
If you haven't made up your mind yet as to which graphics card you would be best off getting or you are still skeptical about the level of Linux support, just wait a few months. Graphics cards from both ATI and NVIDIA will drop in price as they introduce new low and mid-end graphics cards in their Radeon HD 4000 and GeForce GTX 200 series, respectively. We can't let the cat out of the bag yet, but in addition to CrossFire on Linux you will be seeing other new -- and very interesting -- features come about within the fglrx driver as they aim for feature parity across supported operating systems.
With all of that said, we are very pleased with the ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB graphics card. This graphics card was introduced with same-day Linux support, superb 2D support compared to NVIDIA on Linux, and the best OpenGL performance we have seen that's able to annihilate the NVIDIA competition when using advanced image quality settings. In addition, they have new features and other improvements going into not only their proprietary fglrx driver but also the two open-source graphics drivers that AMD supports: xf86-video-ati and xf86-video-radeonhd. Back in 2005 during the ATI Redblog days, an analogy came about of ATI attempting to fine-tune a hull on a sinking ship with a giant hole on the side. Well, late last year the hull was replaced with new fittings and now AMD is in the process of outfitting their Linux ship with larger engines.
For reviews and pricing on the Radeon HD 4870 and other graphics cards, visit TestFreaks.com.