We tested and AMD Radeon HD 6870 and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 card using AMD's Catalyst 11.10 Version 2 Preview driver
and NVIDIA's just-released 285.62
WHQL Forceware series. Our base platform was a Core i7-920-equipped system running Windows 7 64-bit. It's impossible to replicate a benchmark run to any appreciable degree, so we had to settle for testing entire map sessions multiple times and averaging the results. One of the Frostbite 2 engine's strong points is that frame rates are consistent from map to map, even when transitioning from crowded city streets (Seine Crossing, Grand Bazaar) to the open fields of the Caspian Border or the desert terrain of Operation Firestorm.
We're not surprised to see the GTX 480 outperforming the HD 6870. The Fermi-based card is older, and based on NVIDIA's first revision of its GF100 architecture, but the 6870 debuted as an upper mid-range solution with a $239 price tag compared to the GTX 480's $499. The real difference between the two solutions didn't kick in until we took a shot at testing 'Ultra' quality. At this point the Radeon 6870 craters, its performance dips to a point where framerates begin to impact the game's playability. The GTX 480 takes a 14.5 percent hit, but keeps on truckin'.
Curious, we decided to adjust some of the game visuals to see if we could isolate the problem. Ultra mode doesn't just crank up the shadow and texture quality, it also activates a 4x MSAA filter. This turned out to be a hefty chunk of the reason the 6870 lost so much steam; shutting AA off improved our frame rate by 32 percent. We'd suggest gamers with midrange ATI cards experiment with disabling Ambient Occlusion and AA if you want to test-drive Ultra settings.
As for which manufacturer gives a better overall experience, benchmarks on a full range of cards suggest it comes down to the particulars of what you're looking for. At 'High' detail level, AMD and NVIDIA are neck-and-neck across various resolutions. ATI has an edge in image quality thanks to the green flicker popping up when using NV cards, but Team Red has issues of its own. Crossfire is barely working at the moment. AMD's Radeon HD 6990, according to some reports, is barely able to run the game. The performance hit we discussed in 'Ultra' mode appears to hit the high-end ATI cards as well. A Radeon HD 6970 competes neck-and-neck with a GeForce GTX 580 at 1900x1080 and 'High' detail settings, but drops back behind the GTX 570 at 1920x1080 and 'Ultra' detail.