Taking a look at the graphics card industry over the course of the last twelve months, we begin to see an issue developing for consumers who are looking to have the fastest graphics cards when the next-generation titles finally make it to market.
Taking a glimpse at the second-half of the year, we see several reasons why gamers are going to be extremely excited. From new platforms to dramatic new titles, the trend here is transitioning to the next level. On the software front, one look at Doom 3 screenshots versus Quake 3 images will quickly erase any doubt that we are about to take a major step forward in terms of image quality. In similar fashion, the next wave of graphics cards harnesses enough additional power to ensure these new titles run at framerates we are accustomed to. Even motherboard platforms will be getting a healthy dose of performance and functionality to usher in this new wave of technology. Here, we see the most relevant addition is the new PCI-Express standard which will be replacing the aging AGP standard. Unfortunately, this new standard is a bit of a mixed blessing as the transition will bring enough positives and negatives to keep us occupied for quite some time.
Given a healthy push from Intel through its inclusion on the company’s upcoming Alderwood and Grantsdale platforms, the adoption of PCI-Express as a concrete standard is guaranteed. Unfortunately, the adoption rate of this new standard is a bit more questionable which makes the pending release of new graphics cards anything but simple. Either a vendor assumes the adoption of PCI-Express will be immediate and thorough and releases a fully native PCI-Express solution, or the vendor makes a compromise in an attempt to please everyone by creating a hybrid solution of sorts.
With this last statement in mind, we see the point of divergence between ATI and NVIDIA. On one hand, you have ATI pushing for a complete native solution to maximize the amount of available bandwidth for the VPU. On the other hand, you have NVIDIA coming forward with a specialized bridge solution to compromise between the AGP specification and PCI-Express. As is usually the case in the computer industry, there is no clear winner or right answer. Rather, each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses which will cater to different people. Over the course of the next few pages, we will examine these vendors’ approaches in detail to give you a clear perspective on what your next graphics card purchase should be.