Analysis and Conclusions
Readers coming in to the article on this page: thanks for reading!  But keep in mind you are coming in at page 28 of a 28 page article.  If you want the information on the reasons for the article, issues at hand and setup, head back to page 1.

Wow, that is a LOT of data we just went though; this is likely the longest article we have posted here at PC Perspective and I can tell you that while we are looking forward to updating it as Windows 7 develops, we are going to try to find a more concise way to display the results.  🙂  But now let’s speed some time and discuss all the benchmarks we saw over the last 25 pages…

AMD versus NVIDIA Windows Vista Performance

Even though this article really focuses on Windows 7 performance and its relation to GPUs and Vista, we couldn’t help but look at all the data we gathered for the article and NOT draw some conclusions about NVIDIA and AMD graphics card offerings that you can buy and install on a retail OS TODAY. 

Breaking down the results by price segments, let’s see how either side fared.  For the level I called “budget” for this article, GPUs selling for about $120-130 as of this writing, AMD definitely has the upper hand.  The Radeon HD 4870 512MB cards beat out the performance of the “new” GeForce GTS 250 1GB in nearly all of our benchmarks.  Even though you might find the HD 4870 512MB to cost you $5-10 more at various online stores, I would still give my recommendation to it over NVIDIA’s offering.

Windows 7 series: NVIDIA and AMD Graphics and Gaming Performance - Graphics Cards 250

At the “mid-range” level (ranging from $170-200 or so) we have the GeForce GTX 260+ and the Radeon HD 4870 1GB cards; and this is a much closer match up.  In the end though, the GTX 260+ is the clear performance leader in Windows Vista in this comparison as the move from the G92 architecture that the GTS 250 uses to the GT200-based design on the GTX 260+ (and original GTX 260) reaps big rewards.  Simply adding 512MB of additional memory to the Radeon HD 4870 design didn’t do enough for AMD to keep up here.

Looking at the “high-end” results the comparison is a bit more lopsided due to pricing mismatches: the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 sells for about $330 or so while the Radeon HD 4870 X2 sells for $380 in some places.  Also keep in mind that the GTX 285 is a single-GPU card while the HD 4870 X2 uses a pair of RV770 GPUs.  In most cases, the HD 4870 X2 was indeed the better overall performer but there were some cases where the minimum frame rate of the GTX 285 was better and thus would get our nod for an overall higher quality experience.  Also, there is that price difference of course…

Finally, looking at the “max” results between the HD 4870 X2 and the GeForce GTX 295 dual-GPU card priced around $509, the GTX 295 was the obvious winner in every test.  With an added cost of $130 or more over the 4870 X2 though, we expected no less.

AMD versus NVIDIA Windows 7 Performance

After days and days of testing, the results are actually LESS exciting than I’d hoped they would be; but I think in the end that is a good thing.  Performance for all seven graphics cards we tested was at least CLOSE when comparing Windows 7 and Windows Vista results.  In a few cases, especially with Far Cry 2, the NVIDIA driver you can download today is simply not up to the quality we expected from the GeForce-giant.  Even in other games, where the average frame rate would only drop 5% or less, the difference was notable at least to us in graphs if not in real-world experiences.

Windows 7 series: NVIDIA and AMD Graphics and Gaming Performance - Graphics Cards 251
What you will likely be seeing on your next gaming PC…

AMD should be commended for being the first to have a combined driver for Vista and Windows 7.  Performance on AMD cards was greater than or equal to Vista when playing on Windows 7 with only one exception: Far Cry 2 at 2560×1600.  We’ll be keeping an eye on that for you.

Other that those changes, the differences in performance between Windows Vista and Windows 7, on a comparative basis between NVIDIA and AMD, are not notable enough to change our recommendations based on price that we noted above in the Windows Vista discussion.  For example, even though with today’s driver the GTX 260+ 896MB card sees slightly performance drops in Windows 7 rather than slight gains with the HD 4870 1GB, I still feel that the GeForce GTX 260+ makes the better choice for a GPU purchase today. 

Windows 7 versus Windows Vista Gaming Performance

As I mentioned on the one of the first pages of this article (that was a LOONG time ago…) the only fair comparison for looking at pure Vista versus Windows 7 gaming results is with AMD’s graphics cards and their unified Catalyst 9.3 driver that supports both operating systems.  To that end, the AMD situation showed us that users will likely see very modest performance gains moving over from a Windows Vista gaming system to a Windows 7-based PC.  Considering how early we are into the life of Windows 7 (it is still in beta after all), this is a very welcome shift from how things worked before Windows Vista’s release.  In fact, there are still some gamers that are likely refusing to move to Vista because of apparent performance degradation compared to Windows XP.  (Those differences are long gone now, btw.) 

Windows 7 series: NVIDIA and AMD Graphics and Gaming Performance - Graphics Cards 252

In January of 2007 I posted an article that looked at performance of gaming on a beta version of Windows Vista and the results were not very good.  I know that all of us, the game developers, driver programmers, hardware vendors and enthusiast community are glad to see that Windows 7 looks to be shaping up as a much more pleasant transition.

Windows 7 Stability and Usage, Miscellaneous Notes

I already got asked a few questions about using Windows 7 while I was finishing up writing this article so I just thought I would leave a little note in here about my very good experience with the new OS.  Game installations and driver installations went very smoothly on Windows 7 and I didn’t have to adjust anything to get up and running that I wasn’t already accustomed to with Vista or XP.  Only one title even seemed to notice the change: Far Cry 2 instructed me that it had better performance with Service Pack 1.  Obviously it was confused as to which OS I was actually running at that point and that MIGHT have something to do with the 2560×1600 performance issues I saw. 

Other than that, using Windows 7 was terrific – fast, reliable (only one crash during a game resolution change over 378 tests) and nice to look at as well.

I will offer one note, that doesn’t apply to just Windows 7, but Vista as well: game loading times with the AMD graphics cards and Catalyst 9.3 driver were much, much higher than those with any NVIDIA GPU and associated driver.  As an example, our Call of Duty: World at War save game would load in about 12-15 seconds with NVIDIA’s cards but that same load time took 30+ seconds with AMD configurations. 

Pricing and Availability

All of these cards we used in our article today are readily available as of this writing and we already basically went over pricing above as well.  But here is a nice summation of cards and pricing segments, with my picks for each in bold.
Okay, I cheated on the GTX 285 and HD 4870 X2 debate because if money might be an issue, then the GTX 285 is fast enough for almost anyone.  But if you can spare the extra cash then the HD 4870 X2 will likely be faster at those really high resolutions now and into the future.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am very impressed with what Microsoft has done with Windows 7 and gaming performance.  Unlike the previous OS transition that caused a lot of headaches due to the driver model change, Windows 7 seems to be not only keeping up with Vista but actually out performing it when pitted head to head.  Both NVIDIA and AMD seem to be taking a proactive stance with Windows 7 support as well but it is AMD that is first out of the gate with a unified driver package and a promise to continue Windows 7 driver development on a monthly basis.  Gamers with AMD graphics cards will love to hear that they can now safely try out Windows 7 on their gaming machine without losing a drop of performance. 

As I said earlier, expect to see much more from PC Perspective in regards to Windows 7 performance; not only for gaming but for storage, applications, chipsets and more. 

There is a lot of ongoing discussion about Windows 7, for gaming needs and others, in our OS forum section of the PC Perspective Forum.

For pricing on the cards used in this article, use the links below!

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