Video gaming has come a very long way from the first, Pong. Today’s games require massive amounts of processing power to deliver the type of graphics rendering necessary to wow us. Unfortunately for gamers the evolution of hardware usually falls very far behind the evolution of new, and more graphics heavy, game software.
The graphics arms race has gotten to the point that, about ten years ago, both Nvidia and ATI, the top two graphics cards on the market today introduced the concept of dual graphics cards.
The two companies are locked in the same type of market struggle that fuels the AMD vs Intel war.
The problem however is that the companies offered what seemed on the surface to be two competing formats, which even today causes confusion among even knowledgeable buyers. Nvidia named its process “Scalable Link Interface” or SLI, while ATI named its system Crossfire X. This causes a lot of controversy in the community about whether these are different approaches to the problem of joining two cards, or simply branding.
Understanding how video cards work will not only turn your machine into a gamers dream but it will save a great deal of money as well.
Video cards contain their own processing units (GPUs) and RAM, which take the burden off of the much more expensive CPU and main RAM. Upgrading a CPU from a dual core to a quad core and doubling RAM might cost more than $1000 while adding even a top ranked video card to handle graphics would only cost about $300 and a twin card only about $500.
Is there any difference between ATI and Nvidia?
But the question remains: Is there any real difference between Nvidia and ATI? The simple answer is yes, they are different. This does not mean that one card is necessarily better than the other however. The main difference between the two cards is flexibility. Nvidia cards we’re the first on the market to use this paradigm and while they perform very well when working with an Intel motherboard chipset (it must be an SLI certified chipset) and the two GPUs are the same generation. ATI has an advantage in this respect because it will work easily with both Intel and AMD motherboards and is also allows different GPUs of the same generation.
Checkout 3DMarks Top Performers this month, it seems like Nvidia is ahead and dominating the top 5 spots.
But ATI does not have all of the advantages. ATI Crossfire X cards depend on their Catalyst A.I to render Crossfire profiles. If none is available the system defaults to Scissor and locks out but Nvidia is much more user friendly. Instead of automatically switching it provides a user console to those rendering methods can be manually determined in advance.
The choice of graphics cards will depend largely on your personal preferences
The differences between the two are really not even noticeable for all except the most hard core gamers and modders. If you are upgrading your current system to handle games better then the most important issue is whether or not that system is compatible with your favorite games. While most games work well with either card this is not always the case and checking the forums might save you a lot of embarrassment later when you buy a card and can play every game except your favorite.
What do you use?
I have personally tried both SLI and Crossfire and they are both effective at what they do, but both employ different ways of layering the game. From my experience I am much more of a Nvidia fanboy not only because of SLI efficiency but because of the overall native support in games by default.
Let me know in the comments below