When Budget Graphics Clash: GeForce 9400 GT Meets Radeon HD 4550

The Coming Red Invasion

Competing for your Budget Dollars

Going by recent events, ATI has had a busy month with new mainstream and value segment GPUs launching at a steady pace. We have all seen the debut of the Radeon HD 4670 earlier this month, with the 4650 following that shortly. The next step then is to go down the performance ladder and today, its budget Radeon HD 4500 series is about to be unveiled. Unlike NVIDIA's myriad model names, the Radeon HD 4500 series is positioned to be slower than the Radeon HD 4600 GPUs and is hence even less of a gaming graphics card. It's also priced accordingly, with ATI pegging it at between US$45 - 55, as compared to the US$79 Radeon HD 4670.

With ATI officially extending its Radeon 4000 series architecture to the budget segment with these upcoming cards, we decided that it was the right time to look at NVIDIA's equivalent, the GeForce 9400 GT, which was released about a month ago. At US$59, it would go directly against the newcomer and we should see some interesting comparisons between the two graphics rivals, besides the typical high-end shootout.

To aid us in this venture, we have gathered a reference ATI Radeon HD 4550 512MB DDR3 card from the chipmaker, while we had on hand a Zotac GeForce 9400 GT ZONE Edition, equipped with a passive heatsink and 512MB of GDDR2. Both GPUs are at their reference clock speeds, so they should be appropriate representatives of these new SKUs.

Adding more excitement and uncertainty into this duel, we threw in some of the closer competitors in this very tightly contested segment, where the price difference could be as small as US$10. It is nevertheless a crucial market segment, since manufacturers typically sell more of these budget/mainstream GPUs than the high-end models. By no means is the list of GPUs below exhaustive, but we have tried to remove some of the older and hence less relevant models.

Radeon HD 4670 and its Competitors
Model ATI Radeon HD 4670 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GSO 384MB NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT 256/512MB ATI Radeon HD 3850 256MB
Core Code RV730 G92 G94 G96 RV670
Transistor Count Unknown 754 million 505 million 314 million 666 million
Manufacturing Process (in nm) 55 65/55 65/55 65/55 55
Core Clock 750MHz 550MHz 650MHz 550MHz 670MHz
Stream Processors 64 Shader processors consisting of 320 Stream Processing units 96 Stream Processors 64 Stream Processors 32 Stream Processors 64 Shader processors consisting of 320 Stream Processing units
Stream Processor Clock 750MHz 1375MHz 1625MHz 1400MHz 670MHz
Texture Mapping Units (TMU) or Texture Filtering (TF) units 16 48 32 16 16
Raster Operator units (ROP) 8 12 16 8 16
Memory Clock 2000MHz GDDR3/DDR3 1600MHz GDDR3 1800MHz GDDR3 1600MHz GDDR3 or 1000MHz GDDR2 1660MHz GDDR3
DDR Memory Bus 128-bit 192-bit 256-bit 128-bit 256-bit
Memory Bandwidth 32.0GB/s 38.4GB/s 57.6GB/s 25.6GB/s (GDDR3) 16.0GB/s (GDDR2) 53.1GB/s
PCI Express Interface PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16
Molex Power Connectors No Yes Yes No Yes
Multi GPU Technology Yes (CrossFireX) Yes (SLI) Yes (SLI) Yes (SLI) Yes (CrossFire)
DVI Output Support 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link
HDCP Output Support Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Street Price US$79 ~US$90 - 105 ~US$110 - 130 ~US$70 - 89 ~US$100 - 130

To find out how these new cards would fare in the present competitive market, we took PowerColor's enhanced Radeon HD 4670 for a spin. With a ZEROtherm cooler and a slightly overclocked core, this card should give NVIDIA's GeForce 9 cards a run for its money.

The compact package is nothing to look at but then again, that's always the case for these budget graphics cards compared to their high-end versions.

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