Why? Well first off, its performance is stellar. It manages to be approximately 50% better than the 3870, 9800GTX, etc. It's on par with the 9800GX2. The 4850 25% slower than the 4870, which is 10% slower than the 280GTX, which makes the 4850 ~35% slower than the 280GTX.
This is significant why? While the 4850 is 35% slower than a 280GTX, it costs $450 less. 33% the price, 65% of the performance. It also draws almost 1/3 the power and thus puts out ~1/3 the heat. It's as fast as a 260GTX, which is also more expensive and hotter running.
The 4870 is 1/2 the cost of a 280GTX, actually, a little less, yet offers 90% of the performance at 1/2 the power consumption and 1/2 the heat dump. Talk of a "4870XTX" has been appearing around the internet. Sources describe the "XTX" as a cherry picked, overclocked, possibly factory watercooled 4870 that will be equivalent to the 280GTX at a significantly lower price.
That and two 4870X2's which, each, still cost less than 280GTX's are as fast as three 280GTX's in Tri-SLi. All of this combined with the fact that ATi's initial drivers are always rather shoddy, tells us that the 4800 series has a lot more in store for the consumer. Any 3870 owner will tell you that for the last few months, every new Catalyst release was like getting new video cards.
NVIDIA has no chance, literally. Their yeilds are crappy as it is, a die shrink would probably worsen them. Now, I'm not necessarily an ATi fanboy but I do prefer them, but I've had an equal amount of each brand. I'm just glad to see ATi back on top, and I'm glad to see that they're winning both performance wise in most cases, but also "bang for the buck" wise. When was the last time you could get the best performing card for under $400? Never.
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