GeForce GTX 460 SLI Performance vs. AMD GPUs

Our first look at the GeForce GTX 460 showed it to be an impressive product with excellent all-around performance for the price. Next our SLI follow-up showed that a GTX 460 SLI rig was competitive with NVIDIA’s own flagship DX11 products. But how does GTX 460 SLI compare with AMD’s HD 5850, 5870, and 5970 cards?

GeForce GTX 460 SLI, Part II

When we first looked at the impressive GeForce GTX 460, we liked what we saw and did so most of you, our readers. But you quickly made it apparent that you wanted to see some SLI performance comparisons, which were not included in the first evaluation due to time constraints. We quickly put some information together to show you that a pair of GeForce GTX 460s in SLI outperforms not only a GeForce GTX 470, but even a GTX 480. Now we’re going to show you how a GTX 460 SLI setup will perform when compared to AMD’s higher priced products. Specifically, we will be comparing GTX 460 SLI performance with AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 5850, Radeon HD 5870, and the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970.

Test Setup

These tests were performed on the same test system used for our GeForce GTX 460 evaluation. No changes were made to the core system hardware, operating system, or core drivers.

For the following tests, we used a pair of Galaxy Super OC GeForce GTX 460 1GB video cards in SLI. The galaxy card has a high overclock out of the box, with the GPU core clocked to 810MHz, the Shader core clocked at 1.62GHz, and the memory clocked to 4.0GHz. That is 135 MHz above the GPU core reference clock rate, 270MHz above the Shader core reference clock, and 400MHz higher than NVIDIA’s reference memory speed for the GeForce GTX 460.

For this second SLI performance follow-up, we will be comparing performance of these GTX 460s in SLI against a Radeon HD 5850 1GB, a Radeon HD 5870 1GB, and a Radeon HD 5970 dual GPU video card. We used the AMD Catalyst 10.6 WHQL driver for Windows 7 x64 for the AMD video cards, and the WHQL certified ForceWare version 258.96 drivers for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 SLI setup.

GeForce GTX 460 SLI Performance Comparisons

In this follow-up we have included three games from our testing suite. We are using Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Metro 2033, and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Our first follow-up included Singularity, but we opted to use Conviction for this follow-up instead because Anti-Aliasing is still not supported on AMD video cards in Singularity.

NOTE: In order to aid readability, each set of data is presented in two graphs. The first graph for each game will compare data from the GeForce GTX 460 SLI, the Radeon HD 5970, and the Radeon HD 5870. The second graph will compare data from the GeForce GTX 460 SLI and the Radeon HD 5850. The same GTX 460 SLI data is used for both graphs, for each game.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

For testing GTX 460 SLI performance in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, we configured the game to run at 2560x1600 with 4X MSAA, 16X AF, and the highest in-game settings available. We played through the first 10 minutes of the "Heart of Darkness" level.

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In Battlefield: Bad Company 2, we can see that the Radeon HD 5970 is considerably faster than the GTX 460 SLI setup, giving us an average frame rate that is 22% higher. The GTX 460s in SLI are then 13% faster than the Radeon HD 5870.

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Here, the GTX 460 SLI configuration is 28% faster on average than the Radeon HD 5850.

Metro 2033

For Metro 2033, we configured the game to run in DirectX 11 at 2560x1600 with the "Very High" graphics option configured and AAA selected. We enabled Tessellation, but disabled Advanced DoF. With 4X MSAA enabled in this game, performance tanked on all three GPU configurations we selected, so we chose AAA instead. We used "Chapter 4: War: Outpost" for these tests.

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In Metro 2033, the Radeon HD 5970’s advantage over the GTX 460 SLI rig is severely diminished, but not completely eliminated. The HD 5970 finished 6% faster than the GTX 460 SLI setup, which was then 28% faster than the Radeon HD 5870.

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Predictably enough, the GeForce GTX 460 SLI setup seriously outperformed the Radeon HD 5850. In this test, it was 39% faster.

Splinter Cell: Conviction

To test Splinter Cell: Conviction, we configured out video card configurations to run the game at 2560x1600 with 4X MSAA enabled. We also used 16X AF and the highest in-game graphics options available. For our testing procedure, we used the entirety of the "Washington Monument" level.

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In Splinter Cell: Conviction, the GTX 460 SLI once again comes very close to the performance level of the Radeon HD 5970. The HD 5970 squeaked by with a marginal 3% performance advantage. Meanwhile, the GeForce GTX 460 setup gave us about 28% faster framerates in this game than the Radeon HD 5870.

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Once again, the GeForce GTX 460 SLI option blew the Radeon HD 5850 away by a margin of 39%.

Cost Effectiveness

At $250 USD, the Galaxy Super OC is one of the more expensive GTX 460 video cards out there, but it is also the fastest in terms of out-of-the box overclocking, worth mentioning too is that it is not a reference card either carrying a unique "flip fan" design. Comparatively, a vanilla GTX 460 1GB will cost you $230. Two of these Galaxy GTX 460 will cost you a whopping $180 less than the Radeon HD 5970. The Radeon HD 5970 is faster in every game we tested here, but $180 is a considerable chunk of change considering the slim margin on all but Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

When looking at it from another angle, the Galaxy Super OC GTX 460 SLI costs $500 to support 3x1 multi-display gaming where AMD's 5850 1GB does it for $290, and AMD's 5870 1GB does it for $380. While these two AMD options cost less to support multi-display gaming, both also get handed huge defeats in real-world gameplay performance. The GeForce GTX 460 SLI cannot be expanded to 3-way or 4-way SLI. All the Radeon 5850 and 5870 cards looked at here today can be used for 2-way or 3-way CrossFireX. The 5970 can be expanded to 2-way CrossFireX.

The Bottom Line

The GeForce GTX 460 SLI setup is certainly a great performer. In terms of AMD's DX11 product lineup, the GeForce GTX 460 SLI option lands somewhere between the Radeon HD 5870 and the dual GPU Radeon HD 5970. The Radeon HD 5970 is faster, but much more expensive, and the Radeon HD 5870 is a slower performer but less expensive.

When compared to performance of single high-end video cards from AMD, the value of the GeForce GTX 460 SLI option loses some of its luster. The AMD Radeon HD 5000 video cards can be doubled-up as well, which will deliver a better performance than the GTX 460 SLI ever will. (Edit - 08/10/10 - As we have learned since publishing this article, that is not necessarily true. Please excuse my assumption.)

So, where does the GTX 460 SLI solution hold solid value? For those of you looking to upgrade to SLI later, the GeForce GTX SLI holds a very solid value. For those of you looking to go with an NVIDIA product, it holds a tremendously solid value.

For gamers looking to get into multi-monitor gaming, the Radeon HD 5850 may be a better overall value than the GeForce GTX 460 SLI. Each video card costs only about $30 more than the Galaxy Super OC GeForce GTX 460 cards we used for this evaluation, but the 5850 will support Eyefinity multi-display gaming right out of the box, without having to buy a second video card.

One thing we do know for sure is that competition is good for the gamer. We have more options now than we have had in a long time. With all the options, the picture about "the best" gets a bit murkier though. To make an informed decision you are going to have to be sure of your upgrade path over time, both in terms of possible SLI and CrossFireX scaling as well as possibly scaling your displays into an Eyefinity or NV Surround configuration.