Regardless of the technical explanation, the GTX 295 card was simply faster than the Asus EAH 4870 X2 card on almost all of our 3D gaming tests. The only exception was a 1-frame advantage for the Asus card on the 1,440x900-pixel Left 4 Dead test. In fairness, the GTX 295 didn't win by embarrassing margins either, but the Far Cry 2 scores, in particular, were large enough to be noticeable. Given the convincing lead of the GTX 295 across multiple game engines, in both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10, and at multiple resolutions, we're comfortable with recommending it as the top single card you can buy.
We're also happy to point out that the GTX 295 is relatively power-efficient compared with the Asus card. We say 'relatively', because Nvidia's card still consumes more than 400W under load. That's more power draw for a 3D card alone than that required by most budget desktops.
This relative efficiency is another benefit of moving the GTX 200 chip to the 55nm manufacturing process mentioned above. The GTX 295 requires one six-pin and one eight-pin connection to your PC's power supply, and, because we'd recommend a 750W or better power supply to go with this card, we can't exactly argue that it's the greenest component out there. But, if you must spend £400 or so on a top-end 3D card, the GTX 295 is at least greener than its competition.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
There is, of course, more to the story of the GTX 295, and graphics cards in general. Nvidia has been particularly vocal about the capabilities of its 3D cards beyond mere triangle processing. For example, Nvidia has made a physics driver available to allow support for its PhysX accelerated game physics software in the PC version of Mirror's Edge. The GTX 295 was able to handle the added processing work without a hitch, but we can't say we found the added effects that worthwhile. Yes, cloth and particle effects, like shattering glass and smoke, behaved more realistically, bouncing off surfaces and responding to your actions. But the added effects rarely made more than a cosmetic improvement to the game experience, and, even then, they felt tacked on to the Mirror's Edge world (which already has a modular, impersonal feel).
That's not to say we're against PhysX, accelerated game physics in general, or Nvidia's other efforts to differentiate its hardware beyond simple frame rates. What we'll call the parallel-programming effort, as represented by Nvidia's CUDA, Apple's OpenCL, ATI's Stream processing, and Microsoft's forthcoming parallel-computing support in Windows 7, via DirectX 11, will probably affect commonly used software in the coming years, and we're excited to see what develops. But, while Nvidia and ATI both offer some parallel processing in dribs and drabs now, we have yet to see an implementation of this capability that drives us toward one vendor's hardware over another's.
Finally, home-cinema enthusiasts (and even some PC LCD owners) will be glad to know that, as with our engineering sample, all of the retail GTX 295 boards ship with two DVI outs and an HDMI output. You still need to wire the audio signal from your PC's digital output to the card itself (a hassle ATI has avoided by integrating an audio chip into all of its new 3D cards), but, once that's done, connecting the GTX 295 to an HDTV or a projector should be simple.
With the GeForce GTX 295, Nvidia has snatched back it's lead from ATI in the 3D-card arena. The GTX 295 makes significant power demands, but represents good value for money, and those who stump up the cash will enjoy the best 3D hardware currently available.