How the times have changed.

Throughout the lifespan of the 8-series NVIDIA cards AMD was very much on the back-foot, with the green company constantly on the offensive trying to push home its advantage to squeeze out the competition.

Now that AMD has found its way back on top, in the graphics sphere at least, it's the red company's turn to go for the jugular. And it's NVIDIA's flagship GTX 280 that AMD is seeking to bury with this exclusive Sapphire release, the long-awaited 4850x2.

Card comparison

I say long-awaited because this twin-GPU beastie was touted around the same time as the current top graphics card de jour, the 4870x2.

That card though is resolutely sticking around the £360-£380 mark and with NVIDIA dropping the pricing of its own top card - in some cases below even the £300 point - it's now seen as time to bring in a direct price competitor from the AMD side.

So how does it compare then to NVIDIA's finest? Luckily for the green side of the graphics sphere, not so good. It's possible that the hideous spectre of driver immaturity is the cause for the weak benchmark figures of the 4850x2, but that in itself should be enough to warn you off this release.

Unreliable figures

We were always sceptical of the stability of the drivers for the 4870x2, which meant that despite its impressive performance numbers there was still a part of us that was more comfortable with the monolithic, single-GPU simplicity of the GTX 280. Basically you knew what you were going to get.

The 4850x2 though isn't giving us the sort of benchmarks for which we'd be prepared to give it the benefit of the driver-doubt.

It actually struggles to compare with the mid-range, £200 vanilla 4870, in some cases - notably GRID - it actually drops behind its far cheaper brethren. This doesn't bode well for its competitiveness when compared with the GTX 280 and only when you stretch the resolution to the 2560x1600 breaking point do you see any sort of parity from the memory-heavy 4850x2.

This may be a less hardcore-tech point but the 4850x2 is also massive, physically massive. This may lend some tremendous sense of value with the weight of the thing but try fitting it into your case without a crowbar and you'll see how relevant an issue it is.

Questionable value

NVIDIA has been the king of the extraneous card release recently with the re-branding exercise of the 9800-series and the up-cored GTX 260, but AMD is working hard to redress the balance there too. Last month we saw the mostly rubbish 4830 and this we have the mostly irrelevant 4850x2.

For the same price as the GTX 280 you're getting weaker performance across the board as well as the now-traditional driver worries that always accompany a multi-GPU card. In this case it's most definitely worth sticking with the single-chip solution for both peace of mind and processing power.