Don't let the name fool you, ATITool is fully capable of overclocking nVidia hardware!
I'll admit it, I too get caught up in benchmarks when making a purchasing decision. If I'm paying top dollar for a swank new component, it better be the baddest mother on the block. Hell, the same principle applies when going the bang for buck route, where the goal is to receive max performance for every last nickel spent. Hey, that's part of what this hobby is all about, and entire online communities exist that offer little more than a haven for bragging rights. But let's face it, unless a component is a complete dud, there's little to no real-world performance separation from one piece of hardware to another at any given performance tier. Can you really tell the difference between a Biostar 8800GTX clocked at 575MHz/1800MHz, versus one from BFG clocked at 600MHz/1800MHz? If so, you could make a heckuva living recovering needles from haystacks in the dark. But for the rest of us, outside of scrutinizing benchmarks, there's not going to be a noticeable difference, and if pricing and features are comparable, what then becomes the deciding factor? For many of those in the nVidia camp, it's the warranty. Adopting the policies long held by memory manufacturers, lifetime backings are becoming increasingly popular for videocards (AMD/ATI parts haven't followed suit), as companies try to outdo each other and gain a marketing advantage. Most recently, XFX amended their warranty terms to be more competitive with EVGA's flexible policy, but is there enough to get excited over? And who has the best warranty of the bunch? Let's take a peek at how they break down:
PNY used to offer lifetime backings on their videocards, but they seem to have nixed the policy since the 6xxx days. Just as well too, because it was a misleading guarantee due to PNY's wording. Their definition of lifetime refered to the production runs, and whether or not the cards could be found "on the common market as a new product." So in other words, market trends in the fast evolving GPU world determined your true warranty period, which, in theory, could be as short as six months. Sounds more like the definition of weaksauce.
On the opposite end of the lifetime spectrum, EVGA covers their cards for as long as they physically exist, regardless of whether they're still stocked on retail shelves or not. And to sweeten the pot, you're allowed to swap the heatsink/fan assembly, and can even overclock without invalidating the guarantee. In a nutshell, it's your card to do with as you wish, so long as you never cause any physical damage, such as a cracked PCB, broken capacitor, burn marks, or other such unpleasantries. It's a great policy at first glance, but a closer look reveals that it all goes out the window if you fail to register your card within 30 days of purchase, at which point you'd only be covered for one year. That's a stiffer penalty than what NBA referee Joey Crawford received in response to ejecting a player sitting on the bench for the malicious act of (*drum roll*)...smiling.
XFX also boasts a true lifetime warranty, and taking it one step further, you can transfer the backing to a second owner. For frequent upgraders that sell off their used equipment, XFX's Double Lifetime Warranty, as it's dubbed, makes for a great marketing bullet on EBay or trading forums. And in a move to remain competitive on paper, as of April 17th, XFX now also allows end users to overclock the card and replace the heatsink/fan assembly. Unfortunately, they've also adopted the same vexatious 30-day registration policy and accompanying penalty for non-compliance as EVGA.
On the surface, BFG's lifetime backing appears to be the most ho-hum out of the bunch. No concessions are made regarding heatsink/fan removal, nor do they condone end-user overclocking. They also specifically mention the Original Purchaser in the fine print, seemingly negating a transfer of terms to a subsequent owner. I brought this up to a BFG tech nearly 2 years ago, and was told at the time that they do in fact cover a second owner (I still have the email), and when queried again just the other day, was given a completely opposite answer. So officially, subsequent owners these days are out of luck, though I was never asked for any proof of purchase or registration information when initiating an RMA request on a card I had believed to be faulty (turns out it was not). I'll let you draw your own conclusion on that one.
Lifetime warranties are great and all, but enough pimping the fine print. Let's see some REAL extras thrown in!
Now that we have a better picture of each one's warranty policy, it begs the question, does it really matter? Maximum PC faithful know that warranties rarely get mentioned in the magazine, and don't play a factor in a product's scoring. And while it may feel warm and fuzzy to hug a policy allowing you to swap a heatsink, what are the chances that Asus (for a random example) is going to deny your claim if you put the original heatsink/fan back on the card before sending it in for repair? How many users volunteer the fact that they've overclocked when filling out an RMA request? In the end, I applaud these companies for offering true lifetime backings, but I can do without the meaningless fluff and accompanying red-tape penalties. My plea is this: Rather than separate oneself with fine-print gobledegook, let's see some real value added innovation. I'm not talking about the standard game bundles either (which range from crappy B titles, to hot A list hits), but something unique that hasn't been done. Throw in a coupon for a one year sub to Maximum PC magazine (check out their website, if you get a chance) or PC Gamer. Toss in a modest sized USB key packed with saved games, special quest items, maps and walkthroughs not easily found on Google, or other such niceties. Heck, cram a free kitten into the box, and I can think of at least one MPC staffer that would bite [[editor's note: damn straight!]]. Just don't try and sell me on legalese that, in my real-world setting, already exists.