Both vendors degrade image quality at default driver settings, though the 6850 is the worst offender out of the three cards. Also both the 470 and 6850 showed a performance increase by using Q over HQ, though the 6850 was impacted the most overall. In contrast, the 5770 showed no performance change and the least image quality loss from using default driver settings.
With regards to filtering quality, the 6850 has reduced the hard transitions and dead zones compared to the 5770, but they’re still present. As for shimmering, the 6850 has a higher incidence of it on certain detailed textures during in-game movement. While angle invariance is theoretically an advantage for AMD, I couldn’t find any scenario where it offered a practical benefit over nVidia.
Image quality aficionados will recognize that nVidia’s AF still produces the smoothest and most uniform images overall. With that said, if you’re someone who never changes the driver control panel from its defaults, you probably won’t notice a difference between the two vendors. And to be perfectly fair, occurrences of practical differences tend to be rare anyway.
As for MLAA, it has a very heavy performance hit while offering substantially inferior image quality compared to traditional AA modes. I’d only use it where no other AA works, and even then I’d think twice before putting up with all that blurring.
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