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Radeon HD 4870: Better Than GTX 260!

Radeon HD 4870: Better Than GTX 260!
By , and Florian Charpentier

Only a few days ago, everything seemed perfect in the best of all possible worlds for Nvidia. The card manufacturer had just launched its GeForce GTX 260 and 280, which – despite the six-month delay – pushed the unified architecture introduced with the GeForce 8 to the limits of what a 65-nm process and a gigantic number of transistors could offer. The performance gain compared to the former –and now older – generation wasn’t overwhelming (59% on average over a 9800 GTX), but the arrival of CUDA applications was an interesting development, and Nvidia had no competition. Meanwhile, AMD seemed to be ever deeper in the red with its graphics division, avowedly incapable of competing on the high-end market segment as it once did, with its existing high-end cards quickly aging performance-wise. Then came the hush-hush release of the Radeon HD 4850, even before anybody had time to test it, and at an astoundingly low price of $199.

Radeon HD 4870

Yet, in the AMD camp, a miracle has happened. The Radeon HD 4850’s performance surprised everybody – including Nvidia. Despite the last-minute launch of the GeForce 9800 GTX+, which will not be available in retail channels until mid-July, Nvidia simply can’t match the explosive performance/price ratio of the Radeon card as we demonstrated in our recent test. The familiar marketing pitch about optimizing efficiency and the architecture’s yield, which has always sounded like fluff, suddenly took on a new meaning considering the Radeon HD 4850’s test results. It also even awakened hopes of an even better performance in the future. Having managed — to its own surprise — to increase the number of multiprocessors from 320 to 800 despite a 43% increase in the number of transistors and at the same engraving depth, AMD doesn’t want to settle for playing in the minors – and for good reason. A Radeon HD 4870, based on the same architecture but with higher performance (and of course at a higher price) has been announced and is slowly beginning to be available, though there’s still some uncertainty about that last point. On paper, at least, it could directly compete with Nvidia’s new high-end cards, and at a significantly lower price. But how about in practice?

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  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , July 3, 2008 3:24 PM
    finally ATI is getting some love
    I have the 4950 and it is great
  • 0 Hide
    sidereus , July 3, 2008 3:43 PM
    nice review..I wonder why the 4850 can not render race driver : GRID
  • 0 Hide
    mpasternak , July 3, 2008 3:51 PM
    for the pure gamer at heart, the 4870 seems to be a steal.

    however, what are the possibilities for a CUDA like processing environment or handling Physics engines? I think AMD has done a great job making a pure video card, but I believe the future will be with unified technologies of having the GPU assist in other tasks as well.

    Time will Tell
  • 5 Hide
    eltouristo , July 3, 2008 3:55 PM
    Would REALLY help alot if there were charts with these new cards and some of the last gen (what's in the desktop charts now) that way I could
    see how much I could gain by upgrading. Maybe thats an update to the desktop charts that just hasnt been dont yet? Seems like it would have already been.
  • 1 Hide
    lightfoot__ , July 3, 2008 4:00 PM
    Under load, the heat sink did its job and the temperature didn’t rise all that much – at least not as much as the little Radeon HD 4850.

    The 4850 went up 6* and the 4870 went up 10*... I think the 4870 went up more, but you (Tom's) said it went up less.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 3, 2008 4:05 PM
    LOL you don't even have your drivers working properly if a 3870 and 3870x2 are matching each other in performance. Crossfire on the card isn't even working properly, check any bench of a 3870x2 vs 3870 in Call of Duty 4 (ATI preferred drivers).
  • 0 Hide
    oafed , July 3, 2008 4:06 PM
    The real key is what all the prices on these cards are when Nehalem is released.

    LOTS of enthusiasts are planning a Nehalem build toward the end of the year. I image they will be getting 4850/4870s or GTX260/GTX280s. All depending on where the prices are I imagine.
  • 1 Hide
    septagent , July 3, 2008 4:08 PM
    eltouristoWould REALLY help alot if there were charts with these new cards and some of the last gen (what's in the desktop charts now) that way I couldsee how much I could gain by upgrading. Maybe thats an update to the desktop charts that just hasnt been dont yet? Seems like it would have already been.



    I agree about the charts. I don't consider buying a 4870 vs an older card like an x1950, but it sure would be nice to see how much it has improved over time.

  • 1 Hide
    timaahhh , July 3, 2008 4:28 PM
    Thank you ATI. Though I won't be buying your card cause I just bought an 8800 GT maybe this will force nVidia to drop there prices and give me a cheap step up :D .
  • 0 Hide
    eurodj , July 3, 2008 4:32 PM
    I loved ati since the rage era, im so glad they are back in the game again, i might even consider trading in my 9800gtx sli for a 4850 crossfire down the line, maybe when i setup to ddr3. But for now best bang for the buck cards are the 9800gtx and the 4850 in my opinion
  • 0 Hide
    jimmysmitty , July 3, 2008 4:41 PM
    I want either a 48701GB or a 4870X2. I have a 2900Pro 1GB and going to 512MB would not work for me. Plus I wounder if at much higher resolutions if another 512MB would help.
  • 0 Hide
    Chazwuzzer , July 3, 2008 4:48 PM
    Gawd, I can't wait to get my mits on one of these. I should prolly get my order in now...
  • 1 Hide
    caamsa , July 3, 2008 4:58 PM
    I wonder where they tested these cards? My 4850 runs between 52C idle and usually never above 65C while under load. I just use ASUS SmartDoctor which allows you to control the fan speed. Before using smartdoctor the fan speed never changed and it did run at 80C under load.
  • -2 Hide
    martel80 , July 3, 2008 5:25 PM
    WTF is going on with those locked minimum clock speeds? I'm already pissed off by HD 3870 running at 300/1126 in XP, what a waste of power! Why don't they offer the possibility to manually (in control panel) underclock the card all the way down to 150-200/300-400 MHz is beyond me.
  • 0 Hide
    Shadow703793 , July 3, 2008 5:30 PM
    Finally AM/ATI's on the field. Glad to see the card is performing well esp. given the price. Now all ATI has to do optimize the drivers. Congrats to Toms on a good article written in a while.
  • 0 Hide
    falchard , July 3, 2008 5:33 PM
    Would be interesting if they actually tested these cards on an AMD Platform. Why do that always test AMD parts seperately?
  • -1 Hide
    Shadow703793 , July 3, 2008 5:37 PM
    martel80WTF is going on with those locked minimum clock speeds? I'm already pissed off by HD 3870 running at 300/1126 in XP, what a waste of power! Why don't they offer the possibility to manually (in control panel) underclock the card all the way down to 150-200/300-400 MHz is beyond me.

    This is because just like underclocking a CPU there is a minimum frequency and a minimum voltage that is needed. Also these are gaming class GPUs aimed at raw power(= more power use + heat)and not really to be energy efficient. Although energy efficiency (usually goes hand in hand with heat output) counts to a certain extent when OCing and higher clock speeds these negatives of lower energy efficiency can be overcome through better HSFs/smaller manufacturing process etc.
  • 2 Hide
    Shadow703793 , July 3, 2008 5:38 PM
    falchardWould be interesting if they actually tested these cards on an AMD Platform. Why do that always test AMD parts seperately?

    Because the Phenom's aren't very good!
  • 1 Hide
    JAYDEEJOHN , July 3, 2008 5:39 PM
    From what Ive heard, the 150 clock is one of the gen clocks on a few of the bios, just not implemented yet. Give it time
  • 0 Hide
    homerdog , July 3, 2008 5:54 PM
    Yes, the idle clocks aren't going nearly low enough with the current BIOSs. I've actually seen a BIOS floating around that had the right idle clocks (160/500MHz I think). Hopefully this will be corrected soon.

    On a separate note, what's up with RV770 and UE3? I hadn't realized until now that the GeForce cards really pull ahead in those tests. With any other engine it wouldn't be that big a deal, but UE3 is kind of important.
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