Radeon HD 4870 X2: Four Cards Compared

Problems with Catalyst 8.10: Part 1

When it comes time to benchmark, we usually use the generic graphics driver from the AMD’s Web site unless an early release forces us to go with a beta release. Generally we recommend against using the driver that shipped with the card on its software disc, as it’ll often be quite old and serve up different (generally worse) results. AMD has made a significant effort to show a new driver release every month, which complicates presenting scores with the latest release but also puts the latest bug fixes in the hands of enthusiasts immediately—a good thing.

When you start mixing reference software with vendor-specific apps, the door opens to complications. For example, Asus ships its Smart Doctor utility with the card, which allows manual adjustment of clock rates and fan settings. In its standard setting, the software only shows the current data of the graphics card. Extended configuration information has to be changed manually. Because the bundled software is also important when testing products, the Smart Doctor has to be installed either before or after the installation of the Catalyst package from AMD’s page. This is where we started encountering issues. The fan settings of the Radeon HD 4870 X2 start to behave very strangely with both apps co-existing. In 2D mode, the noise level rises up to 46.2 dB(A) at 42% fan speed. Without the Smart Doctor, but with Catalyst 8.10, the noise was only 37 dB(A) at 27% fan speed. If you assume that this difference was intentional, it means you would essentially trade higher fan speed and noise level for lower temperatures: 45°C (with Smart Doctor plus Catalyst 8.10) looks better for 2D mode than 78ºC (with only Catalyst 8.10).

But serious issues arise with the combination of Smart Doctor and Catalyst 8.10 in 3D mode. Under load, the temperature exceeds 90°C. The maximum value shouldn’t exceed 85°C, which is why the high load test had to be aborted several times. The reason for the high temperature lies in the low fan speed, which should actually limit it to 85°C, but the fan didn’t even start to speed up at 90ºC. Because this is only a test, we eventually decided to let things rip and let the cards fall where they may—we expected to fry the two graphic processors, but the fan surprisingly decided to speed up at a temperature of 96°C, which of course is way too high.

Another issue we noticed occurred when starting the high load tests. The fan speed was different each time: 2700 RPM, 2100 RPM, and in the worst case 3700 or 3900 RPM. Independent of the actual temperature, it took more or less time until the maximum temperature of 96°C was reached. Whatever the error is, when using only the Catalyst 8.10 without Smart Doctor, we didn’t experience any difficulties. The problems only occur with the combination. So you’ll have to make a decision: either use an older graphics driver version and Smart Doctor from the CD, or use the current Catalyst 8.10 from the AMD homepage, but without Smart Doctor from the CD.

Interestingly enough, in upgrading from 8.10 to 8.11, fan speeds on the Radeon HD 4870 X2 stuck at 50%, generating a ton of noise. On another system with a fresh installation of Vista and no previous driver installations, the issue disappeared. Just remember to always uninstall previous versions of the software before you install something new.

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  • Anonymous
    Not only do we have four super-fast Radeon HD 4870 X2s to test, but also a list of 31 other graphics configurations including CrossFire and SLI setups. If you're in the market for AMD's fastest card available, you'll want to see this.

    Radeon HD 4870 X2: Four Cards Compared : Read more
    -4
  • neiroatopelcc
    "Because of accessories and price, Sapphire is our best-buy recommendation."
    One slight warning about sapphire though. If you have problems, don't expect their support team to help you before you've solved the problem yourself!

    I made a ticket regarding some issues with my 4870 on august 7th, and received a reply on the 26th of september! That's 46 days to address an error they simply stated would go away with a bios upgrade from their homepage!

    As for the article, I actually liked the detailed driver errors they encountered. Not that I liked the errors themselves, but I liked them being explained. Usually you just read 'after spending some hours resolving driver errors ....' without getting any wiser.
    6
  • Pei-chen
    Wow, AMD cards consume power like a Detroit SUV. I like Nvidia GTX 2xx series’ Toyota Prius like efficiency at idle.
    -22
  • ilovebarny
    Why didnt they use the GTX260 Core 216? its like way better than the regular GTX260. And i just read yesterday that Nvidia was only going to make GTX260 Core 216 now. http://www.fudzilla.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10497&Itemid=1
    2
  • ilovebarny
    And i wish they had SLI'ed the 9800GTX+.
    0
  • Chizops
    Why didn't they try using core i7 (extreme maybe)
    -9
  • enforcer22
    Pei-chenWow, AMD cards consume power like a Detroit SUV. I like Nvidia GTX 2xx series’ Toyota Prius like efficiency at idle.



    Hmm your right. Power house vs crippled mouse.. yeah your analagy sucked im sure mine did to but all i saw from what you typed was i like weak stuff dont give me more power.
    -7
  • bdollar
    seems to me if you are going to be comparing the highest end cards and even crossfire them for 4x you would have the highest resolution as one of the options. i would think people considering going x2 in crossfire would consider a 30" screen.

    don't get me wrong, i liked the article but would have liked to have seen the resolution spectrum hit the top.
    5
  • Anonymous
    It's nice to see the 9800GX2 included in the tests. I was considering the 4870x2 due to all the rave reviews but they never had the comparison like this against my current 9800GX2. I won't be getting new card anytime soon it seems. Thanks.
    4
  • cleeve
    Wow, tons of info there, Tino. Nicely done!
    4
  • marcolau
    neiroatopelcc is right , shappire support is non existent.

    I bought a 2900 xt more than a year ago , on the box in huge letters the pomise for the blax box ( games from steam ) , well where are they ?

    I am still waiting , i sent them an email but after a month no reply .

    Good way to show how u care about your customers Shapphire and even better way to lose them.

    now for 8 bucks difference i bought a Asus 4870 , i had a nice bag for cd software and games and i had them soon .

    Bye Bye Shappire
    So no more shappire , asus all the way :)
    3
  • dirtmountain
    Well done, great information.
    1
  • marcolau
    ah i forgot to mention it , i also get a slightly overclocked card with no warranty issues :)
    0
  • scryer_360
    Wasn't there a comparison using Phenom, Yorkdale and Nehalem chips just a few weeks ago where dual and tri-sli GTX 280 cards were clearly superior to the 4870 X2 in single card and dual card (that is, one 4870 X2 and two 4870 X2s) configurations? What gives here where suddenly the 9800 GX2 is a powerful card again and the GTX 280 is presented as nothing but terrible?

    Eh? These charts do not make sense either, we're getting a 9800 GX2 seemingly more powerful than a GTX 280 in here.

    Was is das? Ich bin TERRIBLY CONFUSED.
    1
  • bounty
    Basically except for a few games, new cards are pointless. In the last round Nvidia made cards that still don't play crysis well, but you may have gone from 100 to 130 fps in some other game (but it doesn't matter). And AMD caught up.

    If it's CPU's that are the problem, then damnit, game developers seriously need to find some better multithreading optimizations.
    1
  • BlakHart
    my 1gb 4870 is always left out :( lol
    5
  • hellwig
    Scryer_360Wasn't there a comparison using Phenom, Yorkdale and Nehalem chips just a few weeks ago where dual and tri-sli GTX 280 cards were clearly superior to the 4870 X2 in single card and dual card (that is, one 4870 X2 and two 4870 X2s) configurations? What gives here where suddenly the 9800 GX2 is a powerful card again and the GTX 280 is presented as nothing but terrible?Eh? These charts do not make sense either, we're getting a 9800 GX2 seemingly more powerful than a GTX 280 in here.Was is das? Ich bin TERRIBLY CONFUSED.



    My thoughts too, their Best Video Card list from November had:

    1) 4870 X2
    2) GTX 280
    3) 9800 GX2, GTX 260, 4870

    But now the 9800 GX2 is superior/equal to a 4870 X2?
    4
  • slomo4sho
    I highly appreciate the "fps per watts" chart.

    Seems the bottom line still is that everything past the 9800 GTX+ or 4850 is basically overkill for most 1680x1050 game play with the obvious exception being Crysis(this game is just coded poorly). Anything over 30 fps will hardly be noticable to the human eye so there really is no sense in buying a card that consumes 150 extra watts of power and costs $300 more so you can have 100+ fps.
    4
  • dagger
    hellwigMy thoughts too, their Best Video Card list from November had:1) 4870 X22) GTX 2803) 9800 GX2, GTX 260, 4870But now the 9800 GX2 is superior/equal to a 4870 X2?


    That's only true in some games. Different engines handle different cards differently. Remember, 9800gx2's g92 is identical to that of a 9800gtx, single 4870 outperform 9800gtx by 20-30%, cf/sli/x2 depends highly on driver optimizations, 9800gx2 already has mature drivers, which means more efficient operations, smaller gap against 4870x2 overall, and outperforming it in a few games. 4870x2 will improve over time.

    As for 9800gx2 outperforming gtx280, that has always been true. It's just few people realize it. Gtx280 cost $420, 9800gx2 $275. Nvidia's hype machine focus on current cash cow.
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3341&p=13
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3341&p=14
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3341&p=15
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3341&p=16
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3341&p=17
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3341&p=18
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3341&p=19
    4
  • Arbie
    Regarding the problems with the ASUS "SmartDoctor" Windows utility, my experience is the same as most people report: NEVER install an ASUS Windows app. They usually combine negligible functionality with a huge increase in problems. The only exception I've found is their PCProbe II which works well with their own motherboards. You can learn the easy way or the hard way on this. BTW I love my HD 4850.
    2