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Do New Drivers Really Boost Performance?

Radeon HD 4870: The Benefit Of CPU Overclocking

This is AMD’s fastest single-chip card with plenty of graphics processing muscle in reserve, which only come to light with a more powerful CPU. The following tables allow you to see how much performance the HD 4870 is able to bring to the screen with the additional processor frequency.

The driver versions and overclocked CPUs are listed directly after the chip name. The resolutions go from 1280x1024 to 1680x1050 to 1920x1200 pixels, first without anti-aliasing (0xAA), then in the same order with anti-aliasing (4xAA, and in Mass Effect 8xAA as well). The two upper lines of figures represent the frame rates, the lower line is the difference in performance in percentage.

Assassins Creed in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.857.758.457.944.443.543.8305.7
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.4766.165.964.750.748.647.3343.3
Difference in performance in percentage14.612.811.714.211.78.012.3

The additional 18.2 percent CPU speed is converted by the graphics card into as much as 14.6 percent higher frame rates. In the 1920 resolution, performance increase stops at 8 percent, although the HD 4870 would seemingly benefit from a clock rate of at least 4 GHz in Assassins Creed.

Call of Duty 4 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.8182.1149.5126.2137.6110.792.1798.2
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.47180.5149.1121.5139.0110.495.5796.0
Difference in performance in percentage-0.9-0.3-3.71.0-0.33.7-0.3

Like the GeForce GTX 280, the Radeon HD 4870 shows no performance improvement with the additional CPU power in Call of Duty 4.

Crysis High in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.831.929.729.526.924.121.1163.2
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.4736.433.231.230.424.821.2177.2
Difference in performance in percentage14.111.85.813.02.90.58.6

Crysis gets a reasonable performance boost. The 18.2 percent jump in clock speed is visible in the 1280 resolution with 13 percent to 14 percent higher frame rates. At 1920 with anti-aliasing enabled, it’s all over—the HD 4870 runs out of steam. At 1680x1050 pixels (4xAA), it offers a minor increase of 3 percent.

Crysis Very High in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.828.822.018.122.015.711.4118.0
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.4731.321.017.621.315.111.5117.8
Difference in performance in percentage8.7-4.5-2.8-3.2-3.80.9-0.2

With Very High image quality, the additional CPU performance only yields results at 1280. In other cases you must expect losses with this test system.

ET: Quake Wars in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.767.765.466.266.664.264.2394.3
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.4780.180.376.876.775.274.3463.4
Difference in performance in percentage18.322.816.015.217.115.717.5

The Catalyst 8.8 graphics driver doesn’t even start Quake Wars. Catalyst version 8.7 was used for the test. Results with 18.3 percent and 22.8 percent additional CPU performance would be intriguing, as only 18.2 percent was made available, and the results clearly show that the Radeon HD 4870 has much more potential in Quake Wars if it is combined with a more powerful CPU.

Half-Life 2 Episode 2 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.8107.2101.4100.6105.8101.5100.1616.6
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.47120.2113.0112.5117.6112.8109.1685.2
Difference in performance in percentage12.111.411.811.211.19.011.1

The results for Half-Life 2 Episode 2 are not surprising as the game is heavily dependent on the CPU. We suspect the HD 4870 could benefit from at least another 500 MHz of CPU clock speed before it reaches its limit.

Mass Effect in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAA12808xAA16808xAA19208xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.895.992.281.963.948.438.862.147.137.5567.8
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.47104.5100.183.364.548.838.862.347.137.7587.1
Difference in performance in percentage9.08.61.70.90.80.00.30.00.53.4

Without anti-aliasing, you can generate a few more frame at 1680x1050 pixels; above this the additional CPU power is ignored as the graphics card has reached its performance limit.

MS Flight Simulator X SP2 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.825.225.925.925.925.825.7154.4
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.4729.328.628.529.728.028.9173.0
Difference in performance in percentage16.310.410.014.78.512.512.0

Flight Simulator X and the Radeon HD 4870 hungrily chew up the CPU overclocking and would happily take more before the graphics card would stop drawing the additional frames on screen. The limit is probably well over the 4 GHz CPU rate.

World in Conflict in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.848.049.947.543.937.033.8260.1
HD 4870 (512 MB) CPU@3.4752.954.150.944.637.632.4272.5
Difference in performance in percentage10.28.47.21.61.6-4.14.8

Without anti-aliasing, the performance increase due to increased CPU clocking is perfectly fine, but with anti-aliasing, the gain is barely visible. The HD 4870 loses some frame rates in the 1920 resolutions, although 1 fps is within the measuring tolerances.

  • pcgamer12
    Great article.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    LedrosTo bad you used 8.8 drivers instead of the 8.9 ones. Real smart people.
    This is observed in the piece and should not affect performance.
    Reply
  • curnel_D
    Lol.
    Reply
  • neiroatopelcc
    SoulLance"Unfortunately for AMD and its customers, the PowerPlay optimization for energy-efficient 2D operation is not included in the Catalyst 8.8 driver for the Radeon HD 4870. Quake Wars refuses to start using the Catalyst 8.8, but it works fine with the Catalyst 8.6 and 8.7."But neither should comments like this appear when everyone on the planet reads a labels that clearly say "Use latest drivers from manufacturer".
    Can you please translate this into english?
    I have no idea what you mean to say with your comment, other than the obvious (that you disagree on some level with the article)
    Reply
  • randomizer
    He's saying you shouldn't criticise newer drivers because most hardware and software packaging has a label, or a section in the manual, telling you to use the latest drivers. So latest = best as far as he is concerned.
    Reply
  • In reference to overclocking graphics cards, I'm pretty sure that XFX card warranties cover overclocking to some degree, though you'd have to double check their warranty fine print.
    Reply
  • neiroatopelcc
    SneppyIn reference to overclocking graphics cards, I'm pretty sure that XFX card warranties cover overclocking to some degree, though you'd have to double check their warranty fine print.Having had experience with two failing xfx cards (both 8800gtx's actually), I've got to warn you though, that their warranty is a bit fictional. While they may actually cover broken products, you can easily risk waiting months for a replacement.
    Proof of my claim in case someone unexpectedly doubts it : http://www.opel.cc/xfx8800gtx/xfx.htm
    That was the first failing card. The second I haven't even bothered sending in, and just bought an 4870 instead of waiting months.
    Reply
  • cryogenic
    We all know there were cases in the past when "Newer drivers provided substantial performance improvements" in various applications or games. Analyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevant, or that from a "professional" stand point the latest drivers shouldn't be chosen.
    Reply
  • randomizer
    CryogenicAnalyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevantBut it can lead to the conclusion that current drivers are irrelevant, or rather less relevant.
    Reply
  • cryogenic
    randomizer
    That's a good,true and useful conclusion, but it's not a general one, only specific to this particular set of drivers.
    Reply