Radeon HD 4870: Better Than GTX 260!

Bottom line

For once, our assessment of this Radeon HD 4870 will be simple: It’s an excellent high-end graphics card! With the same architecture and most of the strong points of the Radeon HD 4850, it’s in a higher category performance- and price-wise. The bottom line: Though it’s faster by an average of 6% (and in the majority of our tests) than the GeForce GTX 260, it sells for $299 – $150 less than the competing Nvidia card! Even the top-end card from Nvidia, the GeForce GTX 280 – souped up with more transistors, twice as much memory and higher clock speeds – is not that far ahead. It showed only 13% better performance than the Radeon HD 4870, though it costs twice as much.

A few points enter into the picture to make it bit less idyllic, however. First, the Radeon HD 4870 suffers slightly from the competition with its own stable mate, the HD 4850, since the smaller card has a better performance/price ratio (only 23% less performance at a price that is 60% lower). And, AMD has totally reversed its strong and weak points compared to the preceding generation, and in particular to the Radeon HD 3870 — The Radeon HD 4870’s performance is good with antialiasing enabled (despite having only 512 MB of memory), but it consumes a lot more power at idle and also under load (and more than the GeForce GTX 260). And it’s not exactly a model of silent performance, though it’s still a lot quieter than the GeForce GTX 260, and without heating up the inside of your case.

Now Nvidia will obviously be forced to react and drop the price of its GeForce GTX 260 in a hurry, which is another piece of good news, though so far we haven’t seen any signs that it is about to do that. As for AMD, there’s one more step they need to take to make a total success of this new generation – to release a very-high-end card (which will necessarily mean using two RV770s) that will earn the same enthusiasm. And that may be a little harder to do.

AMD Radeon HD 4870
With the same qualities as the Radeon HD 4850 but at a higher price point, the Radeon HD 4870 manages to compete directly with the GeForce GTX 260 – it’s both a little faster and a good deal less expensive than the Nvidia card, and without the excessive noise. Despite its higher power consumption, with prices as they stand currently, there’s really no doubt that it’s the better choice.
  • Pros
  • Cons
    • 6% better performance than the GeForce GTX 260
    • Priced lower than the GeForce GTX 260
    • Lower noise level than the GeForce GTX 260
    • High power consumption under load, and especially at idle
    • Performance/price ratio not as good as the Radeon HD 4850

+ Award Recommended Buy recommended buy logo

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  • finally ATI is getting some love
    I have the 4950 and it is great
  • sidereus
    nice review..I wonder why the 4850 can not render race driver : GRID
  • mpasternak
    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
  • eltouristo
    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.
  • lightfoot__
    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.
  • 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).
  • oafed
    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.
  • septagent
    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.
  • timaahhh
    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.
  • eurodj
    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
  • jimmysmitty
    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.
  • Chazwuzzer
    Gawd, I can't wait to get my mits on one of these. I should prolly get my order in now...
  • caamsa
    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.
  • martel80
    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.
  • Shadow703793
    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.
  • falchard
    Would be interesting if they actually tested these cards on an AMD Platform. Why do that always test AMD parts seperately?
  • Shadow703793
    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.
  • Shadow703793
    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!
  • JAYDEEJOHN
    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
  • homerdog
    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.
  • ram1009
    I've had nothing but problems from all the ATI boards I've owned. Very bad drivers. I'll stay with Nvidia.
  • Haiku214
    I think you mean 4850. My 4850 renders GRID quite well.
  • ZootyGray
    Re 4850/4870 temps at idle and load - FAN SPEED WORKAROUND!

    Check This Out!
    http://www.techpowerup.com/64398/ATI_Radeon_HD_4850_Fan_Speed_Workaround_Posted.html

    AND this!

    This was the first info I found re temp/fan controls.
    http://forums.guru3d.com/showthread.php?p=2751569#post2751569

    Seems you can dial in a lower temperature by changing the stock fan speed. And you can tweak your preferred noise level. Interesting read. I expect driver updates, as do others. I copied this info, cos I get a feeling it's going to be del'd. (?) Personally, I have not done this, cos I don't have a card :) to do it on! :) But it's a HOT item.
  • urahozer
    i want to know the quality settings used on Crysis, was it on Very High?