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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 260Priced lower than the GeForce GTX 260Lower noise level than the GeForce GTX 260
  • High power consumption under load, and especially at idlePerformance/price ratio not as good as the Radeon HD 4850

+ Award Recommended Buy

  • finally ATI is getting some love
    I have the 4950 and it is great
    Reply
  • sidereus
    nice review..I wonder why the 4850 can not render race driver : GRID
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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).
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply