Radeon HD 4870: Better Than GTX 260!

Toward Faster Memory

For a long time Nvidia was the precursor when it came to using the latest memory technologies. After the DDR memory used for its GeForce in 2000, the Santa Clara firm was the first to use GDDR2 with the GeForce FX, then GDDR3 with the GeForce 5700. But for awhile now, ATI has been acting as the pioneer — GDDR4 first appeared on its Radeon X1950XT, and now, two years later, it has begun to offer the first card to use GDDR5: the Radeon HD 4870.

There’s no secret when it comes to increasing memory bandwidth. There are two ways to do it: The first consists of widening the data bus, and the second is to make the memory operate faster. The first method comes up against numerous obstacles. A wider bus makes routing on the PCB more complex, and also requires a larger number of pins on the package. Then all those pins have to be connected to the chip, which requires a large number of pads (the interconnections placed around the periphery of the chip). So, a wider bus requires that the die be of a certain size – which is one reason why entry-level GPUs were limited to 128-bit buses for a long time, while their high-end equivalents used a 256-bit or 384-bit bus. Another disadvantage is that it takes more power, which increases the chip’s consumption.

So, it’s no wonder that the option was used parsimoniously. In fact, 128-bit buses were used for a long time on high-end GPUs, from the Riva 128 to the Matrox Parhelia, and the ATI Radeon 9700 four years later. In the same way, the 256-bit bus didn’t get wider until the arrival of Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 late in 2006. And yet, the bandwidth demands of GPUs are constantly increasing, despite the technologies for saving bandwidth that have been perfected with each generation.

Radeon HD 4870

So, the solution lies in running memory faster. That’s easier said than done, however, because as with any circuit, there’s a limit to the clock frequency at which memory chips can operate. To get around the limitations, manufacturers have used various tricks. DDR memory enabled transfer of data on both the rising and the falling edges of the clock cycle, doubling the data rate for a given memory frequency. To do that, DDR memory uses what is called a two-bit prefetch — at each memory access, instead of transferring one bit from the prefetch buffers, the DDR memory transfers two. Successive developments in DDR technology have consisted of moving more and more data at a given memory frequency by increasing the width of the prefetch. DDR2 used a 4-bit prefetch, like GDDR3. GDDR4 introduced an 8-bit prefetch.

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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?