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Radeon HD 4870: Better Than GTX 260!

Radeon HD 4870: What’s Improved?

GPUHD 4850HD 4870GTX 260GTX 280
GPU frequency625 MHz750 MHz576 MHz602 MHz
ALU frequency625 MHz750 MHz1242 MHz1296 MHz
Memory frequency1000 MHz900 MHz999 MHz1107 MHz
Memory bus width256 bits256 bits448 bits512 bits
Memory typeGDDR3GDDR5GDDR3GDDR3
Memory quantity512 MB512 MB896 MB1024 MB
Number of ALUs800800192240
Number of texture units40406480
Number of ROPs16162832
Shading power1 TFlops1.2 TFlops715 GFlops933 GFlops
Memory bandwidth64 GB/s115.2 GB/s111.9 GB/s141.7 GB/s
Number of transistors956 million956 million1400 million1400 million
Engraving process0.055µ0.055µ0.065µ0.065µ
Die surface area260 mm²260 mm²576 mm²576 mm²
Generation2008200820082008
Shader Model supported4.14.14.04.0

The difference between the Radeon HD 4870 and its little brother the 4850 can be summed up in two characteristics: theoretical power, increased by 20% solely via higher clock speeds (the number of ALUs remain unchanged, unlike Nvidia’s approach), and above all memory bandwidth, which has almost doubled (+ 80%). This change is the result, as we’ve seen, of the use of GDDR5, with an equivalent frequency that’s nearly doubled compared to the GDDR3 used on the Radeon HD 4850. This type of memory is expensive, but less so than using a 512-bit or at least a 448-bit bus, which would have been necessary to achieve an equivalent bandwidth using GDDR3 memory as Nvidia has chosen to do — not to mention higher power consumption (memory chips + controller). The result is that the Radeon HD 4870’s bandwidth is similar (in fact 3% higher) to the GeForce GTX 260’s.

By the way, the theoretical superiority of the 4870’s raw processing power over the GTX 260’s is particularly impressive considering that the 4870’s GPU has a die surface area that’s barely 45% of the Nvidia card’s!

On the other hand, we can’t help but mention the obvious limitation that emerges from a reading of these specs – the memory quantity, still limited to 512 MB on the 4870. That’s only slightly over half as much as the GTX 260, and even when you consider that the Radeon cards suffer much less than the GeForce ones when using central memory in cases of frame buffer limitations, we’ll need to keep a close eye on how performance and rankings evolve as resolution increases. Also note that certain manufacturers, such as PowerColor, have already announced 1-GB versions of the Radeon HD 4870, but they won’t be available to do that before the end of July.

  • 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