ATI Radeon HD 4890: Playing To Win Or Played Again?


Last year, ATI straight-armed Nvidia into slashing the prices on its GeForce GTX 280 and 260 cards, while prices on its own offerings held up extremely well given a lack of new competition.

This year, Nvidia is rolling with a 55 nm die shrink and e-tail prices that might displease shareholders, but certainly give game enthusiasts something to celebrate. With prices on GeForce GTX 260 Core 216s hovering between $180 and $190 online (with rebates dropping that to $160 in many cases), this isn’t June of 2008, where a surprise attack from ATI rocks Nvidia’s world.

At the same time, ATI’s existing Radeon HD 4870 1 GB costs just a tad more than the GTX 260 Core 216 and, in return, is able to best the Nvidia card in a number of our tests. At $170-$180 after rebates from a number of different vendors, that’s a great choice as well.

Yes, the RV790 GPU is a brand new piece of logic. Yes, it does enable quite a bit more headroom in ATI’s architecture. But at the end of the day, the Radeon HD 4890 is good for a fairly consistent 10% performance boost over the card it will succeed (and push down to the $180-ish price point to battle the GTX 260). Will 10% ever mean the difference between turning anti-aliasing on, or stepping up from 1680x1050 to 1920x1200? A thousand times, no. Flip through the benchmarks—at no point does an extra three frames at 30 fps turn into a significantly better gaming experience. And at a $250-ish estimated price point, you’re talking about spending an extra $75 or $80 bucks to get those few frames.

If it turns out that rebates and price cuts push the Radeon HD 4890 somewhere between $200 and $210, it would be deserving of a look and some hands-on time with the re-designed core to push its overclocking limits (Update 2: ATI says it is shooting for prices, with rebates, around $220. That's still a little higher than we'd like to see, but certainly more aggressive than the $260 we were initially expecting. As of launch, however, prices on seven models of the HD 4890 start at $249 with instant rebates). Otherwise, the Radeon HD 4870 1 GB and GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 at their current levels are just too good to skip over for what amounts to a very similar experience. At least in the case of the HD 4870, you get the exact same feature set, including DirectX 10.1 support, too.

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  • mbbs20
    overclocking ?
  • eklipz330
    i usually don't bitch and moan about them not having enough test gpu's, but i'd really like to see that sapphire 2gb 4870 up there, seeing how its in the same price range as the 4890...

    any of these cards would suffice for me, 1680*1050 does save you a pretty penny
  • ravenware

    It seems to overclock well and outpaces the 275.

    The stalker results seem odd from both review sites. But stalker is glitchy.

    If priced right this should be a decent addition to the 4x series.
    It holds its own against the 275 and in certain games the 285.

    Perhaps sapphire will release a dual card.
    The 4850x2 they released performed extremely well.
  • megamanx00
    The 4850X2 is absent to compare to I see. Still nice to finally see a review of this thing. Nice gains over the 4870.
  • eklipz330
    Stalker: Clear Sky benchmarks are fairly new in our graphics card reviews, even if the game itself isn’t particularly fresh.Let us know what you think of this one in the comments section. At the very least, it’s a beautiful looking game.

    any benchmark is welcome i suppose

    too bad price goes up exponentially for minimal improvements... the 4890 will be about %50 more than the 4870 [assuming the latter is $180 and the former $270)for a ~10% performance increase... hopefully the gap will shrink by summer
  • cangelini
    Both the 2 GB card and the 4850 X2 are exclusive to Sapphire, and neither has been sent over. Nevertheless, we'll be following up with SLI/CrossFire scores in the near future and I'll see if either of those two solutions might be lined up for that story.
  • eklipz330
    cangelini, you are the man.

    just thought i'd let you know. this article was very well written, and you said everything i was thinking including the pricing. too bad you have to go to the other article to refer to gtx275 comparisons. regardless of that, gj
  • cangelini
    Thanks Ek. Truth be told, both companies pulled their launches in, allowing about a week to get the testing/writing done. Usually that's pretty tight for one new launch. Two is a little rougher. But hopefully there was enough cross-linking between the pair to convey the right messages.
  • mbbs20
    a good read...hardocp has a good one up as well
  • ifko_pifko
    I'll post it here as well as in the GTX275 review:
    Summing all the framerates is just nonsense. ;-) The games with higher fps will weigh more than the others.
  • cangelini
    Which is what I'm pretty sure it says in the GTX 275 review. For one reason or another, there are folks who like to see the numbers summed, so they're provided =)
  • Anonymous
    Umm...hello, OVERCLOCK the card! This card was designed to go faster than where the stock card is at. With the stock cooler you can max out the GPU and the RAM!

  • Cuddles
    I would like to see how far you can really push this card. Maybe do an OC test with the 4890, 4870 2GB, 2870 X 2, and 4870 1 GB. Would be interesting to see how each card really rates against each other when taken to the furthest extreme they can be pushed.
  • cangelini
    Thanks for the feedback byusing. FYI, we'll test overclocking when we can get retail boards in our System Builder Marathon series.
  • Proximon
    Wow, you really nailed the conclusion I felt. I was shocked to read exactly what I was thinking.

    I can reach almost those speeds (well, I can but some slight instability) with my Toxic edition 4870. I turned it down to stock speeds because I really couldn't see a difference on 1680x1050.

    Nothing wrong with the card if it happens to fit your price point, but it's not anything to get my adrenaline flowing.
    "True, we’re only four months in to 2009. But we’ve already seen Nvidia reclaim the “fastest card” title with its GeForce GTX 295—"
    Ummm were only into 09 by 4 months, but the 4870x2 has been king for how long? Makes it sound as if nVidia took back the crown right away, which obviously it didnt
  • gkay09
    Well this case is very similar to the 8800GTX and the introduction of the 8800GT 512(Nearly the same performance for less price)
  • gkay09
    Well the above comment was w.r.t the GTX275 and GTX285
  • armistitiu
    Nice article. From what i see the power consumption isn't that much higher . I'm guessing someone will make a 4890 X2 that will be right on par with 295 (perhaps a bit better). I'm hoping they fixed the idle power consumption in the retail boards. I find this card a bit pointless but hey...i'm no serious gamer that will give anything for 10% more fps. So rv790 is the first chip to go over 1Ghz ? I think so... Nice going AMD