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

The Relevance Of DirectX 10.1

The performance differences between ATI and Nvidia graphics cards are currently fairly tight and well-segmented—in other words, it’s easy for an enthusiast to hit a site like with a budget in mind and, all else being equal, find the best card for the money. Case in point: you tell me you have $160, I’ll tell you to get a GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 and cash in on the rebates. You tell me you can spend $180, I could tell you to grab a Radeon HD 4870 with 1 GB.

But all else is not equal, so recommendations aren’t quite that cut and dry. Nvidia preaches the gospels of PhysX and CUDA, with an occasional verse about GeForce 3D Vision. ATI sings the hymns of DirectX 10.1 and Stream. Depending on which company you put your faith in, one of those two messages is going to sound a little sweeter.

Right now, the two are in full-scale conversion mode, trying to get everyone they can to pitch in their tithing for a little gaming salvation. Just as PhysX and CUDA are starting to take hold with high-profile titles enabling support, so too are software developers paying more attention to DirectX 10.1.

As a superset of DirectX 10, DirectX 10.1 includes a handful of quality-enhancing features that, in some cases, will run on DirectX 10 hardware, but at a performance hit. For instance, the Gather4 function fetches four samples (2x2) where a DirectX 10 part would only be able to fetch one. The result should be more realistic shadow maps and better performance. The Stalker: Clear Sky demo lets us test that theory with a toggled check-box to enable or disable DirectX 10.1.

Our first test pits all of the Radeon HD 4800-series cards in this story against each other, without MSAA for alpha-tested objects enabled. At 1920x1200, performance is fairly similar across the board, with all test cases except the Radeon HD 4870 X2 demonstrating small gains by moving to DirectX 10.1.

We then turned on 4x MSAA for alpha-tested objects and re-ran the numbers, this time at 1680x1050, in an attempt to maintain somewhat reasonable frame rates. This time, a majority of the test cases show DirectX 10.1 incurring a small performance hit. Is the performance tradeoff worthwhile? For that, we’ll need to make an image quality comparison from within the game itself.

Up top you’ll find the screen capture provided by ATI, right up against a wall, demonstrating that the DirectX 10.1 shadows are softer and arguably more realistic. I ran all over the opening area of the game trying to find a clear example of the difference made by DirectX 10.1 shadows and just couldn’t come up with an indisputable best-case scenario. Even by reloading saved points, it was impossible to generate the exact same scene twice. Nevertheless, given the option of enabling DirectX 10.1 and not seeing a significant performance hit, you might as well turn the feature on.

DirectX 10.1DirectX 10.1DirectX 10DirectX 10

DirectX 10.1DirectX 10.1DirectX 10DirectX 10

With the Game Developer’s Conference recently past, ATI had a handful of DX 10.1 titles to discuss during its briefing, besides Stalker. Tom Clancy’s HAWX looks like a fun title with DX 10.1 screen space ambient occlusion and accelerated Gaussian shadows. There were two other lesser-known titles, plus the UNiGiNE game engine, on which several upcoming titles are purportedly based.

As of right now, DirectX 10.1 isn’t making a huge impact, but because it will become a subset of DirectX 11, you can expect the extra features being enabled right now to work moving forward in Windows 7. The same couldn’t be said for the disruptive shift from DirectX 9/XP to DirectX 10/Vista.

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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