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

So far, this year has been a real bore with regard to graphics launches, don't you think?

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—a dual-card solution with two chips somewhere in between the nearly year-old GeForce GTX 280 and GTX 260. The company followed up with a rebranding of its GeForce 9800 GTX+ in the GeForce GTS 250.

To Nvidia’s credit, it has kept a steady stream of those GeForce GTX 295s in stock at e-tail, despite all of the whining elsewhere on the Web about that being a stunt card. If I’m a gamer and I can buy one right now online, then that’s all I care about.

And we’re hearing rumblings now of a GeForce GTX 275—in essence, a GeForce GTX 295 cut in half (just one of those in-between GPUs). And oh, look at what just arrived via Fed Ex—a GeForce GTX 275. You’ll want to read that story when you’re done with this one for the scoop on Nvidia’s newest mid-range offering.

A Little Action From The Other Side

Today isn’t about Nvidia, though (Ed.: As suggested above, it turns out that Nvidia is out to steal the red team’s thunder with its GeForce GTX 275. We’ve written that one up in a separate story). Rather, it’s ATI’s turn to respond. And while AMD has commanded the organization’s spotlight through the start of ’09 with its Phenom II processor, the graphics division has a little something up its sleeve, too.

I say ‘little’ because today’s launch of the Radeon HD 4890 is, like Nvidia’s recent string of unveilings, decidedly evolutionary in nature. To ATI’s credit, its latest is based on a re-spun GPU, so it’s no RV770 plus a few megahertz. But if you were hoping for something that could kill a Radeon HD 4870 X2, you’ll be a bit disappointed.

I say ‘a bit’ because, while it won’t break past any existing speed records, the Radeon HD 4890 is notably faster than the single-GPU flagship preceding it. And while enthusiasts are expected to pay a premium for the new, faster processor and higher-clocked GDDR5 memory, the 4890’s real purpose is to bridge a gaping hole in ATI’s lineup between its $180-ish Radeon HD 4870 and the ~$400-ish Radeon HD 4870 X2.

To that end, the company is forecasting a roughly $249 price tag on this new solution. We think that number needs to come down a bit, though, to reflect the very-competitive sub-$200 prices on Radeon HD 4870 1 GB and GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards.

AMD’s reasoning on the price point is that the company is refreshing its “sweet-spot strategy,” which saw it launch RV770 last year, adapting the architecture down to the mainstream and up to the high-end. Since then, competitive pressure has pushed prices on those Radeon HD 4780/4850 cards down a bit. Now, it says, is its chance to re-establish a product at a crucial demand peak, as seen in the Mercury Research Data from Q4 ’08.

Our problem with that parallel is this: when RV770 launched, Nvidia was still trying to sell GTX 280s for $649 and 260s for $399. As a result, the AMD offerings looked like tremendous values. After a series of drastic cuts on Nvidia’s end, the competition is far tighter. So where, exactly, does the Radeon HD 4890 fall with regard to AMD’s own lineup and Nvidia’s contenders? Let’s take a closer look at the card, its GPU, DirectX 10.1, overclocking, and the always-telling benchmarks!

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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 =)
  • 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
  • zodiacfml
    "you’re talking about spending an extra $75 or $80 bucks to get those few frames."

    this is what i'm expecting in video card comparisons. :)
  • Would just like to point out a small error. Farcry 2 was not developed by Crytek it's a ubisoft montreal game. On page 6 under the benchmark score you say "In sharp contrast to Crysis, Crytek’s Far Cry 2 is easily playable at the highest resolutions.". Monteal guys might get abit miffed :)
  • thedipper
    Well, the RV790 was meant, and announced, to be an incremental core update... and that's what it is.

  • Pei-chen
    pulaskyAs usual fishy review [...] d4890.html

    No kidding. Xbit forget to include a GTX 275 and show the 4890 OC in different color giving the impression 4890 stock is the fastest card around.