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ATI Radeon HD 4850 and 4870: RV770 Has Arrived
Date: Jun 25, 2008
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Related Information

Last week, due to some unexpected circumstances, we were able to post a sneak peek of the RV770 GPU and ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card.  As our limited testing showed, the Radeon HD 4850 was quite promising for a $199 graphics card.  But we weren't able to tell the complete story.  While the initial benchmarks definitely looked good, there was a lot more to talk about in regard to the Radeon HD 4850 and the RV770 GPU at the heart of the card.

Today we can finally spill the rest of the beans.  You see, AMD didn't plan to officially announce just one new Radeon HD 4800 series card this week, but two, with a dash of information about a third thrown in for good measure.  Today marks the official arrival of not only the Radeon HD 4850, but the higher-end Radeon HD 4870 as well.  As we've already explained, one card - the Radeon HD 4850 - is targeted at the sub-$200 price point.  The other, however, is a $299 screamer that makes use of some cutting edge technology, like GDDR5 memory.

We'll get down to the nitty gritty just a little later. For now, check out the list of features and specifications below and strap in for an exciting ride.  What we have in store, may surprise some of you...

ATI Radeon HD 4850 (RV770)

AMD ATI Radeon HD 4800 Series
Specifications and Features

  • 956 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process
  • PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
  • 256-bit GDDR3/GDDR5 memory interface
  • Microsoft DirectX 10.1 support

    • Shader Model 4.1
    • 32-bit floating point texture filtering
    • Indexed cube map arrays
    • Independent blend modes per render target
    • Pixel coverage sample masking
    • Read/write multi-sample surfaces with shaders
    • Gather4 texture fetching
  • Unified Superscalar Shader Architecture

    • 800 stream processing units

      • Dynamic load balancing and resource allocation for vertex, geometry, and pixel shaders
      • Common instruction set and texture unit access supported for all types of shaders
      • Dedicated branch execution units and texture address processors
    • 128-bit floating point precision for all operations
    • Command processor for reduced CPU overhead
    • Shader instruction and constant caches
    • Up to 160 texture fetches per clock cycle
    • Up to 128 textures per pixel
    • Fully associative multi-level texture cache design
    • DXTC and 3Dc+ texture compression
    • High resolution texture support (up to 8192 x 8192)
    • Fully associative texture Z/stencil cache designs
    • Double-sided hierarchical Z/stencil buffer
    • Early Z test, Re-Z, Z Range optimization, and Fast Z Clear
    • Lossless Z & stencil compression (up to 128:1)
    • Lossless color compression (up to 8:1)
    • 8 render targets (MRTs) with anti-aliasing support
    • Physics processing support
  • Dynamic Geometry Acceleration

    • High performance vertex cache
    • Programmable tessellation unit
    • Accelerated geometry shader path for geometry amplification
    • Memory read/write cache for improved stream output performance
  • Anti-aliasing features

    • Multi-sample anti-aliasing (2, 4 or 8 samples per pixel)
    • Up to 24x Custom Filter Anti-Aliasing (CFAA) for improved quality
    • Adaptive super-sampling and multi-sampling
    • Gamma correct
    • Super AA (ATI CrossFireX configurations only)
    • All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR rendering
  • Texture filtering features

    • 2x/4x/8x/16x high quality adaptive anisotropic filtering modes (up to 128 taps per pixel)
    • 128-bit floating point HDR texture filtering
    • sRGB filtering (gamma/degamma)
    • Percentage Closer Filtering (PCF)
    • Depth & stencil texture (DST) format support
    • Shared exponent HDR (RGBE 9:9:9:5) texture format support
  • OpenGL 2.0 support
  • ATI PowerPlay

    • Advanced power management technology for optimal performance and power savings
    • Performance-on-Demand

      • Constantly monitors GPU activity, dynamically adjusting clocks and voltage based on user scenario
      • Clock and memory speed throttling
      • Voltage switching
      • Dynamic clock gating
    • Central thermal management – on-chip sensor monitors GPU temperature and triggers thermal actions as required
  • ATI Avivo HD Video and Display Platform

    • 2nd generation Unified Video Decoder (UVD 2)

      • Enabling hardware decode acceleration of H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2
      • Dual stream playback (or Picture-in-picture)
    • Hardware MPEG-1, and DivX video decode acceleration

      • Motion compensation and IDCT
    • ATI Avivo Video Post Processor

      • New enhanced DVD upconversion to HD new!
      • New automatic and dynamic contrast adjustment new!
      • Color space conversion
      • Chroma subsampling format conversion
      • Horizontal and vertical scaling
      • Gamma correction
      • Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
      • De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
      • Detail enhancement
      • Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
      • Bad edit correction
      • Full score in HQV (SD) and HQV (HD) video quality benchmarks
    • Two independent display controllers

      • Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls and video overlays for each display
      • Full 30-bit display processing
      • Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space conversion
      • Spatial/temporal dithering provides 30-bit color quality on 24-bit and 18-bit displays
      • High quality pre- and post-scaling engines, with underscan support for all display outputs
      • Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays
      • Fast, glitch-free mode switching
      • Hardware cursor
    • Two integrated DVI display outputs

      • Primary supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)
      • Secondary supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI only)3
      • Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content4
    • Two integrated 400MHz 30-bit RAMDACs

      • Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x15363
    • DisplayPort output support

      • Supports 24- and 30-bit displays at all resolutions up to 2560x16003
    • HDMI output support

      • Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x10803
      • Integrated HD audio controller with up to 2 channel 48 kHz stereo or multi-channel (7.1) AC3 enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
    • Integrated AMD Xilleon HDTV encoder

      • Provides high quality analog TV output (component/S-video/composite)
      • Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions
      • Underscan and overscan compensation
      • MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264/AVC encoding and transcoding
      • Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
      • VGA mode support on all display outputs
    • ATI CrossFireX Multi-GPU Technology

      • Scale up rendering performance and image quality with two GPUs
      • Integrated compositing engine
      • High performance dual channel bridge interconnect


  • As the above list of specifications and features show, the new Radeon HD 4800 series has much in common with the Radeon HD 3800 series.  Both offer DX10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 support, both series of GPUs are manufactured on TSMC's 55nm process node, and both support ATI's CrossFireX multi-GPU technology.

    Because we've covered many of the shared features of the Radeon HD 4800 and 3800 series cards before, we won't be going in depth again here.  However, we would recommend taking a look at a few recent articles to brush up on the tech if you're so inclined.

    Perusing the sampling of articles above will lay the groundwork for much of what we'll be showing you on the pages ahead.
    RV770 Architecture and Features

    As we've already explained, the initial line-up of Radeon HD 4800 series cards will be comprised of the single-slot Radeon HD 4850 and dual-slot Radeon HD 4870.


    AMD is touting the Radeon HD 4850 as the first single-GPU solution to offer 1TFLOPs of compute power, thanks to its 625MHz RV770 GPU.  The card features GDDR3 memory and has a max power of about 110W.  As you'd probably expect, the Radeon HD 4870 is markedly more powerful.  Although based on the same GPU, the 4870 is clocked higher at 750MHz, and thus offers 1.2TFLOPs of compute power. The Radeon HD 4870 also makes use of newer GDDR5 memory technology and has a higher max power of 160W.  More on the cards themselves a little later.

    Low level specs aren't what make the Radeon HD 4800 series cards stand out; it's the RV770 GPU that's really interesting.  It turns out that AMD was able to crank the SP count up from 320 on the older RV670 to a beefy 800 on the RV700. AA and Z/Stencil performance are enhanced as well, and the number of texture units has been increased from 16 to 40.  What's somewhat surprising about all of these changes though, is that AMD was able to do it with "only" a 44% increase in transistors.


    AMD was able to do this by redesigning virtually all of the functional blocks within the GPU.  The 800 stream processing units are grouped in a new SIMD core layout, and the texture units, ROPs, and cache have been restructured to minimize transistor count, while also increasing performance.  We should also point out that the ring-bus memory controller introduced with the X1K series has been replaced with a new memory controller that can make use of GDDR5 memory.


    With the RV770, AMD claims that the SPs in the GPU offer 40% more performance per square millimeter, and that more aggressive clock gating offers improved performance per watt.  Likewise, the newly streamlined design of the RV770 texture units reportedly offer 70% more performance per square mm with double the texture cache bandwidth and large increases in 32- and 64-bit filter rates.

    More Features of the RV770

    The render back-ends in the RV770 GPU have been significantly enhanced over those in the RV670 as well, with the goal of improving anti-aliasing performance.


    The improvements to the render back-ends resulted in double the peak rate for depth/stencil operations and double the AA fillrate for 32- and 64-bit color.  Like the previous generation, they support both fixed function MSAA and programmable CFAA modes.   In fact, with the Radeon HD 4800 series, AMD is introducing new Edge Detect CFAA filters that enhance AA image quality with 12x and 24x modes that have the same memory footprints as 4x and 8x MSAA.

    Also new to the RV770 is a distributed memory controller architecture that's laid out around the perimeter of the chip, with individual controller segments situated adjacent to the primary bandwidth consumers.  In comparison to the ring-bus memory controllers of previous ATI GPU, this new distributed design reduces latency, silicon area, and power consumption.  In addition, the new memory controller also supports GDDR5 memory technology.  GDDR5 is an evolution of GDDR3/4 technologies that allows for shorter traces, lower voltages, and increased bandwidth.


    Along with the increased number of stream processors at work inside the RV770, AMD also incorporated a number of other enhancements.  As we've mentioned, the RV770 is the first Teraflop GPU architecture but it also offers fast double precision (FP64) processing, thread generation, integer bit shift ops, and data sharing between threads in flight.  Like we showed you with NVIDIA's latest GPUs, the sheer number crunching power of modern GPUs like the RV770 make them well suited to more than just playing games.  There are a multitude of HPC applications where GPUs like the RV770 can yield huge performance improvements over current CPUs, and a number of desktop application that take advantage of the GPU are in the works as well, like video encoders for example.

    To quickly test the number crunching abilities of the RV770,  we enlisted the help of a small application dubbed "GPUQuant" that performs Black & Scholes or Monte Carlo calculations on either a CPU or GPU.  The results show NVIDIA's GTX 200 series GPUs with a marked advantage in this test, but both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs offer huge gains over even a quad-core GPU.


    In addition to all of the enhancements made to the stream processors, texture units, memory controller, and render back-ends, AMD is also unveiling a new video processing engine in the RV770, dubbed UVD 2.  UVD-2 shares many features in common with the last-gen UVD engine in the RV670 and adds support for dual-stream playback hardware accelerated DVD upscaling.


    Finally, we have a little teaser courtesy of AMD's presentation material.  Eventually, AMD will be releasing a successor to the dual-GPU powered Radeon HD 3870 X2 based on the RV770 GPU.  Currently, the product is code named R700, and according to the slide, a pair of them linked together in a four-GPU CrossFireX configuration can put up a 3DMark Vantage score of over 12.5K in Extreme mode - which happens to be a bit higher than three GTX 280s according to our benchmarks.  Hopefully we can corroborate these numbers for ourselves at some point in the not too distant future.

    The Radeon HD 4850 and 4870

    As we've already mentioned, the initial line-up of Radeon HD 4800 series cards will be comprised of the Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870.  Some time later, factory overclocked versions of these cards are due to arrive, followed by the R700.


    Sapphire Radeon HD 4850

    The Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 you see pictured here has a core GPU clock speed of 625MHz with 512MB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 993MHz.  The memory is connected to the GPU via a 256-bit memory bus, which offers roughly 63GB/s at default clock speeds.  And as you can see, the card is cooled by a single slot, copper fansink, that remained relatively quiet during our brief testing, but man did it get hot.  The drivers reported an idle temperature of around 80'C, and the card was way too hot to touch even while sitting idle at the Windows desktop. During our testing, Sapphire sent an updated BIOS for the card that was designed to alter the fan-speed profile and thus lower temperatures, but due to time constraints we were unable to test it.
    Because this was a retail-ready product form Sapphire, it also included a full accessory bundle.  Included with the card were a driver CD, another CD that contained a copy of 3DMark06, and final pair of discs from Cyberlink with full versions of PowerDVD and DVD Suite, a user's manual, CrossFire bridge, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, a component output dongle, and a 2GB Sapphire-branded flash drive.  Pricing for the card is expected to be set at $199.


    Sapphire Radeon HD 4870

    Until ATI's R700 arrives, which features a pair of RV770 GPUs on a single PCB, ala the Radeon HD 3870 X2, the Radeon HD 4870 is AMD's flagship Radeon HD 4800 series card. Technically, the GPU powering the 4870 is identical to the 4850. However, its implementation on the 4870 is totally different. For one, clock speeds are higher.  On the 4870, the GPU is clocked at 750MHz and it is linked to cutting edge GDDR5 DRAMs clocked at 900MHz (1.8GHz x 2 = 3.6Gbps).  In this configuration, the 4870's memory offers about 115.2GB/s of peak memory bandwidth.  The card is cooled by a dual-slot fansink similar to the one found on the 2900 XT, but this version is much quieter for the most part. The Sapphire Radeon HD 4870's accessory bundle was identical to the 4850's, but pricing on this more powerful card is expected to be $299.

    For a comparison of how these new Radeon HD 4800 series cards stack up again the Radeon HD 3870, we present to you this simple table.  As you can see, the Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 share much in common with the Radeon HD 3870 but the number of stream processors and texture units have been beefed-up significantly. Although the RV770 is comprised of roughly 45% more transistors, AMD was able to increase the SP and TU counts more than two fold, while also implementing support for more advanced memory technologies and enhancing the capabilities of the AVIVO video processing engine.



    NVIDIA GeForce 9800  GTX+

    Of course, NVIDIA caught wind of the impending Radeon HD 4800 series launch and was prepping a product to rain on AMD's parade.  Out of the blue, a couple of graphics cards arrived here in the lab based on a "new" GPU from NVIDIA.  What you see pictured above is the upcoming GeForce 9800 GTX+.

    What does the "+" designate you ask?  Well, this card is based on a 55nm version of the G92 - down from 65nm on previous products.  The GeForce 9800 GTX+ will arrive with an MSRP of $229, which is much lower than what current GeForce 9800 GTX cards are selling for, so expect the GTX+ to push the current GTX down into the sub-$200 price bracket in the coming weeks (think mid-July) to compete directly with the Radeon HD 4850.

    The GeForce 9800 GTX+ offers a GPU clock speed of 738MHz, a shader clock of 1836MHz, and 512MB of GDDR3 Memory clocked at 1.1GHz (2.2GHz DDR).  Like the current 9800 GTX, the new card will support 2- and 3-Way SLI configurations. Because this card is due to hit very soon, we've included benchmark scored in single and dual-card configurations throughout the performance segment of this article.

    Our Test Systems and 3DMark06

    HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on either an Asus nForce 790i SLI Ultra based Striker II Extreme motherboard (NVIDIA GPUs) or an X48 based Asus P5E3 Premium (ATI GPUs) powered by a Core 2 Extreme QX6850 quad-core processor and 2GB of low-latency Corsair RAM. The first thing we did when configuring these test systems was enter their respective BIOSes and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS, and installed the latest DX10 redist and various hotfixes, along with the necessary drivers and applications.

    HotHardware's Test Systems
    Intel and NVIDIA Powered

    Hardware Used:
    Core 2 Extreme QX6850 (3GHz)

    Asus Striker II Extreme
    (nForce 790i SLI Ultra chipset)

    Asus P5E3 Premium
    (X48 Express)

    Radeon HD 4870 (x2)
    Radeon HD 4850 (x2)
    Radeon HD 3870
    Radeon HD 3870 X2 (x2)
    GeForce 9800 GTX+ (x2)
    GeForce 9800 GTX (x3)
    GeForce 9800 GX2 (x2)
    GeForce GTX 260
    GeForce GTX 280 (x3)

    2048MB Corsair DDR3-1333 C7
    (2 X 1GB)

    Integrated Audio
    Integrated Network

    Western Digital "Raptor" 74GB
    (10,000RPM - SATA)

    Relevant Software:

    Windows Vista Ultimate SP1
    DirectX June 2008 Redist

    NVIDIA Forceware v177.34 / v177.39
    ATI Catalyst v8.5 / v8.6B

    Benchmarks Used:
    3DMark06 v1.0.2
    3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
    Unreal Tournament 3 v1.2*
    Crysis v1.2*
    Half Life 2: Episode 2*
    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars*

    * - Custom Benchmark

    Futuremark 3DMark06
    Synthetic DirectX Gaming


    3DMark06 is a synthetic benchmark, designed to simulate DX9-class game titles. This version differs from the earlier 3Dmark05 in a number of ways, and includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests, but Shader Model 3.0 and HDR tests as well. Some of the assets from 3DMark05 have been re-used, but the scenes are now rendered with much more geometric detail and the shader complexity is vastly increased. Max shader length in 3DMark05 was 96 instructions, while 3DMark06 ups that number to 512. 3DMark06 also employs much more lighting and there is extensive use of soft shadows. With 3DMark06, Futuremark has also updated how the final score is tabulated. In this latest version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.

    3DMark06's default benchmark test is essentially CPU bound with all current high-end graphics cards, hence the right grouping seen in the results above. The new Radeon HD 4800 series cards handily outpace the HD 3870 and sandwich the GeForce 9800 GTX.  In this test, the upcoming GTX+ outpaces both Radeon HD 4800 series cards, but as you'll see later, with actual games, the new Radeons fare much better.

    If we tunnel down into the individual Shader Model 2.0 and 3.0 results, we see a similar performance trend.  The SM 2.0 test is mostly CPU bound with anything more than a single GPU, as is the SM 3.0 test.  Both of the new Radeon HD 4800 series cards once again fall victim to the GTX+ according to the SM 2.0 test, but in the SM 3.0 test, the Radeon HD 4870 jumped ahead and hung right alongside the more expensive GeForce GTX 260.

    3DMark Vantage

    Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
    Synthetic DirectX Gaming

    3DMark Vantage

    The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which y isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1,920 x 1,200, with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering.

    The relatively new 3DMark Vantage is far more intensive than the aging 3DMark06, and as such the spread is far more pronounced between the different configurations we tested. Here, the Radeon HD 4850 edges out the upcoming GeForce 9800 GTX+ by a few points and the Radeon HD 4870 finishes just behind the GeForce GTX 260.

    3DMark Vantage's individual GPU tests tell essentially the same story, although in GPU test 2 the Radeon HD 4850 finishes just behind the GeForce 9800 GTX+.  The Radeon HD 4850's slightly larger margin if victory over the GTX+ in GPU test 1, however, gave it the overall edge in this benchmark.  We should also note that both NVIDIA's and ATI's solutions show excellent multi-GPU scaling in 3DMark Vantage with the exception of the quad-CrossFireX 3870 X2 setup, which suffered from visual anomalies and lower than expected scores.

    Half Life 2: Episode 2

    Half Life 2: Episode 2
    DirectX Gaming Performance

    Half Life 2:
    Episode 2

    Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life was one of the most successful first person shooters of all time. And courtesy of an updated game engine, gorgeous visuals, and intelligent weapon and level designs, Half Life 2 became just as popular.  Episode 2 - the most recent addition to the franchise - offers a number of visual enhancements including better looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. These tests were run at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.  Color correction and HDR rendering were also enabled in the game engine as well.  We used a custom recorded timedemo to benchmark all cards for these tests.

    Our custom Half Life 2 benchmark tells an interesting story.  First, it appears that the NVIDIA configurations used more CPU resources, which resulted in somewhat lower scores for the two- and three-way SLI setups in the lower-resolution tests than the Radeon HD 4800 series CrossFire configurations.  Overall, the Radeon HD 4850 finished just shy of the mark set by the GeForce 9800 GTX+, but the Radeon HD 4870 abd GeForce GTX 260 actually traded victories here.  So far, the Radeon HD 4870 has proven to be a strong competitor to the GTX 260, even though it is expected to sell for about $100 less.

    Unreal Tournament 3

    Unreal Tournament 3
    DirectX Gaming Performance

    Unreal Tournament 3

    If you're a long-time PC gamer, the Unreal Tournament franchise should need no introduction.  UT's fast paced action and over the top weapons have been popular for as long as Epic has been making the games.  For these tests, we used the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 3.  The game doesn't have a built-in benchmarking tool, however, so we enlisted the help of FRAPS here.  These tests were run at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with no anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering enabled, but with the UT3's in game graphical options set to their maximum values, with color correction enabled.

    Our performance results with Unreal Tournament 3 somewhat mirrored those of HL2:EP2. Once again, the Radeon HD 4850 was slightly outpaced by the GeForce 9800 GTX+.  The Radeon HD 4870, however, actually nudged past the more expensive GeForce GTX 260.  The new Radeons also showed good multi-GPU scaling, as did the NVIDIA configurations, with the exception of the 3-way SLI setups which were more CPU bound.

    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
    OpenGL Gaming Performance

    Enemy Territory:
    Quake Wars

    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on a radically enhanced version of id's Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many smaller textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4X anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.


    Our custom Quake Wars: Enemy Territory benchmark proved to be somewhat of a strong point for the new Radeon HD 4800 series cards.  Both the Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870 performed well, slightly outperforming the GeForce 9800 GTX+ and GeForce GTX 260, respectively.  We should note that we encountered some texture flashes in this game with the new Radeons running in CrossFire mode with the latest driver build, that did not occur on the Radeon 3800 series.  Performance scaled as expected, however.

    Crysis Performance

    Crysis v1.2
    DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


    If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player, FPS smash-hit Crysis, should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine produces some stunning visuals that are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the PC to date.  The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet.  In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is a beast of a game.  We ran the full game patched to v1.2 with all of its visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested  A custom demo recorded on the Island level was used throughout testing.


    Our custom Crysis benchmark echoed many of our previous results.  In this game, the new Radeon HD 4850 wasn't quite as fast as the upcoming GeForce 9800 GTX+, but the Radeon HD 4870 was just a hair faster then the GeForce GTX 260.  Multi-GPU scaling was slightly better on the NVIDIA configurations, however, which allowed the GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI-based system to outpace both of the Radeon HD 4800 series CrossFire configurations.

    SD and HD Video Performance

    We also did some quick testing of the Radeon HD 4870's video processing engine, in terms of both image quality and CPU utilization with some HQV and H.264 playback tests.

    Video Playback Performance: SD and HD
    HQV and H.264

    HQV is comprised of a sampling of SD video clips and test patterns that have been specifically designed to evaluate a variety of interlaced video signal processing tasks, including decoding, de-interlacing, motion correction, noise reduction, film cadence detection, and detail enhancement. As each clip is played, the viewer is required to "score" the image based on a predetermined set of criteria. The numbers listed below are the sum of the scores for each section. We played the HQV DVD using the latest version of Cyberlink's PowerDVD HD, with hardware acceleration for AMD AVIVO HD and NVIDIA PureVideo HD extensions enabled.


    Both ATI's and NVIDIA's latest GPUs have no trouble with SD video playback.  All three of the cards put up near perfect scores in the HQV test.  In case you're not familiar with HQV, 130 points is the maximum score attainable.  At 128 points, a PC equipped with either of these graphics cards plays back DVD video at quality levels better than the vast majority of set-top DVD players on the market.

    We should note, however, the Radeon HD 4870 did suffer from some visual artifacts when we scaled the DVD video to anything higher than its native resolution.  We suspect the new DVD scaler that is part of the UVD 2 engine had an adverse affect on the specialized HQV tests.

    Next we conducted a test using an H.264 encoded movie trailer clip for "Beowulf" which is available for download on Apple's QuickTime HD website.  The CPU utilization data gathered during these tests was taken from Windows Vista's built-in Performance Monitor. The graphs show the CPU utilization for a GeForce GTX 280, a Radeon HD 3870 X2, and a Radeon HD 4870 using PowerDVD HD to playback the QuickTime clip.

    Radeon HD 3870 X2

    GeForce GTX 280

    Radeon HD 4870

    With a fast quad-core processor powering our test system and an unencrypted HD video clip being played back, all of the cards we tested had low CPU utilization in this test.  We should note that with hardware acceleration disabled, playing this video clip results in about 12% - 15% average CPU utilization, so there is a marked improvement with both PureVideo HD and UVD 2.  Also note that with encrypted content, like many off the shelf Blu-Ray discs for example, CPU utilization will be measurably higher that what you see here.  However, both platforms should have no trouble playing back high def digital video.

    Power Consumption, Noise, Thermals

    We'd like to cover a few final data points before bringing this article to a close. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems were consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the motherboards alone.

    Total System Power Consumption
    Tested at the Outlet

    Both of the new Radeon HD 4800 series cards consumed somewhat more power than the NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+ and standard 9800 GTX, while idling and under load.  Overall consumption was surprising high for the 4800 series cards, relatively speaking, and was actually higher than even the Radeon HD 3870 X2.

    The power consumption results jibed with temperature readings we took during testing.  As we mentioned earlier, the Radeon HD 4850 idled at around 80'C and the 4870 - even with its more powerful dual-slot cooler - idled at about 77'C.  And during extended benchmark sessions, both cards got excessively hot to the touch.  We did not experience any heat related instability (or any instability for that matter), but be wary of the heat output of these cards.  If you like what you've seen so far and plan to buy a 4800 series card, you must have adequate case cooling to keep the cards humming along within acceptable limits.

    While heat was a definite concern with both Radeon HD 4800 series cards, noise was not.  As is typical with current generation Radeons, both cards spun up considerably when out test system was powered up, but the fans spun down to near inaudible levels once the drivers were initialized within the OS.  And during testing neither cards' fan got very loud at all.

    Our Summary and Conclusion

    Performance Summary: Summarizing the Radeon HD 4850's and Radeon HD 4870's performance, thankfully, is quite easy. The Radeon HD 4850 is generally faster than the GeForce 9800 GTX and right on-par with or somewhat faster than the upcoming GeForce 9800 GTX+ in most applications.  The Radeon HD 4870, however, is definitely a step up from the GeForce 9800 GTX+ and actually compares favorably to the $100 more expensive GeForce GTX 260.  In fact, the Radeon HD 4870 was able to slightly outperform the GeForce GTX 260 in a couple of tests, including ET:QW and UT3.


    When the Radeon HD 2900 XT launched in may of last year, we were genuinely concerned for the future of ATI GPUs as a viable alternative to NVIDIA on the desktop. Our fears were quelled somewhat when the Radeon 3800 series arrived, and today our outlook is completely different. While they have certainly hit some major speed-bumps over the last couple of years, it is clear AMD has a lot of fight left and this latest round of ATI Radeons proves it.  At their respective price points, the Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870 are extremely strong products.  For $199, it is very easy to recommend the Radeon HD 4850.  Its single-slot design is desirable for a  number of applications, its feature set is second to none, and performance is very good in comparison to the GeForce 9800 GTX and upcoming GTX+. At $299 the Radeon HD 4870 is a very desirable product as well, especially in light of the $399 GeForce GTX 260.  The Radeon HD 4870's feature set is also very good, its cooler is relatively quiet, and performance is top notch. And dare we say a $300 graphics card represents and excellent value, from a price point perspective?  These cards are definitely going to put significant price pressure on NVIDIA's GTX 200 series.  One drawback common to both cards though is heat. Both the Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 ran surprisingly hot, so hot that they couldn't be touched.

    Expect Radeon HD 4850 cards to hit e-tail immediately with the Radeon HD 4870 to follow up in a couple of weeks. Then next quarter the R700 is due to arrive and potentially change the performance landscape at the ultra high-end. Based on what we've seen here today, we can't wait to see what R700 can do.  For now though, AMD should be commended to launching a pair of graphics cards that represent excellent values at their respective price points.

    UPDATE: ETA at NewEgg on the Radeon HD 4870 appears to be between 6/30 and 7/7.

    • Great Value Propositions
    • Excellent Performance
    • SD and HD Video Quality
    • Relatively Quiet
    • HOT, HOT, HOT
    • GTX 280 Still Top Dog
    • 4870 a Few Weeks Away

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