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MSI R4850 512M Radeon HD 4850
Date: Sep 18, 2008
Author: Shane Unrein
Introduction, Specifications and Features

No matter what you think of AMD's ATI Radeon HD 4800 Series of video cards, you'd be crazy not to love what AMD did with the pricing of the first two cards (Radeon HD 4850 and HD 4870) from the series. As a result of AMD's aggressive pricing, NVIDIA felt compelled to lower the price of its latest GeForce video cards, the GeForce GTX 260 and the GTX 280. It's not often that ATI can actually make NVIDIA fans smile as big as its own or vice versa. Ultimately, though, you don't have to favor one brand over the other to appreciate the downward pressure that the new Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870 put on pricing.

Overall, we've been quite impressed with what we've seen of the HD 4800 Series, especially considering the amount of power the cards offer for the price. In this article, we are going to take a look at a card from one of AMD/ATI's primary board partners, MSI. The card up to bat today is the MSI R4850 512M, which as you can no doubt surmise, is a Radeon HD 4850.

The R4850 512M sports 512MB of DDR3 and reference clock speeds. Although it does not feature a factory overclock, the card does sport a custom cooler that promises to keep the GPU much cooler than ATI's reference cooler. As we told you in our ATI Radeon HD 4800 Series launch article, the HD 4800 Series' RV770 GPU boasts 956 million transistors on a 55nm fabrication process. To see how well the MSI R4850 512M performs, we'll pit it against a Radeon HD 4870, a Radeon HD 3850, a GeForce GTX 260 and a couple GeForce 9800 GTXs.

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)
      • 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 1920x1080
      • 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


  • If you peruse the list of specs and features above, you see that the Radeon HD 4800 Series cards feature support for DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1. Additionally, the cards support ATI's CrossFireX Multi-GPU Technology, which is undoubtedly a must-have feature for enthusiasts.

    Those of you who are familiar with the Radeon HD 3800 Series have probably noticed that there are a lot of similarities between the two lines. Because we've already extensively covered the technology behind both the HD 3800 and HD 4800 Series, we won't rehash those details here. If you want to learn more about the technologies employed by ATI, take a look at the following articles:

    Now that we've introduced you to the HD 4800 Series, let's take a closer look at the MSI R4850 512M, starting with the card itself.

    Closer Look: MSI R4850 512M

    We assume the unattractive, armored warrior on the R4850 512M box is supposed to inspire thoughts of power and domination. While the box art would probably frighten the average hobbit, we think it will just give the average human nightmares or at least remind you of your favorite The Loard of the Rings episode. All jokes aside, we are glad to see that MSI seems to keep its packaging to a relatively small size, especially with respect to this ever-greener world we live in.  In addition to the card itself, MSI packs a handful of accessories in the box, including a couple quick user's guides, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, an S-video-to-composite adapter, an HDTV cable and a software CD.

    The included software CD contains some unique, MSI-developed software and utilities. The CD includes the following software:

    • MSI Live Update Series ( Live VGA BIOS & Live VGA Driver): Automatically online download & update VGA BIOS & Drivers, reduce the risk of getting the wrong files, and never have the trouble on web site searching.
    • GoodMen: Automatically release the system memory space, reduce the risk of system hang-up.
    • LockBox: Instantly enter the data lock mode when you must leave your system for a while.
    • WMIinfor: Automatically list the detail system configuration, it helpful for engineering service people.
    • MSI VIVID: Vivid brings the easiest way to optimize graphic quality. Colorize your vision when browsing photos!!! Sharpen characters edge! Enhance contrast when playing game!
    • MSI Live: Including all real time life information you need, such as Live MSI Product News, Live Daily Information, Live Personal Schedule Manager, Live Search and more.
    • E-Color
    • MediaRing
    • ShowShift
    • ThinSoft Be Twin

    As far as the card design is concerned, the MSI R4850 512M doesn't differ from the ATI reference design. On the other hand, the cooler is a drastic change from the reference design. Unlike the reference 4850 cooler, the MSI R4850 512M cooler will take up an extra expansion slot in users systems. Some people will see that as a negative, but we always try to avoid using the slot near the video card anyway, for better thermal performance.

    As you can see, the rather large cooler features a big fan, four beefy copper heatpipes, and a heatsink with numerous fins. With all these features, it's easy to imagine that MSI has a solid offering with this cooler. We didn't have a reference 4850 on hand for comparison, but we've seen claims that this custom cooler helps keep the GPU at least 10-20°C cooler when idle and under load than ATI's reference cooler, which is pretty impressive. In addition to cooling well, the cooler stays relatively quiet thanks that 80mm fan that doesn't have to spin as fast as a smaller fan would. To summarize, the cooler is both very effective and surprisingly quiet, just the way we like it.

    The first two pictures above give you a good look at the two CrossFireX connectors found on the R4850 512M. CrossFireX technology allows you to use two 4850s simultaneously on motherboards that support the technology to boost 3D performance.

    As we have come to expect from cards of this caliber, the R4850 512M requires a direct connection to the power supply, as indicated by the black, 6-pin PCI Express power connector on the edge of the board. Additionally, you'll find two DVI display output connectors and an S-video output on the other side of the card.

    Test System and 3DMark Vantage Performance

    HotHardware's Test System
    Intel Core 2 Duo Powered

    Hardware Used:
    Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 (2.13GHz)

    Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI
    (nForce 650i SLI chipset)

    MSI R4850 512M
    Radeon HD 4870 512MB
    Radeon HD 3850 256MB
    GeForce GTX 260 896MB
    ASUS EN9800GTX TOP 512MB
    GeForce 9800 GTX 512MB

    2048MB Corsair DDR2-800 C4
    (2 X 1GB)

    Integrated Audio

    Integrated Network

    Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9
    (7,200RPM - SATA)

    Relevant Software:

    Windows Vista Ultimate (32-bit)

    NVIDIA Forceware v177.79
    ATI Catalyst v8.7
    NVIDIA nForce v8.43

    Benchmarks Used:
    3DMark Vantage
    Crysis v1.21
    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5
    Company of Heroes
    Half-Life 2: Episode 2

    **  Before getting to our test results, we should point out that the ASUS EN9800GTX TOP we used for reference testing, is overclocked to 755 MHz for the core (reference speed is 675 MHz), 1175 MHz for the memory (reference speed is 1100 MHz), and 1840 MHz for the shader clock (reference speed is 1688 MHz), which is actually a bit faster than the recently released GeForce 9800 GTX+.

    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 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 "Performance" preset option, which uses a resolution of 1280x1024.

    The 3DMark Vantage results show the R4850 512M performing much better than the 256MB Radeon HD 3850, a bit better than the GeForce 9800 GTX, and right on par with the ASUS EN9800GTX TOP. At the same time, the Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260 bested the R4850 512M by a considerable margin, but both cards cost $70-100 more than MSI's R4850.

    Company of Heroes Performance

    Company of Heroes
    DirectX 10 Gaming Performance

    Company of Heroes
    Relic Entertainment's World War II era real-time strategy game Company of Heroes was originally released as a DirectX 9 title for Windows, but recent upates to the game have incorporated support for new DirectX 10 features that improve image quality and enhance the game's finer graphical details. The game features a built-in performance test, which which we used to attain the results below. Our Company of Heroes tests were run at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with anti-aliasing disabled or 4x anti-aliasing enabled, and all of the game's image-quality related options were set to high.

    Our DirectX 10 Company of Heroes benchmark seems to favor the NVIDIA cards. The R4850 512M's scores were closer to the Radeon HD 4870's than we expected, and the R4850 512M couldn't keep up with the GeForce 9800 GTX, which we also didn't expect to see.

    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Performance

    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
    OpenGL Gaming Performance

    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is based on id's radically enhanced 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 extremely large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many small 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 8x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

    The R4850 512M outperforms the 256MB Radeon HD 3850 as expected, but it doesn't quite keep up with any of the NVIDIA card in this test. Admittedly though, our test system or our test itself didn't create much differentiation between the top five graphics cards and the performance variance between cards is rather small for this group.

    Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Performance

    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 became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time. And thanks to an updated game engine, gorgeous visual, and intelligent weapon and level design, Half-Life 2 became just as popular. Episode 2 offers a number of visual enhancements, including better looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. These tests were run at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently. Color correction and HDR rendering were also enabled in the game engine as well. We used a custom recorded timedemo file to benchmark all cards in this test.

    At 1280x1024, the top five cards perform evenly for the most part, with the R4850 512M's results ending up right in between the GeForce 9800 GTX and the ASUS EN9800GTX TOP. In the 1600x1200 tests, the R4850 512M doesn't quite keep up with the two top cards (the Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260), but it does land in between the GeForce 9800 GTX and the ASUS EN9800GTX TOP once again.

    Crysis Performance

    DirectX 9 and 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 visuals are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the computer screen 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 HOT. We ran the full game patched to v1.21 with all of the game's visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested.

    While the R4850 512M outperforms the Radeon HD 3850 by a considerable margin, it can't quite match the performance of any of the other cards. Even the GeForce 9800 GTX manages at least a 2 FPS lead at each resolution.

    The DX10 results are a little different from the DX9 results. The MSI R4850 512M performs basically the same as the ASUS EN9800GTX TOP and even almost matches the Radeon HD 4870. These results are a good reminder that the performance you get out of your video card depends significantly on other components in your system, especially the CPU. In other words, a faster CPU would definitely result in a bigger spread in the results.

    Overclocking the R4850 512M

    Per our usual process, we set out to see if the R4850 512M sample we tested was a good overclocker. Because of the card's efficient cooler, we were optimistic that we could push the core and memory clocks beyond the defaults (625 MHz and 993 MHz, respectively) to respectable new heights.  

    Overclocking the R4850 512M
    Going beyond the stock settings...

    After slowly bumping up the clocks and checking stability with 3DMark Vantage and Crysis, we finally hit a wall with the GPU core at 685 MHz and the memory at 1,100 MHz, a 9.6% and 10.8% bump, respectively. You can see a couple examples of the resulting performance increase in the graphs below. As always, keep in mind that your mileage will vary, and overclocking may void your warranty.

    Performance Summary and Final Thoughts

    Performance Summary: With the exception of the Company of Heroes testing, the MSI R4850 512M performed on par with the reference GeForce 9800 GTX and the overclocked ASUS EN9800GTX TOP, which is what we expected considering the GeForce 9800 GTX+ was released (and priced) to compete directly with the Radeon HD 4850. At times, the R4850 512M even kept up with the more powerful Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260, but those results would most likely change if a faster host processor is used.

    What is so great about the MSI R4850 512M is how much performance you get for your hard-earned dollar. And that performance isn't just about FPS. You also get excellent cooling performance. The standard MSI R4850 with the reference ATI cooler can be purchased online for about $190 at the time of this publication. For only $5 more (or about $195), you can grab an MSI R4850 512M with the custom cooler like we reviewed here. That seems like a no-brainer to us.  If you want an MSI Radeon HD 4850, opt for the R4850 512M unless you absolutely can't take up an extra slot in your system.

    To be fair to other Radeon HD 4850s out there, we have to mention that the MSI R4850 512M is a bit more expensive than many of the other 4850s that we found online. If you like the R4850 512M and are okay with its price, then we doubt you'll be disappointed if you decide to purchase one (or two). On the other hand, if you just want the cheapest 4850 currently available, then you should shop around a bit before making your decision.

    •  Excellent performance
    •  Efficient and relatively quiet cooler
    •  Great bang for the buck
    •  CrossFireX support
    •  Dual-slot card
    •  More expensive than many other 4850s

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