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PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5
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Date: Sep 22, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction, Specs and Bundle

 

There is no way to categorize AMD's recent launch of the RV770 graphics processor powering the Radeon HD 4800 series of cards as anything other than a resounding success.  Cards based on the GPU hit the scene offering very strong performance in their respective price brackets, and forced rival NVIDIA to react with a quick round of price cuts that will surely eat into NVIDIA's margins on the gigantic 65nm GT200 chip.  Although actual sales figures aren't available just yet, we suspect AMD is going to show strong sales of every member of the Radeon HD 4800 series.

One common concern among analysts and users of AMD's latest flagship GPU has been heat, however.  Virtually every evaluation of a reference Radeon HD 4800 series cards makes some mention of the extreme heat radiated by the cards. But PowerColor may have an answer.  We recently got a hold of PowerColor's PCS+ HD 4870 card that features a completely redesigned cooler, with multiple heat-pipes and a dense array of aluminum heatsink fins, which the company claims can lower GPU temps by upwards of 10'C.  And for good measure, PowerColor also pre-overclocks the cards and packs on 1GB of GDDR5 memory, double that of the initial lot of reference cards.

Considering the relative popularity of the Radeon HD 4870, we were eager to see what this custom variant had in store. Read on to see what PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 can really do and decide whether it's worth the extra investment...  

PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5
Specifications and Features

956 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process

PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface

256-bit GDDR5

Microsoft DirectX 10.1 support

  • ShaderModel 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
  • Accelerated physics processing

Dynamic Geometry Acceleration

  • High performance vertex cache
  • Programmable tessellation unit
  • Accelerated geometry shaderpath 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 CrossFireXTMconfigurations only)
  • All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR rendering

Texture filtering features2x/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

Integrated AMD Xilleon HDTV encoder

  • Provides high quality analog TV output (component/S- video/composite)
  • Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions
  • Underscan and overscan compensation
  • Seamless integration of pixel shaderswith video in real time
  • VGA mode support on all display outputs

OpenGL 2.0 support

ATI CrossFireX Multi-GPU Technology

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

ATI Avivo HD Video and Display Platform

Unified Video Decoder 2 (UVD 2) for H.264/AVC, VC-1, and MPEG-2 video formats

  • High definition (HD) playback of Blu-ray and HD DVD video
  • Dual stream (HD+SD) playback support
  • DirectX Video Acceleration 1.0 & 2.0 support
  • Support for BD-Live certified applications
  • Hardware DivX and MPEG-1 video decode acceleration
  • Accelerated video transcoding& encoding for H.264 and MPEG-2 formats

ATI Avivo Video Post Processor

  • 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
  • Color vibrance and flesh tone correction
  • Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
  • Bad edit correction
  • Enhanced DVD upscaling (SD to HD)
  • Automatic dynamic contrast adjustment

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 dual-link DVI display outputs

  • Each supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)2
  • Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content

Two integrated 400 MHz 30-bit RAMDACs

  • Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x1536

HDMI output support

  • All display resolutions up to 1920x1080
  • Integrated HD audio controller with support for stereo and multi-channel (up to 7.1) audio formats, including AC-3, AAC, DTS, DTS-HD & Dolby True- HD4, enabling a plug-and-play audio solution over HDMI

ATI PowerPlay Technology

  • 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

 


   
PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 Box and Bundle

Although the card itself is anything but ordinary, PowerColor bundles a relatively basic assortment of accessories and software with the PCS+ HD 4870.  Along with the card, we found a simple installation guide, a driver disc, a CrossFire bridge connector, a DVI to HDMI adapter, a DVI to VGA adapter, an HD component output dongle, and an S-Video to composite video adapter.  No power adapters, additional software, games or applications were included.

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A Closer Look At The Card

At first glance, the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 looks completely different than AMD's reference Radeon HD 4870.  While the two cards do share essentially the same PCB, their specifications and coolers are quite different.


   


The PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 features a custom cooler with a large, center mounted fan. To the front and back of the fan are a couple of densely packed arrays of aluminum heatsink fins, linked by four heat-pipes to a copper base that sits directly atop the GPU.  Two heat-pipes run along the top of the card and through the rear-mounted heatsink fins, and the other two along the bottom of the card and through the front-mounted heatsink fins.  The design is relatively simple and elegant, and far lighter than AMD's reference cooler.

During testing, we actually found the cooler to perform better than PowerColor's claims.  Whereas our reference Radeon HD 4870 idled at around 75'C and peaked at about 90'C, PowerColor's offering with the PCS+ cooler idled at roughly 60'C and never broke 80'C under load.  And keep in mind, this PowerColor card is factory overclocked.  The cooler definitely works well.  The PowerColor PCS+ cooler does have a drawback though--it's louder than AMD's reference cooler under light to moderate loads.  While idling, the PowerColor  PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 is clearly more audible than AMD's reference cards, but not annoyingly so.  But under a heavy load, both cards create a similar amount of noise.


   


The actual specifications for the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 consist of an 800MHz GPU clock and a Memory Clock 925MHz (3.7Gbps effective).  As we have already mentioned, there is 1GB of frame buffer memory on-board, double that of the initial batch of reference Radeon HD 4870 cards.  The outputs are identical to reference cards, however, and consist of a pair of dual-link DVI outputs and an S-Video / HD TV output.  HDMI output with audio is also available through the use of an included dongle.

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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 4850
Radeon HD 4870
Radeon HD 4870 X2
PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5
GeForce GTX 260
GeForce GTX 280
GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 (OC)

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 v177.92
ATI Catalyst v8.8

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

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.

The PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5's increased core and memory speeds, and its larger frame buffer give it only a marginal performance boost in the default 3DMark06 benchmark.





 
Both the shader model 2.0 test and the more taxing shader model 3.0 / HDR tests show a marked improvement for the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 over a reference Radeon HD 4870.  In the shader model 3.0 test, the card was able to overtake the GeForce GTX 260 cards as well.

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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 1,920x1,200, with 4x anti-aliasing an 16x anisotropic filtering.

Once again, we see that the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5's increased clock speeds and larger frame buffer give it a moderate performance boost in 3DMark Vantage's Extreme benchmark.





Both of 3DMark Vantage's individual GPU tests show a nice improvement over a reference Radeon HD 4870 as well, and they also give the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 a clear advantage over the GTX 260.

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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.



The PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 performed well in our custom Half Life 2: Episode 2 benchmark. Here again, the PowerColor card's higher clocks give it an edge over the reference Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260.

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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 custom Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark tells essentially the same story as Half Life 2 on the previous page.  The PowerColor card's higher clocks give it an edge over a reference Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260--both the first-gen and Core 216 varieties.

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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 shows the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 in a positive light.  Here, the card has an edge over a GeForce GTX 260 Core 216, whereas the stock reference Radeon HD 4870 does not.

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Crysis v1.2

Crysis v1.2
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


Crysis

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 shows the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB clearly outpacing the referance Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 216.

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Overclocking the PowerColor PCS+

To see what kind of extra headroom the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB had hiding under the hood, we used the Overdrive control panel built into ATI's drivers to overclock the card beyond its already factory-overclocked state.

Overclocking the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB
Not worth the effort

In the end, Overdrive topped out at a GPU speed of 830MHz and Memory speed of 950MHz (3.8Gbps effective), which were only modest increases over the card's "stock" 800MHz (GPU) and 900MHz (Memory).





While we had the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB overclocked, we re-ran a couple of benchmarks and realized only marginal performance improvements.  With a factory overclocked card like this one, it's probably best to leave its frequencies be, for the sake of longevity and reliability.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB performed very well throughout our entire battery of tests.  The card's increased GPU and memory frequencies gave it a clear advantage over a reference Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260.  The PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB also traded victories with a similarly factory overclocked GeForce GTX 260 Core 216, which puts the two cards on somewhat equal footing.



 

If the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB's cooler was just a little bit quieter while idling, this card would be a contender for the title of "most enticing Radeon HD 4870".  While the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB's cooler outperforms ATI's reference cooler while idling and under load, it does so at the cost of some extra noise under light loads (under heavy loads, the PowerColor card is somewhat quieter actually).  Please keep in mind, this can be mitigated somewhat by creating custom fan profiles, but that's beside the point.  The  PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB's larger frame buffer should also come in handy with next-gen games that can utilize more than 512MB, and its higher GPU and memory clocks give it a nice performance improvement over stock reference cards.  We should also point out that while PowerColor does charge a premium for the  PCS+ HD 4870 1GB's niceties, the card isn't exorbitantly expensive.  In fact, it costs only about 10% - 15% more than a reference Radeon HD 4870 and can be found for less than $300--although availability at this time appears to be limited.  If you're in the market for a Radeon HD 4870 card, we highly recommend checking the PowerColor PCS+ HD 4870 1GB out.

     
  • Great gaming Performance
  • Very Good Cooling Performance
  • Lightweight
  • 1GB Frame Buffer
  • Competitive Price
  • Cooler Somewhat Louder Than Reference Cards
  • Modest overclocker



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