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PowerColor Liquid Cooled Radeon HD 4890 LCS
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Date: May 11, 2009
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Mathew Miranda
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Introduction and Specifications

The PC scene is constantly evolving as businesses and individuals make use of next generation products that increase productivity or provide higher levels of entertainment. Bigger, better, faster - these are the insatiable desires of consumers. It doesn't matter if we're speaking of gigahertz or gigabytes, the demand endures and companies do their best to crank out sought after new technology. 

As we're currently witnessing, competition for consumer dollars is fierce within respective markets and few can argue that there has never been a better time for those looking to buy. The Radeon HD 4890 is ATI's latest contender and we covered it extensively at launch. Now, overclocked variants of the videocard are rolling out with the goal of squeezing every last bit of performance from the RV790 GPU. Stock heatsinks do well to move the heat from the videocard at reference settings, but overclocking the core and memory quickly surpasses the threshold in which those heatsinks were designed for. That's where PowerColor's HD 4890 LCS liquid cooled videocard comes in. With factory overclocked speeds and increased cooling capability, let's find out what this card has to offer.   


PowerColor Radeon HD 4890 LCS
 

PowerColor HD 4890 Liquid Cooling Solution
Specifications and Features

Fabrication Process
55 nm
Transistors 959M
Core Clock
900 MHz
Stream Processors
800
Compute Performance
1.36 TFLOPs
Texture Units  40
Texture Fillrate
 34.0 GTexels/s
ROP Units  16
Memory Type  GDDR5
Memory Clock
1000 MHz
Frame Buffer Size
1 GB
Memory Data Rate
3.9 Gps
Memory Interface
256-bit
Total Memory Bandwidth
124.8 GB/s
Processor Cores
240
Connectors
2 x Dual-Link DVI-I 1 x 7-pin HDTV Out
Bus Technology
PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor

Dual Slot

Power Connectors
2 x 6-pin
Max Board Power (TDP)
190W
Idle Board Power (TDP)
60W


PowerColor's HD 4890 LCS offers respectable speed increases over reference design cards. With an extra 50MHz for the core and a memory frequency raised by 25MHz, we definitely don't expect outrageous gains. Rather, we anticipate a measurable boost in performance coupled with the inherent advantages of watercooled parts. But before we check out the benchmarks, we'll inspect the card and its accessory bundle.

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The Card

PowerColor's HD 4890 LCS, or Liquid Cooling Solution, replaces the plastic shroud and heatsink / fan assembly with a copper waterblock that acts as the heat transfer mechanism.

       

The HD 4890 LCS GPU (AX4890 1GBD5-WH) offers a core clock of 900MHz and memory clock at 1000MHz. It features 1GB of GDDR5 memory with a 256-bit interface. In addition, the videocard supports DX 10.1 and is PCIE 2.0 capable. Dual CrossFire connectors along the top edge of the PCB allows for multiple card CrossFireX configurations.

    

There's no mistaking who makes the waterblock. Along with the PowerColor name, we find an EK Waterblocks logo engraved on the Acetal top. Since EK is one of the most highly regarded waterblock makers in the scene, its encouraging to see them team up with companies to help provide pre-installed, liquid GPU cooling. The copper base offers ample thermal transfer to the heat producing chips and produces cooler operating temps and potentially higher overclocks. Weighing in at 1.67 lbs (760 g), the block has four openings with G1/4 threads. One inlet and outlet contributes to lower flow restriction and minimizes pressure drop within the cooling loop. 

    

With the waterblock removed, its easy to see that the videocard sports the reference design, red PCB with dual 6-pin PCI Express power connectors. Furthermore, eight Quimonda GDDR5 memory chips flank the 55nm RV790 GPU. A look at the PCI bracket reveals two dual link DVI connections with an HDTV out located between them. The use of a waterblock eliminates the need for a dual slot bracket with fan exhaust grills, however, so a single slot bracket would have made much more sense here.  

    

Included with the HD 4890 LCS is an accessory bundle that makes the installation a simple affair. There is a quick install guide, driver disc, CrossFire bridge connector, HDTV output cable, DVI-to-HDMI adapter, DVI-to-VGA adapter, and S-Video-to-Composite adapter. PowerColor did well to include a set of 1/2" and 3/8" fittings with corresponding hose clamps. Considering this card is liquid-cooled,we were hoping to find an enthusiast-friendly overclocking utility on the disc other than the one built into ATI's drivers, but came away empty handed.

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Our Test System and 3DMark Vantage

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: In order to provide comparable results, each graphics card was installed on the same, high end test system. The components we used consisted of an EVGA X58 Classified motherboard, Core i7 965 Extreme processor, and 6GB of Crucial Ballistix Tracer memory. Within the BIOS, we configured the processor and memory to their rated specifications of 3.2GHz and 1600MHz respectively. The Western Digital Velociraptor hard drive was formatted before installing a clean copy of Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit SP1. Once the installation was completed, we fully updated the OS and installed the latest drivers and applications relevant to the test system.  

HotHardware's Test Systems
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Core i7 965 (3.2GHz)

EVGA X58 Classified
(X58 Express Chipset)

Radeon HD 4890 PowerColor LCS
Radeon HD 4870X2 VisionTek
GeForce GTX 285 Infinity Edition
GeForce GTX 295 EVGA

6GB Crucial Ballistix Tracer DDR3-1600 C8
(3 X 2GB)

Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB
(10,000RPM - SATA)

Relevant Software:
Windows Vista Ultimate SP1
DirectX March 2009 Redist
RivaTuner v2.24
ATI Catalyst Control Center

ATI Catalyst Display Driver 9.4
NVIDIA GeForce Drive 185.87

Benchmarks Used:

3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
FarCry 2
Crysis*
Left 4 Dead*


* - Custom benchmark

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 Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1200, with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.



Obviously not a match against the dual GPU offerings, the PowerColor HD 4890 LCS is competitive compared to the GTX 285 videocard. The 4890 comes win 1,000 points and 3 frames per second of NVIDIA's fastest single GPU product. In addition, the overclocked core and memory speeds show improvement over reference settings. 

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Crysis v1.21

Crysis v1.21
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 v1.21 with all of its visual options set to 'Very High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested  A custom demo recorded on the Ice level was used throughout testing.

PowerColor's LCS Edition pulls ahead of the GTX 285 in our Crysis benchmark by almost two frames per second using a 1920x1200 resolution. It almost matched the 285 at the 2560x1600 resolution, coming in less than one fps lower. This was definitely a strong showing by the HD 4890 LCS. 

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FarCry 2

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map. The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA and No anisotropic enabled concurrently.

Here's another good perfomance by the factory overclocked PowerColor 4890. At 2560x1600, it pulls to within one frame per second of the reference GTX 285 but trails by four fps at 1920x1200.

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Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead
DirectX Gaming Performance


Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is a co-operative, survival horror, first-person shooter that was developed by Turtle Rock Studios, which was purchased by Valve part-way into development. Like Half Life 2, the game uses the Source engine, however, the visual in L4D are far superior to anything seen in the Half Life universe to date. The game pits four Survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic against hordes of aggressive zombies. We tested the game at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.

The LCS was unable to catch the GTX 285 in our Left 4 Dead benchmark but framerates were more than acceptable across the board.

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Overclocking the HD 4890 LCS

ATI's Overdrive utility is found withing the Catalyst Control Center and provides an simple overclocking tool for those who want to get more performance from their videocard. We pushed this factory overclocked 4890 to the limit in order to find out how much headroom was left.

Overclocking The Radeon HD 4890
Pedal To The Metal



With gradual speed increases and plenty of stability testing, we were able to take PowerColor's HD 4890 LCS from the factory overclocked speeds of 900MHz CPU clock and 1000MHz memory frequency up to a sizzling 970MHz and 1115MHz respectively. The extra horsepower provided extra frame rates in our Crysis and FarCry 2 benchmarks, as shown above. It also seems the performance bump was enough to push the PowerColor LCS past the stock GTX 285. 

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Temperatures

Before wrapping up the article, we'll cover one of the selling points of this card. Since the aim of watercooling is to improve heat dissipation and lower operating temps, we recorded the idle and load temperatures of the GPUs during benchmarking. Our testing environment is climate controlled at 22.2C / 72F and we used RivaTuner to monitor core temps. 

GPU Core Temperatures
Monitored with RivaTuner

One of the biggest complaints about modern videocards is the high level of heat they produce in and around the system. You can see the huge difference between watercooled and traditional air cooling from the results above. The HD 4890 LCS is the clear winner here, as it runs cooler at load than the 295 and 4870X2 do while idle. PowerColor's product even beat the liquid cooled Zotac GTX 285 by running 26 degrees cooler under load and 6 cooler degrees in an idle state.   

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Power Consumption and Noise

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 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

PowerColor's LCS consumed the least amount of power under load, beating the Zotac Infinity GTX 285 by 32 watts. But in an idle state, the 285 actually sipped less juice from the socket by using 280 watts compared to the 4890's 316 watts.  

Since this is a watercooled videocard, noise is a non-factor. The absence of high RPM fans on the card makes it an appealing choice to those who seek silence. Of course, fans are normally placed on the radiator within the liquid cooling loop but these tend to be large, quiet, low speed models. 

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Going into this evaluation, we wanted to see how well this overclocked HD 4890 did against the top cards currently available. After several benchmarks, its clear that this card is right on the heels of the GTX 285 in terms of performance. Specifically, it came within one frame per second of the GTX 285 in our Crysis and FarCry 2 benchmarks at 1920x1200. The PowerColor Radeon HD 4890 LCS even pulled off a win versus the 285 in Crysis at 2560x1600.

Taking advantage of the added cooling performance by overclocking the PowerColor LCS netted enough of a boost in performance that it surpassed the stock GTX 285 during overclocked testing. With the card topping out at only 40 degrees during load, however, we're sure it could handle more voltage in order to overclock further and reach much higher speeds than what we've seen so far.   

 

Currently, this is the highest priced HD 4890 GPU on the market. But that's not surprising considering the tweaked settings and additional cost of the waterblock. Consider the price of a similarly clocked 4890 ($270) in addition to the EK waterblock ($115) and you come to an amount of $385 if you purchase them separately. Right now, the PowerColor can be had for $340, so a $45 discount could be achieved if a watercooled HD 4890 is the ultimate goal. Interestingly, this scenario rings true for most liquid cooled videocards, as they normally present a less expensive path than the alternative option of purchasing the card and block individually. But, if performance is the bottom line, a GTX 285 could be had for the same price as the PowerColor HD 4890. And if you are willing to spend about $50 more, you can afford the even more powerful HD 4870X2.     

PowerColor took the fastest, single GPU graphics card in AMD's lineup and gave it a speed boost. Sporting a liquid cooled solution, the HD 4890 LCS not only provides more performance, but also lower operating temps and a quieter computing environment. Is this the card for you? We think its a great option for those looking for a 4890 to add to their existing liquid-cooling loop. This card was made for a specific market and gives watercooling enthusiasts an excellent videocard to consider.

     
  • Factory overclocked
  • Almost as fast as the GTX 285
  • Excellent idle / load temps
  • Silent operation
  • DX10.1 Support
  • Unable to hit 1000MHz core clock
  • No overclocking utility
  • Dual slot PCI bracket


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