Our Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: Throughout our entire battery of tests, the new Radeon HD 4870 X2 proved to be a top performer, whether running in a single-card configuration or in a dual-card, four-GPU, CrossFireX configuration. In the games and applications we tested, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 outperformed every other single graphics card, including the GeForce GTX 280. Generally speaking, the 4870 X2 was on-par with or marginally faster than a Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire setup and somewhat faster than a GeForce GTX 260 SLI configuration in most benchmarks, although the GTX 260 SLI rig did catch up with it a couple of times. Depending on how well the Radeon HD 4870 X2 CrossFireX configuration scaled, it too was one of the fastest multi-GPU configurations available, but a pair or trio of GeForce GTX 280 cards were faster in a few instances.
Make no mistake, the new Radeon HD 4870 X2 marks ATI's return to the top of the 3D graphics food chain. It took a few years, but through steady improvements in multi-GPU software support, and a new strategy regarding the design and manufacture of high-end graphics cards that utilizes two mid-sized chips in lieu of a single monolithic one, AMD was able to produce a graphics card capable of outpacing the best NVIDIA currently has to offer.
As we stated in our conclusion when we first took a look at AMD's previous two-GPU flagship, the Radeon HD 3870 X2, because the Radeon HD 4870 X2 is essentially “CrossFire on a card”, the X2’s performance is ultimately determined by how well the card’s drivers scale in a particular game. If a new game hits store shelves and the drivers don’t recognize its executable, the $549 Radeon HD 4870 X2 will perform much like a single-GPU Radeon HD 4870 that is approximately half the price. On many occasions since the launch of the Radeon HD 3870 X2, AMD has assured us their software team will continually be working to try to minimize this situation, but it quite possibly could be an issue at some point in time no matter how hard they work, unless a universally compatible multi-GPU rendering technique is devised. This is something you must be aware of if you’re contemplating the purchase of Radeon HD 4870 X2.
Expect Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards to be available immediately for about $549. At that price, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 is certainly not for everyone and it is the most expensive consumer level graphics card on the market. But prices in the graphics card space have been on downward spiral for weeks and we suspect this card won't remain at that price for long, even if NVIDIA doesn't release something new to steal some of ATI's thunder. A GTX 280, for example, may not perform as well as the 4870 X2 overall, but it is currently about $100-$150 less expensive (after rebates) and users won't have to worry about multi-GPU scaling issues. Although the Radeon HD 4870 X2 is an all-around faster card, the price difference and the benefits of the GeForce GTX 280's single-GPU design still make it an attractive option for hardcore enthusiasts in our opinion.
In the end though, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 simply rocks. We wish it didn't run quite as hot and that its cooler was a bit quieter, but those are things ATI's partners will likely address. Welcome back to ultra high-end AMD. It's obvious you have worked hard, and your efforts have paid off. The Radeon HD 4870 X2 is a 3D graphics tour de force.