AMD ATI Radeon HD 4870

A big performance boost courtesy of GDDR5

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AMD ATI Radeon HD 4870
  • AMD ATI Radeon HD 4870
  • AMD ATI Radeon HD 4870
  • AMD ATI Radeon HD 4870

Pros

  • Solid performer across all benchmarks, impressive components (including 512MB of GDDR5 memory), excellent value for money

Cons

  • It's hot (and not in a good way)

Bottom Line

When it comes to gaming performance for your dollar, the ATI Radeon HD 4870 is currently unmatched. If that's not enough reason to snap this card up, we don't know what is.

Would you buy this?

When it comes to bang-for-your-buck, ATI's new series of 4800 graphics cards has rewritten the rules for the PC marketplace. With specifications that were once considered enthusiast-level, these affordable, gamer-friendly cards provide a formidable amount of processing power for the asking price. It has cut a swathe through the RRP landscape, with its chief rival, NVIDIA, forced to reluctantly follow suit. As a consequence, being a PC gamer has never been more affordable, with the Radeon HD 4870 leading the initial charge.

Like its ATI Radeon HD 4850 stable mate, the HD 4870 is an excellent midrange graphics card. It offers some additional perks for a higher premium. Although based on the same 16mm RV770 chipset as the HD 4850, the HD 4870 benefits from a core clock speed of 750MHz and 512MB of GDDR5 memory running at 1800 MHz (3600 MHz effective). By contrast, the HD 4850 makes do with a core GPU clock speed of 625MHz and GDDR3 memory clocked at 993MHz. Otherwise, both cards sport the same basic architecture, including 800 stream processors, 40 texture units, a transistor count of 965 million and a 256-bit memory bus. All in all, that's some very nifty specifications for the asking price.

For the purpose of this review, we have tested ATI's reference board, which the current crop of HD 4870 cards are identical to (for an example, check out our Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 review). While very impressive in its own right, we should begin to see tweaked boards with additional features in the coming months, so patience may well be a virtue. In the time being though, let's take a look at the daddy.

With dimensions of roughly 235x105x37mm, the Radeon HD 4870 is noticeably smaller than NVIDIA's GeForce 9800 GTX, which is its prime competitor. This should make it easier to set up a CrossfireX configuration with two or more cards in the one machine. In terms of connectivity, the card sticks to the ATI template, with a pair of dual-link DVI outputs, HDMI output support (a DVI-to-HDMI adapter is included in the sales package) and component/S-video/composite ports.

Because of its higher power consumption, the HD 4870 requires two 6-pin power connectors (as opposed to the HD 4850, which runs off a single 6-pin power connector.) Nevertheless, it remains quite energy-efficient, with idle power consumption rated at a reasonable 160 Watts. Much like the HD 4850, the card gets very hot during operation — expect temperature levels to reach 90 degrees when the card is under load. You may therefore want to take additional cooling precautions before you make any overclocking attempts. We also found noise levels to be high during peak operation, although the lack of a side panel on our PC obviously contributed to this.

When it came to our benchmarks, the HD 4870 was predictably solid. The increased memory bandwidth naturally translated to some significant performance gains, with the card consistently trumping the NVIDIA 9800 GTX and Radeon HD 4870 in every test we threw at it.

In 3DMark06, the HD 4870 received an overall score of 12,851. This was 990 more marks than the AMD ATI Radeon HD 4850 and 777 more than the Gigabyte GeForce 9800 GTX (GV-NX98X512H-B); both of which were reviewed using the same test bed. Meanwhile, in the game F.E.A.R., the HD 4870 averaged 121 frames per second (fps) with maximum settings enabled. This was significantly faster than the 9800 GTX and HD 4850, which averaged 80fps and 89fps respectively. In our Half-Life 2 performance test, the HD 4870 averaged a frame rate of 177.8fps; compared to 169fps from the HD 4850 and 162fps from the 9800 GTX. These are all significant gains that will have a real-world effect on gameplay.

When it came to our DirectX 10 performance tests, the HD 4870 acquitted itself well for a midrange graphics card. When we ran the game Crysis, we received an average frame rate of 20.5fps, which isn't bad for the asking price. Lost Planet: Extreme Conditions, meanwhile, returned an impressive average of 32fps. Our other DX10 game test was the benchmark demo Call of Juarez, which sped along at an average frame rate of 54.3fps. Once again, the above results outshone the Gigabyte 9800 GTX by a significant margin. (Incidentally, we have yet to review NVIDIA's new 9800 GTX+ model, which should provide stiffer competition — stay tuned for a review soon.)

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