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AMD ATI Radeon HD 4890 review



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It hardly feels like it but it's actually been nine months since AMD/ATI released its last single-chip high-end graphics card, the HD 4870. Now that may not be a great length of time in most walks of life but in the computer industry where we quite often see new releases every six months, that's quite a stretch. Nevertheless, ATI has today launched the HD 4870s successor, the single-chip HD 4890.

Available immediately and, in the case of the XFX card we're looking at, priced at £229.99, it's about the same as the HD4870 was at launch and £60 more expensive than the HD4870 1GB is currently. This makes its nearest competitor from nVidia, the GTX 260 and will immediately alert you to the fact this is not a card meant to compete at the bleeding-edge in terms of performance. Still £200 can get you a heck of a lot of bang for your buck so let's see how the HD 4890 holds up.

The card itself is outwardly very similar to the HD 4870 with the same 9.5in PCB length, identical dual slot cooler design, and same duo of extra power connections on its front edge. The video output configuration is also identical with two dual-link DVI sockets and a multi-format analogue output that natively supports S-Video but also outputs component and composite with the help of dongles. Meanwhile, the top edge of the PCB is home to the usual pair of Crossfire connectors.

Casting an eye over the specification of the actual graphics chip, reveals that the card looks pretty similar internally, as well. The HD 4890 still features 800 stream processors, 40 texture units, and 16 ROPs, communicating across a 256-bit wide interface to1GB of GDDR5 memory. However, this new chip has been completely reworked to enable it to run at higher clock speeds. Specifically, a ring of decoupling capacitors has been added round the whole chip to reduce signal noise and the relative timings of all the components have been tweaked.

The result isn't particularly dramatic with just a 100MHz (13 per cent) increase of core clock speed but along with faster memory it should result in a noticeable boost in performance. Consequently the transistor count has gone up slightly, from 956 million to 959 million, but the difference is likely to have a negligible impact on production, and thus final board, costs.

ATI has also focussed on making the new card less power hungry when idling. We couldn't get any specific details as to what measures had been taken to achieve this but ATI quotes that idle power has dropped from 90W on the HD 4870 to 60W on the HD 4890. Unfortunately this isn't something that's carried over to the card running at full pelt where the HD 4890 now consumes 190W, up from 160W on the HD 4870.

With so little changes to talk about we might as well get right onto testing.

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April 2, 2009, 9:57 pm

Nice review Ed. Any news on when you'll have a GTX 275 review, most places only seem to have reviews of the 4890 up and not the GTX 275, even though they're both on sale and in stock at the moment.

As for the benchmarks, did you test the 192 or 216 SP version of the GTX 260, and the 512MB or 1GB version of the 4870? Also, there's a bit of a mistake in the table - you list the number of stream processors for the GTX 260 as 182, unless that's a version I don't know about? ;)


April 3, 2009, 12:25 am

@smc8788 - Thats because Nvidia was originally supposed to launch the GTX 275 around the 13th, they have brought it forward to take some of the attention off ATI. Nobody seems to have had any time to review them because the decision was taken at the last second, it isn't expected there will be significant stock of them available for a couple of weeks.

I think the high end 40nm cards are worth waiting for personally, nothing revolutionary enough here to tempt me from my HD3870 :)


April 3, 2009, 1:16 am

Precisely right there Xenos - it's been a hectic week!

You do realise even the HD 4870 is significantly faster than the HD 3870?

@smc8788: we don't actually have a GTX 260 216 and it was too late to get one in by the time I realised - we did have one for a while but it went back before being reviewed. As such I'm comparing to the older one.

I'm working on the GTX 275 now (currently 20:15) and the review will be up tomorrow sometime. I'll also do some overclocking of both cards and generally come to an absolute conclusion (at least based on the games I'm able to test) and update this review as well.


April 3, 2009, 3:07 am

will these scores change depending on the review of the gtx 275? also how does it compare to the gtx 280?

Sean Groarke

April 3, 2009, 12:37 pm

On the one hand I sympathise with the difficulty of getting all the elements of a comparative review lined up, but plenty of other review sites had 4890 versus GTX 275 ready on Day One.

But, as pointed out already, you've ended up comparing ATI's brand-new 4890 against the *old* model of the GTX260. Comparing it against the newer GTX260-216 would have been bad enough, but this is just totally meaningless. You conclude that a GBP 230 card performs a lot better than an old GBP 150 card. Amazing!

You really should have sat on this and done a proper comparison against the GTX 275. Or if you simply HAD to get something out, you should have done a non-comparison overview of the ATI and then followed up with the comparative review.

Last gripe (sorry): you say you'll do some overclocking tests when you've got the GTX 275. Meaningless. Fun, but meaningless. You surely know as well as I do that overclockability is a crap-shoot where one card of model X overclocks this much, but another identical model X overclocks to a totally different degree. The only overclocking it's worth reporting in a review is if it is guaranteed and under-written by the manufacturer (as does happen with some cards) Unless you can overclock say 20 randomly sourced versions of a card, the results from just one are not worth anything.


April 4, 2009, 11:16 am

"...nothing revolutionary enough here to tempt me from my HD3870 :)"

"You do realise even the HD 4870 is significantly faster than the HD 3870?"

...not only faster...series 3 should be avoided.


April 18, 2009, 1:21 am

So, whats better; HD 4870 or HD 4890?

Lucian Proctor

August 28, 2009, 6:38 pm

Actually, you can reduce the memory clock manually at idle with CCC. It reduces the idle power by about 30 watts.

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