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While ATI actually saw fit to announce and release the slower HD 4850 card first, by now both this and the faster HD 4870 cards will be available. So, in this article Im' going to focus on the flagship HD 4870.
For our review we were provided with a card made by HIS but the card is the exact same design as that used on ATI's reference board except for a little HIS sticker in the centre of the fan. This is a common situation for early cards based on new architecture and we can expect to see more exotic coolers and overclocked cards appearing in the coming months.
The retail bundle provided with this HIS card is worth a special mention. While the inclusion of DVI-to-HDMI, DVI-to-VGA, S-video-to-composite, and S-video-to-component adapters are all standard fare, the funky little screwdriver is definitely worthy of praise. It incorporates a spirit level, two interchangeable magnetic driver bits that each have a large and small head, and a little LED torch. It's no Leatherman, admittedly, but it is a useful multi-tool to have next to your PC. You also get a license that enables you to get a free copy of Half-Life 2: Lost Coast and Half-life 2: Deathmatch via Steam but there are no proper games included.
The card itself is a dual-slot design that looks very similar to the HD 2900 XT - evidently the revised cooler used on the HD 3870 wasn't all that. The PCB is 242mm in length, which is long but not excessively so and the whole card weighs a hefty 1.25kg, which is again high but not uncommonly so.
We've come to expect good things from both nVidia and ATI with their high-end coolers recently and the HD 4870 is no exception. Yes it gets loud when under load but then we'd expect you to be wearing headphones anyway and it's certainly not loud enough to disturb anyone in the room next door. When idle it is near silent and the fan also reacts to temperature so it will only ever be as loud as needs be. The card seems to run hotter than the GTX280 when it's good and busy but the dual slot design should ensure not too much of that heat builds up in your case (which would eventually lead to overheating and stability problems).
Along the top edge are two conventional CrossfireX connectors. The card can be used for CrossfireX configurations with up to three (maybe four if you can fit them on a board) cards running in tandem.
Power requirements are fairly hefty with two six-pin PCI-Express connections required to get the card up and running. You can get dongles that convert two Molex connectors to one of these six-pin connectors but you'll still a decent high-wattage power supply in the first place.
Elsewhere there is really very little that's extraordinary about the HD 4870. Outputs are the standard 2x dual-link DVI-D along with an analogue output that supports S-Video natively and component and composite via dongles. The DVI connectors are HDCP compliant to enable Blu-ray playback and the audio-over HDMI capabilities from previous ATI cards are also present. In fact, ATI has upgraded the audio capabilities to enable eight-channel LPCM for full 7.1 surround configurations.