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RV770: AMD ATI Radeon HD 4870 review




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RV770: AMD ATI Radeon HD 4870


Our Score:


The past few weeks have been somewhat chaotic in the technology industry. Not only were nVidia and AMD both set to launch two new graphics cards within weeks of each other, which is bad enough, but we also had the peculiar legitimised leaked launch of the HD4850, which allowed performance figures and card shots but not architectural explanations, and then, out of the blue, nVidia also announced the 9800GTX+ which is a die-shrunk, higher-clocked version of the existing 9800 GTX. All of which leaves muggins here feeling a little cross eyed and sore of head.

The best solution, it was deemed by yours truly, was to ignore all the wailing and gnashing and just get down to the basic business of churning through reviews. First up was nVidia's enormous, expensive, and incredibly fast high-end card, the GTX280, which is based on its GT200 chip. Now, it's the turn of ATI with its RV770 chip that will be coming to market as the HD4870 and HD 4850 cards.

Both will feature 800 Stream Processors, 40 texture units, and 16 ROPs all of which we'll talk about in more detail shortly. What essentially differentiates the two cards is clock speeds, memory configurations, and price (obviously). HD 4870 will be clocked at 750MHz, use 900MHz (3600MHZ effectively) GDDR5 memory and cost around £230. Meanwhile HD 4850 will run at 625MHz, use 993MHz (1986MHz effectively) GDDR3 memory, and will cost £130.

These prices are in drastic contrast to the two cards based on GT200 that nVidia just launched; GTX 280 is selling for over £400 and the GTX260 is around £260. So, once again it would seem ATI has come up short when it comes to performance and is trying to undercut nVidia instead. Well that's one way of looking at it but ATI sees things a little differently.

The traditional way graphics cards have been developed is to aim for the top with large expensive chips that win performance awards. The lower performing mainstream chips are then rolled out a few weeks or months down the line. However, with RV770, ATI is saying it has intentionally developed a smaller less powerful chip than GT200 because it's aiming for the more lucrative performance/mainstream market - the type of people that will be willing to spend £100 to £200 - rather than the ultra high-end folk that will be willing to fork out £400+.

Whether that's true or if it's all just marketing spin, I'll leave to you to decide, but it certainly makes sense in a way. True, the margins in this sector of the market aren't as high as the ultra high-end but the volume is orders of magnitude larger. In the meantime ATI can work on its upcoming HD4870 X2 (or whatever it will be called) that will combine two RV770 chips on one board and leverage ATI's more and more impressive Crossfire performance to create a single board that will compete at the high-end.

The other reason I'm inclined to believe that ATI isn't just spinning is because RV770 looks like a seriously competitive solution. In fact ATI could easily have got away with charging considerably more for this card. That and it makes sense to move away from large monolithic GPUs and work on multi-GPU solutions as they're considerably more scalable. If ATI can master its multi-GPU solutions to the point where they work seamlessly (i.e. games developers and driver teams don't have to optimise their software) it will be able to produce cheaper, more powerful cards than ever before.

Varis Vitols

July 5, 2008, 2:51 pm

Yeah, it was about time!

Matthew Bunton

July 5, 2008, 5:43 pm

This is the best bang for buck right now, good to see the ATI cards fighting back. Though it is still too early to upgrade in my opinion.


July 6, 2008, 1:18 am

if ati get cuda... i will get this card from sapphire(it have 2 (4 pin to 6 pin conector)(my power suply just have one 6 pin conector) but only if it get cuda, because i like to play games but i also do some video editing and transcoding videos to my zune and it take like 4hrs to covert a dvd to h.264 in my conroe


July 6, 2008, 2:10 am

Your comment on the CoD4 results is incorrect. The HD 4870 beats the GTX 280 comfortably.

It simply fails to be the double card GX2.

Varis Vitols

July 6, 2008, 3:58 am

It depends on what u upgrade from...


July 6, 2008, 6:14 am

Probably not worth upgrading from a 8800GT to a 4850 but the 4870 looks like it could be a possibility. Hopefully ATi will have OpenCL to compete against CUDA but I'm not bothered by the lack of support for it.


July 7, 2008, 3:35 pm

anybody know the minimum power supply rating? looking to install in Dual-Xeon Dell workstation with 700w PSU??


July 7, 2008, 4:06 pm

My X1950XTX is looking a bit long in the tooth now. Getting that itchy upgrade feeling.


July 7, 2008, 9:08 pm


I wouldn't look at it like that, it completely depends on what else you're running in your system. At peak the card will draw 150 - 200W, if you've got that much headroom in your current supply then you'll be fine. Otherwise you may need to upgrade. Easy way to check is with a plug-in power consumption meter. They're only about 㿀.

What card are you upgrading from?


July 8, 2008, 12:18 am

Hmmm, thanks ED. The Dell manual's state GPU's upto 150W(supported) so I may be pushing it if you say it draws upto 200W. Upgrading Dell PSU's I don't think is that easy as your probably aware most components are besopke (got to love Dell).


July 8, 2008, 1:09 pm

Ah, that could be a bit of a problem. Dells are an absolute pig to work with.


July 14, 2008, 5:22 pm

^^ wrt the Dell PSU prob - not sure about the Xeon's, some of the midi-tower cases still have the same footprint as a regular PSU, but just proprietary gaps for the kettle lead... in which case you can buy a normal PSU and get out the metal cutters and drill... I've got "creative" with a few Optiplex's over the years... :o)


July 14, 2008, 5:24 pm

and thanks for the great review!!

As per DMN's comment, that X1950XTX-GDDR4 (me too!) is suddenly looking really long in the tooth :o)))


February 15, 2009, 7:58 pm

i have got to get me one of these...

Joseph Middleton

August 24, 2009, 3:43 pm

This Radeon 4870 by HIS... It's not mentioned how much on board memory it has...

512MB or 1GB?

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