The year of 2008 is nearly over, and we can say it quite confidently now that it has been a very lucky year for AMD’s graphics department ATI. This year has been crucial for the company. It is in 2008 that ATI finally recovered from a long crisis that had been provoked by management errors and the lack of competitive products, and changed the market situation in its favor. The release of the RV770 GPU proved that ATI was not only capable of rivaling Nvidia but could create solutions head above the opponent’s. We don’t need much evidence to prove our point. Suffice it to say that the ATI Radeon HD 4850 with a recommended price of $199 could deliver the same performance as the Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX that had originally appeared at a recommended price of $349!
Of course, Nvidia won’t give up its market position without a good fight. But ATI is still counterattacking on each front, steadily and methodically. First of all, they drove Nvidia out of the premium-class sector. Having two RV770 cores, the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 left no chance to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 280 even though at a high price in every sense of the word: the card has a tremendous level of power consumption. The recent release of the RV730 GPU and appropriate cards has also been a success. It makes ATI not only competitive but superior in the sector of entry-level gaming cards priced at less than $100. The excellent results of the Radeon HD 4670 are indicative of that superiority.
Quite expectedly, ATI’s next strike should have occurred in the sector of even less expensive discrete graphics cards. Although such cards are not meant for serious gaming, they can offer the user such capabilities that cannot be provided by integrated graphics cores, i.e. full-featured HD video decoding, audio-over-HDMI, support for multi-monitor configurations, DisplayPort, and more or less acceptable performance in games, at least at low resolutions. Integrated graphics cores are generally very slow in 3D games even though they have been improving in this respect.
Unlike Nvidia, ATI did not use a cut-down version of the high-category core (RV730) for this purpose. Instead, the company has released a separate processor called RV710 that is meant to deliver a new level of performance and capabilities in the below-$60 sector. Thus, the Radeon HD 4000 family has been complemented with Radeon HD 4500 and 4300 series. The former of them will be the subject of this review.