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Conclusion

The results of our ATI Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 performance tests revealed very high potential of these graphics cards. The youngest model, 4850, equipped with GDDR3 memory did show excellent results having set a new performance standard for sub-$200 mainstream graphics accelerators. It also proved capable of competing against solutions from a much higher price range.

The top model, 4870, won in majority of benchmarks. It is interesting that by comparing the gaming performance of the top and mainstream ATI Radeon 4800 solutions we can determine when memory subsystem bandwidth is most important for the end result.

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In 1280x1024 resolution most prizes were won by the “green team”, however, we can’t say that the “red team” lost: 4850 solution performed fast enough in most tests and in quite a few of them left the competitors behind. Namely, ATI Radeon HD 4850 performed best in Call of Juarez, Call of Duty 4, Lost Planet, Hellgate: London, and reached parity in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. So, it makes 5 tests out of 15 with a slight lag in a few more – not bad at all, keeping in mind that the new ATI solution performed sufficiently fast in most cases. The only exceptions were especially resource-hungry games, such as Crysis, where none of our today’s testing participants managed to do well enough. Even the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. performance was not a big failure, even though this game is known to be extremely favorable to Nvidia hardware.

The top ATI Radeon HD 4870 model won in most benchmarks. It let Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX get ahead only in Tomb Raider: Legend and TES IV: Oblivion, although the performance level in both these games remained high enough for comfortable gaming.

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As we san see, the new architecture shows its real best starting with 1600x1200 or more widely spread these days 1680x1050 resolution. In some cases ATI Radeon HD 4850 almost completely caught up with Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX. Among these games are Battlefield 2142, BioShock, Crysis and TES IV: Oblivion. And it even became an indisputable leader in World in Conflict.

ATI Radeon HD 4870 was also as successful. In this resolution it won in 11 tests out of 15 and performed as fast as Nvidia GeForce 9800 GT in three more.

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The next resolution we will talk about is 1920x1200. Here ATI Radeon HD 4850 wins a few more victories, the most remarkable being Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, which is the OpenGL field where Nvidia solutions have usually been undefeated. It also took the lead in TES IV: Oblivion and Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts. So, the final score makes 9:4 in ATI’s favor. In three more games ATI Radeon HD 4850 performs almost as fast as Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX. In addition we should point out a remarkable victory the new ATI architecture won in 3DMark Vantage, and mention practically indisputable leadership of our ATI Radeon HD 4870 in this resolution.

Despite the fact that ATI Radeon HD 4850 belongs to the mainstream graphics accelerators, it is a truly powerful weapon. While it offers excellent gaming performance, its PCB design is fairly simple and inexpensive, so its price has every chance to go down a lot later on without any financial losses for ATI. Unfortunately, 110W power consumption (and heat dissipation) does not go well with a single-slot cooling system. So we would advise using a more efficient cooler or ensuring ideal ventilation of the system case.

ATI/AMD’s main competitor, Nvidia, is trying hard to save the situation by joggling the prices, however, it looks more like panic on a sinking ship rather than well-planned strategy. The thing is that Nvidia doesn’t have anything in their arsenal to respond with. GeForce 9800 GTX features much more complex design, because it was initially intended for $299+ price range. Therefore, Nvidia’s dramatic price drop may have been very painful from the financial standpoint for both Nvidia and partners. The top model in the new ATI Radeon HD 4800 lineup turns out to be completely alone out there: I doubt that the overclocked Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX with a 55nm G92 GPU could really compete against it. Besides, extreme complexity of GeForce GTX 200 graphics cards will not let Nvidia reduce the prices without losing any money. At least not any time soon.

ATI Radeon HD 4850 deserves the prestigious title of the best graphics accelerator in the sub-$200 category. It provides very high performance at a comparatively low price and exceeds Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX in a number of other aspects.

ATI Radeon HD 4870 is equipped with super-fast GDDR5 memory delivering impressive data transfer rate of 115.2GB/s even with 256bit bus. This solution performs extremely fast, which puts it next to more expensive GeForce GTX 260 and 280.

We have to say that unlike the competition, ATI Radeon HD 4800 supports DirectX 10.1 and features a more advanced UVD2 video processor. It also supports 7.1 HD sound over HDMI.

ATI Radeon HD 4850: Summary

Highs:

  • Excellent gaming performance
  • Outperforms Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX in high resolutions
  • Wide range of supported FSAA modes
  • Best edge detect CFAA quality in the industry
  • Excellent quality of anisotropic filtering
  • Impressive potential: 800 ALU, 40 texture processors and 16 render back ends
  • DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 support
  • Fully-fledged hardware HD video decoding
  • High-quality HD video post-processing with scalability
  • Built-in 8-channel audio controller with HD support
  • Compact PCB and cooling system
  • Low noise
  • No compatibility issues
  • Sound over HDMI
  • Low price

Lows:

  • Relatively high power consumption
  • Cooling system works at the utmost of its potential

ATI Radeon HD 4870: Summary

Highs:

  • Excellent gaming performance for its class
  • Wide range of supported FSAA modes
  • Best edge detect CFAA quality in the industry
  • Excellent quality of anisotropic filtering
  • Impressive potential: 800 ALU, 40 texture processors and 16 render back ends, fast GDDR5 memory
  • DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 support
  • Fully-fledged hardware HD video decoding
  • High-quality HD video post-processing with scalability
  • Built-in 8-channel audio controller with HD support
  • Low noise
  • No compatibility issues
  • Sound over HDMI
  • Low price

Lows:

  • Relatively high power consumption
  • High heat dissipation because of the non-optimal cooling system setup
 
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