System requirements of video games on the PC platform are getting ever and ever harsher. Some titles, such as the legendary Crysis, refuse to run fast at the highest graphics quality settings even on the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 that costs more than $500, let alone the less advanced single-chip cards based on Nvidia’s G200 and ATI’s RV770. Although the sector of affordable graphics cards have been changed, mainly by the arrival of the Radeon HD 4850 that brought about a new level of performance into the below-$199 segment, graphics cards cheaper than $100 have not been interesting for gamers at all. They were targeted at users who didn’t take gaming seriously but who were not satisfied with the capabilities of integrated graphics solutions.
An example of such a card is the ATI Radeon HD 3650 we reviewed earlier. It was based on the 55nm RV635 core which was a cut-down version of the RV670 processor, quite a good solution in its time. The graphics card had all of the capabilities of the senior models of ATI’s Radeon HD 3800 series, particularly full support for HD video decoding and post-processing, but was more than modest in games. It just couldn’t run serious 3D games fast.
However, the next generation of ATI’s graphics processors just blew up the market of consumer 3D graphics, pushing the performance bar of below-$200 solutions to the level that had been previously provided by graphics cards priced at $300 or higher. Right now, the ATI Radeon HD 4850 can be considered a bestseller, its price having declined even below ATI’s original official $199.
The explosion initiated by AMD’s graphics department couldn’t but shake the graphics market, which had been stagnating a little due to Nvidia’s monopoly, down to the very bottom. In other words, it led to the development of graphics cards cheaper than $100 yet capable of delivering acceptable performance in most of today’s games, even though at low resolutions. This is especially important as more and more gaming projects are developed for multiple platforms, the developer keeping in mind the modest graphics capabilities of the main gaming consoles, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3.
September 10, ATI officially announced the new family of graphics cards called Radeon HD 4600. In this review we will see how good the new family is and if it is much different from the previous generation of entry-level graphics hardware.