The Radeon 4800 series enjoyed a successful debut, proving the worthiness of the developer’s new strategy. Thanks to the thought-through and thoroughly optimized architecture, the relatively simple and inexpensive Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 cards delivered high performance in games. The junior model was especially brilliant. Officially priced at only $199 it easily competed with the GeForce 9800 GTX that had been originally designed as a top-end product.
Although Nvidia offers the fastest single graphics card in the world, the monstrous GeForce GTX 280 is not much faster than the Radeon HD 4870 and not faster at all in some games. As you know, ATI had given up the development of monolithic GPUs for $449 and more expensive products. Instead, the developer relies on multi-GPU technologies to create competitive top-end solutions.
So, the Radeon HD 4800 series is going to be complemented with dual-processor Radeon HD 4870 X2 and 4850 X2. Drawing upon the combined power of two RV770 cores, these new solutions are expected to be as fast as to leave no chance to the GeForce GTX 280. But considering Nvidia’s recent price cuts, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 will be more expensive since its price will in fact equal the cost of two Radeon HD 4870 cards minus the two PCBs and plus one expensive dual-processor PCB and a PCI Express switch. All in all, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 will cost more than $500 whereas the official price of the GeForce GTX 280 is currently set at $499.
But the point of the multi-GPU strategy is in quickly satisfying customers’ needs by means of good mainstream graphics cores. A Radeon HD 4850 X2 would be a logical answer to the GeForce GTX 280. This card is going to come out soon, being on ATI’s official product schedule. But even without it, we’ve got the highly successful Radeon HD 4850. Two such cards would cost you a mere $400 while CrossFire technology is currently supported not only by AMD’s but also by Intel’s chipsets. You just need two PCI Express x16 slots on your mainboard. Thus, a Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire configuration seems to be a nice alternative to a GeForce GTX 280, especially if your system supports CrossFire technology and has an empty PCI Express x16 slot. You can also increase the performance of your graphics subsystem in two steps and at a relatively low cost. The question is how efficient such a tandem would be under real-life conditions and if multi-GPU platforms have finally escaped the status of marginal solutions for enthusiasts only.
The answer is important not only for gamers searching for an alternative to the GeForce GTX 280 but also for ATI. The company’s future depends on how efficient CrossFire technology is. So, in this review we will check out the performance of a Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire configuration in 17 tests (15 games and two synthetic benchmarks). We’ll build our CrossFire config out of two Sapphire HD 4850 512MB GDDR3 cards that will be described in the next section.