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Conclusion

With the test results of the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire on our hands, we can speak quite definitely about its potential and competitiveness, particularly against Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 280. The results are not favorable for ATI overall. Although the CrossFire solution is indeed unrivalled in a number of tests, it could not outperform the GeForce GTX 280 in others due to the drawbacks typical of all multi-GPU solutions.

The summary diagrams make it clear.

The Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire subsystem beats the GeForce GTX 280 in two cases at a resolution of 1280x1024: Call of Juarez (by 56%) and Lost Planet (about 18%). A small advantage (of about 9%) can be observed in both scenes of TES IV: Oblivion. In Battlefield 2142, HL2: Episode 2 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. the ATI solution is within 5% from the leading GeForce GTX 280. In the rest of the tests the CrossFire subsystem is far behind its opponent, by 30% and more, mainly due to incorrect operation of CrossFire technology. In fact, only one out of the two GPUs was working in these games. Thus, the overall score is 8 to 4 in favor of Nvidia, with four draws, and two wins of ATI in 3DMark which have no practical value. Not very optimistic results.

Things are brighter for ATI if the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire is compared with the GeForce GTX 260: five wins, four draws and seven losses in the gaming tests, plus two wins in 3DMark. However, this card from Nvidia belongs to a lower price category costing $299 (two Radeon HD 4850 cost $400).

The overall picture is the same at a resolution of 1600x1200 except that the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire increases its lead to 70% in Call of Juarez proving the big potential of two RV770 chips working together. In S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and TES IV: Oblivion the GeForce GTX 280 is, on the contrary, closer to the ATI solution, but the latter shrinks the gap in Crysis from 14% to 4%. The overall standings thus remain the same.

In comparison with the GeForce GTX 260, ATI’s solution has six wins and four draws and thus looks more appealing, especially as CrossFire support will be eventually added into more games. The price factor should not be forgotten, though. Even the single-PCB Radeon HD 4850 X2 is unlikely to fit into the $299 category the Radeon HD 4870 resides in.

The display resolution grows higher and the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire wins five tests from the GeForce GTX 280 but its advantage in TES IV: Oblivion shrinks to 5%. In five more tests the difference is small or zero, so if ATI’s people work hard on correcting the problems of CrossFire technology, which they should be busy with right now, the GeForce GTX 280 will have a dangerous rival. ATI’s advantage will grow if the upcoming Radeon HD 4850 X2 is equipped with more graphics memory.

Compared with the GeForce GTX 260, the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire wins seven out of the 16 tests, has a small advantage over the Nvidia card in three more tests, and lost only in BioShock and Tomb Raider: Legend.

It is the extremely high resolutions of 2048x1536 and 2560x1600 pixels that are the most interesting but ATI has nothing exciting to offer here at the moment. In many tests the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire tandem lacks graphics memory. Although the two cards have a total of 1 gigabyte of local memory, applications can only use half that amount (which is the case for every modern homogeneous multi-GPU solution if the cards have the same amount of memory). As a result, ATI’s subsystem wins only in TES IV: Oblivion and equals its opponent in Battlefield 2142, HL2: Episode 2 and CoH: Opposing Fronts. On the other hand, the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire delivers a playable frame rate in every of these games, except for CoH: Opposing Fronts, and also in C _©C: Kane’s Wrath So we are looking forward to benchmark the Radeon HD 4850 X2 that may be faster due to a larger amount of graphics memory and improved drivers.

The GeForce GTX 260 is not meant for such high display resolution, but the comparison is interesting anyway. Here, each solution wins five tests. They equal each other in five more tests. So, this is a draw overall.

Generally speaking, the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire configuration has big potential. But this potential is not revealed fully due to poor driver support for CrossFire technology, which is a common problem of all multi-GPU solutions, and to the insufficient amount of local memory. 512 megabytes of graphics memory is not enough for a number of today’s games at resolutions higher than 1600x1200/1680x1050. Still, purchasing a couple of Radeon HD 4850 cards to build a CrossFire subsystem out of them is an interesting option for a user who wants to have high performance in games.

ATI has focused on multi-GPU solutions and is now interested in promoting such technologies. So the mentioned configuration may soon become a threat to the GeForce GTX 280 especially considering the higher price of the latter. But if you don’t have yet a Radeon HD 4850 and don’t plan to modernize your graphics subsystem in two steps, you may want to wait for the Radeon HD 4850 X2. Besides being easier to handle, this graphics card will be free from the second drawback of the Radeon HD 4850 CrossFire, i.e. the low amount of graphics memory available to 3D applications.

As for the specific product, the Sapphire HD 4850 512MB GDDR3 graphics card pleased us with its pretty packaging and rich accessories that include everything necessary to use the card as well as a few bonuses, particularly a software player of Blu-ray and HD DVD formats and a 2GB USB flash drive.

We here at X-bit labs decided to award Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512MB GDDR3 with our prestigious Editor’s Choice title for the best accessories bundle among comparable graphics accelerators:

Highs:

  • Excellent gaming performance
  • Remarkable potential in dual-card CrossFire configurations
  • 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
  • Sound over HDMI
  • Compact PCB and cooling system
  • Low noise
  • No compatibility issues
  • Excellent accessories bundle
  • Low price

Lows:

  • Cooling system works at the utmost of its potential
  • Relatively high power consumption
  • Software CrossFire support not ideal yet
  • Insufficient video memory for resolutions above 1920x1200 in CrossFire mode
 
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