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ATI HD 4670 512MB GDDR3 Video Card Review

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SKYMTL

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ATI Radeon HD 4670 512MB GDDR3 Video Card Review





Every now and then both Nvidia and ATI release cards which are not necessarily at the forefront of performance, but offer something to those of us who don’t want to spend $200 or even $150 on a component which we will replace in a year. In the cut throat world of graphics cards, these little guys are often forgotten or chalked up as also-rans in the grand scheme of things. Even many of us reviewers seem to forget that there is a burgeoning market out there for cards which perform adequately while not costing a month’s worth of lunch money. Granted, readers love seeing the dizzying performance numbers the current high-end offerings achieve but there is a lot more going on behind the glitz and glitter. That is what we will be focusing on in this review: the little guys who make up the bread and butter of the ATI balance sheet. While the card reviewed here today won’t wow any of you with blistering performance numbers, it may just open your eyes to what else this diverse market has to offer.

Flush from their success with their highly-regarded HD 4800-series of cards, ATI knew that they needed to ride off their momentum and attack all parts of the market with the new R700 series architecture. The first step was to launch an assault on the mid-level market with their HD 4870 and HD 4850 which was followed by their high end offering, the HD 4870 X2. Now, in order to consolidate their stranglehold on nearly every price-point ATI is targeting the entry level price point with their HD 4600-series.

Yesterday marked the official release of the HD 4670 and the HD 4650 into the sub-$100 category which was up until now the sole domain of the Nvidia 9500 GT and before it the 8600-series. These cards are not for those of us who want the best of the best; they are for people who want a card to be a jack of all trades which can play games at lower resolutions while offering kick-ass HD video decoding. Both of these cards will have full HDMI and DisplayPort capabilities for HTPC aficionados along with a core based on the RV770 for casual gamers. All of this means that both cards should appeal to quite a few potential customers from a price / performance standpoint.

Even though there will be two cards launching today, in this review we will be looking at the HD 4670 512MB GDDR3 in its reference design. It is being released to fight the already-released 9500 GT GDDR3 on nearly every front from power consumption to performance to price. Indeed, since this HD 4670 512MB should retail for about $85, it is already ahead on the price angle considering the 9500 GT GDDR3 currently goes for around $95 when all is said and done. Another thing that we should point out is that the card we were sent is an engineering sample so when cards are released to retailers, expect quite a few different designs of both the PCB layout as well as the output selection. There will also be 1GB versions available as time goes on so the HD 4670 in one version or another should suit the vast majority of you looking for a budget graphics card.

All in all, this should prove to be a unique review for us since it is not every day that we take a look at a budget video card in detail. We usually see them trailing in our charts but to have one in the limelight is actually pretty exciting. So, let’s see what this pint-sized card has to offer.


 
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SKYMTL

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The New ATI Lineup

The New ATI Lineup



As the ATI lineup takes better shape, it becomes apparent that like Nvidia before them they are trying to have something for everyone. This market saturation brought Nvidia shouts of disdain from both the community and resellers as their lineup was far too confusing for the average consumer but ATI has taken a fundamentally different approach. Instead of releasing cards across two different series at the same time (like the boys in green did with the 8 and 9-series), Team Red has now almost completely discontinued the 3xxx-series in favor of the 4-series architecture. However, there are still 3-series cards on the market at various price points and this causes an unfortunate overlay with the new 4-series. We wouldn’t be surprised to see some 3-series cards like the HD 3870 stick around for a little while longer to not only clear out stocks but also retain an ATI presence in the $100 to $200 price bracket.

Speaking of that magical $100 to $200 price bracket, there is amazingly little ATI can offer since the HD 4600-series is priced below $100 while the next-level HD 4850 is sitting pretty between $180 and $200. Granted, the HD 3870’s technology is getting a bit long in the tooth and performs relatively poorly against the 9600GT and 8800GT, but it is all ATI has for now. Hopefully this will change but until then hopefully ATI can get retailers to cut down on pricing a bit since $150 and more for an HD 3870 is far too much in our books. Then again, ATI MAY just have something else up their sleeves...


Enough about all that, let’s get on to the cards this review is all about: the new HD 4600-series. Both the HD 4670 and HD 4650 are based off of the 55nm RV730 core which is a scaled-down version of the powerful RV770 core we have been seeing tearing up the charts with the HD 4870 and HD 4850. Naturally, performance will be significantly decreased through the use of less than half the RV770’s 800 Stream Processors but ATI has balanced this out by equipping the HD 4670 with reasonably fast DDR3 clocked at 2Ghz for the 512MB version and 1.8Ghz for the 1GB card. Meanwhile, the HD 4650 gets a pretty large cut in the specs over the HD4670 with a lower core clock and DDR2 memory clocked at 1Ghz.

As we mentioned in the introduction, the immediate competition for each of these cards is the new 9500-series from Nvidia. Naturally, the HD 4670 in its GDDR3 form is being lined up against the 9500 GT GDDR3 while the lower-end DDR2 versions go head to head as well. Looking at things from a pricing perspective, it seems like ATI has a slight advantage by giving their new entry-level cards SRPs about 10% lower than the competition. It would not surprise us one bit if Nvidia lowers their prices to match but that all depends on performance now doesn’t it?
 
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SKYMTL

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The R700's Features

The R700's Features


It seems like in this brave new world of parallel processing capabilities of GPU cores, both ATI and Nvidia are racing to take advantage of the potential the modern graphics card has locked away within its confines. What we will soon see is a massive increase in the performance of certain applications like video transcoding, Folding and physics calculations. ATI has been on this bandwagon for some time now with their Folding @ home application which first came out for X19xx-series graphics cards, made the jump to the R600 / RV670 cores a few months ago and will soon be move over to the new HD4800 / HD4600-series as well. With their massive number of stream processors, the R700 cards should be able to handle any application thrown at them. Let’s take a look at what ATI has to offer with additional features.


DirectX 10.1


Even though DX10.1 is a minor update to the Vista-exclusive DX10, ATI feels that its implementation will benefit gamers quite a bit in today’s market. Let’s cut right to the chase: DX10.1 doesn’t offer us anything particularly new in terms of outlandishly new features but it does offer new paths for developers to simplify their code which in turn has the potential to increase performance in certain areas. At present, among the “big two” graphics processor manufacturers, ATI is the only one which supports DX10.1

Even though we run the risk of editorializing here we have to say that ATI’s acceptance of the DX10.1 API seems to be the right thing to do in today’s graphics card industry. After seeing first-hand the performance benefits it brings when applying AA to a DX10 environment in games like Assassin’s Creed we can only express disappointment and outright shock that other GPU manufacturers haven’t followed ATI’s lead. Consumers have been left high and dry without any reason to purchase an OS with DX10 for the simple fact that the performance in impact of DX10 is does not justify minor graphical benefits. DX10.1 works to alleviate those performance hurdles by offering developers more options when producing their games. We can only hope that ATI’s present generation cards become widespread enough that more game developers will implement DX10.1 into their titles.


Crossfire X


Up until the HD2900-series was introduced, running more than one ATI card was a clumsy affair which included external cables and more headache than should have been necessary. Then they introduced their very own Crossfire bridge connector and it was all sunshine and roses since daisy chaining two, three or even four cards together became possible. This technology continues today with the HD4000-series cards and AMD has promised that users will get better drivers, quick driver revisions and better industry acceptance among game developers.


PowerPlay Technology


In ATI’s never-ending quest to offer us the most power savings possible they have introduced something called PowerPlay. This technology allows the Catalyst software to dynamically adjust voltages and core speeds depending on the application it is being used for. This results in less idle power consumption and power being distributed when and where you need it.


Havok Physics


When AMD and Havok announced their partnership to optimize the Havok physics engine to run on ATI hardware, many enthusiasts perked up and listened. Havok Physics has been implemented into a vast variety of games form every single genre the vast majority of the industry’s upcoming blockbuster titles (including Starcraft II) support it. This not only gives ATI’s physics push a massive installed user base but it also guarantees that there will be games with Havok released for years to come. With both ATI and Nvidia firmly entrenched in the war to bring physics processing to a wider market acceptance, we may look back at this point in time as the moment when the renaissance of in-game physics really began.
 

SKYMTL

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Enhancing the Visual Experience

Enhancing the Visual Experience



ATI’s cards have been the staple of people building HTPCs for some time now with features like UVD, HDMI and high-end audio options. With the HD4000-series, AMD are taking things to the next level with some very interesting advances on their already-established technologies which will make these cards even more appealing to HTPC aficionados and regular consumers alike.

To do this they have set before themselves three primary goals: to provide multi-stream HD playback as supported in Blu-Ray 2.0 profiled movies, to improve the visual quality on HD monitors and to accomplish fast video transcoding by taking advantage of the processing power of the R770 core. Considering we have seen in the past how well features like UVD work, any enhancements to already-existing features is more than welcome in today’s quickly changing world of high definition. While we will be going over some of the features ATI has implemented it is just the tip of the iceberg of what is being offered to those of us who use our graphics cards to process HD signals.


UVD 2 – Dual Bitstream Playback


With Blu-Ray finally winning the high definition format wars, manufacturers have taken lightning-quick steps to step up support for the format. One of the many ways AMD is doing this is through full support of the Blu-Ray 1.1 profile and BD Live (profile 2.0). With UVD 2 the R700-series processors are able to decode two streams of high definition (H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2) content in order to give the viewer the picture-in-picture options present in the 1.1 profile. This gives us the capability to watch a movie in large format while having something like an alternate scene or director’s commentary playing in the smaller picture in the corner of the screen.


High Definition Audio & Video through HDMI & Displayport


HDMI is quickly becoming the standard of choice for high definition movie and audio aficionados. With the HD3800 series AMD supported 5.1 channel audio-out through the HDMI connector but with the HD4800-series, they have taken things one step further by offering full 7.1 channel output. This means the these new cards will have support for AC3, DTS, Dolby True-HD and DTS HD formats with a full 6.144 Mbps bit rate and 192KHz sample rate along with up to 24 bits/sample. Add to this native HDCP support and true 1080P output and what we have here is a true multimedia powerhouse.

Did we mention that the R700-series core has native support for Display Port as well? Well, it does but it is up to the board partner’s discretion whether or not they add the necessary output connector.


Enhanced DVD Upscaling & Dynamic Contrast


While there are plenty of us who will use HD signals through the HD4000-series of cards, whether we like it or not we will still be outputting lower definition signals to our wonderful new HDTV every now and then. In these cases, a standard 480i picture will look absolutely horrible if it is scaled up to fit on a high definition 1080P TV so ATI provides the Avivo HD upscaling option in their drivers. What this does is take the low resolution signal and clean it up so to speak so it looks better when displayed on a high definition screen.


Another interesting feature ATI has packed into their drivers is the Dynamic Contrast Adjustment. Personally, I more often than not adjust the contrast manually based on the application since the values from one game or movie to the next can vary a lot. ATI has taken the guesswork and thrown it out the window by providing a post-processing algorithm which will automatically (and smoothly) adjust the contrast ratio in real time.
 

SKYMTL

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AVIVO HD: The Real Deal

AVIVO HD: The Real Deal


Even though we have reviewed quite a few ATI graphics cards which support AVIVO HD technology, we have never really touched upon its benefits. Since this card can caters to the HTPC crowd as much as it does towards the casual gamer crowd, we figured now would be as good a time as any to touch upon the benefits.

First of all, AVIVO HD (and its accompanying UVD 2) offers hardware decoding of high definition video streams which will minimize load on your CPU and thus provide smoother playback. What many people have to remember is that the HD 4670`s closest competitor (the Nvidia 9500GT) is based on Nvidia’s older technology and thus only supports Purevideo 2. This means that the 9500GT offers full H.264 decoding and AACS decryption but offloads decoding of VC-1 video streams to the CPU. Meanwhile, all of the cards in ATI’s lineup from the lowest HD 3600-series all the way up to the HD 4800-series support full VC-1 and H.264 hardware decoding. Just remember, you need software which supports hardware decoding such as Cyberlink’s PowerDVD.

Let’s take a look at what is offered in the Catalyst Control Center when it comes to AVIVO options


When you first enter the AVIVO portion of the CCC, you have a quick-select box which will give you various preset video settings so you won’t have to fiddle around with too many settings to get your desired color levels. However, for those of you with a finer taste for the perfect picture, ATI has more for you.

In the Basic Color section you have all of the, brightness, contrast, tint and saturation controls at your fingertips. There is also a Use Application Settings which will cause any game or software-specific color profiles to override the settings you choose in this section.


ATI also includes and area with finer color adjustments for skin tone and color vibrancy. Normally, we don’t dare touch these settings but since some movies tend to have different color parameters than others, they come in handy every now and then.

In the Basic Quality section, you are able to control the deinterlacing mode used in videos. While we normally recommend you keep this at its default value, when watching movies on a high resolution screen, I personally set it to Vector Adaptive and Pulldown Dection.


The two final options you have here are Theatre Mode and All Settings. In Theatre Mode, you are able to scale the video output across multiple displays while the All Settings holds….well...all the settings from the previous sections without their accompanying thumbnail preview.


HD Decoding Performance

In order to show you the advantages of hardware decoding, we ran two small tests using downloaded 1080P video files in Quicktime format. While these “benchmarks” don’t represent a worst-case scenario as you would see with a high bitstream Blu-Ray movie, they do give you a good idea of why you would want your video card doing the decoding rather than pawning it off on your processor.

Both videos were run in Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 8 Ultra on a system consisting of an Intel Q9300 processor at 2.5Ghz and 4Gb of DDR2 ram.




Even with a quad core processor, a regular 1080P video like the ones seen above can use a significant amount of processing power. We saw over 20% at peak in both instances while using either Nvidia’s Purevideo or ATI’s UVD showed us that hardware decoding can result in the processor sitting almost completely idle most of the time. Looking at this it is easy to see why we recommend using a discrete graphics card along with a good software player which supports hardware decoding.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the HD 4670

A Closer Look at the HD 4670



Before we go on, I know many of you probably just skipped to this section in order to take a look at the card and will quickly be moving on to the benchmarks. Therefore, I may as well reiterate that this is an engineering sample and while the actual retail cards will look the same there is one thing you need to remember: not all cards will come with the two DisplayPort connectors you see here. There will also be numerous custom designs since ATI is letting their partners have free reign over the layout of these cards.


One of the first things which will strike you when you firs see this card is how SMALL it is. We have all become accustomed to the sizes of current cards but the HD4670 is completely dwarfed by the likes of the GTX 280, HD4870X2 or even the HD4850. This makes it perfect for Small Form Factor applications.


Due to the low-power nature of the RV730XT core on this card, the cooler is rightfully tiny but still covers a good portion of the card. ATI’s engineers also too the ram modules’ close proximity to the heatsink to extend the copper base in order to cover all of the top-mounted ram chips.


As we mentioned, this is an engineering sample so the two DisplayPort connectors on the backplate are more of a proof of concept rather than what we will find on retail cards. Meanwhile, the DVI connector can also be set up with the usual ATI DVI to HDMI connector or the HDMI connector can be hard-wired directly onto the card itself.

As with all other ATI cards of this generation, the HD4670 is compatible with Crossfire X technology with which you can daisy-chain two, three or even four of these cards together for increased performance.


Once the heatsink is removed we are able to see the off-center core placement as well as four of the eight ram ICs. Due to its low power consumption, the HD4670 uses a 2-phase power design which draws directly from the PCI-E bus instead of a PCI-E connector. Meanwhile, the back of the card holds four more ICs as well as the heatsink retention plate.


The memory on this card is made up of eight 64MB Hynix H5RS522CFR GDDR3 ram modules which are rated to operate at 2.0Ghz DDR. If you are looking for more specifications of this memory you can find the product page here: http://www.hynix.com/datasheet/pdf/graphics/H5RS5223CFR(Rev1.4).pdf
 

SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

System Used

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 @ Stock (2.5Ghz)
Memory: G.Skill 2x 2GB DDR2-1000 @ 1002Mhz DDR
Motherboard: ASUS P5E Deluxe
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Hitachi Deskstar 320GB SATAII
Fans: 2X Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

HD4670 Engineering Sample
Diamond HD 3850 (Stock)
EVGA 9500 GT 512MB GDDR3 (Stock)
EVGA 8600 GTS 256MB (Stock)

Drivers:

ATI Catalyst 8.9 Beta
Nvidia 177.79 Beta
ATI Catalyst 8.8

Due to the unpredictability of some beta drivers in Windows Vista x64, we have decided to only use WHQL drivers for all graphics cards other than the one being tested.


Applications Used:

3DMark06 Professional
3DMark Vantage
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Devil May Cry 4 Demo
Crysis
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Prey
World in Conflict


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 4 benchmark runs
 

SKYMTL

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3DMark Vantage / 3DMark 06

3DMark Vantage


3DMark Vantage is the follow-up to the highly successful 3DMark06. It uses exclusively DX10 so if you are running Windows XP, you can forget about running this benchmark. However, it presents us with a truly stressful test of any modern graphics card so we have decided to begin including it in our testing procedure.

Overall Score



GPU Score


3DMark Vantage shows us the HD 4670 trailing slightly behind the older HD 3850 512MB but at the same time absolutely walking all over the 9500 GT.


3DMark 06


While some may wonder at the use of still including 3DMark06 in the tests it gives us a good idea of the basic limitations of a graphics card. Since the standard test runs at 1280x1024 there will be a fair amount of CPU bottlenecking with higher-end cards and remember that in many cases a higher 3DMark score does not equate better performance. Here we have also included tests with AA and AF enabled





3DMark 06 ended up being pretty much the same story as the Vantage test but what did make us stand up and take notice was how the new RV700-series core’s excellent AA performance brought the HD 4670 within spitting distance of the more powerful (on paper) HD 3850. Once again, the 9500 GT and 8600 GTS are left in the dust.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,900
Location
Montreal
Prey / Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Prey


Even though Prey may be a bit older game compared against many of the other ones we are testing, it still provides a workout of even the best graphics cards on the market. This time we have enabled its Graphics Boost feature (Gboost in the charts) and run through a custom timedemo.


It looks like in this game the HD 4670 is hot on the heals of the HD 3850 while providing some very solid performance numbers even at 1600 x 1200 resolution. Meanwhile, the 9500 GT shows that its 512MB memory is worth something when compared with a 256MB 8600 GTS.


Enemy Territory: Quake Wars


Enemy Territory: Quake wars is the latest iteration of the wildly popular Quake franchise from ID Software. While it was met with luke-warm reviews by both the media and the gaming community, it remains an extremely popular online game. In this test we set up a 15 minute timedemo on the Refinery level while the framerates were recorded in-game.




Like no other test up until this point the Quake Wars benchmark shows us the power of the HD 4670 where it is in the lead without AA turned on and then surges far out front when we bump up the IQ settings. It really is amazing to see a $85 card hitting nearly 60FPS with 4X AA at 1600 x 1200 resolution. Impressive.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,900
Location
Montreal
Devil May Cry 4

Devil May Cry 4


Devil May Cry has long been a staple platformer on consoles but has found only moderate success with its PC ports. The 4th iteration of this series aims to buck this trend with stunning visuals and intuitive gameplay

In this benchmark we used the in-game benchmark tool while running FRAPS to measure an average and minimum framerate.



1280 X 1024





1600 X 1200




In what is becoming the usual story in this review, the HD 4670 is able to take over the lead whenever AA is turned on while the 9500 GT gets its butt handed to it by a nearly 2-year old card.
 
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