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Gigabyte Radeon HD 4850 1GB Passive Review

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SKYMTL

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Gigabyte Radeon HD 4850 1GB Passive Review




Manufacturer Product Page: GIGABYTE GV-R485MC-1GI
Product Number: GV-R485MC-1GI
TechWiki Info: Gigabyte Radeon HD 4850 1GB
Availability: Now
Warranty: 3 Years
Price: Click here to compare prices


We all know the HD 4850 as the little brother of the faster HD 4870 and the distant sibling of the new HD 4890 but while ATI’s lineup has been expanding, the runt of the RV770 litter has been maturing. While reference-based versions of the HD 4850 still exist and remain quite popular, ATI has been pushing their board partners to come up with new and innovative ways of marketing the HD 4850. Some companies left well enough alone and continue to sell a lone HD 4850 512MB SKU but many others have given the design a frontal lobotomy. We now have HD 4850 cards which are pre-overclocked or sport non-reference cooling designs or even incorporate a custom PCB for up to 1GB worth of memory. Some even incorporate a little of everything and really push the limits. It is one of these more extreme cards we will be looking at today.

They say variety is the spice of life and companies like Gigabyte with their HD 4850 1GB have taken that saying to heart. While releasing stock cards is fine and dandy, in order to get people talking about your product you need to find something for them to talk about, something that stands out. In the past Gigabyte rested on their laurels, seemingly content to ply their trade in the mom and pop shops with rebadged reference cards but lately, things have really changed. Not only does the GV-R485MC-1GI sport slightly increased clocks and a 1GB framebuffer but it is also equipped with a passive cooling system. As you will see as the review goes on, the boys over at Gigabyte have really stepped up to the plate with their take on the HD 4850 and have produced a card to be proud of.

If there is one thing we would like to mention from the getgo it is the fact that there is precious little information available about this particular graphics card. While pricing seems to be well within our expectations (between $10 to $20 USD more than the reference versions), trying to find accurate specifications for it is a lesson in futility. Unfortunately, Gigabyte’s site has every bit of information you could possibly need…except the clock speeds the vast majority of us will be looking for when choosing whether or not to buy this card. While we will go into a little more detail about actual speeds within the review, their omission from Gigabyte’s site is puzzling.

Where these custom cards are usually granted limited edition status, it seems that the GV-R485MC-1GI is widely available from Canadian retailers for about $210CAD. That price should definitely cause quite a few silent PC enthusiasts to sit up and take notice. On the other hand, Gigabyte’s 3 warranty is pretty much in line with other ATI partners but pales in comparison to XFX’s Lifetime Warranty even if 3 years is longer than the majority of you will keep this card.

From the outside looking in, Gigabyte’s HD 4850 1GB seems to offer quite a bit in a relatively inexpensive package. Can it deliver? Let’s find out.

 
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SKYMTL

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The R700-series Features

The R700-series 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 RV700-series 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. 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.
 
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SKYMTL

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GV-R485MC-1GI Specs / Packaging and Accessories

Specifications



It seems like nearly every time we look at a 1GB card that is based on a 512MB design, we get into the same situation: the memory speeds are slightly lower than the reference model. In this case we are looking at about 100Mhz difference between the two which could result in some performance loss in scenarios which aren’t memory limited.

On the plus, side, Gigabyte has offset the loss of memory clocks by adding a little spice to the core speeds. This 23Mhz overclock isn’t that much but it should lessen the blow felt by the slower memory. In addition to this, our contacts have stated that the memory itself also carries tighter timings than the reference models which will also help performance a bit.


Packaging and Accessories



We don’t usually mention this but considering how small and stream-lined the box this card comes in is; you can expect to save a bit on shipping costs over some of the more bloated packages on the market. There isn’t really much to the front other than the usual femme fatale sporting a disproportionately massive gun and a mention of the unique Multi Core cooling technology Gigabyte has used.


The back of the box holds a bit more information for those of you with inquiring minds. Here, Gigabyte’s Ultra Durable 2 technology and the included Gamer HUD software get mentioned. Of these two, the Ultra Durable 2 technology with its potential energy-saving features is much more interesting than software we never got to run right in Vista x64. Unfortunately, there is no mention of clock speeds.


The Gigabyte HD 4850 1GB is packaged quite well within the protected confines of the package so you don’t have to worry about the overly small box being easy pickings for shipping damage.

Accessory-wise, there really isn’t much because as you will see this card has all the necessary connectors integrated into the backplate. Otherwise, you get the usual Crossfire connector, a Molex to PCI-E power connector and the usual driver CD and instruction manual. Unlike other packages we have seen in the past, this one comes with a VGA to DVI adaptor. Why? You’ll see in the next section.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 4850 1GB

A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 4850 1GB



As if we haven’t mentioned it already; the HD 4850 1GB we have here is completely passively cooled by what Gigabyte calls their Multi Core 3-point cooling system. We will get a bit further into this later but it is amazing that this heatsink can keep the core under a melting point and still take up a single additional slot. Even though this means the Gigabyte card takes up one more slot than the reference version, it will not intrude as much as some other coolers (Thermalright’s come to mind)

Other than the massive passive heatsink, this card is decked out in a Gigabyte-blue PCB and is of the exact same length as the reference design. There is also a Crossfire connector covered up by a blue protector in the right-hand picture above.


Gigabyte used Samsung’s K4J10324QD-HJ1A memory for this graphics card which is rated at 2Ghz DDR operation at 1.0ns and 1.85V. We mentioned that our sources point to this memory being slightly crippled in the overclocking department even though it is rated to run at 2Ghz for additional power savings. While we won’t be testing overclocking in the article itself, stay tuned to the comment thread to see if this proves to be true.


The back of the card is remarkably devoid of much of the usual power distribution components normally seen on the reference designs. Instead, it makes do with a cluster of chokes and capacitors here and some more under the heatsink towards the front of the card. There is only a single PCI-E power connector which keeps with the reference design.

The backplate is where all of the fun happens. Along with the usual DVI connector there is also an integrated HDMI connector and a single VGA. All in all, this selection of connectors is absolutely perfect for everyone from HTPC users to people who are still using VGA monitors.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 4850 1GB cont.

A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 4850 1GB cont.



The Multi-Core heatsink consists of two separate aluminum-finned sections: one directly above the core and another towards the backplate. Both are linked to the core via copper heatpipes but what makes things really interesting is the fact that there are four completely independent heatpipes; two for each heatsink. In addition, the front most heatsink’s fins actually protrude from the backplate by about ½” for some additional cooling surface area.


The heatsink that is furthest away from the core is slightly vaulted so it clears the additional chokes and capacitors mounted below it. It also integrates into its design a fair amount of copper in order to evenly distribute the heat from the heatpipes across the aluminum fins. This is actually a pretty unique approach considering most heatsinks just run the heatpipes directly through the fins so both metals touch each other. The two heatpipes terminate above the Crossfire connector without returning.


The heatsink above the core has pretty much the same approach to doing things but its heatpipes pass through the aluminum fins. The heatpipes disperse their heat by touching the fins in addition to using a single block of copper which touches 6 fins for additional cooling potential.


Unfortunately, while the Multi Core heatsink seems to be a beast it comes with a little side order of bowed PCB. While the bow isn’t pronounced enough to be worrying, it still points to the PCB being slightly stressed. Overall though, we can see this heatsink providing some great temperatures.
 
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SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 920(ES) @ 4.0Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: Corsair 3x2GB Dominator DDR3 1600Mhz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: CoolIT Boreas mTEC + Scythe Fan Controller
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

Gigabyte HD 4850 1GB
Palit HD 4870 512MB (Stock)
EVGA GTX 260 216 (Stock)
GTX 275 896MB (Stock)
Sapphire HD 4870 1GB (Stock)
Sapphire HD 4850 512MB (Stock)
EVGA 9800 GTX+ 512MB (Stock)



Drivers:

ATI 9.4
Nvidia 185.68


Applications Used:

3DMark Vantage
Call of Duty: World at War
Crysis: Warhead
Fallout 3
Far Cry 2
Grand Theft Auto IV
Left 4 Dead
Tom Clancy’s Hawx


*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

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War


To benchmark this game, we played through 10 minutes of the third mission (Hard Landing) starting from when the player first enters the swamp, through the first bunker until the final push onto the airfield. This was benchmarked using FRAPS.

1680 x 1050





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 
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