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Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 1GB Review

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SKYMTL

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Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 1GB Review





Manufacturer Product Page: TBD
Product Number: 21150-00-40R
TechWiki Info: Sapphire Radeon HD 4890
Availability: Now
Warranty: 2-Years
Price: ~$320 - $330CAD ($220-$250USD)



Baring the release of Nvidia’s GTX 295 card, the last few months in the GPU market have been eerily quiet; there have been no blockbuster launches as both ATI and Nvidia seemed to have been content in their respective positions. Granted, there have been price reductions to better face growing economic turmoil but other than rumours, nothing has really been able to tickle the enthusiast’s fancy. On the flip side of this coin, we all have to remember that even with certain parts of the economy in tatters, companies can’t sit still and hope for the best while not moving their product lineup to the next level. Innovation and making the most out of what you already have are key factors which will keep the smartest companies out front under the current market conditions. Those two factors are exactly what this review is all about.

At this point, many can argue quite successfully that ATI has made some serious inroads in the past year with their HD 4800-series of graphics cards. Their performance is top notch and aggressive pricing has helped them fight blow for blow in a highly competitive market. However, where Nvidia has had the GTX 285 to bridge the gap between the GTX 260 216 and the ultra high end GTX 295, ATI has nothing between the HD 4870 1GB and the HD 4870 X2 (no, we don't count the HD 4850 X2 as a widely released or available product). Enter the brand new HD 4890 1GB, a card that builds upon the HD 4870 with increased clock speeds under its belt and supposedly bucket loads of overclocking potential. Essentially, this is exactly what the name suggests: an overclocked HD 4870 with the new designation of RV790. This sticks quite well with what we mentioned about modified versions of existing technologies being used to cement a company’s place in the market. Indeed, it seems like ATI has really hit its stride with their current 55nm cores and they are making good use of them once again.

Today we will be looking at Sapphire’s version of the HD 4890 1GB in its stock form. According to our sources, pricing for this card should be very aggressive at around $320CAD ($220-$250USD) which puts it slightly above the current HD 4870 prices but far below those of the GTX 285. In many cases a launch price is usually indicative of where a company expects their product to end up performance-wise but ATI has been known to buck that trend. On the other hand, availability is proving to be another question mark for us since these higher performance parts from ATI have been known for their limited availability on or around their launch date. We saw this with the HD 4870 1GB but with the competition between board partners as of late and the addition of XFX into the fold, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that initial availability could look very good.

As a bit of a boot note to this introduction, we would be selling you guys short if we didn’t mention something about Nvidia’s answer to this card: the GTX 275. Priced a few dozen bucks above the HD 4890, it is gunning for the same customer base and looks to offer some great performance to boot. While it is included in the benchmark charts you can find its full review here.

All in all, it seems like spring will be a very interesting time for the GPU market.

 
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SKYMTL

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HD 4890 1GB: The Specifications

HD 4890 1GB: The Specifications



When we take a step back from the pomp surrounding the launch of a new card and actually take a look at the HD 4890’s specifications when compared next to a stock HD 4870 1GB, a few things jump right out at us. First of all, since this card is based on a slightly modified version of the RV770 core found in the HD 4870, nothing has changed in the way of Stream processors (shader units), texture units or rendering pipelines.


HD 4890 & GTX 275

In addition, as TSMC’s 55nm manufacturing process has matured, ATI has been able to make minor modifications to the RV770 core in order to warrant its new designation as the RV790. Along with the possibility of higher clock speeds, the overall efficiency of the core (both rendering and power consumption-wise) has been increased which should mean better performance clock-for-clock than the older RV770. Also, as companies have begun pushing forward GDDR5, clock speeds have been on an upswing ever since the release of the original HD 4870. Where 4Ghz modules used to push the technology to its brink, we are now seeing the first signs of 5Ghz and higher ICs making their way into the market. ATI has benefited from this since they will be able to use higher spec’d memory which consumes about the same amount of power as older ICs. In this card they have stuck to the cookie-cutter specs but in the future expect some interesting evolutions through overclocked versions of the HD 4890.

Through those natural progressions of technology, ATI has now been able significantly increase the stock speeds of their HD 4870 to make their HD 4890. Gone is the 750Mhz core; it is now replaced by a blisteringly-fast RV790 core operating at 850Mhz with the ability to clock up to and possibly past the 1Ghz mark. If that isn’t enough to get you frothing at the mouth, the memory speeds have also seen a good 400Mhz bump in speeds up to 3900Mhz. ATI hasn’t mentioned what the upper limit on the GDDR5 is on the HD 4890 but we are anxious to find out.

Overclocked versions of this card are also on the horizon and may even be available on launch day. As you will see in the performance testing, higher clocks could lead to some very interesting performance numbers versus the competition.
 
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SKYMTL

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The RV790's Features

The R790'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 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.
 
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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.
 

SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


Please note that due to a last minute artwork change, we did not receive the same box which Sapphire will be shipping if HD 4890 in. As such, the exterior packaging picture showing the front was supplied to us directly from Sapphire.


Photo altered as per Sapphire’s request

The box itself is larger than most other Sapphire packages we have seen in the past but it sticks to the same basic color scheme of black with a few blue highlights. A Ruby-esque character is also printed upon it which seems to be par for the course with Sapphire cards.

The rear of the box makes good use of space by including a detailed feature rundown but unfortunately does not mention anything along the lines of actual specifications or clock speeds.


There was a time not too long ago where Sapphire’s cards were packaged with the bare minimum of protection but lately, they have taken another route. They have now come to the point where they are almost overdoing the interior packaging with massive amounts of plastic padding along with foam inserts and a bubble-wrap bag around the card. One way or another, this can survive some serious shipping abuse without missing a beat.


Another smaller box holds all of the accessories, documentation and software which comes with the Sapphire HD 4890. Honestly, the list of goodies is more than complete and even offers a few surprises. Here is the full list:

- DVI to HDMI adaptor
- 2x Molex to PCI-E adaptors
- HDTV-Out cable
- Video Out dongle
- DVI to VGA adaptor
- Crossfire bridge
- Driver CD
- Cyberlink DVD Suite
- Cyberlink PowerDVD 7
- 3DMark Vantage Advance Edition
- User’s Manual

Please remember that Sapphire usually has more than one version of each card they produce. The card we received has all of the hallmarks of a full retail version but we wouldn’t be surprised to see a “Lite” version of this same card with the bare minimum of extras. Make sure you pay close attention to the telltale “L” or “Lite” designation in the product number so you won’t be expecting accessories you will never receive.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look At The Sapphire HD 4890 1GB

A Closer Look At The Sapphire HD 4890 1GB


Please note that due to a change in the heatsink stickers, the below pictures have been modified at Sapphire’s request.


Deja Vu anyone? Yup, upon first glance the HD 4890 is a spitting image of its lower spec’d brother; the HD 4870. It is the same 9.5” length and like most other ATI high-end cards it uses a full coverage heatsink to dissipate heat from the core and memory. In Sapphire’s case they decided to use a heatsink shroud sticker which closely mirrors the color scheme chosen for the box art. Unlike the HD 4870 X2, this card sticks with ATI’s usual red PCB and cooling assembly.


Sapphire has used both the heatsink shroud and the cooling fan hub for some additional ATI branding. As usual, the sticker placed on the side of the heatsink is placed in such a way that it will be upright if you install it into a standard ATX case. Those of you with reverse ATX Lian Li enclosures may want to flip this sticker around.


The HD 4890 uses a double bridge Crossfire connector that has been the staple on most other Crossfire-compatible cards. It is slightly hidden underneath an overhang from the heatsink but during testing, this didn’t have any effect on access to the connector.

According to ATI, the maximum board power for this card hovers around the 180W mark and as such it requires a pair of 6-pin PCI-E connectors. Considering the clock speeds, we really have to say that 180W a most isn’t bad at all.


Engineering samples used for both cards

One advantage that the HD 4890 has over the GTX 275 is size. Overall, the GTX 275 is a good inch longer than ATI’s card.
 
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SKYMTL

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Under the Heatsink

Under the Heatsink



Once the heatsink is removed, we are able to see what looks like a standard HD 4870 1GB but as we will see below, there are a number of differences between the two cards. The back of the card doesn’t have anything of interest other than the fact that the HD 4890 heatsink mounting holes locations are identical to those on the HD 4870. This means that an aftermarket heatsink which fits on one will fit on the other. However, full-coverage water blocks WILL NOT fit as the VRM locations on this card are slightly different.


The RV790 core does not have any distinguishing marks on it other than the date to differentiate it from the core found on the HD 4870. However, it is slightly larger than the one used on the HD 4870.

On the other hand, the memory used on this particular card is Qimonda IDGV1G-05A1F1C-40X GDDR5 which operates at 4.0Gbps which is the same as the specification on the HD 4870. Before filing for bankruptcy Qimonda also released their “50x” ICs which operated at 5.0Gbps and some HD 4890 cards will be sporting Samsung 7.0Gbps chips so it will be interesting to see if any overclocked versions of the HD 4890 end up carrying the higher-spec’d GDDR5.


HD 4870 Below / Left….HD 4890 Above / Right

It is only when you place the HD 4870 and HD 4890 right next to each other that the differences become apparent. First of all, the HD 4890 uses a much more robust power distribution through the use of higher-end multi-phase inductors and VRM modules. The capacitors have also been seriously beefed up.


ATI also went ahead and slightly modified the heatsink design so instead of using a pair of larger heatpipes, it now uses a single large copper heatpipe and two smaller ones. This should spread the heat more evenly over the fin assembly and result in decreased temperatures. If you were wondering, we couldn’t find any major differences between the two aluminum fin assemblies.


HD 4890 on left

Interestingly, the modifications didn’t just stop at the main heatsink assembly but also carried over onto the main contact base as well. As you can see, the HD 4890’s base (on the left) now incorporates a small heatpipe directly above the VRM contact area to dissipate heat faster. In addition, ridges have been added to increase the surface area for increased cooling potential.
 
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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:

Sapphire HD 4890 1GB (Stock)
EVGA GTX 285 (Stock)
EVGA GTX 260 216 (Stock)
GTX 275 896MB (Stock)
Sapphire HD 4870 1GB (Stock)



Drivers:

ATI 9.3 WHQL
Nvidia 182.08 WHQL
ATI 8.592.1 RC1 (HD 4890)
Nvidia 185.65 (GTX 275)


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

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3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage









Due to Nvidia’s PhysX implementation in Vantage, ATI’s Overall scores have never been what we would call high and this time things aren’t any different. However, when push comes to shove the HD 4890 shows that it can beat the GTX 260 216 by a healthy margin even though in can’t come close to eclipsing the scores of the GTX 275.
 
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