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Value Meets Performance: HD 4890 Cards from Gigabyte and MSI

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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MSI-GIGA-HD4890-2.jpg


Value Meets Performance: HD 4890 Cards from Gigabyte and MSI






With ATI’s 5000-series releases coming fast and furious as of late, it seems like everyone is more than anxious to totally forget about the venerable 4800-series. Believe it or not, even amidst the dizzying number of 5800 and 5700 cards on the market the HD 4890 1GB has fit perfectly into ATI’s new lineup at a price of around $200. We all know by now that it doesn’t have the latest compatibility for DX11 but there won’t be any worthwhile next-generation games on the market for the next few months at least. It is also worthwhile remembering that DX11 games will be backwards compatible with DX10 hardware which means the purchase of a HD 4890 now won’t mean you will be totally shut out of playing upcoming games either.

So, while everyone is drooling over the latest, greatest and expensive cards, we’re going towards a different end of the spectrum because we believe that there is still a strong and healthy market out there for a $200 DX10 / DX10.1 card. ATI and their board partners must be thinking the same thing since the HD 4890 won’t be discontinued until at least the second quarter of 2010 and supposedly the boards are selling better than ever. This is why we have decided to feature a pair of custom cooled, mildly overclocked yet highly affordable HD 4890 1GB cards in this review.

Even though it has been out for a while, the MSI HD 4890 1GB Cyclone OC (yes, it’s a mouthful) looks like a product that everyone has been asking for: a high performance ATI card that doesn’t pump out noise akin to a dust buster. There are other HD 4890 cards in the MSI Cyclone stable as well, namely a stock-clocked card that retails for about $200 and one that has its core overclocked to a stratospheric 1GHz. The latter is nearly impossible to find in North America but our OC edition sporting a mostly pointless 30Mhz overclock is readily available at a number of retailers throughout Canada and the US.

Gigabyte on the other hand sent us a HD 4890 OC card which carries their Ultra Durable VGA moniker as well as slightly increased clock speeds. Supposedly, Ultra Durable series of cards carry higher quality components than their reference brethren meaning longer component life, decreased power consumption and increased overclocking capabilities. This card also carries Gigabyte’s custom cooling solution. Interestingly enough, all of these features don’t carry with them a huge price premium since the GV-R489OC-1GD commands a mere $15 price premium over a reference-based card.

Even though we won’t be considering this a head-to-head competition, these cards share remarkably similar clock speeds, prices and features. If anything, it should be apparent that the $200 price bracket is now even more hotly contested than it was a month ago and the competition between board partners is translating into some great deals for potential customers.


MSI-GIGA-HD4890-1.jpg
 

SKYMTL

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Meet the Manufacturers and their Warranties

Meet the Manufacturers and their Warranties



Gigabyte: Movin’ on Up

We all know Gigabyte for their motherboards and graphics cards but there are few that realize this is a company which is also trying to get their feet wet in many other areas as well. From cases to power supplies to gaming mice and netbooks, it seems like they are into nearly every aspect of the computing world. They also have a worldwide presence which means excellent availability of their products wherever you look. While they haven’t made the jump to the big-box retailers like Best Buy and Future Shop here in Canada, their cards can be found at smaller brick and mortar shops as well as from nearly every online retailer.

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-97.jpg


Warranty and Support Information

Gigabyte offers a warranty length of 3 years on all of their cards with or without registration on their website. However, unlike other manufacturers their warranty goes into effect from the date the card is manufactured which means if the retailer you buy from has had a card in stock for a year, that card will have 2 years left on its warranty when it is sold. All RMAs from the USA and Canada are shipped to their facility in California with the customer playing shipping to Gigabyte while Gigabyte will pay for return shipping. If you want expedited shipping, an extra charge will be added but the option is there for those of you who want your card back fast. In addition, we Canadians are responsible for any and all customs charges.

Customer Support URL: rma_index
Customer Support Tel. #: 626-854-9336 (Option 3)
Customer Support hours of operation: 8:30am – 5:30pm PST (Mon – Fri)



MSI: A Speck on the Horizon no More

When we think about high performance graphics cards, MSI isn’t a name that is usually near the top of our lists. We all know their motherboards which until recently have been on a bit of a hiatus here in Canada but they are making a comeback with some strong designs at reasonable prices. When it comes to graphics cards, MSI has begun a marketing push to increase awareness of the fact that they have cards which cater to everyone from the most cost-conscious penny pincers to upscale buyers looking for the best of the best. Even though availability of some of their products remains spotty particularly here in Canada, cards like the HD 4890 are allowing MSI to put their best foot forward. One way or another, MSI is and always has been one of the largest manufacturers of both motherboards, graphics cards and other products so we are always interested to see what they have up their sleeves.

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-111.jpg


Warranty and Support Info

MSI’s warranty length is the usual 3-years (with registration) as seen with other board partners but there is a bit of fine print here as well. Basically, within that 3 years the parts and labor is completely covered for two years while ONLY the parts are covered in the third year. That means after the first two years of warranty coverage, all repair and handling expenses will be charged to you if you RMA your card to MSI. The cost isn’t extreme; a mere $45CAD per RMA’d item after the first 2 years and $65CAD if you are requesting out of warranty repairs.

To lessen the sting of what amounts to a mere 2-year bumper to bumper warranty, Canadians can take solace in the fact that MSI has an RMA facility that is based in Canada. Residents of the US of A return their cards to California and as with Canada, MSI pays for the shipping to you but won’t front the money for the shipment to their facility. Just remember, in order to RMA your cards to MSI Canada, the product has to be bought from a Canadian-based retailer.

Customer Support URL:
USA: http://us.msi.com/company_service.asp
Canada: Welcome to MSI(Canada) RMA Department

Customer Support Tel. #:
USA: 626-581-3001
Canada: 1-888-614-6674
 

SKYMTL

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Gigabyte HD 4890 1GB OC Packaging & Accessories

Gigabyte HD 4890 1GB OC Packaging & Accessories


Manufacturer's Part Number: GVR-489OC-1GD
Price: Click here to compare prices


MSI-GIGA-HD4890-69.jpg

As we can see, even though Gigabyte designates this as their Overclock model, there really isn’t much here in the terms of increased clock speeds. The core clocks get a whole 50Mhz increase which isn’t much considering the speeds some of the competition are using these days. Meanwhile, the memory remains at reference specifications.

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It seems like Gigabyte’s graphics card packaging and overall design is starting to look more and more like their motherboards as time goes on. This box shows us prominent marketing of the Ultra Durable VGA initiative which is supposed to increase overclocking and increase overall efficiency. As with literally every other card we have seen in recent months, this one’s box doesn’t make any mention of clock speeds.

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The HD 4890 itself is well protected by thick foam inserts within the box. Meanwhile, the accessory list is basic but still well rounded with a Molex to PCI-E connector, a Crossfire bridge, a DVI to VGA adaptor and finally a HDMI to DVI dongle. The disk you see contains out of date drivers as well as a few basic Gigabyte utilities for overclocking and system monitoring.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 4890 1GB OC

A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 4890 1GB OC


MSI-GIGA-HD4890-95.jpg
MSI-GIGA-HD4890-96.jpg

If anything, the Gigabyte HD 4890 1GB Ultra Durable is a unique looking card. It is decked out in a Gigabyte-blue PCB and sports the same Zalman VF1050 GPU cooler as we have seen on past Ultra Durable-series of cards. Length-wise, we are looking at the same as the reference-based cards at 9.5”.

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-97.jpg
MSI-GIGA-HD4890-98.jpg

The VF1050 has been around for quite a while but it is still considered one of the better GPU coolers on the market. It uses a centrally-mounted 80mm fan that pushes cool air through the anodized aluminum fin array and a quartet of independent heatpipes to move heat away from the core. It is an efficient yet compact setup but we would have liked some heatsinks attached to the memory modules as well even though they run relatively cool.

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-99.jpg
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Unlike some other, higher clocked HD 4890 cards on the market, the Gigabyte OC makes do with a pair of 6-pin PCI-E connectors. It also looks like Gigabyte installed a huge heatsink onto the VRMs in order to dissipate their heat.

The backplate of this card sports all of the connectors one would want. HDMI, DisplayPort and a DVI connector are all included and compatibility for an additional DVI connector is done through an adaptor.
 

SKYMTL

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MSI HD 4890 Cyclone OC Packaging & Accessories

MSI HD 4890 Cyclone OC Packaging & Accessories


Manufacturer's Part Number: R4890CYCLONEOC
Price: Click here to compare prices


MSI-GIGA-HD4890-69.jpg

As we mentioned in the introduction, the MSI Cyclone series is made up of stock, mildly overclocked and wildly clocked models. Our OC-edition sports what could only be called a pathetic increase in its core speed coupled with a total lack of memory speed increase. Seriously, a 30Mhz bump isn’t going to do anything in terms of increasing playability over a reference card.

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-101.jpg
MSI-GIGA-HD4890-102.jpg

MSI has a wide variety of box designs and this is one of the most understated ones we have seen in a while. It is done mostly in black but the back has a wealth of information and marketing jargon that mostly centers around the Cyclone cooler installed on this HD 4890.

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Much like the Gigabyte card we saw earlier, MSI’s Cyclone is well protected against life’s bumps and bruises by thick foam padding as well as the typical anti static bag. Accessories are basic with a pair of Molex to PCI-E cables and a single extremely long Crossfire bridge.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the MSI HD 4890 1GB Cyclone OC

A Closer Look at the MSI HD 4890 1GB Cyclone OC


MSI-GIGA-HD4890-105.jpg
MSI-GIGA-HD4890-106.jpg

MSI took an interesting approach when it came to designing their Cyclone OC cards as everything from inductor placing to PCB layout has been customized. At a length of 8.75” it is also shorter than a reference-based HD 4890. However, the one thing that sticks out the most about this card isn’t its striking red PCB or its short stature but rather the massive Cyclone heatsink.


The Cyclone heatsink is a wonder to behold with its massive 100mm center-mounted fan and circular fin arrays. It uses four of MSI’s self-styled Super Pipes to move heat quickly away from the core to the fins. Even though it looks like an engineering marvel, there are some serious problems in paradise since our sample and 4 other samples members of our staff had exhibited issues with the mounting of the Cyclone cooler. Basically, the cooler uses a reference HD 4890 backplate which doesn’t allow for enough mounting pressure between the contact plate and the GPU core. Not only does this cause the cooler to rock back and forth like a drunk sailor but means in the temperature testing section we will see some spectacularly high temperatures. Don’t worry though, we will also show you a way to alleviate this issue a bit later.

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We see the usual dual 6-pin connectors are used by MSI but all the interesting stuff is happening on the backplate. Here we see that MSI has included every connector you could possibly want other than DisplayPort. You get a DVI, VGA and a HDMI connector but if you want to use dual DVI connectors you are out of luck since there isn’t a HDMI to DVI adaptor included.
 

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 4890 OC
MSI HD 4890 Cyclone OC
Sapphire HD 5870 1GB (Reference)
XFX HD 5770 (Reference)
XFX HD 5850 (Reference)
ATI HD 4890 (Reference)
NVIDIA GTX 275 (Reference)
EVGA GTX 285 (Reference)


Drivers:

ATI 8.66 RC7 Beta (HD 5000-series)
ATI 9.10 WHQL
NVIDIA 191.07 WHQL


Applications Used:

Call of Duty: World at War
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Crysis: Warhead
Dawn of War II
Fallout 3
Far Cry 2
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

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War


HD4890-27.jpg

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

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-24.jpg


MSI-GIGA-HD4890-25.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Call of Juarez II: Bound in Blood

Call of Juarez II: Bound in Blood


VAPORX-2GB-84.jpg

CoJ is a bit of an oddity without any in-game AA options but nonetheless, it looks incredible. For this benchmark we used a 10 minute gameplay sequence which included panoramic views of a town and gun battles. FRAPS was used to record the framerates.

1680 x 1050

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-26.jpg


1920 x 1200

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-27.jpg


2560 x 1600

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-28.jpg
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Crysis: Warhead (DX9)

Crysis: Warhead (DX9)


HD4890-23.jpg

To benchmark Warhead, we recorded a 5 minute timedemo on the Ice level which included ranged and hand to hand combat. The sequence was then played back using the Crysis Benchmarking Tool from HOC

1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

MSI-GIGA-HD4890-75.jpg


MSI-GIGA-HD4890-76.jpg
 
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