It hardly feels like it but it’s actually been nine months since AMD/ATI released its last single-chip high-end graphics card, the HD 4870. Now that may not be a great length of time in most walks of life but in the computer industry where we quite often see new releases every six months, that’s quite a stretch. Nevertheless, ATI has today launched the HD 4870s successor, the single-chip HD 4890.
Available immediately and, in the case of the XFX card we’re looking at, priced at £229.99, it’s about the same as the HD4870 was at launch and £60 more expensive than the HD4870 1GB is currently. This makes its nearest competitor from nVidia, the GTX 260 and will immediately alert you to the fact this is not a card meant to compete at the bleeding-edge in terms of performance. Still £200 can get you a heck of a lot of bang for your buck so let’s see how the HD 4890 holds up.
The card itself is outwardly very similar to the HD 4870 with the same 9.5in PCB length, identical dual slot cooler design, and same duo of extra power connections on its front edge. The video output configuration is also identical with two dual-link DVI sockets and a multi-format analogue output that natively supports S-Video but also outputs component and composite with the help of dongles. Meanwhile, the top edge of the PCB is home to the usual pair of Crossfire connectors.
Casting an eye over the specification of the actual graphics chip, reveals that the card looks pretty similar internally, as well. The HD 4890 still features 800 stream processors, 40 texture units, and 16 ROPs, communicating across a 256-bit wide interface to1GB of GDDR5 memory. However, this new chip has been completely reworked to enable it to run at higher clock speeds. Specifically, a ring of decoupling capacitors has been added round the whole chip to reduce signal noise and the relative timings of all the components have been tweaked.
The result isn’t particularly dramatic with just a 100MHz (13 per cent) increase of core clock speed but along with faster memory it should result in a noticeable boost in performance. Consequently the transistor count has gone up slightly, from 956 million to 959 million, but the difference is likely to have a negligible impact on production, and thus final board, costs.
ATI has also focussed on making the new card less power hungry when idling. We couldn’t get any specific details as to what measures had been taken to achieve this but ATI quotes that idle power has dropped from 90W on the HD 4870 to 60W on the HD 4890. Unfortunately this isn’t something that’s carried over to the card running at full pelt where the HD 4890 now consumes 190W, up from 160W on the HD 4870.
With so little changes to talk about we might as well get right onto testing.
As mentioned, our review sample is made by XFX but apart from the XFX sticker it is exactly the same as any other HD 4890 so can be considered a reference model. Unfortunately we didn’t receive a fully boxed retail sample so we can’t vouch for the accessories/extras you get. However, we’ve been informed that retails versions of the card will include a full copy of the Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X arcade flight sim game. Also included in the box will be a CrossFire bridge, a 6-pin to 4-pin power adapter, DVI to VGA and a DVI to HDMI dongles, an HDTV component adapter, and the all important XFX door hanger. All XFX cards are covered by a two year warranty.
Now, I’m sure most of you are aware that today was also the launch date (though very limited stock is available) for nVidia’s new card at this price range, the GeForce GTX 275. Unfortunately, we only received our card this morning so rather than shoehorn the two cards in together for a head to head, we’ve stuck to our schedule and will compare the HD 4890 to existing cards. Then tomorrow we’ll follow up with a full review of the GTX 275 and compare these two very evenly matched cards directly.
As for those existing cards, well there’s such a price gap, both above and below, the HD 4870 and GTX 260 that these are really the only major competition for the new HD 4890 so that’s what we’ve kept our comparisons to.
* Intel Core i7 965 Extreme Edition
* Asus P6T motherboard
* 3 x 1GB Qimonda IMSH1GU03A1F1C-10F PC3-8500 DDR3 RAM
* 150GB Western Digital Raptor
* Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
* ATI HD 4890
* ATI HD 4870
* nVidia GeForce GTX 260
* ATI HD 4890 – Beta Driver
* Other ATI cards – Catalyst 9.2
* nVidia cards – 182.08
* Race Driver: GRID
* Call of Duty 4
* Counter-Strike: Source