Review: A great reference card
We've shown you what the Radeon HD 4850 is capable of a couple of times so far, and its price/performance ratio assured its popularity just days after the launch. This card features a crippled version of the RV770 chip, the full version of which can be found on HD 4870 cards priced at €200. Apart from the clocks and the memory type, the Radeon HD 4850 features everything that the more potent HD 4870 has to offer: 800 shaders, 40 texture and 16 ROP units, as well as DX 10.1 support.
MSI was kind enough to provide us with their reference HD 4850 featuring a single slot cooler, but before we move on to the results - let’s review the most important characteristics of the new HD 4800 generation.
You can see MSI R4850 in the picture below, and the only difference we’ve noticed in comparison to the reference card is a different sticker on the cooler. We still require one 6-pin PCI Express power connector and a single-slot cooler will keep the temperatures below 86 degrees Celsius.
ATI's RV770 core packs an impressive number of 965 million transistors and we already said that both HD 4870 and HD 4850 cards feature the same GPU at different clocks. While the older HD 4870 ran at 750MHz, Radeon HD 4850 runs at 625MHz (MSI’s R4850 also runs at these speeds). As far as memory is concerned, HD 4800 has a 256-bit memory bus, but in order to stay in the big league and fight with Nvidia’s latest offerings, ATI opted for GDDR5 memory. That way ATI managed to catch up with GTX 260 without expanding the memory interface. MSI's R4850 has 512MB of GDDR3 memory running at 1986MHz and features a bandwidth of 63.6GB/s.
The new GPU is built in 55nm process and brings 800 shader processors on both Radeon HD 4800 cards. Compared to the previous generation HD 3800 it’s 2.5x more shader processors and the same goes for 40 texture units (HD 3800 features 16). This is an important step forward because texture processor performance will no longer be a bottleneck. So far, we’ve had 16 texture processors grouped in 4 blocks, where each block had one filter unit at its disposal. RV770 features 40 texture processors grouped in 10 blocks, and each block has 4 filters at its disposal. Raster processors also went through a makeover. Just like RV670, RV770 has 16 ROP units but they are twice more effective in processing Z-buffers. RV770 can process 64 Z-values per clock cycle, and full screen antialiasing performance also improved.
Thanks to architecture optimization, ATI managed to build a card that’s not much bigger than the HD 3850 but it’s definitely more efficient. Although it doesn’t look powerful, this baby-beast is more than capable of taking on Nvidia’s 9800 GTX. The picture above shows two HD 4850 reference cards with a single-slot cooler, good enough to cool the GPU at reference speeds, but not for more serious overclocking.
MSI provides D.O.T. tool integrated into Catalyst drivers located on the driver CD. This overclocking tool will enable inexperienced users to increase the card’s efficiency by setting the core and memory clocks to predefined values. We got as high as 700MHz for the GPU and 1112MHz (2224MHz effectively) for the memory.
The card’s heatsink is made of an aluminum and copper combination, where copper is used for the cooler’s base. Its aluminum heatsink is quite large (almost identical to the one found on HD 3850 cards), but we’re quite sure that an even larger heatsink would come in handy in dissipating 110W off the GPU. The card is powered through a 6-pin PCI Express power connector, unlike HD 4870 which requires two. The following picture clearly shows the size difference between HD 4870 and HD 4850.
We’ve talked briefly about MSI’s HD 4870 here, and we’ll repeat that it’s an overclocked card running at 800MHz, compared to reference 750MHz for the GPU. The HD 4000 series features a new UVD (Unified Video Decoder) 2.0 Engine that enables dual-stream decoding and 7.1 channel (lossless) sound. Both dual-link DVI outs (supporting display resolution of up to 2560x1600) are HDCP enabled, whereas to get HDMI with sound you’ll have to use DVI-to-HDMI dongle provided by MSI.
The card’s left side is mostly uncluttered, from the memory all the way to the two dual-link DVI ports and standard mini-DIN port. The upper corner features a pair of CrossFireX connectors. Of course, CrossFire/CrossFireX is supported, so if your motherboard supports this technology you can chain up to 4 cards in CrossFireX.
The card comes in MSI’s standard packaging and within the box you’ll find a nicely wrapped HD 4850 (R4850) graphics card and a bundled copy of Colin McRae's “Dirt.”
EVGA 680i SLI (Provided by EVGA)
Intel Core 2 Duo 6800 Extreme edition (Provided by Intel)
OCZ FlexXLC PC2 9200 5-5-5-18 (Provided by OCZ)
during testing CL5-5-5-15-CR2T 1066MHz at 2.2V
OCZ Silencer 750 Quad Black (Provided by OCZ)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 80GB SATA (Provided by Seagate)
Freezer 7 Pro (Provided by Artic Cooling)
Artic Cooling - Artic Fan 12 PWM
Artic Cooling - Artic Fan 8 PWM
Vista 32 SP1
3DMark vantage shows a greater difference between results than the older Mark06. XFX 670M XX beats Gainward’s reference card by 6% and does the same to HD 4870 by 28%. Mark 06 says that there’s only a 4% performance difference between the fastest GTX 280 and Sapphire HD 4870.
In Mark06, MSI R4850 loses to Geforce 9800 GTX by 6.7%, but outperforms it by 4% in Vantage. HD4870 was better than this single slot card by 17% in Vantage and 12% in 3DMark06.
MSI ran on par with Diamond HD 4850 card, but both cards feature reference design and speed.
Company of Heroes sees ATI failing to beat Nvidia GTX 260. We ran the tests in Vista 32, but Radeon HD 4870 tested under Windows XP outran the GTX 260. The fastest card in this game was XFX with their overclocked GTX 280, and at 1280x1024 4xAA i 8xAF it beat HD 4870 by almost 100%. Gainward managed to outperform Radeon HD 4870 by 90% with their reference GTX 280.
With their overclocked GTX 260, EVGA closely followed GTX 280 and it beat the reference GTX 260 by about 10%. 2048x1536 with 4xAA and 8xAF shows that EVGA’s overclocked card is capable of much more and it beats the reference GTX 260 by 20%. At the same resolution Radeon HD 4870 ran slower by about 30%.
MSI 4850, just like its big brother Radeon HD 4870, loses to reference GTX 260 cards, but bear in mind that for the price of around €125 – this is one hell of a score. At higher resolutions with Antialiasing on, it loses to HD 4870 by only 30%. It most resolutions it ran a bit faster than Diamond’s card except in the highest one where it beat it by 5% (1 fps), which is the biggest advantage we’ve seen during testing.
Call of Juarez sees Radeon HD 4870 and Radeon HD 4850 holding well versus reference GTX260 and GTX280. Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 even manages to beat GTX 280 by up to 12%, but it ran on par with XFX 670M. XFX 670M is up to 11% better than reference GTX 280.
ATI is simply good at this game, so not even overclocked EVGA GTX 260 FTW could overthrow HD 4870. EVGA followed Gainward GTX 280 closely.
Gainward GTX 260 ran on par with MSI R4850. Compared to HD 4870 GDDR5, MSI was about 29% slower.
Crysis put all the games through their paces, so at 1600x1200 4xAA 8xAF we see enough frames for gaming, but barely anything to brag about. XFX 670M XXX ran the fastest and scored 35fps. It outperformed HD 4870 by 29%, and EVGA GTX 260 FTW by 20%. At the same resolution, EVGA scored a playable framerate, whereas we couldn’t say the same for the reference GTX 260. EVGA again outperformed the reference GTX 260 by 11% and HD 4870 by 7%.
MSI R4850 shows its teeth and we see it beat 9800 GTX by 16%. It loses to HD 4870 by 20% and 28% at the highest tested resolution.
We’ve seen what reference HD 4850 card can do and we’ve already mentioned that by supplying their D.O.T. tool, MSI is pushing for more user friendly overclocking. Let’s see what predefined speeds this tool provides.
We have 6 overclocking settings and they’re not too far apart from each other. If you set the highest rank “Commander”, the core will run at 700MHz and the memory at 1112MHz. Just a reminder – reference speeds are 625MHz core and 933MHz memory.
With an overclocked card, we managed to improve Vantage results by 9%, which is not too shabby.
ATI did a good thing by optimizing the existing architecture, instead of the usual routine where you just add more of what you’ve got. Although HD 4800 cards feature 800 shader processors, which is 2.5 times more than HD 3800, many things are fixed and optimized. FSAA finally runs nicely so RV770 will let you enjoy it in its full glory. The new HD 4800 generation brings great performance and incredible bang for buck in this price segment.
Today, we’ve seen MSI’s R4850 in action, and although running at default speeds it still scored nicely. It’s evident that €125 can’t buy you a better card than this baby. We don’t really like the reference cooler that heats up significantly, and any serious overclocking should be done with a better cooler. The good thing is that it’s quite similar to the coolers in previous generation, so you'll probably be able to get a replacement easily, should you need one. Still, the cooler is not too loud and it keeps the GPU temperatures at maximum 85 degrees.
MSI R4850 is a card that you shouldn’t pass by, especially knowing that €125 will buy you a card that will serve you well and provide unbelievable performance within this price segment.