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Tuesday, 09 September 2008 12:29

Gainward's fastest Radeon HD 4870 tested

Written by Sanjin Rados

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Review: Two BIOS and non-reference cooling

 

Gainward Radeon HD 4870 Golden Sample is yet another graphics card from ATI's popular 4000 series, but the thing that'll catch your attention is probably the manufacturer. In case you didn’t know, Gainward recently decided to work with ATI, too, as opposed to being Nvidia’s faithful sidekick, which was the case so far.

This is a non-reference design of HD 4870 with a couple of surprises. The card is available in almost all popular online stores and Geizhals.at lists the card priced at around €214. This is only some €15 more than reference HD 4870, which is a nice deal considering you’re getting an overclocked card. It comes with large non-reference cooling covering the entire card and packing two fans that should keep the temperatures in check.

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The larger fan is positioned above the graphics core, whereas the smaller one is cooling the circuitry towards the end of the card. The cooling system includes three heatpipes. They’re only partly visible, as the cooler is largely hidden by the plastic “hood.” In order to even out the temperatures on the aluminum heatsink, one heatpipe is quite long and going all the way to the end of the card where the small fan is placed.

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Apart from the large cooler, HD 4870 Golden Sample is a treat as it packs two BIOSes. Thanks to those, tweaking the operating speeds is as easy as it gets. You’ll get Turbo and Normal BIOS at your disposal, where Turbo overclocks core/memory speeds to 775MHz/1000MHz and Normal sets them to 750MHz/950MHz.

Activating the BIOS of choice is simple and done via a small switch on the I/O panel. Unfortunately, you’ll have to do this when the card is off line or the changes won’t be applied until you reboot.

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You’ll find this switch in the lower left corner of I/O panel, on the far side from the DisplayPort connector. Thanks to the dual-slot cooler design, I/O panel features enough room to house two standard DVI connectors. One is labeled as DVI-HDMI, and you should use it as primary when using HDMI. You can enjoy 7.1 audio supported by all HD 4xxx series cards, and thanks to Realtek HD Audio processor that’s integrated straight into the silicone – there’s no need for additional cables to enable HDMI audio.

Managing overclocking with two BIOS’s is not a bad idea, but it isn’t the most functional either. OS is simply not used to such scenarios and, although it happened rarely, our OS sometimes reported (after switching between  BIOS’s) that ATI drivers failed to detect the hardware properly. Fortunately, a restart always did the trick and we didn’t have to reinstall the drivers.

Overclocking works, and you’ll see that for yourself later on. Still, we expected Turbo to be more than just 25MHz over the reference, but at least the memory got a nice 100MHz boost over the reference 900MHz. The following pictures show the difference between the two BIOSes.

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The RV770 graphics processor is the heart of HD 4870 cards and it’s built in 55nm. We have 800 shader processors at our disposal which is 2.5x more compared to the previous HD 3800 generation. The same goes for texture units, as current generation features 40 and HD 3800 had only 16.

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Dual-slot cooler does a better job of cooling than the reference one, but we did expect it to be quieter. A large 80mm fan is quiet and its RPM is dynamic, but the smaller 70mm fan is connected with two wires only and thus running at constant speed. Whether the card is idle or you’re gaming – it will still run loud. On the other hand, Gainward’s card is 24 °C cooler than reference, which is great, especially if you’re keen on further overclocking it. Unfortunately, due to the cooler’s design, the air will stay inside the case, so 24 °C less will definitely help. 

The fans are an integral part of the plastic hood, but we took it off so you can see the passive part of this cooler.

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The heatsink with three heatpipes covers the most of the card but there’s enough room to see the memory underneath. Radeon HD 4870 uses GDDR5 memory running at 3600MHz so even though it uses a 256-bit memory interface, it’s capable of 115.2GB/s bandwidth (or 128GB/s in Turbo mode). Memory modules have no additional cooling and there’s a total of 512MB memory running at 950MHz or 1000MHz. Since this is GDDR5 memory, effective speeds are 3800MHz or 4000MHz, depending on the BIOS of choice.

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The card is, just like on the reference card, powered through by two 6-pin PCIe connectors, but this time they’re placed on the longer side of the card which enables easy access. The same PCB area features the fan connectors. In order to provide more stable power management, Gainward opted for 4+2 phase power, where two phases are used for the memory.

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The memory modules’ power regulation is on the opposite side, next to the I/O panel. You can see that on the following picture where you’ll also see the two CrossFire connectors responsible for enabling CrossFireX on this card.

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The rest of the package is standard – you’ll get a DirectX 10.1 card with PCI Express 2.0 interface and all the latest and greatest features of the new RV770 chip. The bad results we’ve got when using filters with ATI’s previous generations are no longer visible.

Gainward packed their Radeon HD 4870 Golden Sample into a large box with a new picture and color scheme. Gainward now uses red boxes for Radeons and green for Geforce cards. You’ll find HDMI and DVI adapters, user’s manual with the driver CD and a 6pin PCIe power adapter.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 10 September 2008 11:40
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