Review: Display Port, HDMI, dual BIOS and an efficient and quiet cooler
Gainward Radeon HD 4870 Golden Sample is one of more interesting cards to be launched lately. We’re glad to see Gainward expanding their offer to ATI graphics cards and introducing Golden Sample models, which were so far exclusive to Nvidia graphics cards.
Golden Sample cards are traditionally Gainward’s crème of the crop and they pack a serious punch. Shortly after announcing Golden Sample HD 4870 512MB, Gainward launched a new model based on the same graphics chip. Basically it’s the same model with double the amount of memory (1GB), all sorts of new connectors and an improved cooler compared to the 512MB model.
The RV770 graphics processor dethroned Nvidia and gave AMD the edge, whereas Radeon HD 4870 undoubtedly became one of the most popular and desired cards around. Massive demand resulted in many companies offering non-reference HD 4870 models.
Non-reference cooler with two fans is featured on both Golden Sample HD 4870 models, keeping the temperatures on enviably low levels. While cooling efficiency is very good in both cases, the first version on HD 4870 512MB GS was a bit too loud for our taste. Luckily, Gainward realized that and replaced the small fan that was responsible for the noise. RPM regulation is also enabled, so in case you plan to overclock – you can sacrifice some silence for cooling performance.
Many partners introduced their non-reference coolers, and we saw some water cooled cards too, but both Golden Sample HD 4870 cards are unique for their “dual BIOS” – two BIOS’ on a graphics card. Of course, the card will run in the BIOS mode of your choosing.
At first glance, both Golden Sample HD 4870 cards look much alike.
The picture above shows HD 4870 GS 1GB and the picture below is that of HD 4870 GS 512MB. The large dual slot cooler covers the graphics cards and it features two fans. Although the fans seem identical, Gainward ended up using different fans capable of higher RPM.
The larger fan is located above the graphics core, whereas the smaller one is at the end of the card cooling the power components. The cooling system comprises of three heatpipes. You can partly see them, but most of the cooler is hidden under the plastic hood. In order for the heat to be evenly distributed across the aluminum heatsink, one heatpipe is quite long and going all the way to the end of the card, where the small fan is located.
Gainward’s dual slot cooler is better at cooling than HD 4870’s reference cooler. When the GPU is coping with a heavy workload, HD 4870 1GB Golden Sample’s temperatures are up to 24°C lower than with reference cooling and the card is almost inaudible. You can even make it completely inaudible, but that will require exiting the AUTO mode and manually decreasing the fan’s RPM. Temperatures will, of course, rise, but this is not a problem for this cooler as it can still keep the temperatures below critical levels.
If you increase the RPM speed, the situation will, or course, reverse. At maximum 2500 RPM and 750MHz speeds, core temperatures were around 45°C. We didn’t notice any difference when the card ran in Turbo mode at core speeds of 775MHz.
A cool graphics card means less heat in the case and better operating environment for the other components.
The card’s two BIOSs enable simple overclocking and downclocking. You have “Turbo” and “Normal” BIOS at your disposal.
Activating Turbo BIOS will increase core/memory speeds to 775MHz/1000MHz whereas the slower BIOS will clock them to 750MHz/950MHz. In this respect the two HD 4870 Golden Sample cards are identical – they both feature the same clocks on both BIOSs.
Activating the desired BIOS is simple – I/O panel features a switch for those purposes. Unfortunately, the card has to be inactive, meaning you’ll have to restart in order for the changes to take effect.
The switch is located in the upper left corner of the I/O panel. Below it you’ll find DisplayPort, HDMI and DVI connectors. Thanks to the cooler’s dual slot design, the I/O panel has plenty of space to house a VGA connector and an air outlet next to it. Although this is not the kind of cooler that blows the air out of the case, the fan will still make the air circulate through all the openings.
All HD 4xxx cards will let you enjoy 7.1 sound, thanks to Realtek’s HD Audio processor that’s integrated directly into the GPU silicone. There’s no need to route additional cables to get audio trough HDMI cables, which is the procedure you’ll have to perform with Geforce cards. HDMI works, but we couldn’t take DisplayPort out for a spin as we do not have a compatible monitor.
Solving overclocking by using two BIOS's is not a bad idea, but more experienced users would rather go to the Catalyst Overdrive Center and manually change speeds. It’s easier and faster than having to restart the computer in order for the changes to take effect.
While testing the first dual-BIOS card one month ago, we encountered some minor troubles. Sometimes, not often mind you, after we flicked the switch, the OS would report that ATI’s driver didn’t recognize the hardware properly and that it needed to restart. Luckily, restart always helped and we never had to reinstall drivers or anything like that. With the new Catalyst 8.9 driver, on the other hand, we experienced no such problems at all.
Overclocking using “dual BIOS” works great, but we still expected Turbo mode to overclock by more than just 25MHz over reference speeds. At least the memory got a decent overclock compared to reference 900MHz. The following picture shows basic technical details of HD 4870 Golden Sample 1024 MB card.
After activating the Turbo mode, GPU-Z recognized the overclocked speeds as reference ones.
We mentioned that the cooler on the 1024MB version is inaudible, as opposed to the one found on the 512MB version. The main difference is the way that the fan has been connected; the 512MB version features a fan that’s directly connected to the PCB via two wires, which makes RPM regulation impossible. So, whether the card is strained by gaming or sitting idle, the cooler stays loud. The following photo shows the HD 4870 GS 512MB, where left to the power connectors you’ll see a white pin-head connector that belongs to the smaller fan.
The mentioned connector ended up not being used on the 1024MB model, as the small fan is, together with the large fan, connected to the 4 pin-head connector that enables RPM regulation.
The large fan measures 80mm in diameter whereas the small one measures 70mm. We’ll show you the two photos again, where the first is the small fan on HD 4870 GS 512MB and the other is HD 4870 GS 1024MB.
The new fan on HD 4870 GS 1024MB has RPM regulation, unlike the small fan on HD 4870 GS 512MB.
The heatsink with three heatpipes covers the most of the card, but there’s still room to see the memory. Radeon HD 4870 uses GDDR5 memory at 3600MHz, so although it uses 256bit memory interface, it’s capable of 115.2GB/s bandwidth (128GB/s in Gainward’s Turbo mode). Memory modules don’t feature additional cooling and they’re all located on the same side of the PCB. You’ll find a total of 1024MB of memory running at 950MHz or 1000MHz – and since this is GDDR5, memory speeds are effectively 3800MHz or 4000MHz, depending on the BIOS used.
Radeon HD 4870 Golden Sample models come with a DisplayPort connector, whereas the 1024MB version features an additional HDMI out, apart from the standard DVI and VGA outs.
This is one of the best equipped cards around.