Review: Pick your poison at the Gainward Coral
Gainward's offer includes several HD 4850 cards, so we’ve decided to take the two top models and see how they compare. The first card is Gainward HD 4850 GS 1024MB card, which as the name suggests packs 1GB of memory. The performance difference between the cards with 512MB and 1024MB isn’t as obvious if you’re not gaming at 1920x1200 and higher resolutions, but users regularly favor higher numbers in their shopping strategies. The second, or another first card if you will, is Gainward’s HD 4850 GS Goes Like Hell 512MB. To make things more interesting, both these cards not only pack different amount of memory, but the memory types are different as well. The first card uses GDDR3 memory, whereas the Goes Like Hell version is one of rare HD 4850 versions that runs GDDR5 memory, which is used on HD 4870 and HD 4890 cards.
Gainward HD 4850 GS 1024MB
HD 4850 GS 1024MB uses dual-slot cooling that looks quite bulky, mostly due to the plastic hood, which covers the entire card. This type of cooling is used on HD 4850 GS 512MB card as well, but we’re no strangers to it as we’ve seen it when Gainward was still doing business exclusively with Nvidia. The cooler is nice and efficient, and we’ve seen it in action on a couple of G92-based cards.
Unlike the reference single slot design, the HD 4850 GS 1024MB uses dual slot cooling and runs at 700+MHz, 75MHz higher than reference. While testing Gainward’s cards, we’ve learned that the famous “+” means more overclocking headroom, and can be found only on the crème of the crop cards both from Nvidia and AMD. HD 4850 GS 1024MB can be overclocked further with no problems whatsoever, but since such feats are not covered by the warranty it might be wiser to stick to Gainward’s pre-overclocked speeds. The memory on this card is overclocked by only a few MHz more than on the reference model, as it now runs at 1000+MHz (2000+ effectively) compared to the reference 993MHz.
The photo below shows the dual-slot cooling in all its glory. The fan is in the center and the two fat heatpipes transfer heat to the aluminium heatsink. Within the heatsink is the fan that can cool sideways as well as underneath, so air dispersion causes only a fraction of blown air to exit at the outlet. However, this card isn’t what you’d call too hot so modest in-case cooling solutions will suffice.
The RV770 graphics processor is built in 55nm and puts 800 shader processors at our disposal. Compared to the previous generation it’s 2.5x more shader processors as well as texture units.
The photo above shows that the card uses 8 memory chips for the total of 1024MB of memory. Gainward HD 4850 Golden Sample card uses 3+1 VRM design and an 8-pin power connector, which is not common for HD 4850 cards since they usually come with a single 6pin connector.
The left side of the card beneath the cooler is uninteresting (not that it's supposed to be. sub.ed) and mostly unpopulated, all the way to the dual-link DVI port and the standard mini-DIN port. Upper left corner houses two CrossFireX connectors. Crossfire/CrossfireX support is of course there, so if your motherboard allows it you can chain up to 4 HD 4850 cards in CrossfireX.
All the HD 4890, HD 4870 and HD 4850 cards use 256 bit memory bus, but higher quality models use GDDR5 memory. AMD started using GDDR5 with HD 4870 cards, when the company compensated for the weaker, 256-bit bus on their card with better memory. You might remember that at the same time, Nvidia used a 512-bit bus, but combined with GDDR3.
ATI recently announced the HD 4770, also with GDDR5 memory but 128-bit memory bus. In case of the HD 4770, GDDR5 memory with 128-bit memory bus will provide identical bandwidth as GDDR3 with 256-bit bus, provided they both run at the same speeds.
Gainward strapped their HD 4850 1024MB Golden Sample card with 1GB of memory but the frequencies are the same as on the reference card. This resulted in a slightly higher bandwidth - from 63.6GB/s to 64GB/s.
HD 4850 GS GLH however maybe even got a sweeter deal, as using GDDR5 resulted in a bandwidth of 115.2GB/s.
Gainward HD 4850 GS Goes Like Hell 512MB GDDR5
Just like the previous card, GLH also uses non-reference dual-slot cooling.
HD 4850 GS GLS card’s cooling isn’t identical to the one on HD 4850 GS, but rather a version of the cooler used on GTS 250 cards. Below is the GTS 250 2GB, which we’ve tested recently, here.
So far, every HD 4850 we’ve tested used GDDR3 memory, but an excellent feature of the RV770 is that it supports both GDDR3 and GDDR5, and some partners just couldn’t resist.
Gainward is one of the first companies with this kind of “hybrid” card, as the HD 4850 GS GLH card comes with GDDR5 memory at 3,600MHz and 256-bit memory interface. The card runs at 700+MHz GPU and comes with DVI, DisplayPort, HDMI and VGA outs.
The card is cooled by a pretty large fan placed in the center of the card, whereas the entire card is covered with a black Gainward logoed hood. Gainward’s Golden Sample HD 4850 used similar cooling, but our today’s sample comes with a different heatsink. The fan is attached to the hood and not the heatsink, as you can see on the photos above.
We see that power requirements on this card are closer to high-end cards, as the card requires two 6-pin connectors. However, our testing reveals that power consumption is not so high, as the HD 4850 GS GLH consumes about 10W more than the reference HD 4850.
HD 4850 comes with the new UVD 2.0 engine enabling dual-stream decoding as well as 7.1 channel lossless audio. Both DVI outs support resolutions up to 2560x1600 and come with HDCP, but HDMI + audio will require a DVI to HDMI adapter, which Gainward unfortunately didn’t bundle with the card.
You can see that GS GHL’s box is much larger, but what we’re interested in is the raw power, so let’s move on and see how these cards compare.
Motherboard: MSI P45D3 Platinum ( Provided by: MSI );
Processor: Intel Core 2 QX9770 Extreme edition at 3.6GHz ( Provided by: Intel );
Memory: Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24 ( Provided by: Corsair);
HDD: WD VelociRaptor 300G 10,000RPM ( Provided by: SmoothCreation );
Driver: AMD 9-4_vista32_win7_32_dd_ccc_wdm_enu.exe
Vista 32 SP1
In Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage High test, Gainward HD 4850 GS GLH 512MB GDDR5 beats Gainward HD 4850 1024MB by 12%, and it seems like memory speeds and bandwidth have decided on a winner. Radeon HD 4850 GS GLH runs at 3600MHz whereas HD 4850 GS’ memory runs at 2000MHz.
The fact that this test couldn’t care less about memory quantity is evident from the fact that this card didn’t manage to outrun the reference GTS 250 with 512MB memory. Still, cards with more memory pack potential which will probably stay unharnessed in synthetic tests, but upcoming games as well as some already on the market will surely know how to put the extra memory to good use.
Far Cry 2
You can see Gainward’s cards in our tables, and while the GTS 250 2GB can be considered the “weakest player”, it still scores great compared to the GTS 250 512MB in FarCry 2. At 1680x1050, we see that it wins by 10%, but the 2GB of memory proves to be a godsend at higher resolutions with antialiasing on.
The fastest HD 4850 is Goes Like Hell with 512MB of GDDR5 memory. This Gainward HD 4850 card scores 17% better than reference HD 4850 512MB GDDR3 at 1680x1050. The same card beats Gainward’s HD 4850 GS 1GB GDDR3 card by 4%.
HD 4850 GS GLH’s 512MB weakness is exposed at high resolutions and antialiasing on, as it scores lower than 26fps and loses to HD 4850 GS 1024MB.
GTS 250 2GB card allows for 1920x1200 with antialiasing on where it scores about 30fps, whereas the same resolution sees the fastest HD 4850 card with 512MB of memory losing by 28%, and the reference HD 4850 512MB by 41%. The same resolution sees the reference GTS 250 512MB losing by as much as 48%.
We find two Gainward cards in HD 4890’s range – the GTX 260 GLH and the GTX 275. Both of these cards excel in gaming at all the tested resolutions, and we see over 40fps at 1920x1200, even when antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are on.
World in Conflict
Unlike in the previous game where additional memory comes in handy at high resolutions and antialiasing scenarios, this game seems to care little about additional memory. Gainward GTS 250 2GB ended up lagging behind the reference GTS 250 512MB card, and the reason behind Gainward HD 4850 1GB’s victory are the higher clocks.
Nvidia has the upper hand in World in Conflict as the GTS 250 beats the reference HD 4850. HD 4850’s good name was thankfully saved by Gainward’s HD 4850 GS GLH as this super fast card leaves the reference HD 4850 512MB GDDR3 card behind by 26%, while Gainward HD 4850 GS 1024MB GDDR3 lags behind by 17%. Geforce GTS 250 falls behind the HD 4850 GS GLH by 22%.
Gaiward HD 4850 GS GLH isn’t too far behind the the reference HD 4870 512MB card, but HD 4870 still takes the cake as its core ticks 50MHz faster than HD 4850 GS GLH’s.
Left 4 Dead
Playing Left 4 Dead won’t be a problem with any of Gainward’s tested cards, as all of them score over 60fps at all the resolutions. Unlike in FarCry 2, here we see that HD 4850 GS GLH 512MB GDDR5 is constantly beating the HD 4850 GS 1024MB GDDR3. Core and memory clocks have resulted in GLH card beating the GTS 250 with 2GB of memory by up to 24% and Gainward’s HD 4850 GS 1024MB by up to 19%.
Like in Left 4 Dead, Gainward HD 4850 GS GLH beats the HD 4850 1GB, and all the tested resolutions give a playable framerate.
You’ll notice how the GTS 250 2GB scores good compared to Radeon cards when there’s no antialiasing, but as soon as we turned it on it the results dropped significantly. The reason lies in the actual game, as Radeon cards feature DirectX 10.1 support, something not featured on Geforce cards.
Temperatures and Overclocking
Gainward cards’ temperatures are great compared to the reference, single slot HD 4850. Radeon HD 4850 GS GLH uses newer cooling (also used on the GTS 250 2GB) and as you can see, it cools the RV770 a bit better than the cooling on HD 4850 GS 1024MB.
Both cards run almost inaudible. In our opinion, the HD 4850 GS GLH should’ve been made to run a bit quieter at default settings, but it’s nothing a manual RPM setting in ATI driver won’t fix. During operation, the cards are anything but intrusive, but if you want complete silence you’ll probably spend some time customizing the fans’ RPM. Note that silence doesn’t come without a price, so you’ll probably sacrifice a couple of °C to achieve your preferred noise levels.
Compared to the reference GTS 250, Gainward’s GTS 250 with 2GB of memory fares better during operation, but it’s the idle mode that poses its Achilles’ heel. The reason hides behind the fact that this card has no clock switching mechanism, meaning no downclocking when in idle mode. The fan is very quiet in idle mode, but it gets louder than the reference GTS 250’s during operation. Still, we wouldn’t call it too loud or intrusive, but if you find it to be you can always resort to manual RPM settings.
As far as overclocking goes, both cards had no trouble reaching 750MHz, the maximum speed allowed by Catalyst Overdrive.
Radeon 4000 cards don’t feature clock switching, so consumption is higher than Nvidia’s competing cards. HD 4850 GS GLH draws minimum 129W in idle mode, which is almost 40W more than the reference GTS 250 consumes, but the consumption is lower than Nvidia’s offerings when the cards are active.
GTS 250 2GB doesn’t feature clock switching either, so this card consumes more than the rest of the GTx 2x0 family as well. Additional memory and higher clock and shader speeds result in higher consumption than that of the reference GTS 250 card.
Gainward’s HD 4850 Goes Like Hell comes dangerously close to Radeon HD 4870 performance for the sole reason of using GDDR5 and even ATI’s specs confirm that saying that Gainward HD 4850 GLH is closer to HD 4870 than an HD 4850. Despite having 512MB memory it still manages to churn out great performance and provide enough juice for comfortable gaming at 1680x1050 with antialiasing and maximum detail settings. Note that 1920x1200 is also possible, but with no antialiasing.
Priced at €117 in Germany, this card defines best-buy as its performance is close to HD 4870 cards. It’s priced only about €25 more than the cheapest HD4850 512MB card, beats the GTS 250 and can be considered one of the fastest HD 4850 cards around.
Goes Like Hell scores up to 20% better than reference HD 4850 512MB, but it didn’t stop there as it beats the HD 4850 GS 1024MB in many scenarios as well, most notably in Left 4 Dead where it’s faster by 19%.
If we omit high resolutions with antialiasing, Gainward HD 4850 1GB Golden Sample is usually faster than standard HD 4850 cards, but only slightly. Be it as it may, it still gives GTS 250 cards a harder run for their money, which isn’t half bad for a €110 card. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it priced at that point.
Both cards have proven their worth but the HD 4850 GS GLH has simply excelled and proven to be worthy of our award, so without further ado - we dub this card a Fudzilla Recommended card.