iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail







2.5 times the shaders on the example of 4 graphics cards.

July 10, 2008

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AMD has finally launched a real and formidable product that scared NVIDIA into dropping prices for its cards. It must impact their interests, because GeForce 9800 GTX is a complex and expensive card, which the company is forced to sell for 200 USD. And RADEON 4850 can already be found for less than $200.

Our tests show that the 4850 card performs brilliantly against the 9800 GTX (it has its victories and defeats, but the average performance is on a par), ALREADY being cheaper. Out of doubt, RADEON 4870 will be the most interesting card to review - this product will be even stronger versus its competitors.

The 4850 is equipped with a quiet cooler, GPU temperature never rose above 80°C, so everything is fine here. We are looking forward to these cards with unique designs and coolers (for example, IceQ from HIS), which will even improve market positions of the 4850 card.

Prime costs of this product are not very high, and AMD has a significant potential for lowering prices to spite the competing company. We haven't tested GeForce 9800 GTX+ yet. In our opinion, its high frequencies will make it stronger than the 4850 card. Perhaps it will catch up with the 4870 (we don't know it yet). However, these are expensive cards, and their relocation to a cheaper segment may have a negative effect on positioning of NVIDIA cards (we already wrote that the GTX 260 card was much more expensive than it should have been).

What concerns our four production-line cards, they are copies of the reference design, so we have nothing to add about each card. They all have usual bundles, except for the card from HIS, which has a bonus - a screwdriver with tips.

Synthetic tests show that the 4850 card has a much higher potential than it demonstrates in games. It may indicate that the product is not balanced as far as memory bandwidth is concerned. It seems we come across the old situation, when GPU performance is limited by video memory performance (speed, frequency, bus). Memory bandwidth of this card is just a tad higher than in the 3850, while its GPU potential is more than twice as high. Conclusions are crystal clear: if the 4850 chip had been installed on a card with a faster bus and memory, it would have become faster. We'll check it up with the 4870.

We should congratulate AMD. It has finally launched a product, which can defeat its more expensive competitor (when the 4850 was about to be announced, the price of 9800 GTX was $299 instead of $199, as NVDIA was forced to drop to). We are also happy to note correction of AA mistakes - hardware execution of this function through ROPs is back (it used to be executed by shader commands, which led to performance drops.)

Out of doubt, our conclusions may change together with prices. So keep tabs on the market.

Our Excellent Package award for July goes to HIS RADEON HD 4850 512MB.

To find more information about performance of various cards, please visit our monthly special i3DSpeed.


A few words about our benchmarks.

In our updated article about FRAPS, we have illustrated how crude and inaccurate tests with this utility are. Testers do not have other tools, except for benchmarks built into games.

This article and its first part explain that it's sometimes possible to test games with integrated and identically looped demos. Although this implies lots of potential errors, since measurement accuracy depends on tester: whether he starts/stops FRAPS in time or does it too late/early.

But I have run across situations, when demo load changes abruptly in the very beginning or end. So, a half-second delay in starting/stopping the utility changes the average FPS by 15-20%. That's not a measurement error anymore - such test is a total waste of time. One time you delay the test, another time you start it too early (not intentionally, of course), and you end up with absolutely different performance results.

But even that's not the most important thing. The fact is, there are almost no games with built-in demos anymore. So, testers are forced to use a method that we deem totally unacceptable. They measure gaming performance by walking a straight line from the a starting point in a scene to a selected destination (the nearest fence, tree, etc.).

We all understand that it's impossible to navigate to a finish spot in precisely the same route with different cards and in different resolutions. Besides, such games always introduce random elements into a scene, and objects may be placed slightly differently on the same scene.

Unfortunately, websites that publish a huge number of tests do not always reveal their test methods for each game (except for those with built-in benchmarks).

So, we believe that it's better to offer a limited number of game tests, but each will be crystal clear, accurate and showing actual differences between graphics cards.

We express gratitude to
HIS Russia,
PowerColor Russia,
MSI Russia,
Gigabyte Russia,
AMD Russia
for the provided graphics cards.

PSU provided by TAGAN,
Monitor provided by NVIDIA.

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