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ATI RADEON HD 4890 from Sapphire and MSI

Original design, higher clock rates and nice cooling.

September 2, 2009



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We proceed with out low-rating and high-texture ramblings that 3D graphics in games has gone too far from reality. For example, note how programmers and designers try to make their scenes look more 3D-like and distort the perspective. We've taken two panoramas of Singapore. But the first panorama (on top) illustrates what designers do, and the second one (on the bottom) shows what we see in reality.





This comparison is certainly not in favor of the first picture. But if we remember walls and other straight vertical surfaces in games, they are all titled for some strange reason. There is a psychological component to it: our mind adds depth to the scene, if it's a little distorted. But the same effect on photos looks shocking. It was an interesting example of how a difference in reality and 3D image improves perception of a 3D scene instead of making it worse.

Of course, we'd like to see realistic-looking effects in our games sometimes, for example lightning (it's often slowed down to show how the luminous discharge develops, while games are usually limited to flashes and glows).



Alas, there is no full likeness here either. To say nothing of playing glows in the sky.

However, we have no reasons to despair -- graphics and hardware are gradually evolving. Perhaps in a couple of years even a usual graphics card for $100 will render such effects in real time.

Speaking of graphics cards. We have almost forgotten about the new cards under review based on RADEON HD 4890. Sorry, we got carried away. The 4890 is presently the fastest single-GPU graphics card from AMD (ATI). It's not the best there is, of course, as we have the 4870 X2, but it can perform on a par with the GTX 275. Note that all these cards work at the increased frequencies, so we decided to compare them not only with GeForce GTX 275, but also with GTX 285.

In our lab we tested graphics cards from major manufacturers MSI and Sapphire. All three were actually made by these companies, not just purchased and labelled. Also, all three come with unique cooling systems, so their examination promises to be interesting.

Card design


MSI RADEON HD 4890 Cyclone 1024MB
  • GPU: RADEON HD 4890 (RV790)
  • Interface:xpress x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 880/880 MHz (nominal -- 850/850 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 975 (3900) MHz (nominal -- 975 (3900) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 256bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 800
  • Texture processors: 40 (BLF/TLF)
  • ROPs: 16
  • Dimensions: 260x100x33 mm (the last figure is maximum thickness of the graphics card)
  • PCB color: red
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU
  • Output connectors: 1xDVI (Dual-Link/HDMI), 1xVGA, 1xHDMI
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: not installed
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Hardware).
Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X Toxic (RADEON HD 4890) 1024MB
  • GPU: RADEON HD 4890 (RV790)
  • Interface:xpress x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 960/960 MHz (nominal -- 850/850 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 1050 (4200) MHz (nominal -- 975 (3900) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 256bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 800
  • Texture processors: 40 (BLF/TLF)
  • ROPs: 16
  • Dimensions: 260x100x35 mm (the last figure is maximum thickness of the graphics card)
  • PCB color: blue
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU
  • Output connectors: 2xDVI (2xDual-Link/HDMI), S-Video
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: integrated into GPU
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Hardware).
Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X (RADEON HD 4890) 2048MB
  • GPU: RADEON HD 4890 (RV790)
  • Interface:xpress x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 870/870 MHz (nominal -- 850/850 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 1050 (4200) MHz (nominal -- 975 (3900) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 256bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 800
  • Texture processors: 40 (BLF/TLF)
  • ROPs: 16
  • Dimensions: 260x100x33 mm (the last figure is maximum thickness of the graphics card)
  • PCB color: blue
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU
  • Output connectors: 1xDVI (Dual-Link/HDMI), 1xVGA, 1xHDMI, 1xDisplay Port
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: not installed
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Hardware).


MSI RADEON HD 4890 Cyclone 1024MB
Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X Toxic (RADEON HD 4890) 1024MB

Each graphics card has 1024 MB of GDDR5 SDRAM allocated in eight Qimonda chips on the front side of the PCB. These memory chips are designed for the maximum frequency of 1000 (4000) MHz.

Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X (RADEON HD 4890) 2048MB

The graphics card has 2048 MB of GDDR5 SDRAM allocated in sixteen Qimonda chips (eight chips on each side of the PCB). These memory chips are designed for the maximum frequency of 1000 (4000) MHz.



Comparison with the reference design, front view
Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X (RADEON HD 4890) 2048MB Reference card ATI RADEON HD 4890
Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X Toxic (RADEON HD 4890) 1024MB
MSI RADEON HD 4890 Cyclone 1024MB


Comparison with the reference design, back view
Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X (RADEON HD 4890) 2048MB Reference card ATI RADEON HD 4890
Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X Toxic (RADEON HD 4890) 1024MB
MSI RADEON HD 4890 Cyclone 1024MB

We can see that all three cards are based on the reference design with some changes in the power circuits. Especially Sapphire products, where these circuits are reinforced -- 6+8-pin connectors instead of two 6-pin ones. It has been done to improve stability of the 1GB overclocked card. Besides, a 2GB card certainly consumes more than the reference card. Engineers from Sapphire tried to design their products for high stability even operating at the increased frequencies.

And the graphics card from MSI is little different from the reference card -- there are only several replacements in the power circuits to reduce power consumption.

Let's say straight away -- the shortcoming of the HD 4870 still lingers: power connectors are installed in the rear of the PCB. The PCB is very long, but these connectors also require some space. Especially with modern PSUs, which cables are very hard, so the real length of the card exceeds that of a PCB. I wonder why the engineers haven't thought of tilting the connectors by 90°C, that would have solved the problem. And a graphics card would have taken exactly as much room in a PC enclosure as its dimensions.

Only one card from Sapphire has TV-Out with a unique connector. You will need a special bundled adapter to output video to a TV-set via S-Video or RCA. You can read about the TV-Out in more detail here.

The cards that lack VGA outputs can be plugged to analog monitors with d-Sub (VGA) interface using special DVI-to-d-Sub adapters. The bundle also includes DVI-to-HDMI adapters (these graphics cards support video/audio transfer to HDMI receivers), so there should be no problems with such monitors. Besides, the product from Sapphire has its own HDMI and even Display Port.

Maximum resolutions and frequencies:

  • 240 Hz maximum refresh rate
  • 2048 x 1536 x 32bit @ 85Hz Max - analog interface
  • 2560 x 1600 @ 60Hz Max - digital interface (all Dual-Link DVIs)

As of MPEG2 playback (DVD-Video), we analyzed this issue in 2002. Little has changed since that time. CPU load during video playback on modern graphics cards does not exceed 25%.

As of HDTV, a review is available here.

All these cards require additional power supply, so each is bundled with a molex to 6-pin adapter, even though all modern PSUs are equipped with these cables. Sapphire products require 8-pin cables, so the cards are bundled with proper adapters.


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Article navigation:

Page 1: Introduction, design

Page 2: Cooling

Page 3: Bundles, boxes

Page 4: Performance in games



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