Palit HD4850 Sonic Review

ccokeman - 2008-09-13 23:51:40 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: October 14, 2008
Price: $169.99

Introduction:

Right now the number of video cards to choose from is astonishing, with more and more coming online every week it seems. The HD4850s have been around for a few months now and the reference cards have been tested and retested. Now we can get to the cards the manufacturers build themselves. Sapphire has the Toxic series of cards and Palit has the Sonic series. One of the benefits of a non reference card is that the heatsinks used are usually far superior to those offered on the reference based cards. As you well know, the stock cooling on reference HD4850s leaves much to be desired. Temperatures can climb to 90+ degrees Celsius under load in a decently ventilated case. This is just unacceptable to the enthusiast or gamer. Heat kills. I look no further than the system behind my head that had a fan failure on the stock cooling solution on the card in this system. A card two weeks old died from a fan failure.

Palit has addressed this issue with a large heatsink where if the fan did fail, it would provide at least some passive cooling capacity. Not only does this large heatsink help when at the default speeds but it can increase the overclocking potential of the video card. The Palit HD4850 Sonic Overclocking Edition is a factory overclocked card much like the Toxic HD4850 from Sapphire was. This card is clocked to 685MHz on the 55nm RV770 core and 1000MHz on the GDDR3 memory. The Sonic, much like the standard HD4850, offers support for Direct X 10.1 and Shader model 4.1 and is CrossfireX capable with the addition of a second card and capable motherboard. Will the Sonic Overcloking Edition HD4850 from Palit perform above the reference bar? Will it challenge the faster cards on the market? Let's find out.

Closer Look:

Palit's Packaging for this year has been dominated with images of the "FroBot" dressed up and ready for battle. This package is no different. Well, it's a little different. The front panel states a few of the features, CrossfireX, Vista compatibility and the basic specifications of the Sonic edition. The rear panel contains another basic listing of the features but in several different languages. Since Palit is one of the leading suppliers of video cards globally, this is a necessity to reach more people with just one package.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The internal structure of the package is more sturdy than the structure the standard Palit HD4850 comes in. A little protection goes a long way. Under the box that contains the Sonic HD4850, the multi lingual manual and driver disc are stored.

 

 

The bundle of accessories included with this card is really pretty slim. There is a multi lingual manual, driver disc, DVI to D-sub adapter and a 6-pin to 8-pin PCI-E power adapter. This card is meant strictly for gaming. It would have been nice to get a Crossfire connector to use two of these cards in CrossfireX mode.

 

 

Now that you know what to look for on the store shelves, we can take a look at the Palit HD4850 Sonic Overclocking Edition video card to see what it brings to the table and see if it can earn your hard earned dollars.

 

Closer Look:

The Palit HD4850 Sonic Overclocking Edition video card is a non reference design video card. That is obvious by looking at the PCB, power circuits and large heatsink used on it. As a factory overclocked video card, its clock speeds are higher, in this case significantly higher. The clock speed is set to 685MHz in lieu of the reference 625MHz, a 60MHz improvement. This speed is roughly where many of the stock cards have hit the overclocking wall. The memory speed only sees a 7MHz increase over the 993MHz stock speed on the GDDR3 memory. As hot as the reference cooler keeps the RV770 core, the massive cooler looks to make this problem a non issue. Equipped with a dual ball bearing PWM fan, failure should be a long way down the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dual slot design of the HD4850 Sonic is evident from the mounting bracket. This vented bracket helps ventilate the case by allowing air from the heatsink to be pushed out through the rear of the case. Connectivity is pretty much standard fare with two Dual Link DVI ports and an HDTV out port. The back end of the Sonic shows a little of what makes this card so special. The three phase PWM design ensures that a more efficient and stable power supply is fed to the RV770 core and GDDR3 memory. Instead of the normal 6-pin PCI-E power connector seen on the HD4850 series of video cards, the Sonic is equipped with an 8-pin PCI-E power connection. Hhhhmmmm! Looks like there is a little more in store here.

 

 

The heatsink is attached via four spring loaded screws. A copper contact plate has two heatpipes that transfer heat from the copper to the aluminum fin array. The thermal interface material is not the normal peanut butter consistancy. This card uses a thinner, more adhesive material. To remove it took some acetone and scrubbing. The memory modules and power circuits do not have any heatsinks or cooling other than the airflow coming through the heatsink. I have to wonder if this will present some issues with the overclocking of this card.

 

 

The Sonic is built using the RV770 GPU core featuring a clock speed of 685MHz. The RV770 core contains 956 million transistors using a 55nm fabrication process. The memory on the Sonic is manufactured by Samsung and is rated at 1000MHz. This is just where it is clocked at from the factory. Rated at 1000MHz, will there be any more headroom for the overclocker?

 

 

Let's get the Sonic installed and set what is has for performance.

 

Closer Look:

Once the Palit HD4850 Sonic is installed you have to install the drivers to make the card perform as intended. To do this, slip the supplied disc into an available optical drive and allow the installation window to open. Choose the setup option and the installation GUI will open up. The options are pretty simple here. There is the option to install the drivers, browse the disc for a manual install or you can view the user's guide. Registering the video card ensures the warranty is in effect for the duration of the warranty period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you click the ATI Easy Install option, the Catalyst Control Center installation will begin. This process installs all of the necessary drivers needed to make the Palit HD4850 Sonic able to stand on its own. After finishing the installation, the customary reboot is required.

<  

 

 

With the card installed, the use of the control panel will enable you to adjust your settings from low quality high performance settings to turning on all the eye candy!

 

Closer Look:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all of the settings for the Palit HD4850 are available.There are plenty of options and settings available depending on the capabilities that you choose to use. Each group of settings can be adjusted to your specific viewing preferences and image quality.

Information Center: The Information Center is where you can view everything about the hardware and software associated with the video card, such as driver versions and hardware specifications.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Panel: The Digital Panel is where you can set and view monitor information, HDTV settings, ATI's AVIVO color settings, and LCD Overdrive to apply LCD settings that override the monitor's settings.

 

 

 

3D: The 3D tab is where you can modify your visual settings for performance or quality, including Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, color schemes and more.

 

 

VIVO Video & ATI Overdrive: AVIVO settings allow you to alter the color settings for better viewing. ATI Overdrive is where you can push the HD4850 to the limits with overclocking settings. There are controls for the advanced user, or you can use Auto-Tune for automatic overclocking.

 

Specifications:

GPU
RV770
Fabrication Process
55nm
Graphics Clock
685 MHz
Memory Clock 1000 MHz / 2000MHz effective
Memory Interface 256-bit
Memory Size
512MB
Memory Type
GDDR3
RAMDACs
400 MHz
Stream Processors
800
HDCP Support
Yes
HDMI Support
Yes (Using DVI-to-HDMI adaptor)
Connectors 2 x dual-link DVI-I 1 x S-Video Out
Bus Technology PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor Single Slot Design
Power Connectors 1 x 6-pin

 

Features:

Redefine HD Gaming

Go Beyond HD Video

Break-through Efficiency

System Requirements

–PCI Express® based PC is required with one X16 lane graphics slot available on the motherboard

–450 Watt or greater power supply with 75 Watt 6-pin PCI Express® power connector recommended (550 Watt and two 6-pin connectors for ATI CrossFireX™ technology in dual mode)

–Certified power supplies are recommended. Refer to http://ati.amd.com/certifiedPSUfor a list of Certified products

–1GB of system memory

–Installation software requires CD-ROM drive

–DVD playback requires DVD drive

–Blu-ray™ / HD DVD playback requires Blu-ray / HD DVD drive

–For a complete ATI CrossFireX™ system, a second ATI Radeon™ HD 4850 graphics card, an ATI CrossFireX Ready motherboard and one ATI CrossFireX Bridge Interconnect cable per board (included) are required.

Testing:

 

At OverclockersClub.com, we use a set of benchmarks to stress the graphics card. We will use a series of newer gaming benchmarks, as well as some that are more seasoned, to show how well the Palit HD4850 Sonic compares to some of the other enthusiast video cards on the market. We'll be using single GPU models exclusively to show just how much the Palit HD4850 Sonic brings to the table. All driver settings and clock speeds will be left at factory defaults for both the CPU and GPU in an effort to minimize or eliminate any variables that could impact the results. The test system used in this review is listed below. After testing the card at stock speeds, I'll overclock it to see what kind of performance can be gained. All testing is done with the default settings in the respective control panels, as well as default settings in the BIOS of the motherboard used for this test. For this round of testing, our drivers have been updated to the 177.79 for the Nvidia cards and the Catalyst 8.8 for the ATI video cards used for this review.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

The Palit HD4850 Sonic Edition video card just rocks on the overclocking front. Most of the HD4850s I have tested have fallen in the 685 to 700MHz range on the Rv770 core and just around the 1100MHz or fewer mark on the memory. With the starting point at 685MHz on the core and 1000MHz on the memory, I was not expecting much figuring I would get to the card's limits pretty quickly. What surprised me was that the Sonic just kept going. Moving initially in smaller 5MHz increments, I thought that wall would come up fast. I got there eventually but was pleasantly surprised at the levels I reached the limits. 789MHz is a 15% improvement over the stock speeds of the GPU core on the Sonic. If you take that back to the stock HD4850 speeds of 625MHz on the core that percentage increases dramatically. The memory went up an amazing 26%, a total of 255MHz over the stock 1000MHz speed of the GDDR3 memory. With this kind of overclocking the Sonic has got to offer some serious performance. I can't wait to see just how well this card performs against the HD4870 and GTX260.

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

 

Testing:

Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time there has yet to be a single or multi GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game. Will the GTX 280 be that card? The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a factory overclocked card, the Sonic HD4850 from Palit outperforms the stock card in all four resolutions. Add in the extra overclocking ability and the Sonic really shows some muscle eclipsing the performance of all the cards when overclocked at 1920x1200.

 

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of Real Time Strategy and Simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies, and prove your mettle on the open seas.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nvidia cards have a field day with the HD48xx series cards. The increased clock speeds of the Sonic help reduce the performance differential as the resolutions increase between the G92 based cards. Overclocking the Sonic further brings it just over the level of the stock HD4870 but cannot come close to the level of the GTX260.

 

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games I have played. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddys" It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment as well as the story line will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The performance of the Sonic is close to that of the stock HD4850 until 1920x1200 where it pulls away from the stock card. When overclocked there is no comparison, this card wins all four resolutions.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.

 

Video Settings:

   

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

While the stock HD4850 falls down a bit when compared to the higer end cards, the Sonic steps up and has some game. It beats out the 9800GTX in all four resolutions and the overclocking lets it play well above its price point.

 

Testing:

World in Conflict Released last year World in Conflict is a Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe with limited opportunities to replenish your troops..

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The GTX260 takes on all comers in this benchmark. The Sonic HD4850 performs closer to the level of the stock HD4850 in this benchmark. By pushing the clock speeds the performance increases almost to HD4870 levels.

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DX10, first-person shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played in both single player and multiplayer modes. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only card that outperforms the Sonic HD4850 in this game is the HD4870. ATI cards seem to have a unique advantage in this benchmark.

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. Play as the British or Germans. This Real Time Strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The HD4850 stayed with the HD4870 and 9800GTX right on through the testing. When overclocked even further the Sonic stays right with the GTX260's frame rates. Awesome performance.

 

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of those benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest breaks out. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sonic HD4850 is faster than the stock card from Palit by about 300 marks through all four resolutions. The card does not quite reach the performance of the 9800GTX, GTX260 or HD4870. When you push this card it just pushes past the higher end cards in three out of four resolutions with the score in the 1920 resolution within the realm of run to run benchmark variances.

 

Testing:

Just added to the OverclockersClub suite of benchmarks is the newest from Futuremark, 3DMark Vantage. Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 3DMark Vantage the Sonic version of the Palit HD4850 performs well above the stock HD4850 and when pushed even harder plays in the territory of the GTX260 and HD4870 and beats them at their own game. Pretty sick for a midrange overclocked card.

Conclusion:

The Palit HD4850 Sonic is an overclocked card built on a purpose built PCB. That purpose is to provide a card that is both stable and overclocks like gangbusters. It delivered clock speed increases of 15% on the RV770 core and a hefty 26% on the memory. OverclockersClub has done a few reviews on the ATI based HD4850 cards to show a wide range of performance with non reference cards with unique heatspreaders to just your basic reference video cards. Of the seven tested to date the Palit HD4850 is the cream of the crop. The three phase power design helps to get the most from this card. It just rocks. When pushed to the maximum this card gave the HD4870 and GTX260 a run for their money and and won in most instances. You just normally do not see that from a nice mid-range card. I have got to give Palit props for this card.

Performance is not the only part of the package here. There is the cooling solution that works to effectively remove the heat generated by the core. As you know, the reference design does cool decently when the fan speed is manually adjusted via aftermarket programs such as Rivatuner or with a profile edit. But ATI's driver package does not allow the card to be cooled effectively because of the way the fan speed is controlled. This causes stock cards to run under load in the 90 degree Celsius and up range. Pretty much a card killer in my book. This issue is not a problem with the Palit HD4850 Sonic. Load temperatures were in the low 60 Celsius range with the driver controlling the fan speeds. When the fan speed is manually controlled and pushed to 100% the Sonic would load in the 50 to 51 Celsius range, a nice improvement. Setting the fan speed to 70% was a good compromise between noise and heat with the Sonic in the same 51 Celsius range. The fan on the cooling solution is a lot like the reference design when it is ramped up. It can be a bit noisy but that 70% mark was a great compromise. Delivering incredible performance out of a mid-range card, Palit has done a great job with this one. It performs well above its price point when pushed to the limit. If an HD4850 is going to be a part of your next build or you are looking for a good upgrade, the Palit HD4850 Sonic Overclocking Edition is the card to buy, hands down! It's got it all, price, performance cooling and good looks!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: