PowerColor HD4870 PCS+ Review

gotdamojo06 - 2008-08-09 09:48:56 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: gotdamojo06   
Reviewed on: September 1, 2008
Price: $289.99


Are you looking for some of the most up to date video card hardware out there? Maybe you have been out of the loop for a little while but you are interested in upgrading your computer to score some higher benchmarking scores. Maybe you are a gamer who is looking for higher frame rates. Whatever your reason, you should probably check out the newest video cards from ATI, the HD48xx series. These cards have proven to score very well in all sorts of different areas as well as overclock very well. PowerColor knows what the consumer wants and how to help them out in getting that, this is why the company has added a custom cooler for the core of the HD4870, allowing you to get a lower overall core temperature. I am excited to see what this card looks like and how well it can perform, not only in the benchmarks but also in the overclocking and cooling categories as well.


Closer Look:  

The PowerColor HD4870 has its own custom cooler that PowerColor has designed to fit over the core and keep it cooler than the stock cooling solution you will find on many of the different reference board HD48xx cards out there. When you first take a look at the packaging, the light and brilliant color scheme PowerColor has decided to use makes the card feel very elegant. There is a picture of a warrior princess on the front holding a sword, which gives you the idea that the card is very powerful. The top left hand corner is where you are going to find the PowerColor name and at the bottom of the package is where you are going to find the HD4870 name. There is a 10°C temperature drop badge on the front showing you that the custom cooler can drop your overall temperatures. There are a few badges on the right hand corner, the ATI Radeon, ATI CrossfireX, 512MB GDDR5, and Dual DVI HDMI interface. These show you some of the important features you are going to get with your purchase. The back of the packaging is where you are going to find even more information about the card and there is a lot of information about the technology behind the card on the back as well. When you flip to the sides, you are going to find some of the system requirements on one side and the other is pretty much blank.







When you open up the packaging, you are going to find a rather large white box that is inside, when you open that white box up, you are going to find the PowerColor HD4870. The card itself is wrapped in an anti-static bag to keep it safe during the shipping process and to prevent any damage. The card is placed in the box rather snuggly to keep it from moving around and incur any physical damages during its journey. All of the accessories are located behind the card and inside of the white box.



All of the accessories that are bundled with the card add a certain amount of value to your purchase, not only do you get the installation CD as well as the user manual, you are also going to receive a single 6-pin PCI-E power adapter that turns a single 4-pin Molex from your PSU to a 6- pin PCI-E power connector. You also get the CrossfireX bridge so you can use two of the PowerColor HD4870 cards in Crossfire. There are two dongles that turn your DVI ports into either an analog monitor port or a port you can attach your HDMI cable to connect your HDTV to, and there is also an S-Video to RCA cable.




Well now that we know a little more about the PowerColor HD4870 and all of what it is packaged with, I am ready to take a closer look at the card itself.

Closer Look:  

When you first pull the PowerColor HD4870 out of the packaging, you are going to see how large the cooler is as well as the card itself, however it is still wrapped from front to back in the anti-static wrap to keep it from being damaged by any electronic disturbances which may occur during the shipping process or the mishandling of the card before it is installed in the computer. When you finally get the card unwrapped, you are going to see that PowerColor has installed a custom cooler on the core, which is only a core cooler and does not cover the entire card like the standard cooling solution does. This requires the need for a RAM sink at the rear of the card to keep those components from overheating. When you take a look at the back of the card, you are able to see how the card's cooling solutions are installed. The large core's cooler is screwed in place with spring pressured screws while the RAM sink uses the push pin clipping design.  









PowerColor has decided to put a custom cooler on its HD4870, which may allow for higher memory/GPU clocks with lower overall GPU temperatures. The cooling solution that PowerColor decided to add to its HD4870 is not a full coverage cooler, so PowerColor needed to add RAM sinks to some of the memory to help cool them and keep them from overheating. Like all other high performance ATI video cards, there is the need for 6-pin PCI-E power connectors; however, the PowerColor HD4870 needs not just one connector, but two of them to power it.



When you take the cooler off of the card, you are left with the eight memory chips covered by a copper strip to raise the heat off of them which will then be picked up by the heatsink and fan setup that is pulling the heat off of the GPU. Speaking of the GPU, there is a thermal paste that comes on it to begin with, but the paste seemed very liquidly and also seemed like it was not going to be able to transfer the heat very well, so I went ahead and replaced it with some of the Arctic Silver 3 thermal paste that I had laying around which will also help with lowering the temperatures of the GPU. The RAM on the card is covered by copper bars to keep them cool and have the heat pulled off of them, which will then be sucked up by the heatsink/fan setup. These RAM sinks are attached to the RAM and are non-removable.



Nowadays people are looking to get the most performance out of the GPU as they possibly can, which is not a bad thing and the technology behind our VGA cards have kept up with ATI offering Crossfire and CrossfireX, which allows you to connect two video cards of the same type together by a Crossfire Bridge. There are two ports at the top of the card where you are able to plug in two different bridges. This allows the drivers to distribute the graphical load coming from the application to different GPUs, very similar to how a dual core/processors work. With CrossfireX, you are not limited to only two GPUs. The interface that the PowerColor HD4870 uses to communicate to the system is the PCI-E slot, allowing for a very quick data transfer rate which results in the video feed being displayed very quickly and efficiently. There are two different DVI ports that you are able to connect your monitors to, which allows you to use a dual monitor setup if you wish. There also is an S-Video out that will allow you to transfer the feed into the RCA input for your television.



The custom cooler PowerColor has paired with its HD4870 is a very large one that takes advantage of a large fan in the center that blows fresh air on the aluminum fins to help cool them and move the heat off of the GPU core. There are two heatpipes that run through all of the fins as well as right through the base of the heatsink to help move more heat off of the base onto the fins of the cooler, again allowing for a more effective cooling solution.


Now that we have taken a look at how the PowerColor HD4870 is constructed, exactly what it looks like and how its custom cooler is setup, it's time that we get the cooler installed in the computer and get all of the drivers and other software installed and see what this baby can do.



The first step is getting the PowerColor HD4870 to work properly, and we will need to place the CD in the optical drive and wait for the software to start up so that we will be able to begin installing it. The drivers that came with it are an outdated version of the Catalyst Control Center. So I went online and dowloaded the most recent version, 8.8, which are the drivers that I will be using.  


The first screen that you come to is the Welcome screen, where you are supposed to select which language you wish to install, obviously I will be using English. When you click the next button, you get the option of whether you wish to install the drivers or uninstall them. This screen will make it easier if you need to uninstall an older version, and start over with fresh drivers. The following screen is where you are able to choose if you wish to install the drivers using the Express option or the Custom option. The Express option is the one that will install the most commonly chosen features, while with the Custom option you are able to install only the features you want. I will choose the Custom option to show you what features you can install, which are on the next screen. Check the options you wish to install and click the next button at the bottom.















There is an End User License Agreement that you must accept before you are able to begin the installation. After the installation is complete you will be prompted with the "Finished" screen.  



There also are a few different programs that come bundled with the PowerColor HD4870 installation disk, these include the Cyberlink DVD Suite as well as iClone V2.1 SE.  


The first program that I am going to take a look at is the Cyberlink DVD Suite. This suite includes quite a few useful programs if you are into burning and ripping CDs and DVDs. You are also given a nice little DVD player to watch your DVDs on your computer in HD. When you click the Install Now button, you are going to need to follow the on screen instructions to get the application installed on your computer. The Cyberlink CD Key is located on the actual disc.  




The next screen is where you are going to decide where you want to install the application to on your hard drive. I usually just keep it at the standard program files folder that pops up as default. The next screen is where you are going to decide which applications in the suite you wish to install (by default all are checked). Once you press next, the software is going to begin to install itself. This is where you are going to just sit there and watch the progress bar. Once it is done, you are able to register your new installation.  



The next piece of software to install is iClone V2.1 SE. When you begin, you will need to follow the on screen instructions, which are basically just pressing the next button. The next screen you will come to is where you are going to accept the EULA. When you press next here, the installation is going to begin. The next screen is letting you know that the installation is complete and you are able to launch the application here.  


Now that we have the drivers and the bundled software installed on the computer, it's time to open it up and configure the system to use the HD4870 properly and effectively.


The next step in configuring the PowerColor HD4870 is to open up the Catalyst Control Center; using this application, you will be able to control just about every setting that is able to be changed on the video card. When you first start it up, you will have an option to choose if you want to use the Basic view or the Advanced view of the Catalyst Control Center. I chose to use the Advanced view; this will allow you to change more settings. When you go to click the next button, a pop-up will show up, letting you know that if you want to change back to the Basic view at a later time, you will be able to do so. After you accept the pop-up, Catalyst Control Center will start up on the Welcome screen; this is where you are able to view useful online links that will take you to an update checker, allow you to contact customer support, join ATI's Folding At Home team, as well as other things. Under the Information Center tab, you will be able to view both hardware and software information about the graphical end of your computer. This can come in handy if you needed to know which installation of Catalyst Control Center and what drivers you currently have installed.
















The next tab that I want to take a look at is the Display Manager tab; this is where you are going to be able to see how many displays you have connected to your computer, as well as what they are going to display. Not only are you able to choose what they are going to be able to display, you are able to change the resolution for each display, what the refresh rate is going to be, and if you want the color quality to be 32-bit or 16-bit. The next tab on the agenda is the Digital Panel; the first page that I want to look at under here is the AVIVO Color page. Here you are able to change the hue, saturation and the temperature of the colors that are going to be displayed. Under the Attributes page, you are going to be able to see different information about the displays that are connected to the HD4870, such as the maximum resolution the display is able to use. You are also able to enable GPU scaling and set the options for that here. The final page under the Digital Panel is called HDTV Support; this is where you are able to choose the different HD formats to use when an HDTV is connected to your HD4870.




The final section of the Catalyst Control Center that I want to look at is the ATI Overdrive page. This page is locked after you first install the program and the drivers. When you unlock this page, you are unlocking the ability to overclock your video card's core and memory clock speeds. You are able to use a slider bar to select the settings you wish to use as far as clock speeds go; there is a maximum of 1200MHz for the memory and 700MHz for the core. You are also able to use an Auto Tune feature that will do the overclocking and testing for stability for you. There are two gauges on the side that show you your GPU temperature and your GPU activity.




Fabrication Process
Graphics Clock
800 MHz
Memory Clock 950 MHz (3.8 Gbps)
Memory Interface 256-bit
Memory Size
Memory Type
400 MHz
Stream Processors
HDCP Support
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 2 x 6-pin





I am very interested and excited to see how the new PowerColor HD4870 GPU from ATI will compare when it is tested using a few different video benchmarks to measure the card's performance. I will be putting the PowerColor card up against a few different video cards that are out on the market, including the PowerColor HD4850. I am also extremely interested in seeing how the cooling solution PowerColor has added to its HD4870 is going to handle the temperatures. All of the settings will be set at stock for all of the cards; I will also be overclocking the HD4870 to the maximum level so that I can compare the difference in performance when overclocked, and see how beneficial it is to overclock all components in your system.  

Testing Setup:


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

When it comes to overclocking the PowerColor PCS+ HD4870, I used a piece of software called AMD GPU Clock Tool. The HD4870 was an extremely easy card to overclock; I was able to get it up to 860MHz stable on the core very quickly, and was able to jump around 10MHz every increment. I was able to get it all the way up to 870MHz, however it was unstable and unable to run 3DMark06 all the way through. I feel that if I were to perform a voltmod to the card, I would be able to achieve a higher overclock - maybe near 900MHz. During the overclocking process, the temperatures did not go up more than a few degrees; however, after those few degrees, the final temperature was between 53 to 55°C under a full load. A substatial decrease over the reference cooling solution.



  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


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





















The PowerColor HD4870 had mixed results but still had a stong showing.


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:

















It looks as though the HD4870 seemed to cap out at 48 FPS. The PowerColor HD4870 was unable to beat out any of the cards in this benchmark at the lower resolutions, which is surprising considering the Crysis Benchmark. However, when we increased the resolution, the PowerColor card was able to hold its own and stay very consistent with the FPS.


BioShock is one of the creepier games out in the wild, chronicling 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 Daddies" 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 storyline, will wrap you up for hours on end.


Video Settings:


















When it came down to it in the BioShock benchmarking test, the PowerColor HD4870 was able to beat all of the cards again, and reclaim its title of first place.


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:


















When it was put up against the other cards, the PowerColor HD4870 was able to beat every card at both the stock and overclocked settings.


World in Conflict is a newly released DX10, 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.


Video Settings:



















The PowerColor HD4870 was able to once again beat all of the cards in this benchmark.


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:


















Again, the PowerColor HD4870 was able to beat out all of the cards in the Call of Juarez benchmark, this seems to be a recurring theme with this card.


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:



















In the Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts benchmark, the PowerColor HD4870 was again the king of this benchmark.


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.





















During the 3DMark06 benchmark, the PowerColor card was able to hold its own and while it did have the ASUS HD4870 breathing down its neck, it blew it out of the water when it was overclocked.


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.












Once again, the PowerColor HD4870 was able to dominate another benchmark. The higher the resolution, the better the card was able to perform and leap ahead. The base performance of the factory overclocked PCS+ HD4870 just performs at a higher level.



When it comes to the PowerColor HD4870 video card, the main thing that comes to mind were the amazing scores the card was able to produce in the 3DMark06 benchmark. The stock overclocked scores were amazing but when the card was overclocked further, wow! The price for this amazing piece of computer hardware is just about perfect, I was very surprised to see that the card only cost around $290 USD, and when you compare that to the price of the other HD4870s out on the market, they come very close but when you get into the prices of some of the nVidia cards, you are going to be expected to pay quite a bit more for less performance. The simple fact that I was able to get the core of the card up past 850MHz was another added bonus, I was expecting to only get an extra 25-30MHz, not 60MHz, on the core and 200MHz on the memory! The cooling solution that PowerColor has added to its HD4870 was able to keep the card quite cool; during full load the card was only reaching 55°C, which is lower than some of the HD4850s that were clocked lower than this! The heatpipe cooling solution definitely makes this card worth the price of admission. The HDTV connectivity options add more value to the card by allowing the computer to be a hybrid of gaming and HTPC computer with great graphics! I would suggest picking up this card to anyone who is looking for a boost to their benchmarking scores or if they are in the market for a new video card. It runs cool out of the box with better performance than a standard HD4870 due to it being factory overclocked.