PowerColor HD4850 Review

ajmatson - 2008-06-16 11:59:19 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: June 19, 2008
Price: $199.99

Introduction:

Recently, we have seen an explosion of video cards from the industry's two main manufacturers, Nvidia and ATI, and this explosion brings the latest and greatest technology to us, the end users. The latest round from ATI is the HD4800 series, which is based on the RV770 core. The release of the upcoming 4800-series cards keeps with ATI's six month turnaround cycle for their video cards, which gives them a great amount of time to perfect their new monsters. Nvidia just released the GTX 200 series with a three month turn around from the 9-series cards, so will this longer incubating period work out to ATI's advantage? With the 3800-series being so successful, I have high hopes for the new 4800-series!

PowerColor is one manufacturer jumping to release a 4800-series card, with their HD4850 offering, which brings to the table newer and faster technology. Building on the success of the HD3800's, ATI has produced a new graphics core for a new flagship series of video cards, and the HD4850 is their mainstream model, which is aimed at everyone from casual gamers to hardcore enthusiasts, sporting QuadFire capabilities and a single slot cooling solution. Without further ado, I bring you the PowerColor HD4850 graphics card.

Closer Look:

The PowerColor HD4850 comes packaged in a box that gets your mouth watering. The front features the PowerColor mascot and lists some of the card's big features to pique your interest. The back of the box highlights some more of the features in-depth, and provides you with the card's specifications, so you can see what it offers. If you look at the left side of the packaging, PowerColor has listed the power and system requirements needed to run the HD4850, so there's no guessing if your system can handle it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The components come enclosed neatly in another box to keep them protected during transport, or when not in use. There are two layers inside the protective box - one for the video card itself and another for the accessories that are included. In addition to the HD4850 card, PowerColor adds a quick-start manual, driver cd, a component-out dongle, an S-Video adapter, a DVI to VGA adapter, a DVI to HDMI adapter, and a CrossFire Bridge.

 

 

 

Now that everything is unpacked from the boxes, let's take a better look at the HD4850 itself.

Closer Look:

Probably the first thing you will think when looking at the HD4850 is "Wow, that looks just like the HD3850 cards!" Well, you are kind of right. The HD4850 has the same design at the HD3850 as far as the looks go, but that is where it stops. PowerColor opted for the reference design with a red PCB and the standard single slot cooler. Looking from the top of the card, you can see the massive copper heatsink that covers the GPU, memory, and surrounding components to aid in keeping it cool. I love the way PowerColor covered the ports and CrossFire leads to keep them from being damaged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The HD4850 offers two DVI ports and one S-Video port; the DVI ports do support dual-link DVI, and HDMI via the included adapter. There is one 6-pin power plug that provides enough juice to keep this puppy kicking. You also might notice the two notches on the top spine of the card - this is where the CrossFire Bridges get connected to enable multi-GPU action. The HD4850 is CrossFireX compatible, and can run in setups containing up to four cards, for QuadFire.

 

 

Like I mentioned earlier, the HD4850 uses a single slot cooling solution. With the core speeds getting to what they are these days, I wonder if that's going to be enough to cool this beast? The cooler has a massive copper heatsink with a plastic shroud to tunnel the air from the cooling fan. The power circuits are covered by the rear end of the heatsink, which uses a copper pin design to disperse the heat, since the fan does not provide active cooling to this area of the card.

 

 

Now, with the cooler removed, we can get a better look and the guts and glory of the HD4850. The brain of the card is a RV770 core, manufactured using a 55nm process. The core is clocked at 625MHz and the memory at 993MHz. This brings the core speed down 43MHz from the HD3850, which is clocked at 668MHz, but the memory is upped 165MHz from the HD3850's 828MHz. The card has 512MB GDDR3 made by Qimonda.

 

 

 

Now that we have taken a real good look at the HD4850, let's see how she performs.

Configuration:

PowerColor used a different approach to driver installation than what I have seen in the past, specifically a web-based GUI that allows access to the drivers. On the menu are options for generic display drivers, drivers for the HD4800 series, drivers for AGP cards, hot fixes for the 3870x2 card, and two programs - CyberLink DVD Suite, and iClone, which is a 3D film making program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you click on the link for the HD4800 series drivers, the installation begins and the Catalyst Install Manager takes over.  This will install the Catalyst Control Center and all of the necessary drivers needed to run and control the HD4850 video card.

 

 

 

Like I mentioned above, there are two programs that are included for you to use. CyberLink DVD Suite gives you access to CyberLink's programs, which include PowerBackup, PowerProducer, PowerDirector, Power2Go and PhotoNow! The serial key was located on the CD itself, and not on the sleeve, so check there before giving up. Also included is iClone v2.1 SE, which is a powerful real-time 3D film making program.

 

 

Now that everything is installed, let's move over and take a look at the Catalyst Control Center.

Configuration:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all of the settings for the PowerColor HD4850 are available. There's a lot that you can change and set, however I am only going to go over the main parts of it.

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.

 

 

 

GPU
RV770
Fabrication Process
55nm
Graphics Clock
625 MHz
Memory Clock 993 MHz / 1985MHz 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:

 

Testing:

So how will ATI's new weapon stand up? To test the HD4850, I will be running a series of video benchmarks to measure frames per second and scoring based on how well the card performs. In addition, I will pit the card up against other current video cards on the market to compare performance. All hardware will be set to stock speeds, voltages, and timings to keep any variables from interfering with the testing and throwing off the scores. For a head to head comparison of the latest and greatest, I am including the new Nvidia GTX 280 to see how the HD4850 stacks up with other cards released at the same time. I am also including an HD3850 to see the improvements from last generation to this generation.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

During testing, I was having issues with the card overheating. Due to this overheating, the overclocking suffered and I was not able to get what I expected. The final speeds were 645MHz on the core and 1045MHz on the memory (2090MHz effective), and these are the speeds that I will run the overclocking tests on. With proper cooling, I feel that this card could go further, and I plan on re-visiting the overclocking tests on the HD4850 in the future, when aftermarket cooling solutions become available.

 

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

Testing:

Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games to be released to the gaming community. The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow, for the first round of testing I am very impressed. I mean, it stomped the older generation cards and almost matched Nvidia's new GTX 280.

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:

 



  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In PT Boats, the HD4850 faired well, holding on in a close run with the higher-end cards.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. 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.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again the HD4850 wiped up the floor, coming in a close second to the GTX 280.

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:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In COD4, the HD4850 held on and averaged with the other cards in the testing.

Testing:

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 ATI-based HD4850 averaged well in the lower resolutions, but came out to shine in the higher ones.

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 HD4850 really beat the other cards in its class, especially at higher resolutions, and even came close to the GTX 280.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again the HD4850 came in a close second, while outperforming most cards.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow, the PowerColor HD4850 came in at second place - beating out even the 8800GT!

Conclusion:

So where do I begin with this card? I am left speechless because the HD4850 blew past my expectations! Now, don't get me wrong - I had high hopes for the HD4800 series cards, and strongly wanted them to give Nvidia a run for their money so that the competition stays high, which benefits consumers. However, this review opened my eyes to a new love of ATI products. Being a reviewer, you have to go into a product with an open mind and unbiased opinion, which is what I did - and I was impressed. The HD4850 pushed passed many mainstream cards that are used today, and even kicked on the heels of Nvidia's newest beast, the GTX 280. Ok, so you say it caught up, but didn't take it over - but with a price tag of $199, versus the GTX 280's very high price of $649.99, this is a no-brainier. I mean, you can get three of these cards for the cost of just one GTX 280 and CrossFire them.

The only issue I had with the testing was the heating issue. The single slot cooler that is used does not adequately cool this card. The temperatures idled around 77 degrees Celsius, and at full load were touching 85 to 86 degrees Celsius. These are dangerous levels, and PowerColor acknowledges that they are working on the issue. Hopefully, this will come as a BIOS or driver fix that increases the fan's speed - which of course will add to the noise, unfortunately. Or you could go with an aftermarket cooling solution, which will bring down the high temperatures. Either way, I highly recommend any enthusiast or gamer pick up one - or even two - of these cards for your next build or upgrade. With the price to performance ratio, you will not go wrong.

On a side note, I am looking into getting an aftermarket cooler for this card when they become available, and I will revisit this review to see if the overclocking headroom will increase with a proper cooling solution.

  

Pros:

 

Cons: