PowerColor HD4870 Review

ajmatson - 2008-06-20 09:07:48 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: June 26, 2008
Price: $399


If you recently read our review of the PowerColor HD 4850, then like me you are anxious to find out about the next level card based on the RV770 core, the HD 4870. The HD 4870 takes the memory from the previous standard of GDDR3 to the new GDDR5 which, even with lower memory clock speeds, boasts a higher memory bandwidth over GDDR3, all with a 256-bit memory bus versus the 512-bit that the new NVIDIA GTX series cards are using. The one thing that I am concerned with in the HD 4870 card is whether the overheating issue that is plaguing the early HD 4800 series cards has been fixed with the Dual Slot style cooler. Also, this is an opportunity for ATI to give NVIDIA a run for its money by competing with its new line of GTX cards. Will they be able to make the comeback all have been expecting?

PowerColor has had much success in its line of ATI graphics cards and is no stranger to pumping out good models, as we saw with the release of its HD 4850 card. The HD supports ATI's CrossfireX multi-GPU technology allowing up to four GPUs to be linked together for the ultimate scalability. Paired with the right board, these could be the revolution that gamers need to run their games at high resolutions with maximum settings for the most realistic gameplay ever. Without any further waste of time, let's get down and dirty with PowerColor's new HD 4870 video card.


Closer Look:

The PowerColor HD 4870 has just about the same packaging as the HD 4850. The difference you can see right off the bat is the memory specification of the HD 4870. The back of the packaging has a list of the specifications and features that the PowerColor HD 4870 offers. If you look over to the left side of the box, PowerColor has listed the power and system requirements for the HD 4870 card.



When you open the packaging, you will find an inner box that houses the card and accessories. When you open it, the card will be sitting on the top layer protected while in transit or being stored. In the bottom layer you will find the accessories that are included with the PowerColor HD 4870 video card. Included with the HD 4870 card is 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 has been laid out, let's take a better look at the card itself.


Closer Look:

The HD 4870 is a dual slot video card based on the same RV770 core as the HD 4850. PowerColor chose to go with the red colored PCB for the HD 4870. The company also chose to go with the stock reference cooler to handle the task of keeping the temperatures down, but as we saw in the HD 4850 review, the stock cooler was not enough to control the heat, especially at load, so will this larger cooler eliminate that issue for the HD 4870 series card? One thing that caught my eye with the heatsink of the HD 4870 is the aluminum brace around the cooler to support the weight of the heatsink around the whole board, so there is not too much stress in one area that can cause damage. The heatsink is also reinforced around the GPU area underneath the board with a cross brace.










The HD 4870 has two DVI ports that support Dual Link DVI and one S-Video out port. HDMI is also supported using the included adapter. To power this beast you will need to have two free 6-pin PCI Express power connectors, so make sure you have a stable power supply with multiple power connectors if you plan on running two of these in Crossfire. Speaking of Crossfire, if you look on the top spine of the card you will see the two internal Crossfire connectors which will allow you to run a multi-GPU system for maximum performance.



Like I mentioned, the HD 4870 uses a reference Dual Slot cooling solution. This creates better airflow with the larger fan and exhaust that is pumped out of the back of the case instead of trapping it inside and raising the temperatures. Since the HD 4850 cards are plagued by high operating temperatures, I am looking forward to seeing if the dual slot cooler helps keep the HD 4870 not so toasty. This design has a large copper heatsink attached to aluminum heat fins via heatpipes. The large fan forces air over these fins to expel hot air out of the back of the case through the grill on the card.



With the cooler removed, we can get a better look at the HD 4870's GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). The GPU is based off the same core used in the HD 4850 series, which is the RV770, however the core clock speed on the HD 4870 is clocked at 750MHz as opposed to the HD 4650, which is at 625MHz. The memory was cut however, to 900MHz (1800MHz effective) but on the HD 4870 it is GDDR5 memory instead of the usual GDDR3 or GDDR4. This gives you increased bandwidth on the HD 4870 while maintaining a 256-bit memory interface instead of the 512-bit one run on the NVIDIA GTX cards. The 512MB GDDR5 memory is manufactured by Qimonda. To the rear of the card is the voltage area where you can see the amount of power regulation the HD 4870 requires.




Now let's put this baby back, plug her in and install the software.


Like with the HD 4850 card, 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 HD 4800 series, drivers for AGP cards, hot fixes for the HD 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 HD 4800 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 HD 4870 video card.




As 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 filmmaking program.



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


The Catalyst Control Center is where all of the settings for the PowerColor HD 4870 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.





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 HD 4870 to the limits with overclocking settings. There are controls for the advanced user, or you can use Auto-Tune for automatic overclocking.



Fabrication Process
Graphics Clock
750 MHz
Memory Clock 900 MHz / 1800MHz effective
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 Dual Slot Design
Power Connectors 2 x 6-pin





With the PowerColor HD 4850 being such a success, I have to admit, I am as giddy as a school boy to see how the HD 4870 performs. To get a real comparison, I will be putting the PowerColor HD 4870 up against some of the best and some mainstream cards being used on the market today, including the GTX 280 and the HD 4850 cards. All hardware is going to be run at stock specifications, including the timings and speeds to keep any outside interferences from affecting the scores. I will be using the same test setup for each card.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

For the overclocking tests I used the Catalyst Control Center to bump up the core and memory speeds a few megahertz at a time until it became unstable and unable to complete a benchmark. Unlike the HD 4850, I could not get as much of an increase out of the RV770 core on the HD 4870. I was only able to get a 30MHz increase, topping out at 780MHz. However, for the memory I was able to get a lot more actually, a 175MHz increase (350MHz effective), bringing it to 1075MHz (2150MHz effective) which is a very good overclock for video card memory. Since this is GDDR5, I did not know what to expect but I am pleased with that bump in computing power. So how will this overclock handle, and will it make a difference since the GPU could only be raised a little? To find out, I will be running the overclocking tests at the speeds of 780/1075MHz. I also noticed that when overclocked even this little bit, the load temperatures peaked and stayed around 86 degrees Celsius.




  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 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.




















Wow! As the resolutions grew in the Crysis benchmarks, the HD 4870 overpowered the other cards in the testing, including NVIDIA's flagship GTX 280.


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:















Again, the HD 4870 seems to do better at high resolutions, even beating out the GTX 280 at 1920x1200.


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:













Once again, the HD 4870 comes out near the top at the higher resolutions, just falling short by two frames at 1920. Awesome.


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:











Even with high framerates, the HD 4870 was only slightly faster than the HD 4850 card in Call of Duty 4. The GTX 280 showed its muscle in this game across all resolutions.


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 HD 4870 averaged well in the higher resolutions, even trailing at the feet of the GTX 280.


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 HD 4870 won every resolution in the Call of Juarez test.


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 HD 4870 was holding on during the whole series of resoltuions until the end where it just could not keep up.


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.

















Again, the PowerColor HD 4870 came in a close second, only being beat by the GTX 280.


I went into this review with high expectations after testing the HD 4850 and seeing how well it did. I kept asking myself, is this the smoking gun that ATI has brought to the table in the Russian Roulette game between the two major video card manufacturers? Will this be what ATI needs to finally bring a hurt to NVIDIA and show that it still has the guts and glory to bring to us consumers what we crave? Just like the HD 4850 review I did a few days ago, ATI has really come out and produced a wonderful series of video cards. The HD 4870 provided performance once only seen in cards that were so expensive only a few could afford one. Here you have a frame busting card for not a lot of money. The raw performance produced from the HD 4870 is earth shattering considering its price to performance ratio. PowerColor has once again outdone itself bringing us the HD 4870 video card.

The heating issues still seem to plague the HD 4800 series. Be it a driver problem or lack of cooling hardware, something needs to be done to bring these temperatures down for me to be comfortable running this card in a machine that stays on 24 hours a day. I would recommend either purchasing an aftermarket cooler to bring down the temperatures or be patient until a fix is available, be it a BIOS update or a third party tool that can be used to adjust the fan speed. Eighty six degrees Celsius under load is scary. Beyond that, I see the HD 4870 taking the market by storm.