PowerColor HD 4890 Review

ccokeman - 2008-12-16 20:02:47 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: April 2, 2009
Price: $249


Over the past year the video card wars have been about performance as well as who is going to sell their card for less money. The constant rehashing of video cards and the ever constant price cutting, has really made this a buyer's market for video cards. If you want something better, just wait a month or two and your prayers will be answered. After seeing almost all the possible configurations on the HD4850 and HD 4870, models ATI has updated the lineup with the HD 4890 to compete with the GTX 2XX series cards from NVIDIA.

The PowerColor HD 4890 features the RV790XT core and is built on a 55nm process and contains close to 1 billion transistors, 800 processor cores, 1 GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 256bit bus. Clock speeds come in at 850MHz on the GPU core and 975 on the GDDR5 memory. For all intents and purposes this looks much like a well binned HD 4870 1GB video card. The question, is just how well will it perform and will it be the card to pull ATI back on top of the single GPU performance pile? Let's find out if it is the card.

Closer Look:

The packaging of the PowerColor HD 4890 is smaller than many manufacturers packages. That is a plus when it comes to managing costs and competing in a price conscious environment. The front panel shows a warrior princess, the fact that the HD 4890 has 1GB of GDDR5 memory and Dual DVI and HDMI connectivity. The slogan at the bottom is "Mesmerizing 3D Graphics for True Gamers". The rear panel illustrates some of the technologies associated with the HD 4890 such as built-in HDMI sound, DX 10.1 support and CrossfireX.







Pulling the inner container out you can see that the card is tightly held in place by the packaging. Under the HD 4890 there is a divider that needs to be lifted to access the accessories.



The bundle of accessories that PowerColor includes contains the manual, DVI to D-Sub adapter, DVI to HDMI adapter HDTV to RCA and an HDTV to composite dongle. More than enough to get you connected to the display of your choosing. If you feel the need to join the ranks of people running a multi GPU graphics solution, there is a Crossfire Bridge connector included.





Let's see what the HD 4890 from PowerColor has to offer.


Closer Look:

The PowerColor HD 4890 is designed for use in a 16x PCIe slot and uses what is considered a dual slot cooling solution. This means it will take up the space of two expansion slots, while physically only using one 16x slot. The card is a reference design card from ATI. The HD 4890 uses the R790XT core and is built using a 55nm process. The core features the same general specifications as the R770 core, but at much higher clock speeds of 855MHz on the core and 975 on the 1GB of GDDR5 memory. By looking through the heatsink duct, you can see the three heatpipes going into the fin array from the contact plate.


















Connectivity is much the same as you would find on the HD 4870, with 2 Dual link capable DVI ports and an HDTV outlet that can be used with either of the supplied adapters. The rear of the card is where the power connections are installed again, much like the HD 4870. There are two six-pin PCIe power connections instead of an 8 pin and 6 pin. The HD 4890 can be used in a CrossfireX configuration. There are two bridge connections on the card to facilitate the multiple connections needed when more than two cards are used.




The PowerColor HD 4890 uses the reference cooling solution to discharge the heat generated by the GPU and memory. The fan used is a blow-through design that ATI has used for quite some time now and the noise generated by the fan is nothing short of loud. It was easily the loudest thing in the chassis. The heatsink is a made up of a copper base with three heatpipes running to an aluminum fin array. The base of the heatsink is stepped, so that contact is directly on the core and not anything else. The memory is cooled by a large passive heatsink that covers the GDDR5 memory, as well as the mosfets for the power circuit.



The heart of the PowerColor HD 4890 is the R790XT GPU core. This GPU is built on a 55nm process and features close to a billion transistors, 800 Unified shader processors running at 850MHz - 100 MHz faster than the clock speeds delivered by the HD 4870. The HD 4890 is supplied with 1GB of GDDR5 memory made by Quimonda and is rated for operation at 1000MHz. The memory on the HD 4890 is clocked at 975MHz and runs through a 256bit bus. The clock speed is almost at the rated speed of the memory. All of the power circuitry is located toward the back end of the PCB.




Now we know a little bit more about the HD 4890, you can see it looks like a really well binned HD 4870. Could it be just a core re-name, or is it really something different?


Closer Look:

To get the PowerColor HD 4890 to function correctly you need to install the drivers to allow the card to perform to its potential. To do this you just insert the supplied driver disk and let the autorun feature bring up the installation GUI, so you can choose the OS type as well as start the installation. In terms of additional programs on the disk, there were none to speak of nor any additional disks besides the driver disk. The supplied disk contains the latest driver from ATI. Initially I tried the cataylst 9.3 driver and this was a no-go, as they do not support the HD 4890. Start the installation and answer a few questions and the drivers will install and ask you to reboot the system to finalize the installation.









One program that has been coming in the Catalyst driver suite lately is a distributed computing program from Stanford university called Folding @ Home. This project simulated protein folding to see where problems occur so that hopefully one day we can have a cure for diseases such as Cancer, Alzheimers, BSE(Mad Cow) disease and more. By donating your spare CPU and now GPU cycles you can help the community as well as humanity by running this program on you system. You can find out more about Folding @ Home here . Just remember if you choose to participate, Team 12772 is your team to join!

Closer Look:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all the settings for the PowerColor HD 4890 are available. There's a lot that you can change and set, but 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.















Display Properties: The Display Properties tab is where you can set the resolution, refresh rate override and the preferred monitor if more than one is available. In the Display options you can manually detect your display or you can choose to let the CCC do this for you.



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 & Color: In the 3D tab you can adjust general image quality settings as well as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering and color schemes. There are also a few settings for DirectX and OpenGL.



AVIVO Video & ATI Overdrive: AVIVO settings allow you to alter the color settings for better viewing. ATI Overdrive gives the user control of the GPU and memory frequencies. For novice users there is an automated clock configuration utility that will find the best overclock for your system settings.




GPU Type

HD 4870

HD 4890


Engine Clock (standard)


Stream Processors


Compute Performance

1.2 TFLOPs

1.36 TFLOPs

Texture Units


Texture Fillrate

30.0 GTexels/s

34.0 GTexels/s


Pixel Fillrate

12.0 GPixels/s

 13.6 GPixels/s

Z Fillrate

48.0 GSamples/s

54.4 GSamples/s

Memory Type


Memory Clock (standard)

900 MHz

975 MHz

Frame Buffer Size


Memory Data Rate

3.6 Gbps

3.9 Gbps

Memory Bus


Memory Bandwidth

115 GB/s

124.8 GB/s

Maximum Board Power

160 W

190 W

Idle Board Power






All information courtesy of PowerColor


To test out this latest video card from PowerColor I will run it through a series of game tests and synthetic benchmarks to see just how the performance compares to that delivered by similar video cards, as well as its direct competition from the green camp. The OverclockersClub test system will be run as listed with the processor at 3.0GHz. The respective video card settings that will be used are the driver defaults with settings made in game as noted to provide as few variables as possible.


Testing Setup:

Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

Overclocking the HD 4890 from Powercolor was no different than any other ATI based video card I have looked at. To make sure the HD4890 stayed as cool as possible, I increased the fan speed to 100% in the Catalyst Control Panel and was greeted with the old familiar sound that the ATI reference cooling solutions deliver at full song. But it does keep the card relatively cool to the tune of 55C under load. I then went straight to the clock speeds and started bumping up both the RV790 core and GDDR5 memory, first on the GPU core and then on the memory. I found the maximum stable speed for each sub system and then worked to find the best combination of both memory and GPU core speed. Individually, the core and memory could run slighty higher speeds but together, the best I could manage was 970MHz on the RV790 core and 1060MHz on the GDDR5 memory. This is an increase of 115MHz or roughly a 14% increase - not too shabby. Percentage wise, the memory increase is less dramatic at 85MHz or just under 9%. Again, not too bad, but you always want more. The question is, will the clock speed increases work out to the same increase in performance? Read on!

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty World at War
  5. Dead Space
  6. Fallout 3
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage



Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation first person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.








The HD 4890 from PowerColor performs well above the HD 4870 stock and overclocked cards in this comparison until 2560x1600, where the performance is just 2 and 4 frames per second better than the last generation 48xx video cards. 4 FPS does equal a 10% improvement though. In a direct comparison, the GTX 275 pulls ahead in 3 out of 4 tests and performs equally in 1 resolution.



Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the Island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and Aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the Cryengine 2.














It seems that ATI and PowerColor put a bit of horsepower behind the HD 4890. The GTX 275 just could not keep up from top to bottom. The HD 4890 is 3 FPS better than the overclocked GTX 260 and 2 FPS better than the GTX 280 at 2560x1600.



BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. 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:











At the lower resolutions, the NVIDIA cards still perform better than the HD 4890. Once you reach 1920x1200, the performance between the GTX 260, GTX280 and the HD 4890 equalize with the HD 4890 taking the lead from all cards except the GTX 275. The higher clock speed helps with performance of this card.



Activision's Call Of Duty World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be the reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island, to compare performance of these video cards.














While not the fastest card at 2560x1600, the PowerColor HD 4890 does beat out the ATI offerings. The NVIDIA Cards just seem to like to perform at a higher level than the ATI offerings are capable of with the current drivers.



In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion, you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse starting with the crash landing and the seemingly silent and "Dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the main character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.













The performance of the PowerColor HD 4890 is well above the HD4870's in this game, but it is still outperformed by the NVIDIA GTX 260 and higher video cards.



Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks, since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.













The HD 4890 performs below the level of the GTX 260 overclocked, but right on target with the stock clocked GTX 260 until the 2560x1600 resolution, where it is ahead of every card except the GTX 275 and the GTX 280. The higher clock speeds help the performance of the HD 4890, but its direct competition, the GTX 275, still has the edge from 1280 to 2560.



Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival! Below are several screenshots to show some in-game action.















The HD 4890 Keeps up with the GTX 280 and beats the GTX 260 cards until 2560x1600, where it falls by 4 frames per second to the GTX 280, but is still 1 frame per second faster than the overclocked GTX 260. The GTX 275 on the other hand, beats the 4890 in every resolution. The 4890 does perform at a level higher than the HD 4870 offerings, both stock and overclocked.



3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 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.




















Performance wise, the only card to beat the HD 4890 in the first 3 resolutions is the GTX 275. At 2560x1600, the NVIDIA card does pull ahead by a pretty decent margin of between 400 and 1000 points.



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.












The performance in Vantage is well above the HD 4870 stock and overclocked models. Performance against the green camp is still somewhat lacking in this test, as even the GTX 260 stock card beats this card at 2560x1600.



As manufacturers introduce new performance products, the expectation is they will provide a boost in performance over the previous generation. This is something the PowerColor HD 4890 delivered. It did out-perform the HD 4870 in almost every resolution in every benchmark. Sometimes the margin was slim and other times was quite a bit larger. The problem is that it falls a bit short of the performance delivered by the latest from NVIDIA the GTX 275 in most of the games tested. The one bright spot in the performance testing, was during the Crysis Warhead test, where the HD 4890 delivered top-level performance against the single GPU cards tested in all four resolutions. That alone is worthy of praise. The other bright spot is that it looks like ATI at least finally has a cool running card with a reference cooler. At idle I measured temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius and 71 degrees Celsius under load - all with the driver controlling the fan speeds. A good thing really, because once you adjust the fan speed manually, you have noise that is equivalent to my wife's hair drier at full song. The cooler does provide a benefit when fan speed is pushed to near 100%, with temperatures dropping to 55 degrees Celsius under load. The noise is just too much though, as it was easily the loudest thing in the chassis. When it came to overclocking, the HD 4890 did shine. It offered a 14% increase in the GPU clock speed to 970MHz and just under 9% on the memory at 1060MHz. With these clock speed increases, the HD 4890 delivered tangible results across the board. The HD 4890 will set you back $259 at launch, but as past history has shown, the pricing may change. The price falls right in the middle of the pricing for the HD 4870 1GB models that range in price from $180 to $299 at popular e-tailers. That put the pricing above the GTX 260 and below the GTX 280/285. The HD 4890 carries all the attributes of the HD 4870, such as the on-chip HDCP, Unified Video Decoder, CrossfireX capability and HDMI output with 7.1 sound in a more powerful package. The HD 4890 is a performance improvement over the HD 4870 and can deliver excellent gaming performance at resolutions of up to 2560x1600 with the eye candy on. Two of these cards in a CrossFireX configuration should offer a stunning increase in performance.