Sapphire HD 4890 Review

ccokeman - 2009-01-17 16:25:24 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: April 2, 2009
Price: $249


The fast and furious pace of video card introductions last year has continued into 2009. This time Sapphire and ATI have brought forth the HD 4890 as the new flagship single GPU card in their performance arsenal. With increased clock speeds and performance, this card should offer a substantial increase in performance over the current HD 4870 crop of video cards. Built upon the same architecture as the R770 core, the HD 4890 features the same 800 stream processors and almost one billion transistors. Offering 1GB of GDDR5 memory running at 975MHz and the R790 GPU core running at an impressive 850MHz, the HD 4890 looks to be a serious contender for the single GPU crown. Sapphire doesn't only offer just a stock clocked card. At launch there will be an overclocked card to push the level of performance higher with clock speeds of 901MHz on the GPU core and 1000MHz on the GDDR5 memory. The HD 4890 is not just about raw FPS numbers as it has all the capabilities to make this card a well rounded addition to any system with its High Definition outputs and UVD (Unified Video Decoder). Let's see if the Sapphire HD 4890 can live up to the performance expectations as the top of the ATI single GPU food chain.







Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 4890 is delivered in packaging that displays the attributes of the HD 4890 on the front panel of the box. These include the fact that the HD 4890 is CrossfireX capable with a supporting motherboard and can be used with up to four cards. The fact that the HD 4890 has 800 stream processors, two Dual link DVI ports, GDDR5 memory, HDMI out put with 7.1 sound and game physics processing technology are all listed.



When you pull the inner package out you get to the HD 4890 and underneath it is a box that contains all of the accessories. The packaging kept this card safe on its trip around the globe.



The accessories included with the HD 4890 will get you connected to the display of your choosing, whether it is a single RCA output all the way up to HDMI video and sound via the HSMI adapter. The bundled software includes a suite of products from Cyberlink as well as the latest from Futuremark (3DMark Vantage) so you can try your card out and see how you compare on the ORB.



Now let's look at the card and see what it has to offer in terms of performance.


Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 4890 is based on the same architecture as the HD 4870 but utilizes a more advanced core with better memory management to allow higher clock speeds and increased performance. The Sapphire HD 4890 goes out the door with a GPU clock speed of 850MHz with a memory speed of 975MHz. These speeds are 100MHz and 75MHz, respectively, higher than the speeds on the HD 4870. Since the HD 4890 is based on the R77 architecture it uses the same 800 processing cores and 956 million transistors. The difference in computing performance increases from 1.2TFLOPs to 1.36TFLOPs, with an increase in bandwidth from 115GB/s to 124.8GB/s.














Connectivity on the HD 4890 comes in the form of two Dual link DVI port and a single HDTV port that can be used with the dongle to convert to composite cabling. The rear of the card has an air intake for the cooling fan. Some of the cooling framework of the GPU reference cooler can be seen through this opening. The HD 4890 is CrossfireX capable with up to four cards on a supporting motherboard. The two bridge connections allow for multiple cards to be run in a CrossfireX configuration.



The Sapphire HD 4890 relies on the use of the ATI reference cooling solution to get rid of the heat the GPU and memory create under load. The fan used in this cooler is the typical squirrel cage rotary fan that is nothing short of loud at full song. The heatsink is a made up of a copper base with three heatpipes running to an aluminum fin array. The base of the copper cooler has a step on it to make sure the heatsink is in direct contact with the GPU core. The memory is cooled by a large passive heatsink that covers the GDDR5 memory, as well as the MOSFETs for the power circuit.



The Sapphire HD 4890 is built around 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 memory used on the Sapphire HD 4890 is 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 256-bit bus. The power circuitry is located toward the back end of the PCB.




Now that we know what's under the hood, it's time to find out just how this new offering from Sapphire and ATI performs.


Closer Look:

To install the drivers for the Sapphire HD 4890 first pop the driver disc into your drive and the Sapphire installation GUI will auto-start. The menu has three options that you can choose from - the first option is to install the Catalyst Control Center and drivers by clicking the ATI Easy Install. The drivers used in this review are Catalyst 9.4. The options available with the installation GUI include a link to the online manual in several different languages as well as a link to download the latest Adobe Acrobat Reader.











When you click the ATI Easy Install option, the Catalyst Control Center installation will begin. This process installs all the necessary drivers needed to make the Sapphire HD 4890 fully functional. After finishing the installation, the customary reboot is required.



As an added bonus, Sapphire has included several pieces of software from CyberLink. Everyone has heard of PowerDVD, a program to play all the DVD, Blu-Ray, and HD content you desire. DVD Suite includes PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5, Power2Go 5.5, and [email protected] 3, as well as trial versions of Power Backup 2.5, PowerDVD Copy, and LabelPrint 2. Even though the HD 4890 is far from a typical low powered HTPC card, it does have all the necessary qualifications to be used as one. Using Power DVD to watch a couple movies, I took a quick look through the movies 300 and one of my favorites, Beerfest! CPU utilization is in the low single digits when using the HD 4890 in this capacity by offloading the decoding to the GPU.




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, Alzheimer's, 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 your system. You can find out more about [email protected] here. Just remember, if you choose to participate, Team 12772 is your team.


Now that the utilities, drivers, and extras are installed, let's see if the HD 4890 can live up to its name.


Closer Look:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all the settings for the Sapphire 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 Sapphire Technology


To test out this latest video card from Sapphire 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:

Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

What I found out with the HD 4890 from Sapphire was that I was able to pull the same clock speed increase out of it that I did on the PowerColor offering. The first thing I did was increase the fan speed to 100% in the Catalyst Control Center to get the card as cool as it could be and then started upping the clock speeds on the GPU first to find the maximum possible GPU core speed. 980MHz would pass my cursory check with 3DMark06 at 2560x1600 with the AA and AF maxed but once into games I would get stars and see some snow. Backing down to 970MHz worked to clear that up. The memory would push to 1080MHz but fail, so again I needed to drop the speed down to a level that it would be playable through out some extended gaming. The increase of 115MHz on the core comes in at an almost 14% improvement while the memory comes in at just under 9% with an 85MHz improvement over the as delivered clock speeds. The one thing that still is an issue for me is the noise the reference cooling solution makes when it is spooled up to near 100%. ATI has yet to come up with a quiet solution that works. I can only hope Sapphire makes an improvement to this card by offering one with the company's Vapor-X Vapor chamber cooling solutions to eliminate the noise while still offering superb cooling.

  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 specially 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 Sapphire HD 4890 offers a performance increase over the HD 4870 series of cards by anywhere from 3 to 6 frames per second. This it should do with the higher clock speeds. When compared to the GTX 260, GTX 275 and GTX 280, the GTX 275 comes out on top in 3 out of 4 resolutions.



Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the storyline 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.














The Sapphire HD 4890 puts on a clinic in Crysis Warhead with the card outperforming the three nVidia offerings. This is a turn of events.



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 2560x1600 the HD 4890 is beaten only by the GTX 275. The HD 4890 does pull ahead of the GTX 275 when overclocked. Performance when compared to the HD 4870 cards shows that the cards do not compare favorably to the HD 4890. They are just slower across the scale.



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 my 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.














The HD 4890 eclipses the performance of the HD 4870 cards in three out of four tests with the Overclocked Toxic Editon card playing the spoiler. The GTX 275 tops the HD 4890 in all four resolutions, while the GTX 280 and GTX 260 lose in two resolutions each.



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 as starting with the crash landing and 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 primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.













While the HD 4890 offers a performance increase over the HD 4870s in this game, the performance of the green camps cards puts them at a level much higher on the performance ladder.



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 is four frames per second slower at 2560x1600 than the GTX 275, while at resolutions the majority of people play games at the difference shrinks to a two to three frames per second. The Toxic HD 4870 actually gave the HD 4890 a run for its money at the lower resolutions and drops to two frames per second below the performance of the HD 4890 at 2560x1600.



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 is beaten by four frames per second by the GTX 280 and is still one frame per second faster than the Palit GTX 260. The GTX 275 cleans house in every resolution by between three to six frames per second. Not that that would be noticeable in game. The level of performance the 4890 delivers is higher than the HD 4870 offerings both in stock and overclocked configurations.



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




















The performance of the HD 4890 stays above that of the HD 4870's, but is beaten through all four resolutions by the GTX 275 and is beaten at 2560x1600 by the overclocked GTX 260 and GTX 280.



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 the overclocked GTX 260 from Palit and the GTX 275 stock card beats this card across all four resolutions.



With a new generation core based on the architecture of the R770 and improved memory management, the R790 based HD 4890 offers higher clock speeds and better performance against the previous generation ATI video cards across the board. However, it falls a bit short of the latest offering from nVidia as well as its flagship single GPU card. So what does this mean for the HD 4890? Well, it does perform well in all the benchmarks but is it really worth the money to upgrade if you currently have an HD 4870? If you are running a poor overclocking stock HD 4870 1GB video card, the Sapphire HD 4890 offers a substantial increase in performance over these cards. Now if you have a card that overclocks well, the difference is not as great and may not be a viable upgrade path. If you are in the market for a new card, it makes sense to get the HD 4890 not just for the stock performance but because the card overclocks very well on the stock cooling. In most of the benchmarks, the HD 4890 offered a nice boost in performance for your efforts. The Sapphire HD 4890 yielded core speed increases of of almost 14% on the GPU core and almost 9% on the memory. That equates to 120MHz over the stock 850MHz core speed and 85MHz over the stock 975MHz memory speed.

The cooler on this card is the standard reference cooler and if you have any doubt just turn the fan speed past 50% and you are greeted with the sound that closely resembles that of the wife's hair dryer. At 100% fan speed the cooler with its composite copper/aluminum heatpipe design is indeed functional as temperatures never crept over 55 degrees Celsius. When turned down to a more reasonable level the temps barely cracked the 60C mark. By letting the driver package control the fan speeds the maximum temperature reached was 71 degrees Celsius. Not too shabby for this cooler and card design as the reference 1GB 4870 was pushing 85 degrees Celsius. The Sapphire HD 4890 offers a 14 degree improvement. Sapphire is known for the Vapor-X cooling solutions it offers on its Toxic series of cards. The use of this solution would undoubtedly make the card more attractive for two reasons: lower noise and increased cooling. The HD 4890 is not just a gaming card but is one that can be used to display all of your HD content using the built in UVD (Unified Video Decoder) to reduce the demands on the CPU for increased playback performance. The Sapphire HD 4890 can output high definition video as well as 7.1 sound through HDMI via the supplied adapter so you can enjoy full 1080p content. If you need a new video card, the HD 4890 offers great performance at a price that won't break the bank at $249. Considering the price point of past high end launches, the HD4890 offers performance both stock and overclocked for a reasonable amount of your hard earned money.