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Back in the Fray - ATI Radeon HD 4890

Back in the Fray - ATI Radeon HD 4890


Refreshing the Radeon HD 4800

Taking everything into perspective, it would perhaps not be wrong to say that the Radeon HD 4890 is ultimately just an overclocked Radeon HD 4870 stamped with a new name. Armed with higher clock speeds and a slightly updated GPU core, we expected the HD 4890 to perform better than its sibling and it duly delivered. And while it made significant gains on the performance front, it lost out in others too, most notably in power consumption figures.

In our tests, we found that it was clearly more power hungry than the HD 4870 and its figures were comparable to even the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285, which offers performance on a whole other level. Power consumption is one area ATI needs to improve on. While NVIDIA has consistently managed to bring down their cards' appetite for power with each driver revision, ATI's offerings have largely been stagnant, making this shortcoming even more obvious, especially at idle.

Despite this fallback, it does improve in the one area it desperately needs improvement in and that is its operating temperature. ATI's Radeon 4800 series cards are notorious for their obscenely high operating temperatures, and we were surprised to see that they managed to bring down temperatures as compared to the HD 4870 and HD 4850. Of course, given the noise of the card, it's more probable that they increased the fan's speed more than anything else. Nevertheless, despite the downsides, it is irrefutable that the new HD 4890 runs cooler.

As part of its "sweet spot" performance and pricing strategy, ATI has declared that the HD 4890 will be retailing for under US$260, which makes it slightly more costly than HD 4870 and just about the same as overclocked versions of the GTX 260+. And looking back at our results, we think its asking price is just about right. Individually, the PowerColor HD 4890 has a retail price of US$259, whereas Sapphire has an a local asking price of S$439 (about US$289), which is understandable given it's factory-overclocked and that there's always a price difference to factor in for the products being sold here. ASUS, at the time of writing, has yet to confirm the price of the EAH 4890.

Locally, prices of the HD 4870 and GTX 260+ have typically reflected the prices that we find in the United States, and the new HD 4890 is no different. As such, we think the PowerColor HD 4890 and Sapphire HD 4890 are both reasonably priced, if not competitive.

In terms of overall standings, the Sapphire HD 4890 and ASUS EAH4890 are a notch up above the PowerColor HD 4890 because of their slightly better performance and features. The Sapphire HD 4890 comes factory-overclocked and could be pushed all the way to a maximum overclock of 1000MHz at the core and 4800MHz DDR at the memory, which is just incredible. The ASUS EAH4890, on the other hand, has the nifty ability to allowing users to tweak the card's voltage, which can be handy especially if you intend to do some overclocking of your own. Last but not the least, the PowerColor HD 4890 is a solid take on the HD 4890 SKU.

Overall, the HD 4890 is a decent attempt at refreshing and beefing up the high-end spectrum of the Radeon 4800 series. As ATI's latest flagship single GPU, it brings about improved performance that is very much needed, in light of the recent comeback by NVIDIA.\

Not surprisingly, rumors are rife that a new dual-GPU card, the HD 4890 X2, is in the works. If this comes to fruition (and we think it will), it'll be intriguing to see where it'll stand in the current hierarchy of things. If our speculations are correct, it will easily outperform the GTX 285, but will ultimately fall short at reclaiming the speed crown from the GTX 295. Clearly, in terms of sheer graphics horsepower, ATI still has some catch up to do. However this is merely for claiming the high-end 'throne'. Volume shipment and the bulk of the revenue takes place at more palatable price points such as the 4300, 4600 and single-GPU 4800 series for which ATI has maintained quite a reasonable price-performance ratio ever since the 4000 series of graphics cards.

Interestingly and worrying at the same time however is that NVIDIA already has a counter to the Radeon HD 4890. Dubbed the GTX 275, it will supposedly fit in between the GTX 260+ and the GTX 285. It sounds like it's going to be more than a handful for the Radeon HD 4890. Stay tuned!

** Updated on 2nd April 2009, 1.30pm **

We just received a new update from AMD that unlike their initial presentation that mentioned a US$260 price bracket for the new Radeon HD 4890 product SKU, it should actually range from US$276 to US$316. That's a little expensive in our opinion unlike the initial target price from US$260. But we expect that competition pressure would soon push these prices downwards in a matter of weeks.

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