Asus EAH 4890 1GB DDR5 PCIe Graphics card Page: 1
Introduction

OK, I'll answer the big question everyone wants to know first. Have ATI incorporated the expected 40nm drop for their latest GPU?
Answer: NO, it's still based on the 55nm of previous cards. Should I end the review there though? Well no I shouldn't because the card is clocked to the high heavens which should produce some interesting results and more importantly, I wouldn't get paid!

The variant we have on test today is the Asus EAH4890 (RV790) and being based on the reference design it will give us some clue as to what kind of performance leaps ATI have made. While Nvidia have been playing catchup (and indeed caught up) in the dual card stakes, ATI have been busying themselves to make a push for top spot in the single GPU arena. The GTX280 has been on top for some time now and despite a refresh with the GTX285, the price of such a card has meant it has not been as popular as Nvidia would have liked. So then ATI may have found a niche, a chink in the armour as it were as the 4870 was 'almost' as good as the 280, maybe the 4890 can surpass the 280, or indeed make a challenge against the big boys, the 4870x2 and GTX295.

So then, what's changed with the 4890 and what are the crucial differences between this card and it's forbear, the 4870? Well despite our initial assumption that the card is simply a re-hash/overclocked 4870, I was happy to learn the card has actually been designed from the ground up with revised power circuitry allowing consumers to further bump up the clock speed from an already blistering  850MHz on the core and 3900MHz (effective) on the memory clock speed. Oh, and the memory is also GDDR5!

Specifications


Manufacturer: Asus
Name: EAH4890
Corespeed: 850MHz
Memory: GDDR5
Memory speed: 3900MHz
Stream Processing units: 800
Anti Aliasing: 24x
Physics: Havoc capable
Sound: HDMI with 7.1 surround support

Let's take a look at how the card itself and the way in which it is presented...


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Packaging & Appearance

The outer packaging is typical of ATI/Asus fashion. The front of the box is adorned with a black knight on a horse but the eyes of the overclockers among us will be drawn to the Voltage Tweak emblem which dominates the scene (more on this in the test setup section).  The rear of the box goes on to describe the feature set, and power requirements of the EAH4890 card which Asus recommend a PSU of 550W with a 12v rating of 40A.

box front box rear 

We first saw the new style 'box in a box' packaging from Asus in our previous review of the GTX285 and I am happy to report this style has been transfered to the EAH4890. The corrugated matte black box is a definite leap from the plain brown boxes of old and adorned with a gold Asus emblem it does give the consumer the feeling they have invested some money into something special.

box inner boxes
 
The accessory list is complete with all the bits and bobs you could want from a dual Molex to 6 pin adaptor to HDMI and VGA/DVI adaptors. Also included is a Crossfire bridge and a small fake leather mouse mat. Looking past the accessories we finally get to the card which is held in securely place by Styrofoam and wrapped in an anti-static bag. Be under no illusions, this card should reach you in perfect condition.

accessories cardbox
 
The card itself does not look to dissimilar from an ATI 4870, being the same size and using the same style cooler. Asus have opted to use the standard red PCB of ATI which matches the cooler perfectly. Again we see the black knight making an appearance on the card's sticker which is nice if you like that sort of thing. Flipping the card over we see that the cooler is attached by a number of spring loaded screws and a small backplate cross sectioning the GPU core.
 
card card bottom
 
Another nice little feature of the Asus card is the inclusion of little blue shields that protect all of the connections and ports or the card from the PCIe slot to the two crossfire slots on the opposing side of the card.

pcie crossfire
 
The two power ports of the EAH4890 are both PCIe 6 pin variants so thankfully you will not need an upgrade in PSU if your supply unit doesn't have an 8-pin cable. The requirements of a 550w PSU with 40A on the 12v line is a requirement though and should be recommended as a minimum.
 
power backplate
 
Removing the cooler was a relatively straightforward affair and thanks to Asus using thermal paste rather than some derivative of cement, the card came free of the cooler without issue. Full size thermal strips are used on both the memory and VRM's too which made the process all the more easy rather than individual pads which can be messy at times.

cooler removed GPU
 
Asus have on this occasion have opted to use memory chips from Qimonda and as you will see in the overclocking section, this babies fly! The power regulation of the Asus 4890 has been revised from the ground up allowing much higher clocks from standard and as Asus have also provided software to adjust  voltage on the GPU, overclocking should be a very interesting procedure.

Qimonda VRMs
 
With the card put carefully back together, a clean install of Vista 64bit and the latest ATI beta drivers installed, I set about installing the EAH4890 and got to see what it was capable of.

Let's move on to the test setup and overclocking section of the review...


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Test Setup

To ensure that all reviews on Overclock3D are fair, consistent and unbiased, a standard set of hardware and software is used whenever possible during the comparative testing of two or more products. The configurations used in this review can be seen below:

i7 Rig

CPU: Intel Nehalem i7 920 Skt1366 2.66GHz (@3.8 Ghz)
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Memory: 3x2GB Corsair DDR3 1600mhz @ 8-8-8-24
HD : Hitachi Deskstar 7k160 7200rpm 80GB
GPU:Asus EAH4890
Graphics Drivers: Supplied by Asus
PSU: Gigabyte ODIN 1200w
 
During the testing of the setups above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used before the benchmarking began, with a full defrag of the hard drive once all the drivers and software were installed, preventing any possible performance issues due to leftover drivers from the previous motherboard installations. For the 3DMark and gaming tests a single card configuration was used.

To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
 
3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage

3D Games
• Crysis
• Far Cry 2
• Oblivion

• Race drive: GRID
• Call of Duty IV
• Unreal Tournament III


Power Consumption

Power consumption was measured at the socket using a plug-in mains power and energy monitor. Because of this, the readings below are of the total system, not just the GPU. Idle readings were taken after 5 minutes in Windows. Load readings were taken during a run of Crysis.

 

No big surprises here. Despite a refresh of power circuitry, the card is hardly what you would call lightweight in the power consumption tests. Consuming slightly more than the overclocked 4870 the 4890 is the highest power sapping single GPU on test, more even, than the power hungry GTX285.
 
 
Temperatures

Temperatures were taken at the factory clocked speed during idle in Windows and after 10 minutes of running Furmark with settings maxed out (2560x1600 8xMSAA). Ambient temperatures were taken with a household thermometer. As we use an open test bench setup consideration should be given to the fact that the temperatures would likely increase further in a closed case environment.
 

 
The Asus EAH4890 scores highly in the temperature stakes being the coolest card on test when placed under load. It should be noted though that with the fan at 100% the noise is unbearable. Akin to a Dyson vacuum cleaner, the reference cooler is nowhere near as quiet as the Nvidia cards but thankfully, with the fan set to auto, the noise is not too intrusive but certainly not what one would describe as being quiet.
 
 
Overclocking

Going back to the packaging, you will remember Asus saw fit to make Voltage Tweak a prime marketting point. I expected this to be a separate utility but this is simply a slider bar setting incorporated into the Asus Smartdoctor utility. Small voltage increments could be made to the GPU core so we were eager to see if this was actually needed.
 
voltage oc

Primarily, I maxed out the sliders in CCC and inevitably Call of Duty 4 crashed within seconds during testing. Relaxing the GPU clock slightly, I was able to run COD4 without a hitch at an astonishing 975MHz on the GPU and the maximum 1200MHz on the memory. Bring on Voltage tweak. A slight bump in voltage was all it took to fully max out the GPU core voltage and run the test without so much as an artifect at the full fat 1000MHz barrier. While the extra 25MHz was hardly groundbreaking it certainly goes to show that overclocks can be stablized with a slight bump in voltage and saves people from doing hard mods to the card thereby invalidating the warranty to get the most out of the card.
 


With the card clocked to it's highest level (without adjusting the voltage), the run of COD4 showed some impressive improvements were to be gained. I do love the way ATI cards overclock but at the same time I feel cheated that the overdrive utility does not allow for higher overclocks as the card is clearly capable.

Returning the card back to its default settings, let's move on to our suite of benchmarks where we pitch it up against the GTX295, ATI 4870x2, ATI4870 XXX and stock GTX285...


Asus EAH 4890 1GB DDR5 PCIe Graphics card Page: 4


3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 





 
Results Analysis

No surprises here really. The EAH4890 is certainly a capable card, beating the XFX 4870 XXX easily in all of the runs of 3DMark but cannot compete with the GTX285, much less the dual GPU cards. Consideration should be given to the fact that the XFX 4870 is a pre-overclocked card (review to come soon) so the differences between the 4890 and a stock 4870 would no doubt be larger.

Let's see if this transfers over to our real world gaming benchmarks.


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Unreal Tournament 3 is the highly anticipated game from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest Unreal engine, which combines fast gameplay along with high quality textures and lighting effects. All benchmarks were performed using UTbench with a fly-by of the DM-BioHazard map. As usual, all benchmarks were performed 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 

GRID
 
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that presents a challenge to any graphics system. Results were recorded using FRAPS to log the average FPS over a 2 minute race. To ensure consistency, the same track, car and general path of travel was used in each of the 5 benchmark runs for each graphics card, with an average FPS being calculated from the median three results.
 

 
 
 
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast game play. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long game play demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 

 
Results Analysis

Interestingly, the 4890 cannot keep pace with the GTX285 in UTIII but the tables are turned with the ATI favoured GRID. That is until the AA and resolution is increased where the GTX285 shows it's strengths. GRID is clearly a weakness for Nvidia cards as the 4890 soundly beats the GTX285. The tables however, are again turned when COD4 is taken into consideration with the 4890 nowhere in sight when compared to the Nvidia cards.

Let's move on..



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Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 

 
 

Oblivion from Bethseda is now an 'old' game by today's standards, but is still one of the most visually taxing games out there. The benchmark was run in the wilderness with all settings set to the maximum possible. Bloom was used in preference to HDR. The test was run five times with the average FPS then being deduced.




Ubisoft has developed a new engine specifically for Far Cry 2, called Dunia, meaning "world", "earth" or "living" in Parsi. The engine takes advantage of multi-core processors as well as multiple processors and supports DirectX 9 as well as DirectX 10. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmark tool the test was run 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being omitted and the average calculated from the remaining 3.
 
 
 
Results Analysis

Much the same set of results were to be had in the last three game tests I ran. Crysis and Far Cry 2 clearly preffered the Nvidia cards with the 4890 lagging behind but still beating it's stablemate, the overclocked 4870. Oblivion showed some promise with the 285 and 4890 evenly matched. That is until once again the resolution was maxed out with additional AA added.

Let's head over to the conclusion where I will shed some thought on the Asus EAH4890..,



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Conclusion

I among many were eagerly awaiting the release of the ATI 4890 so when it turned up on my doorstep I couldn't wait to give it a quick blast. While it wasn't exactly ground breaking, far from it, it did show some significant improvements over the ATI4870 in all of the benchmarks we ran today. This is due to the increase in clockspeed on both the GPU and memory. Thanks to the revised power circuitry, the card runs much faster than the ageing 4870 and with a minor Voltage Tweak using Asus Smart doctor, both the GPU and memory clockspeeds were allowed to be maxed out in the Catalyst control centre's overdrive section.

The Asus EAH4890 comes extremely well packaged and caters for your every need in the accessory department. I  like the compartmentalised box very much but I do wonder how many people would make use of the mousemat as it's hardly what I would call a gamers mat and considering it is most likely only the gaming market who would buy such a card, included such a tiny mat does raise an eyebrow. While a nice touch, accessories such as this should really be omitted which would bring the price down little or maybe include a mat that a gamer could make use off?

Is it worth the upgrade? I wouldn't say so no. At £214.99 over at OcUK the card is priced competitively but the 10% improvements it offers over the lesser (and cheaper) 4870 while significant are not worth upgrading for. It's certainly no quieter than the old card and kicks out just as much heat, if not more. There just isn't enough there to warrant the upgrade I'm afraid, that is unless you really do crave every last frame per second from a single GPU setup. The Voltage tweak is a nice addition but when CCC limits the users to certain clockspeeds I fail to see the point. I did try Rivatuner but unfortunately it was unsupported at the time of writing.

However, if you are looking for an upgrade from an old card from a previous series then you will find the EAH4890 right up your street. It can handle most games easily at all but the highest resolutions and even then, it's only the likely suspects (Crysis and Far Cry 2) which cause the card any trouble.

The Good
- Class leading packaging
- Socket/port protectors
- Excellent overclocking
- Voltage adjustment

The Mediocre
- Included Mouse mat is pretty but useless for gaming
- No included game
- The Price

The Poor

- Noisy reference fan



Thanks to Asus for providing us with the EAH4890 for todays review. Discuss in our forums.