Asus HD4850 512mb PCI-E Graphics Card EAH4850 Page: 1
Introduction
 
ATI have been gradually falling behind in the GPU race with Nvidia seemingly in an unassailable position after the release (and re-release shall we say) of G80. The 8800GT/GTX series really dominated the market, with the hilariously titled 'next gen' 9 series again pulling ahead of ATI.
 
It seems though, ATI's strategy was not to dominate Nvidia from the top down, but rather to sneak some cards onto the market that did very well on price whilst delivering very good value performance. The HD3850 was a great example of this and put the proverbial ATI cat amongst the not so happy, to be proverbial, Nvidia-shaped pidgeons.
 
Now ATI have announced (early we might add), that they are releasing their 'next gen'. In the labs today is the HD4850; this time Asus is kindly supplying the requisite hardware for our review.
 
 
Features and architecture
 
The HD4850 is loosely based on ATI's previous gen RV600 GPU, except ATI have put this gen on some rather serious steroids. Boasting a large sounding 800 shader units and with a boosted core clock to the HD3850, we start out with a great looking card on paper.
 
Asus 4850 Specs
 
As you can see, the HD4850 fits into a nice slot between the 8800 GT and the 8800 GTS, price-wise. This means that ATI is again aiming at enthusiasts who really want that 'bang for buck' in their graphics card. It also means that the card had better do a pretty good job performance-wise as this is a very competitive price bracket.
 
The RV770 chip has the same shader processors as the previous generation, but ATI have bolstered these up to 800. This increases the transistor count on the HD4850 up to 956m; built using TSMC's 55nm process. ATI's awesome memory ringbus technology stays as well, pumping through the memory bandwidth. The Core clock has been upped to 625Mhz and the memory clock to 993MHz, which should also improve the pixel pushing abilities of the little card.
 
"Little" you say? Well take a look at some pics and you will see...


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Packaging & Appearance
 
Before I start, I just want to clarify that the card we have is a review sample of a stock-clocked HD4850, but Asus sent it to us in their retail 'Top' packaging. The real 'Top' Edition will be overclocked and sporting one of Asus's Glaciator heatsinks.
 
Asus are a very good company for making very well-packaged products with hugely over-sized boxes. This time, however, they have decided to tone it down just a little on the outside of the box, whilst maintaining the high quality of the interior.
 
ASUS 4850 box and card
The above image is a press image from Asus
 
ASUS 4850 box rear  ASUS 4850 flap open
 
ASUS 4850 inside box 
 
All of the info you need on a box is there and the inside of the box actually feels a little special.
 
ASUS 4850 package
 
The package contains: 1 x S-Video to component cable, 1 x DVI to HDMI connector, 1 x DVI to VGA connector, 1 x S-Video to composite connector, 1 x ATI CrossFire™ connector, 1 x Driver CD, 1 x Manual/Accessories CD, 1 x Speed Setup Manual.
There are no games included with this card, which is to be expected with a mid-range card.
 
Asus HD4850 front  ASUS 4850 back
 
The reference card we have is packed into a single slot cooler made up of copper with a fairly large fan for a card of this size. The heatsink extends over the power regulating circuitry and covers all of the memory on the card. I'm actually impressed with the design of the heatsink, but more on that later.
 
ASUS 4850 side ASUS 4850 close up
 
ASUS 4850 close up gold fingers
 
The reference card really is very slim here and obviously the cooler does do its job as it becomes very hot during use.
 
ASUS 4850 heatsink  ASUS 4850 Power
 
Here we can see the heatsink covering the power circuitry, which is a good addition to see. The card is powered from a 6-pin PCI-E power dongle and will not boot at all without this inserted.
 
hd4850 output  crossfire
 
The card has two HDCP enabled Dual-Link DVI outputs capable of being converted to HDMI via the supplied connector. A TV-Out S-video connector supplies the rest of your connectivity needs. I do not believe that the card has the ability to pass 7.1 sound through HDMI, unlike some SKU's.
 
ASUS 4850 fan
 
The stock cooling on this card is pretty good, although perhaps a little immaterial due to the card not being a final Top sample. However, for those of you opting for the stock cooler, I don't think you'll have any complaints as at idle it is virtually silent and even at full load it doesn't become very noticible at all, which is nice!


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Test Setup
 
A common mistake made when benchmarking graphics cards is that the rest of the PC system isn't sufficient enough to test the GPU to its limits. This results in a bottleneck situation, where the system can only run at the speed of its slowest component. For this reason, the test configuration chosen below has been specially selected to give each of the graphics cards on test the headroom they require in order to produce the best results.
 
System Specs
 
A selection of games and benchmark suites has also been chosen to test each of the cards with several game engines. Each of the cards will be run at both low and high resolutions with varying levels of texture filtering to represent the use of the card with both small and large screen sizes.
 
3DMark05
1024x768 / 0xAA / 0xAF (Default)
1920x1200 / 4xAA / 0xAF
 
3DMark 06
1280x1024 / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / 4xAA / 0xAF

3DMark Vantage
1280x1024 / Performance Mode
1900x1200 / Extreme Mode
 
Quake4
1280x1024 / Ultra / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Ultra / 4xAA / 4xAF
 
Unreal Tournament III
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
Call of Duty 4
1280x1024 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
 
F.E.A.R
1280x1024 / Max / 4xAA / 4xAF
1920x1200 / Max / 4xAA / 0xAF
 
BIOSHOCK
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
Crysis
1280x1024 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
1920x1200 / DX10 / High / 0xAA / 0xAF
 
With the new architecture, we really wanted to grab a 9800GTX to compare straight to the HD4850, so we added this to a nice list of other cards to help you see what its performance is like compared. Interestingly, it is supposed to go up against the 8800 GT's of this world, but really a 9800 GTX is clo.......OK we'll leave that bit until later :)
 
A recent feature to enter the Overclock3D GPU review system is the "Cost per FPS" scale. This scale gives a rough indication of which card offers the best bang per buck based on the price of each card at the time of this review. Looking in some e-tailors, we found that the Asus HD4850 was listed at a pretty sweet £141 @ SCAN, so we can see how this adds up below:
 
 
Overclocking
 
Using only the  the ATI Overdrive™ facility built into the driver control panel, the maximum overclock we were able to obtain from the HD4850 was 750mhz on the core and 1120mhz on the memory. Going any higher than this caused random system freezes, overheating and visual corruption issues during testing. Benchmarking at the overclocked speeds produced the following results in 3DMark Vantage:
 
3DMark Vantage OC
 
The overclock was most certainly worthwhile, with the "Extreme" 1900x1200 results in Vantage shooting up by over 500 points and the "Performance" score by an even more impressive 1268 points. Now let's move onto the rest of the benchmark results...


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3DMark05, 3DMark06, 3DMark Vantage
 
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.
 
3DMark05
 
3DMark06
 
3DMark Vantage
 
Designed to lock horns with NVIDIA's 8800GTX and 9800GTX series, the HD4850 does this extremely well in the 3DMark stakes, giving the 9800GTX a good hiding in Vantage and 3DMark 05/06 at 1900x1200 resolutions. The only place it seems to fall slightly short is at the stock 3DMark 05/06 settings with AF disabled.


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Call Of Duty 4
 
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 gameplay. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long gameplay 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.
 
Call of Duty 4 - FPS
 
Call of Duty 4 - CPF
 
Call of Duty 4 shows that there is some truth in the 3DMark05/06 results over the previous page, with the HD4850 managing to beat out the 9800GTX card at high resolutions, but falling slightly short at 1280x1024. The insanely low price of the card more than makes up for this though, with the HD4850 being over £0.60 cheaper per fps at 1280x1024 and £0.78 cheaper at 1900x1200.
 
 
BIOSHOCK
 
BioShock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine, it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
BIOSHOCK - FPS
 
BIOSHOCK - CPF
 
The results from Call of Duty 4 are further amplified in the BIOSHOCK tests, with the 9800GTX beating out the HD4850 by around 20FPS at 1280x1024 and the results swinging back in favour of the HD4850 at 1900x1200. Interestingly, the HD4850 manages to beat out both of its dual-GPU predecessors (the 3870x2 and 3850x2) by quite a significant margin.
 
Yet again the HD4850 is the best buy, being over  £1.00 cheaper per frame than the 9800GTX at 1900x1200 and £0.14 cheaper at 1280x1024.


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Crysis
 
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.
 
Crysis - FPS
 
Crysis - CPF
 
With less than 2FPS between the HD4850 and  9800GTX at 1900x1200 and almost exact results at 1280x1024, the two cards are left to fight it out once again on price. This is also true for the previous generation 3850x2 and 3870x2 cards, which, while  able to compete with the 4850 and 9800GTX on the FPS front, get left behind when it comes to value.
 
 
F.E.A.R
 
F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S, with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
F.E.A.R - FPS
 
F.E.A.R - CPF
 
While most of the previous benchmarks have been quite a mixed bag of results, the HD4850 shows a clear advantage over the 9800GTX at both 1280x1024 and 1900x1200 resolutions. This works greatly in favour of the HD4850 when it comes to the CPF scale, with the card costing less than £1.00 per frame at lower resolutions.


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Quake 4
 
Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording. The benchmark was set to run a total of 5 times, with Quake4Bench automatically calculating an average result at the end of the run.
 
Quake4 - FPS
 
Quake4 - CPF
 
Yet another win for the red team against the green arch rival is to be had in Quake 4, with the HD4850 producing an extra 16FPS at 1900x1200 and 5FPS at 1280x1024 when placed head-to-head with the similarly priced 9800GTX. Once again, nothing can come close to the HD4850 on the CPF scale, with the card coming in a whopping £1.62 cheaper per frame.
 
 
Unreal Tournament 3
 
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.
 
Unreal Tournament III - FPS
 
Unreal Tournament III - CPF
 
As expected, the results obtained from UT3 somewhat mirror that of BIOSHOCK, as both games make use of the same UE3 engine. At 1280x1024, the 9800GTX takes the lead by 6FPS, with the results swinging back in the other direction at 1900x1200. Once again the HD4850 gives amazing value for money at all resolutions.


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Conclusion
 
Asus HD4850Frankly, ATI are really aiming at the middle market share with the HD4850, and it's fair to say that they've definitely captured this market with style. The HD4850 is already set at £140 and even £120 for the lower models, and this is a very important price point in a very tight market.
 
AA performance was a big downfall of the last gen, but ATI have fixed this issue and caused enthusiasts a real headache. Nvidia have been forced to drop the 9800 GTX in price very close to the £140 mark and some partners already have done so, but the HD4850 is a real player for your hard earned cash. Personally, I like to edge a little for the underdog, and since Nvidia blatantly started churning out G80 re-runs, I have almost been egging ATI on....finally we see a card that really performs and really gives (has given) Nvidia food for thought.
 
Check out the current price of the Asus HD4850 by visiting one of our recommended retailers: Scan, Aria & Novatech.
 
Can two big companies battling it out in the market be a bad thing for consumers? Hell no is my answer, bring it on!
 
The Asus HD4850 get's the OC3D Value for Money Award for really mixing it up.
 
 Asus HD4850
 
Thanks to Asus for providing the HD4850 for review. Discuss this review in our forums.