PowerColor HD4870 512MB PCI-E Page: 1
Introduction & Specification
 
PowerColor HD4870Just a few weeks back Overclock3D took a look at the latest mid-range card in ATI's new 4800 line-up. While maybe not the fastest dog on the track, the 4850 offered an unmatched performance to price ratio and even managed to give its dual-GPU'd predecessor; the 3870x2 a run for its money.  At the time we couldn't get our grubby mits on ATI's top-end card the 4870 so our comparison seemed slightly weighted in the favour of NVIDIA's GTX200 series. However, PowerColour - one of ATI's largest AIB partners has been kind enough to send over one of their stock-clocked 512MB 4870's and today we're going to be putting it head-to-head with everything the green team has to offer in both the performance and price stakes.
 
PowerColor are a company that most enthusiasts will have undoubtedly heard of , and with good reason too. Established back in 1997 by TUL Corporation, PowerColor have always been a dedicated AIB partner of ATI and have offered both enthusiasts and system builders extremely competitive pricing along with a no-frills approach to packaging and unneccesary accessories. Let's hand it over to Powercolor now and see what they have to say:
 
PowerColor spirit:
Unleash the Gaming Power
PowerColor is the platform of choice for avid PC gamers and video prosumers looking to get the best possible performance out of the latest graphics processors from ATI.

Stunning Performance
PowerColor graphics cards deliver every-last-drop of super-charged performance from ATI's most advanced visual processing units (VPU). Running a PowerColor graphics card, today's gamers are able to unleash the 3D graphics performance of their favorite game playing it the way it was meant to be played.

Reputable Product
PowerColor graphics cards won at least 10 awards every month in 2004 from the world's most respected IT media and organizations. Furthermore, several PowerColor products also received 2005 Taiwan Symbol of Excellence Award from the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the R.O.C. according to the following criteria: Design and Innovation, Quality System, Market, and Brand Awareness. This award represents some of the most revolutionary, high tech, high quality, and high value products in the market.

Market-Oriented Innovation
The right products, the right time, and the best quality is the basic of our product strategy. To put our products one step ahead of the rest, we analyze the trends of the industry, and study the requirement of the market. Meeting the market's requirement is the core of our branding strategy and our customers' opinions are always the most important part of this process.
...
 
On paper the 4870 may look like nothing more than a core and memory overclocked version of the 4850 with an upgrade to GDDR5. However, the transfer from GDDR3 to GDDR5 has given the 4870 a significant boost in memory bandwidth from 1.9Gbps to 3.0Gbps with an actual reduction in memory clock speed! For obvious reasons the GDDR5 architecture should also scale much higher than GDDR3, potentially giving us a lot more headroom when overclocking.
 
4870 Specs
 
So with all this extra performance, will the 4870 be able to perform even better on our CPF (Cost Per Frame) scale, or will the higher price of GDDR5 and inflated top-end-product figures be the cards downfall. All will be revealed over the next few pages.


PowerColor HD4870 512MB PCI-E Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance
 
While some GPU manufacturers go for unneccesarily large and extravogant packaging with oodles of extras that often get pushed aside, PowerColor have always managed to keep a focus on value for money and as such haven't succumbed to this often expensive tactic in order to make their product stand out. This is very much true for the HD4870 on review today which is presented in a slimline cardboard box, not much bigger than the graphics card its self.
 
Powercolor 4870 Box Front  Powercolor 4870 Box Back
 
Rather than preying on the weaknesses of many geeks with images of scantily clad female CGI characters, PowerColor have decided to outfit the front of the HD4870 box with a CGI character fully dressed in armour, brandishing a rather large sword. While this may not have the same head turning effect as a 10" waist and an airbrushed 32FF bosom, the overall packaging design will most definitely still stand out on retailers shelves.
 
Powercolor 4870 Box Insides PowerColor HD4870 Contents
 
The cards itself is protected from any courier inflicted damage by an inner-inner box, effectively placing 4 layers of cardboard between the graphics card and the outside world. As previously mentioned, only the bare minimum accessories are included: S-Video cable, DVI-HDMI converter, DVI-VGA converter, Crossfire cable and a driver disk.
 
PowerColor HD4870 Top PowerColor HD4870 Underneath
 
PowerColor HD4870 Front PowerColor HD4870 Back
 
Unlike the HD4850 reviewed recently the PowerColor HD4870 features a dual-slot cooler designed to push the hot air out the back of the PC case. This is a much needed improvement, as the HD4850 was hot enough to to cook a Full English breakfast on. The warrior character also makes a reappearance on the top of the cooler and is thankfully quite easy to peel off should it not look at home inside your PC.
 
PowerColor HD4870 Cooler PowerColor HD4870 Nekkid
 
The stock ATI cooler is actually quite beefy and features a large copper base plate joined to rows of aluminium fins via  several heatpipes. PowerColor/ATI also have to be given credit for using a reasonable quality thermal paste on the GPU core and for applying just the right amount.  The memory chips and VRM's also receive cooling via thermal pads attached to metal assembly of the cooler, which at the very least should help disperse the heat.


PowerColor HD4870 512MB PCI-E Page: 3
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
 
As two of the cards used in today's review (the ASUS GTX260 TOP and MSI GTX280) are factory overclocked, it would be unfair to directly compare these to the stock-clocked PowerColor HD4870 without giving the card some additional overclocking of its own. Therefore, in the results over the next few pages you will see the HD4870 results alongside a set of "HD4870 OC" results which have been performed at the core/memory speeds shown in the overclocking section below.
 
During the benchmarking phase, we will be using the following prices extracted from aria.co.uk on 22/07/08 to produce our CPF graphs. Please remember that these graphs are static and only represent a snapshot of the market at the time of this review.
 
MSI GTX280 - £317.19
ASUS 4850 - £123.90
ASUS GTX260 - £199.69
PowerColor HD4870 - £174.97
 
 
Overclocking
 
Using only the the ATI Overdrive™ facility built into the driver control panel, the maximum overclock we were able to obtain from the HD4870 was 790mhz on the core and 1090mhz on the memory. With further fine tuning and a utility such as ATITool that allows selection of settings much higher than this, we are confident that the PowerColor HD4870 could have done even better.
 
HD4870 GPU-Z
 
Now let's get on to the benchmarks...


PowerColor HD4870 512MB PCI-E Page: 4
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 Results
 
3DMark05 is where ATI generally thrives and as we can see from the graph above, the PowerColor HD4870 leads the pack. Managing to beat out the GTX260 with ease and even jump ahead of the GTX280 at both resolution settings, the 4870 is certainly an '05 benchers card!
 
3DMark06 Results
 
Moving on to 3DMark06, the results become a little more true to life with the HD4870 sitting a little over 1000 points behind the GTX260 at 1280x1024 and around 500 points when the resolution is increased to 1900x1200. However, this gap disappears with the HD4870 running at overclocked speeds and the card just manages to take the lead over the GTX260 at 1900x1200.
 
 3DMark Vantage Results
 
3DMark Vantage is one area where the red team certainly can't compete. Even with the HD4870 running at overclocked settings it just cant match up to the might of the GTX260 in either Performance or Extreme modes.


PowerColor HD4870 512MB PCI-E Page: 5
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 - Cost Per Frame
 
Sitting just 10fps behind the GTX280 and 4fps behind the GTX260 at a resolution of 1280x1024, the HD4870 shows that is certainly a good choice for the low-resolution gamer. However, once the resolution is increased to 1900x1200 the HD4870 - even at overclocked settings, isn't able to keep up with the numbers pushed out by the GTX200 series.
 
Moving these results over to our CPF scale reinforces our findings. At 1280x1024 the HD4870 works out to be around £0.20 cheaper than the GTX260, but once the resolution is increased to 1900x1200, the GTX260 actually makes up for its slightly higher price by producing some decent fps figures which bring the CPF value of the card to £0.05 below the HD4870.
 
 
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
 
BIOSHOCK shows the ATI cards some serious love with the HD4870 actually coming within 0.5fps of the GTX280 at 1900x1200. Things get even better for the card when our overclocked settings are applied, with the 4870 managing a 2FPS advantage over the GTX280 and an 8fps advantage over the GTX260.
 
For obvious reasons this translates extremely well for the HD4870 when placed on the CPF scale, with the card managing to come in a full £0.40 cheaper per frame than the GTX260 at 1900x1200 and £0.22 cheaper at 1280x1024.


PowerColor HD4870 512MB PCI-E Page: 6
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 the GTX260 taking a ~3fps advantage over the 4870 at 1900x1200 and 1280x1024 resolutions, but the lower price of the PowerColor HD4870 giving it a slight advantage on the CPF scale, there really is no clear winner in the Crysis benchmarks.
 
As expected the GTX280 gives the best benchmark results at all resolutions, but with a £7.86 per frame price tag attached to the card, are the extra few fps it produces really worth it?
 
 
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
 
Once again the HD4870 can't quite keep up with the GTX260, falling 16fps behind at 1900x1200 and 19fps behind at 1280x1024. Even when running at overclocked settings the 4870 can't quite manage to close the gap, leaving both the GTX260 and 4870 with almost even scores on the CPF scale.


PowerColor HD4870 512MB PCI-E Page: 7
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.
 
Quake 4 - FPS
 
Quake 4 - CPF
 
Quake4 produces some very strange results for the HD4870, with the results capping off at 78fps even with the card overclocked. Initially we thought that this may have been some kind of internal frame limiter or rogue vsync setting, but even after a reinstall of Quake 4 the limit was still present. A quick switch over to the GTX260 broke straight through this barrier managing to hit 91fps at 1280x1024 and 82fps at 1900x1200, but obviously this doesn't bode very well for the 4870 in this particular benchmark.
 
 
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 3 - FPS
 
Unreal Tourmanet 3 - CPF
 
At a resolution of 1280x1024, each of the cards used in the test were able to pass 150fps without breaking too much of a sweat. Once again the leaders of the pack are from the green team, with the GTX260 and GTX280 beating out the HD4870 by between 5-10fps. However, the gap between the red and green team widens even further when the resolution is increased to 1900x1200 with a 14fps advantage being had by theGTX260 over the HD4870.
 


PowerColor HD4870 512MB PCI-E Page: 8
Conclusion
 
PowerColor HD4870As I'm sure many of us will already know - the HD4870 regardless of manufacturer is one great card. While many will argue that it's little brother, the HD4850 can do the job just as well with a little bit of overclocking and also leave you with enough money in your back pocket for a take-away dinner, the GDDR5 memory found only on the 4870 allowed us to push the overclocking slider all the way to the edge without even having to test for stability. This was also true for the core clock speed which showed no signs of visual corruption or other artifacting when running the GPU at speeds approaching 800mhz
 
Benchmarking the HD4870 against the likes of NVIDIA's GTX260 and GTX280 gave a mixed bag of results with the HD4870 taking the lead (sometimes above the GTX280) in a select few games, while locking horns with the GTX260 in others. Even in Crysis at high resolutions, the HD4870 managed to turn out some very good number,  falling only 7fps behind the green teams current flagship card.
 
Thanks to PowerColor's no-frills approach to packaging and accessories, the HD4870 also came in at around £25 cheaper than the GTX260 (despite NVIDIA's heavy price cuts) and managed to score well on our overall Cost Per Frame scale as seen below:
 
PowerColor HD4870 CPF
 
In summary, the PowerColor HD4870 manages to combine excellent performance along with a price that is fairly easy to swallow. Even with the beastly HD4870x2 right around the corner, this card is set to be a market favourite for a long time to come.
 
 
The Good
- Performance on-par with the GTX260
- Overclocking is effortless and could easily be taken higher with the right tools.
- Excellent value for money.
 
The Mediocre
- Those seeking free games, keychains and other "freebies" should look elsewhere.
 
The Bad
- Absolutely nothing.
 
 
Overclock3D Recommended Award Overclock3D Value For Money Award
 
Thanks to PowerColor for providing the HD4870 for review. Discuss this review in our forums.