In times gone by, if XFX were a stick of rock and you cut them in half, no doubt they would once have had Nvidia written through the middle. Times however, change and with the ever increasing competition in the GPU market. XFX have decided to sell cards from a company who are traditionally a major rival, ATI. Despite making business sense, it is still somewhat of a surprise that XFX, such a pillar of strength for Nvidia have decided to sell cards of Nvidia's most hated rival - ATI. While XFX's market share is certainly not the highest, the XFX brand is very popular among enthusiasts, due in part to the overclocked editions XFX are synominous with.
"JUDAS!" scream Nvidia. Well not quite. XFX still intend on selling Nvidia GPU's and with Nvidia's GPU market share of standalone GPU's being around the 60% mark who can blame them. What XFX are attempting to do is tap into the 40% or thereabouts remaining. XFX are still adament that their partnership with Nvidia is as strong as it ever was and now they have the marketing power to meet the demands of the enthuiast regardless of your preference to the red or green team.
This collaboration has produced a new range of graphics cards and the ones I will be looking at today are the overclocked XXX editions of the budget 4850, the 4870, the latest release 4890 and the stock clocked but mighty 4870x2. I will also be calculating these card's cost per frame to evaluate how much bang-per-buck you get for your cash.
One has to wonder what XFX can possibly bring to the table that isn't already there but as we have seen with the flagship single GPU card, the XFX4890XXX (reviewed in full here), XFX know a thing or too about what the end user wants: Supreme packaging, useful accessories and perhaps most importantly, overclocked editions backed up with 5 star support. So then. let's hope this is the case with their new ATI range of GPU's. Can XFX deliver? I think it's time we found out.
The following specifications were taken directly from the XFX specification page.
|HD 4850 XXX||HD 4870 XXX||HD 4890 XXX||HD 4870x2|
|Bus Type||PCI-E 2.0||PCI-E 2.0||PCI-E 2.0||PCI-E 2.0|
|GPU Clock MHz||625 MHz||775MHz||875MHz||750MHz|
|Memory Interface Bus (bit)||256||256||256||512|
|Memory Size (MB)||512||1024||1024||2048|
|Memory Clock (MHz)||1990MHz||3800MHz||3900MHz||3600MHz|
|Output HDCP Capable||1||1||1||1|
|Max Resolution Analog Horizontal||2048||2048||2048||2048|
|Max Resolution Analog Vertical||1536||1536||1536||1536|
|Max Resolution Digital Hoizontal||2560||2560||2560||2560|
|Max Resolution Digital Vertical||1600||1600||1600||1600|
|Dimensions (Imperial)||9 x 4.376 x 1.5||9.5 x 4.376 x 1.5||9.5 x 4.376 x 3.8||10.5 x 4.376 x 1.5|
|Dimensions (Metric)||23 x 11 x 3.8||24.1 x 11 x 3.8||24.1 x 11 x 3.8||26.7 x 11.2 x 3.8|
|Profile||Double Slot||Double Slot||Double Slot||Double Slot|
|ATI Radeon HyperMemory™||YES||YES||YES||YES|
|ATI Radeon CrossFireX™ Technology||YES||YES||YES||YES|
|ATI Radeon PowerPlay™||YES||YES||YES||YES|
|ATI Radeon Stream Technology||YES||YES||YES||YES|
Let's sit back now and take a brief look at what each card offers in terms of packaging and appearance...
Packaging & Appearance
A far cry from the green packaging of old, the XFX ATI packaging is typical of what you would expect of a card from the 'red side' to look like, red and black. The HD4850 packaging is very compact in size, being little longer in length than the card itself. The main emblem on the front is reminiscent of a World War two mine look set to explode with the identification of the card set underneath the expectant detonation. With 'just' 512MB of memory it will be interesting if this lack of memory has an effect on the cards performance against the other 1GB and 2GB cards we have on test today.
The rear of the box shows off the graphics cards key features which include 1 teraFLOP of GPU power, DX10.1 compatibility and CrossfireX capability to name a few.
The left side of the box describes some of the features unique to ATI such as ATI Avivo which allows HD gaming, video and photos to be exploited along with universal connectivity to TV's. HDMI with 7.1 surround is also available with this card. The opposite side informs us of the power requirements which are 450W with a 75Watt PCIe 6-pin connector or a recommended 550Watt PSU with 2x 6-pin PCIe connectors. Those astute among you will notice that this card is the XXX edition meaning it's overclocked past the stock speed. The only indication that this is such a card is a XXX sticker placed across one side. The remainder of the box is exactly the same as the stock 4850 512MB card.
Opening the small box, we are presented by a compartmentalized design with the removable top section containing the accessories and the bottom part, the card itself. The accessories included are what you would expect to see with both DVI/VGA and DVI/HDMI adapters available. A quick start and full installation guide are also included should you be unsure of how to install the device. XFX have also thoughtfully included a 6 pin PCIe-Molex dongle ensuring that even if your PSU does not meet the PCIe specification then you might still be in luck should it be able to provide enough amperage over Molex connectors.
Rather than go with the tried and tested (and for the most part noisy) stock ATI cooler, XFX have designed their own branded plastic top, covering an aluminium heatsink. While the design is very boxy in appearance and a little cheap to the touch, the cooler should ensure that it doesn't matter which colour scheme your PC has, this card won't look out of place. Great, for those who care about such things but for those that don't, rest assured it also appears to be quieter than the stock cooler.
The rear of the card has red DVI ports which are a nice addition and a break away from the plain old white ones we're used to seeing. Shame then, that nobody will see them unless the have a fetish for looking at the rear of your PC. The fan seems to be a standard affair found on ATI and Nvidia cards, drawing air in from the top and the exhausting to the rear.
The XFX HD4850XXX only requires a single PCIe 6-pin cable which is neatly hidden at the far end of the GPU. Personally I prefer this location rather than being on the cards side as it makes for much easier cable routing and a tidier PC but I digress. The card is also Crossfire X compatible allowing you to fit three cards together vie the Crossfire tabs.
Again, the sides of the card a very unobtrusive in appearance. Nobody could accuse the card of being a trend setter as it is very discreet by design, something we are not used to seeing at OC3D on an ATI card but anything has to be better than cheap looking green PCB's and stickered heatsink covers. The card is distinctive yet understated, perhaps more 'grown-up' one might say than some we have seen in the past.
All in all, not a bad looking card and the package, while not exactly ground breaking nor the best we have come across, it is certainly more than adequate. I was hoping that XFX would be using a similar style packaging technique that they use with their Nvidia cards as they are very well packed and leaders in this department but alas ATI fans will have to settle for a little less.
Let's take a look at the HD4870XXX...
Packaging & Appearance
Much the same as the HD4850's packaging, the HD4870's box is small in stature. This time we get a spiked Ice hockey mask greeting us on the front with a flame riddled backdrop. The rear of the box displays the main features of the card including 800 Stream processors power 1GB of GDDR5 and CrossfireX capability.
Like the 4850 before, this card's also a XXX pre-overclocked edition of the HD4870 resulting in clockspeeds of 775MHz on the core with a memory speed of a 3800MHz (effective). This time, the power supply unit required to power this card is bumped up a notch to 500w with XFX recommending a 600Watt PSU with four PCIe slots if you intend on running this card in tandem with another.
Removing the outer sleeve we come to a plain black box, no aliens, no monsters or indeed scantly clad Elvin warriors are anywhere to be seen - how strange for an ATI package? The interior of this understated box is again a neat compartmentalized affair with the accessories, guides and driver CD's separated from the main unit.
In typical XFX fashion, we find that no stone is left unturned when we come to the accessories with not one but two guides, a driver/software CD, HDMI and DVI adapters, 2x dual Molex adapters, a TV-out cable and a Crossfire bridge. XFX also include a novelty Do Not Disturb door hanger - useful or not it still brings a smile to my face.
The 'Jason' theme is carried onto the card with the hockey mask once more making an appearance. The cooler is a stock ATI affair though with XFX simply placing their own branding on the card. XFX have however, chosen to use a black PCB for this ATI card which is much more attractive than the red PCB used by some manufacturers of ATI cards. The stock cooler is held onto the card by a number of screws with the copper baseplate held in place by a small backplate.
Akin to the HD4850XXX, the 4870XXX also features the signature red DVI ports at the business end of the card along with a TV out port. The 4870XXX needs a little more power than it's stablemate though if the two PCIe 6-pin power ports are anything to go by.
The stock red cooler is beginning to look a little dated now and is pretty much indistinguishable from any other ATI cooler. While it may be effective, it is certainly not quiet, especially when the card is placed under any load for any period of time.
Thankfully the card's cooling is effective enough that the fan never hit 100% in my testing but I had to see how loud the fan was at 100%, something I do not plan on doing in the future as my ears bled for a few days afterwards. OK, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, make that just one or two days! After such a time listening to the fans at full tilt your ear drums will likely have deteriorated so much that adding another card or two in Crossfire X configuration won't make any difference but the old lady at the end of the street won't thank you for it nor will the pack of dogs howling outside your door. Who cares though, there's nothing more sexy than a couple (or more) cards working in tandem (except maybe for Heather Locklear in a PVC cat suit writhing around on a plastic sheet holding a bottle of baby oil - but that's another story all together!).
So then, nothing really outstanding in the aesthetics department being a standard cooler, understated (but still stylish) box and a noisy fan. A black PCB can only go so far in making up for a lack of imagination but the card still looks better than a lot of ATI offerings on the market today.
Let's see how the XFX 4890 fairs...
Packaging & Appearance
This is perhaps the first time I have come across such a box design, if indeed you can call it a box. The X shape is very striking to look at and the box design must surely have been developed from a master or Origami as getting an X shape like this must take some doing. The outer design is very appealing being gunmetal Grey and red with fake screws holding the package together.
The front of the box displays the bare essentials such as product name and 1GB of DDR5/ATI CrossfireX technology emblems. Nowhere on the box that I could see though were the usual XXX stickers, something that will no doubt be rectified for retail versions. Flipping the box over we get a more in depth specification list as well as XFX advising you to register the product to take advantage of their industry leading 5-Star Support program.
The accessories are both complete and comprehensive. Two user guides were provided along with a support CD. Sadly the support CD didn't have any drivers on it, instead it simply guides you to the XFX website. While this is a good prompt to use the latest available drivers, I can only hope that the drivers are available on launch as the most recent CAT 9.3's were not compatible. Finishing off the accessory list were a DVI/VGA adapter, an HDMI adapter, 2x6-pin to dual Molex connectors, a crossfire bridge, the included HAWX game and a novelty 'do not disturb' sign.
Despite the 'interesting' (read frustrating) box design, the 4890XXX certainly looks the part. I would have preferred a different cooler design as this, once again, is very loud when at full tilt. For whatever reason XFX also opted to use the standard red PCB design. There is very little to distinguish the XFX version from any other version on the market, even though this card is a XXX version.
Let's take a look at the HD4870x2...
Packaging & Appearance
Once again, the front of the box is dominated with the mask from Friday the13th fame. This time however, the box is twice the size of the XFX 4850 and 4870XXX cards we looked at earlier. I still think the XFX emblem looks out of place, being green and while I appreciate it's just a company logo a change of colour to red would be more apt for their ATI branding. Flipping the box over, we see that XFX are keen to promote their 5-star support service should you take the time to register the product.
Removing the outer sleeve, we once again come to a plain black box containing both the accessories and the graphics card. The accessory list is once again complete with everything you could want from GPU connectivity. A DVI/VGA adapter, HDMI adapter, TV out and PCIe 6-pin to dual Molex adapter along with a driver CD and user guides.
XFX, while traditionally hailing from the green side have missed a trick by using the same green cardboard padding used in their Nvidia range. Again, I would prefer to have seen red instead of lime green which could well upset some avid ATI fan boys as no self respecting fan boy would have green anywhere, let alone on the packaging of their beloved ATI GPU's. Nevertheless, XFX have seen fit to use this padding from the Nvidia parts bin. Thankfully, the card is this time held securely in place by sponge ensuring the card reaches the end user in perfect condition.
The card yet again uses the standard designed cooler but instead of the translucent red we have a stylish black affair which only serves to add to the domineering appearance of the card. A matching black backplate is also used to prevent the card from bowing under the heavy coolers weight with the two chrome GPU backplates hinting of the dual GPU power hidden inside.
The cooler fan is effective in operation but again, fairly loud when placed under load. Potential buyers should note that this card requires an 8-pin PCIe cable as well as a 6 Pin PCIe cable to operate as designed and with no 8 pin adapter included it is therefore imperative that your PSU supports this feature.
The rear of the card this time has plain black DVI ports and a single TV-output . HD compatibility is afforded via the supplied HDMI adapter and the 7.1 surround capability of the card can hopefully drown out the noise of the fan. Be aware though that this card is not exactly the ideal choice for a media centre despite it's connectivity. It's a monolith of a card and consideration should be given to this fact as it will not fit in a lot of cases so please check before buying.
The 4870x2 has been the top performing card for so long now with only the GTX295 surpassing it and even then by a small margin. It is still the flagship card from ATI and coupled with XFX packaging and support it, priced below the GTX295 it is still proving very popular with enthusiasts who are looking for a card that can perform at the highest level. Can it prove best bang per buck though, considering how well the 4870 performs it certainly has it's work cut out.
Let's see if the pre-overclocked cards have anything left to offer in terms of speed as I try to overclock them even further with our 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:
With all of the cards overclocking extremely well you have to wonder why ATI do not increase the relative thresholds of the Catalyst Control Centre. I am confident all of the cards would overclock further but save using Rivatuner or another external application, this is not possible with the current CAT 9.3 drivers with the included CCC and overdrive option. Still, this is a 'n00b' friendly option and will certainly cut down on the amount of RMA's though overheating, burnt out cards because of over zealous overclocking.
After returning the cards back to their stock state I then proceeded to run our standard set of graphics tests to evaluate the performance against on another. I also compared the cards on a 'Cost Per Frame' basis to better help prospective buyers to see how much they are getting for their money (calculated with UK Sterling - prices correct at the time of writing).
Let's see how the cards got on...
No surprise here with the HD4870X2 taking the lead in everything we threw at it. Interesting there is not double the performance of the 4870 despite the card having 4870 cores and double the memory. The HD4850XXX performed very well until the resolution and image quality was increased. The 4870X2 certainly showed it's prowess at the maximum resolutions, perhaps best exemplified in 3DMark 05 scoring over 8000 marks more than it's closest rival the HD4890XXX, which in turn outpaced it's forbear, the HD4870XXX.
Let's see if this transfers over to our real world gaming benchmarks.
Leaping onto the ATI bandwagon after being such a huge representative of Nvidia may be seen by some as a bad move but their is no doubting that XFX know a thing or two about graphics cards. The benefits of having XFX in partnership with ATI are plain to see with the XXX overclocked range out in full force. Sure the cards overclock to this level easily anyway but having the card pre clocked means you do not have to be troubled with the catalyst control centre's Overdrive or other overclocking utility allowing even the most inept enthusiast to gains those valuable extra frames per second.
All of the cards on show today were well packaged if somewhat a little less appealing as the Nvidia counterparts. No games or software is included with any of the cards apart from the recently released 4890XXX which is a little disappointing considering the cards are not priced any lower than the majority of their competitors.
The 4800 series have proved themselves time and again to be very popular among enthusiasts thanks to the awesome performance they provide along with very good cost/performance ratio. But which one should you choose? The 4850 is certainly a very good card but it is left wanting at extreme resolutions. The 4870 was one of the most popular cards of 2008 thanks to it hitting the sweet spot of bang per buck but even though this card is a XXX version it now makes little sense to buy when you compare it to the new kid on the block, the 4890XXX. This card can perform at all levels, comes in a somewhat interesting (if frustrating) package and can overclock to supreme speeds with ease. Then we come to the mighty 4870x2. Despite it now being dethroned by the GTX295, the 4870x2 is still a fantastic card. Costing £330 one would think this card would be found lacking when it comes to bang per buck but due to it's extra ordinary performance it can hold its own against much cheaper cards.
Whatever your requirement, one thing is for sure, XFX have a GPU that can cater for every taste be it budget, performance or power consumption and now with an allegiance to ATI as well as Nvidia, XFX have given the end user the choice of their preferred manufacturer.
- Extreme performance of the HD4870x2
- Price of the 4850XXX
- Included game of the 4890XXX
- Stock ATI cooler is becoming tiresome
- Packaging not to the same standard of Nvidia
- Noisy fans