XFX HD 4890 XXX 1GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 1
Introduction

XFX are a manufacturer not traditionally associated with ATI so when I was asked to review the latest ATI card, the 4890,  I was surprised to hear it was from XFX. Not only that but this card is a XXX edition! The guys from Hong Kong certainly don't do things by halves! With a full line up of ATI products also under their umbrella (XFX ATI roundup coming soon), XFX will hopefully add to the impressive reputation they gained by being a major manufacturer for Nvidia products.

First things first, I'm afraid ATI have not reduced the fabrication down to 40nm with this card. Instead the card is still based on the 55nm architecture of its sister card the 4870. However there have been tweaks made to the power circuitry allowing ATI to increase the clockspeeds significantly. 1GB of GDDR5 also makes a showing which should ensure that the memory can keep pace with the GPU. XFX being XFX though were not happy with the stock clockspeed on the GPU and bumped it up to 900MHz on the core.
HD4800 core
The HD4800 core has an updated design with AMD adding decoupling capacitors to reduce signal noise. This does however, give a very minor increase ito the die area. The whole processor has been re-timed and the ASIC power distribution has also been tweaked to improve efficiency of the 4890. This, along with the decaps has allowed ATI to increase the clockspeeds of their GPU without the need for a die shrink just yet.

The HD 4890 has another trick up it's sleeve too with DirectX 10.1. While this is a minor update to DX10, DX10.1 gives game developers better control over image quality amd more flexibility with some existing features of DX10 such as cube map arrays and independent blending modes. These features are best displayed with the DirectX 10.1 game - HAWX, which is included with the XFX 4890XXX.

With a stock core speed of 850 MHz, and the added tweak giving a speed of 900MHz, the HD4890 XXX is a mere 100MHz off the Golden 1GHz speed, something I hope to hit later in the review in the overclocking section.

So, with the card hitting some blistering speeds and priced at a competitive £240, the HD4890 is shaping up quite nicely in anticipation of Nvidia's GTX275 release, due out today if reports are to be believed. We will keep you posted on how the two compare in the very near future.

Here's what XFX had to say:

For some, beauty is defined by the level of realism achieved in a game. From true-to-life smoke and flying rock fragments caused by a lobbed grenade to reach-out-and-touch it textures on walls and streets to “you talkin’ to me???” facial expressions on animated characters, nothing can bring a tear to the eye of a gaming aficionado like a truly immersive graphic experience. Unless it’s all of that, plus exceptional price points AND unparalleled technology. In which case, have some tissue handy, because you’re in for a misty moment.
Introducing XFX’s new Radeon™ HD-powered 4000 series graphics cards powered by ATI Radeon GPUs. Crafted from state-of-the-art technologies, their inner beauty is truly frame-worthy.


Specification

The following specification was taken directly from XFX's technical spec sheet with minor editing for the purposes of clarity:

Chipset ATI Radeon HD 4890
GPU Radeon HD 4890 XXX Edition
Bus Type PCI-E 2.0
GPU Clock 900 MHz
Stream Processing Units 800
Memory Bus 256-bit
Memory Type DDR5
Memory Size 1.0 GB
Memory Speed 3.9 GHz
Thermal Solution FANSINK
Minimum Power Supply Requirement 500 Watt
External Power Requirement 2 x 6-pin
TV Out x1
VGA x0
DVI x2
Dual-Link Support YES
HDMI x0
Max Supported Resolution (DIGITAL) 2560 x 1600
Max Supported Resolution (ANALOG) 2048 x 1536

FEATURES
RoHS
HDMI Ready
HDCP Ready
ATI CrossFireX Ready
ATI Stream Technology
ATI PowerPlay Technology
ATI Hybrid Grahpics Technology
Accelerated Physics Processing
Accelerated Video Transcoding

ATI Avivo HD

Dimensions
Package Weight 4.1 lbs est
Package Dimensions 13.0" W x 9.5" H x 6.5" D

Enough of the small talk, let's move on and take a look at the card itself...


XFX HD 4890 XXX 1GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 2
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 faux 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.
 
box front box rear
 
Here's where things went a little awry. Opening the box, without tearing the nicely designed sleeve eventually got the better of me so after 5 minutes of head scratching and a few expletives, I gave up and just tore into it. While it's all very well designing a nice looking box, it just felt wrong tearing it open like that. I guess it's the Yorkshire man in me that thinks about the resale value before even using the item at hand. Once I made a few strategic tears, I did figure out that it was possible to open it up without tearing but alas the moment had passed and my patience had dwindled.

box side box inner

So here we have another interesting design, the 'box through a box' perpendicular style, again forming an X. This time, it was much easier to get into the contents with one box sliding out from another. The lower box, contained 2 section with the upper section containing the accessories, user guides and the lower compartment holding the graphics card itself.

box open accessory box
 
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 adaptor, an HDMI adaptor, 2x6-pin to dual Molex connectors, a crossfire bridge, the included HAWX game and a novelty 'do not disturb' sign.

accessories manual
 
Finally we get to see the card in all its glory. Being based on a reference design, XFX have not fixed what isn't broken and so simply added there own branding to the plastic cooler top. In fact the more eagle-eyed among you may well notice the original sticker can just be seen around the edges. The rear of the card is a mass of SMD's and screws with a small backplate holding the copper triple heatpiped cooler to the GPU.
 
card front card rear
 
The connectivity of the card is a standard dual slot affair with 2xDVI ports and a TV out port. I would have liked to have seen colour coded DVI ports as with some of the XFX Nvidia cards but that's a minor issue that can easily be rectified in future releases. At the power end of the card we see that ATI have managed to stick to the 2x6-pin PCIe power ports rather replacing a 6 pin with a more powerful 8-pin ensuring that users of older PSU's can still take advantage of this card.

dvi pcie
 
The card has two Crossfire tabs ensuring the card is CrossfireX compatible (something we will put to the test in a later review). On the back of the card is a multitude of SMD's and power/fault indication LEDs (red). In the centre of the card is a small backplate held down by four spring loaded screws.

crossfire side 2

The cooler was easily removed thanks in part to the simple way the cooler is attached. The paste used is nigh on perfect both in consistency and amount and ensured the GPU got very good mount. Thermal pads were chosen to provide convection of heat from the memory chips and power regulators.

cooler paste
 
Qimonda DDR5 chips are the memory chips used on the XFX4890XXX card we reviewed today which should ensure some excellent overclocking ability. Below right we see the GPU core itself which while not being reduced in die size, it has had a number of tweaks, again hopefully improving the overclocking possibilities of the card as well as increased the stock speeds of the card.

memory gpu

Based on the reference design, the XFX 4890XXX card is nothing out of the ordinary to look at. Sure the packaging is very interesting and the accessories are excellent but I would have liked to have seen a little more originality with the card itself rather than a change of sticker. Being a XXX version I was surprised to find there was no indication of this anywhere to be found on either the packaging or the card itself save for the advertised clockspeed.

Enough of the aesthetics, let's take a look at the cards overclocking abilities and the test setup used for todays review...


XFX HD 4890 XXX 1GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 3
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:XFX HD 4890XXX
Graphics Drivers: Supplied by ATI
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.
 
 

The power consumption figures did not throw up anything out of the ordinary with the overclocked XFX 4890XXX edition consuming slightly more power than the stock Asus card. 

 
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.
 
 

Again, because of the overclock on the XFX 4890, the temperatures were inevitably slightly higher but still well under control and the fan barely spun up at idle. Under load the fan did become audible and at 100% it was very noisy. The reference cooler for the ATI cards have change little over recent releases so if you already own an ATI card with a dual slot cooler you will no doubt be well aware of the whooshing noise this card is capable of.
 
 
Overclocking
 
For overclocking the XFX 4890XXX, I used the ATI Overdrive utility in the Catylist Control Panel.
 
stock overclock

The XFX4890XXX, being a pre-overclocked card, did not raise my hopes of any extra clocks worthwhile of discussion but the card easily maxed out the Overdrive utility reaching the golden 1GHz GPU clockspeed with ease. The Asus card I reviewed needed a bump in Vcore to reach this speed with any stability so it is a credit to the XFX card that it managed this speed without the help of added voltage. To test the benifits of such an achievement, I ran Call of Duty 4 at different resultions and then compared the results to the stock(overclock) speed.
 
 

Call of Duty 4 showed some impressive improvements in frames per second. With almost a 25% increase in FPS at the lowest resolution and significant increases at high and ultra high resolutions, COD4 certainly benefits from the overclock. In the next few pages however we will see just how much benefit the stock overclocked setting gives the card over the reference speeds of the Asus card.

Let's move on to our suite of benchmarks where we pitch it up against the GTX295, ATI 4870x2, ATI4870 XXX and stock GTX285...


XFX HD 4890 XXX 1GB 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

ATI cards always seem to do well in the 3DMark series of benchmarks and the 4890XXX is no different. Outscoring it's forbear, the 4870XXX and the stock 4890 as well as beating the GTX285 at all but the highest resolution goes some way to initially prove the XFX 4890XXX's worth.

The card does struggle in 3DMark Vantage though where NVidia cards take the (ad)Vantage through PhysX processing. I still prefer to use Vantage with PhysX enabled as it is a feature of Nvidia cards, much the same as I will also run benchmarks with DX10.1 in favour of ATI (when they appear).

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


XFX HD 4890 XXX 1GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 5
 
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

The HD4890XXX expectedly surpassed the stock clocked Asus card by 3-4 FPS in almost every benchmark we ran here. It also managed to destroy the much more expensive GTX285 in GRID but sadly could not repeat this performance in both UTIII and COD4.

Let's move on..


XFX HD 4890 XXX 1GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 6
 
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

Once again the XFX4890XXX card put up a very good fight against the GTX285, winning out in Far Cry 2 until the resolution was maxed out. Oblivion favoured the Nvidia cards while Crysis showed mixed results all round. The XFX4890XXX has not exactly blown it's stock clocked brother out of the water it did show performance differences, albeit on a small scale.

Let's head over to the conclusion where I will shed some thought on the XFX 4890 XXX


XFX HD 4890 XXX 1GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 7
Conclusion

Pre-Overclocked cards rarely impress me as the benefits they give are not something I value and are also usually no different than a stock card apart from the BIOS clocks. This is true to some extent of the XFX card, a 50MHz increase in GPU speed from a stock 850MHz is certainly nothing to shout from the rooftops about but when you consider that this card is no more expensive than a reference card from one of the traditional ATI top tier partners AND it includes a fresh new quality game it becomes a no brainer about which card the money should go on.

The packaging of the XFX 4890XXX, while frustrating to open up, was very original and sets itself apart from the plain old rectangular packages we are all familiar with. The contents were secure though and should reach you in perfect condition. I would like to see some foam padding as an extra safety measure for the card but this is a minor issue that can easily be resolved.

The card is of a reference design, simply with an XFX sticker placed on the GPU cooler, over the top of the reference sticker. Obviously the BIOS has been tweaked but other than that there are no differences between this card and a card from any other manufacturer basing their product on the ATI reference design. This is perhaps my major gripe with the XFX card in that I would like something a little different, something to separate the card from all the others that are soon to hit the shelves. Maybe a black PCB, or maybe use a (shock) different colour cooler. Anything to distinguish a XXX card from a bog standard card would be better appreciated.

Nit picking aside, there is no doubting that the XFX 4890XXX is a step in the right direction for ATI and a damn fine example from XFX.  While it may struggle to take the single GPU crown from the GTX285,  it will certainly provide some stiff competition to the GTX275, the card it is inevitably going to be compared against. £10 more expensive than a reference card is small change when you consider you are getting a decent game and a pre-overclocked card. So, for someone looking to mix it with the big boys at a wallet friendly price then the XFX 4890XXX fits the bill very nicely.

The Good

- Overclocking performance
- Pre overclocked card
- Included Game (HAWX)
- Comprehensive accessories

The Mediocre

- No difference in looks from a stock card

The Bad
- Fan noise



Thanks to XFX for providing the HD4890XXX card for todays review. Discuss in our forums.