Conclusions and Final Thoughts
From most angles, AMD’s launch of the new Radeon HD 4800-series of graphics card is a success – we were impressed by the performance of these cards as well as the performance per watt they were able to produce. 

The RV770 Architecture

The sheer power that the RV770 GPU is able to produce – 1.2 TeraFLOPs on the HD 4870 – is impressive just to see on a stats sheet.  The 800 shader processors, GDDR5 memory controller and new texture and ROP systems are impressive from a technical aspect but I was equally impressed with NVIDIA 1.4 billion transistor beast and its computing power as well.  What it really comes down to is how we feel each side has prepared for the future: does NVIDIA’s or AMD’s architecture look better for the future of PC gaming? 

Both options have their pros and cons: the GT200 monolithic core offers massive performance on a single GPU and should thus allow for better performance for you games out of the box.  AMD’s RV770 will need to double up to really take on the GTX 280, in the form of a dual-GPU R700 card later this year, and that puts a LOT of pressure on AMD’s software team to keep the CrossFire technology up to date and efficient.  AMD on the other hand can offer their new technology for less money right out of the gate: getting the HD 4850 for under $200 is a steal in our view.

Ask us again in 3 months which has the edge – the line-ups from both sides should be slightly different then as well.


The performances we saw from the Radeon HD 4870 and HD 4850 were not ground breaking – neither was able to take on the newly released GeForce GTX 280 for supremacy of the enthusiast GPU market.  But that is not what AMD was after – instead what AMD created were probably the most impressive $200 and $300 graphics cards we have seen in several years. 

The HD 4870 512MB GDDR5 card was able to outperform AMD’s dual-GPU HD 3870 X2 1GB card in nearly all of our tests – that is an impressive result as it indicates a doubling of gaming performance from one GPU generation to the next.  When comparing it to the NVIDIA product stack, the HD 4870 is easily beating out the new 55nm 9800 GTX+ product and is in fact nearly rivaling the new GTX 260 in many instances. 

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The darling of all of this might be the $199 HD 4850 card – even though it is using GDDR3 memory it has a very strong showing in our tests and is itself able to compete with the HD 3870 X2 card.  If it weren’t for NVIDIA’s recent price drop on the 9800 GTX and 9800 GTX+ cards to $199-229 the HD 4850 would have been the run-away victor; NVIDIA obviously caught wind of the performance of RV770 and made adjustments in pricing to make themselves competitive again though.  In truth the performance of both options is pretty much neck and neck – with a slight edge going to AMD’s new RV770-based HD 4850 card.

When we take CrossFire into account, the performance differences are astounding actually.  You can buy a pair of HD 4850s or even HD 4870s for less than the price of a single GTX 280 and in most cases the $400 you spend on CrossFire HD 4850s is going to outperform the NVIDIA option.  Hell, you could even buy a THIRD HD 4850 card for some CrossFireX action and be under the GTX 280 budget!!


Though NVIDIA has attempted to catch up with their inclusion of the DVI-to-HDMI adapters in with their cards, AMD still holds the lead in terms of multimedia goodness.  The built-in audio system on the RV770 has been upgraded to include 7.1 channel HD audio:

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This solution is much more elegant than NVIDIA’s audio pass through cable on the G92 and GT200 cards and allows for more flexibility on the end user’s side. 

AMD also updated their UVD technology to UVD2; how original.  This new version includes the same HD video decoding offloading and adds support for some basic post processing effects in much the same way NVIDIA updated their PureVideo HD software. 

Folding@Home on the GPU was originally an ATI exclusive, but NVIDIA has recently entered the field with their GT200 and in fact the Folding@Home client will need to be updated for the RV770 GPUs in the future – don’t plan on using these HD 4850s or HD 4870s for Folding quite yet.  Along that same line, AMD was the first to offer GPU-based transcoding and again NVIDIA has joined that party recently as well. 

Pricing and Availability

One thing you won’t have a problem finding today is an AMD Radeon HD 4850 card – they were actually sold earlier than AMD expected which prompted our own “previews” of the card last week.  Newegg has a slew of them in stock already:
The HD 4870 512MB card will be a bit more sparse: AMD is still claiming availability this week but we haven’t seen anything for sale just yet.  It is no secret that the GDDR5 memory that powers the HD 4870 is more expensive and still somewhat difficult to come by – AMD is the only buyer right now so production is probably pretty limited.  The MSRP for the HD 4870 should be around $299 and if the prices on the HD 4850 are any indication, AMD is dead set on meeting that price.

From NVIDIA that pits these RV770 cards up against the GeForce 9800 GTX/GTX+ cards and presumably the GeForce GTX 260 which should sell for $399 or GeForce 9800 GX2 which is going for just over $420 in some places.  That puts AMD in a great position – if they can get the HD 4870 out in quantity before NVIDIA can deliver on the cheaper GTX 260 they should rake in the sales of these cards. 

Final Thoughts

AMD’s and NVIDIA’s philosophies in GPU design are obviously splitting in a way they haven’t for several generations of GPUs and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.  What matters today is gaming performance for your dollar and AMD has delivered two of the best mid-range cards we have seen in a very long time; the HD 4850 and HD 4870 will no doubt appeal to many gamers looking to take a plunge with a sub-$300 or sub-$200 graphics solution. 

Be sure to use our pricing engine to find the best prices on NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards and anything else you might need:

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