Ever since ATI introduced the Radeon HD48xx cards in the summer of 2008, users have scrambled to choose sides in the graphics card debate. What really shook things up was the price at which ATI introduced the newest cards, offering the performance of rival NVIDIA’s top GPUs at much lower price points. Up until now the HD4870 has been ATI’s most powerful single GPU solution. ATI has retooled the RV770 GPU found in the 4870 and 4850 cards and reintroduced it in the all-new HD4890. With a reported increase in stability and reduced signal noise, is the HD4890 a sufficient competitor to the GeForce GTX 275? Read on for our full review.
- GPU: 55nm RV790
- Core clock: 850MHz
- Memory: 1024MB GDDR5 @ 975MHz
- Digital output: 2 x DVI-I
- Analog output: 1 x S-video
- Power: 2 x 6-pin PCI Express
- Interface: PCI Express 2.0 x16
- Warranty: one year limited parts and labor warranty
The overclocked MSI R4890-T2D1G-OC has a GPU clocked at 880MHz and carries a suggested retail price of $259.99. The R4890-T2D1G reference version in this review, tuned to 850MHz, comes in slightly cheaper.
Build and Design
Lately, MSI has been jumping on the netbook and nettop bandwagon, introducing model after model. It’s easy to forget that they produce a lot of motherboards and video cards for all sides of the market. In this case, it’s the HD4890, ATI’s newest high-end graphics card. The card itself is sturdy and well designed, though heavier than it looks. I didn’t get a chance to directly measure the weights but it actually feels heavier than the GTX 275, despite the fact that it’s over an inch shorter. Like most MSI products, the circuit board is a brilliant red color, as is the bottom of the heatsink assembly and fan.
The cooler is painted black on top with a picture of a menacing ogre or troll on top. Similar to the EVGA GeForce GTX 275, the fan here is a cylindrical multi-blade model that helps cool the unit without getting too loud. This 4890 is the first card to use ATI’s new GPU, the RV790. The new GPU microarchitecture is essentially a tweaked version of its predecessor, the RV770 found in the 4870 and 4850 cards. While the basic components of the chip and card are the same, there are a few differences. Among the changes are an improved layout that allows for better power distribution as well as a significant clock speed increase. To counter the increased signal noise resulting from higher clock speeds, ATI added decoupling capacitors, which account somewhat for the increased transistor count and die size.
As mentioned in the specifications, the reference design for this card calls for a clock speed of 850MHz and a memory clock of 975MHz. Board partners will also be releasing overclocked variants, ranging anywhere from 880MHz to 900MHz and above. The RV790 reportedly lends itself very well to overclocking, with some users reporting overclocks of well over 100MHz on the card. Rumors are already flying that at least one manufacturer is planning an HD4890X2 with memory ranges of 2 – 4GB GDDR5, though it is certainly still up in the air.
The card itself is pretty large, physically, though not as large as the HD4870X2 or even the GeForce GTX 275. MSI’s HD4890 measures up to just a hair under ten inches, which cause some users a few issues especially in small cases. A bigger issue, however, is the placement of the power adapters on the end of the card. Even though the card not be as long as some, having to connect the PCI-E power cables can be problematic, with hard drives and SATA cords in the way.
Granted, the EVGA GeForce GTX 275 card that we got in is an overclocked version, though not by much. The MSI Radeon HD4890 wasn’t overclocked for any of the benchmarks, though users looking for some extra oomph shouldn’t have any difficulty in upping the card’s clock speeds.
3DMark Vantage results:
Category3DMark Vantage score3DMark06 scoreGTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 4890Overall scoreP11705P1058415226 3DMarks16966 3DMarksGPU subscore1149610041——CPU subscore1238112636——
The 3DMark tests foreshadow how the rest of the benchmarks seem to be going: the two cards trade blows back and forth, with no clear victor. PPU tests are disabled during 3DMark Vantage since otherwise it skews the CPU score results and weights the overall score incorrectly.
SettingsMinimum framerateMaximum framerateAverage framerateGTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 48901680×1050, settings maxed82 fps90fps265 fps198fps146.5 fps126.8fps1920×1200, settings maxed73 fps76fps188 fps209fps123.9 fps116.6fps
Despite the age of the game, it still scales well and therefore can be used to benchmark even new systems. The cards are fairly neck and neck here, except for the significantly higher maximum framerate found in the GTX 275 on WXGA settings. It’s probably safe to say that this is going to be a fluke, considering how similar the rest of the table is.
Call of Duty: World at War results (4x AA/AF):
SettingsMinimum framerateMaximum framerateAverage framerateGTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 48901680×1050, settings on auto64 fps61fps94 fps94fps83.7 fps82.9fps1920×1200, settings on auto45 fps43fps93 fps93fps79.4 fps69.3fps
The trend continues on here with the cards faring fairly close together, save for the average score on 1920×1200 resolutions. Still, the HD 4890 remains competitive with the GTX 275, and both cards give a smooth performance, rendering the games easily playable.
Left 4 Deadresults (8xAA/no AF):
SettingsMinimum framerateMaximum framerateAverage framerateGTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 48901680×1050, settings maxed62 fps91fps215 fps203fps138.4 fps145.7fps1920×1200, settings maxed69 fps80fps165 fps164fps122.2 fps125.1fps
Left 4 Dead runs well on ATI video cards and it shows here, with the HD 4890 coming out on top in four out of the six metrics. Despite this, the average scores have a difference of less than ten percent, just like most of the other benchmarks in the review.
Crysis v1.2 results (no AA/AF):
SettingsMinimum framerateMaximum framerateAverage framerateGTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 48901920×1200, all settings medium23 fps28fps82 fps74fps46.9 fps51.1fps1680×1050, all settings high23 fps24fps54 fps55fps38.4 fps40.5fps1920×1200, all settings high22 fps20fps64 fps48fps36.6fps35.6fps
Crysis has been the stress test for seeing how much game a video card can handle for some time, now, and it doesn’t help that the game is optimized to run better on NVIDIA cards, not ATI cards. Despite this, the MSI 4890 performs admirably, giving average framerates of well over thirty frames per second in each of the three different tests. Once again, however, the overall scores are less than ten percent better or worse than the competition’s offering.
Crysis Warhead results (no AA/AF):
SettingsMinimum framerateMaximum framerateAverage framerateGTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 4890GTX 275HD 48901920×1200, all settings mainstream27 fps28fps83 fps74fps54.6 fps52.7fps1680×1050, all settings gamer21 fps20fps54 fps50fps37.3 fps37.3fps1920×1200, all settings gamer18 fps17fps50 fps41fps33.2 fps30.8fps
Crysis Warhead gives pretty similar results to Crysis, save for the fact that its high (now called Gamer) settings are a little tougher on video cards than the original game showed. One thing to keep in mind is that neither card can run this game at high resolutions smoothly at all times. In this case, MSI’s HD 4890 dropped down to 17 frames per second at certain points during the game. Granted, the average was above thirty, but users would still experience jerkiness and/or slowdown during really intense scenes.
Power, Heat and Noise
When the computer first starts, the fans are impossibly loud, but they quickly spin down to almost silent. At idle, the fans run around 26% of total, keeping the card at a really toasty idle temperature of 60 degrees Celsius. After running for twenty minutes or so with FurMark, the card only managed to get to 71 degrees Celsius. For users who don’t mind the noise, the fans can be dialed up a good bit faster; while it’s a lot louder, it’s also a lot cooler.
With prices almost the same and performance not much different, users are forced to look outside the box to decide which card to buy. It might be brand loyalty, it might be the yearning for great new GPU-enhanced programs, it might be how well the card overclocks. It comes down to which card meets a specific user’s preferences, and with two very similar and yet very different options from which to choose, it’s hard to pick the losing team.
- Runs quiet by default
- Good performance on most games
- Great overclocking potential
- Power adapters on ends of card make it difficult to connect in smaller cases
- Card either runs hot and quiet or cool and very loud
- One year warranty not as great as some other options
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