...and then disaster struck.

Or at least that's how it felt. The past few weeks have been incredibly tumultuous, sleepless, and beyond interesting. It is as if AMD and NVIDIA just started pulling out hardware and throwing it at eachother while we stood in the middle getting pegged with graphics cards. And we weren't just hit with new architectures and unexpected die shrinks, but new drivers left and right.

First up was GT200, which appeared in the form of the GeForce GTX 280 and GeForce GTX 260. Of course, both of those can be paired or tri-ed (if you will), but with two cards requiring at least a 1200W PSU we're a bit worried of trying three. Then came the randomness that was the accidental launch of the Radeon HD 4850 (albeit with no architectural information) and only a couple hours later we first heard about the 9800 GTX+ which is a die shrunk higher clocked 9800 GTX that is now publicly announced and will be available in July.

And now we have the other thing we've been working on since we finished GT200: RV770 in all it's glory. This includes the 4850 whose performance we have already seen and the Radeon HD 4870: the teraflop card that falls further short of hitting its theoretical performance than NVIDIA did with GT200. But theoretical performance isn't reality, and nothing can be done if every instruction is a multiply-add or combination of a multiply-add and a multiply, so while marketing loves to trot out big numbers we quite prefer real-world testing with games people will actually play on this hardware.

But before we get to performance, and as usual, we will want to take as deep a look into this architecture as possible. We won't be able to go as deep with RV770 as we could with GT200, as we had access to a lot of information both from NVIDIA and from outside NVIDIA that allowed us to learn more about their architecture. At the same time, we still know barely anything about the real design of either NVIDIA or AMD's hardware as they prefer to hold their cards very close.

This won't work long term, however. As we push toward moving compute intensive applications to the GPU, developers will not just want -- they will need low level architectural information. It is impossible to properly optimize code for an architecture when you don't know exact details about timing, latency, cache sizes, register files, resource sharing, and the like. While, this generation, we have decidedly more information from NVIDIA on how to properly program their architecture, we still need more from both AMD and NVIDIA.

And Now, the Rest of the Story

Last week was a weird teaser - we gave you the goods, without explaining what they were.

By now you know that the Radeon HD 4850 is the best buy at $199, but today we're able to tell you much about its inner workings as well as introduce its faster, more expensive sibling: the Radeon HD 4870.

ATI Radeon HD 4870 ATI Radeon HD 4850 ATI Radeon HD 3870
Stream Processors 800 800 320
Texture Units 40 40 16
ROPs 16 16 16
Core Clock 750MHz 625MHz 775MHz+
Memory Clock 900MHz (3600MHz data rate) GDDR5 993MHz (1986MHz data rate) GDDR3 1125MHz (2250MHz data rate) GDDR4
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 512MB 512MB 512MB
Transistor Count 956M 956M 666M
Manufacturing Process TSMC 55nm TSMC 55nm TSMC 55nm
Price Point $299 $199 $199

Priced at $299 the Radeon HD 4870 is clocked 20% higher and has 81% more memory bandwidth than the Radeon HD 4850. The GPU clock speed improvement is simply due to better cooling as the 4870 ships with a two-slot cooler. The memory bandwidth improvement is due to the Radeon HD 4870 using GDDR5 memory instead of GDDR3 used on the 4850 (and GDDR4 for 3870); the result is a data rate equal to 4x the memory clock speed or 3.6Gbps. The Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 both use a 256-bit memory bus like the 3870 before it (as well as NVIDIA's competing GeForce 9800 GTX), but total memory bandwidth on the 4870 ends up being 115.2GB/s thanks to the use of GDDR5. Note that this is more memory bandwidth than the GeForce GTX 260 which has a much wider 448-bit memory bus, but uses GDDR3 devices.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX ATI Radeon HD 4870 ATI Radeon HD 4850 ATI Radeon HD 3870
Memory Size 1GB 896MB 512MB 512MB 512MB 512MB
Memory Technology GDDR3 GDDR3 GDDR3 GDDR5 GDDR3 GDDR4
Memory Bus Width 512-bit 448-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Clock 1107MHz 999MHz 1100MHz 900MHz 993MHz 1125MHz
Memory Data Rate 2.2Gbps 2.0Gbps 2.22Gbps 3.6Gbps 1.99Gbps 2.25Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 141.7GB/s 111.9GB/s 70.4GB/s 115.2GB/s 63.6GB/s 72.0GB/s

The use of GDDR5 enabled AMD to deliver GeForce GTX 260 class memory bandwidth, but without the pin-count and expense of a 448-bit memory interface. GDDR5 actually implements a number of Rambus-like routing and signaling technologies while still remaining a parallel based memory technology, the result is something that appears to deliver tremendous bandwidth per pin in a reliable, high volume solution.

AMD most likely took a risk on bringing GDDR5 to market this early and we do expect NVIDIA to follow suit, AMD is simply enjoying the benefits of jumping on the GDDR5 bandwagon early and getting it right, at least it seems that way. It wouldn't be too far fetched to imagine a 55nm GT200 die shrink with a 256-bit GDDR5 memory interface, it should allow NVIDIA to drop the price down to the $300 level (at least for the GTX 260).

As we mentioned in our Radeon HD 4850 Preview, both the Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 now support 8-channel LPCM audio output over HDMI. AMD just sent over 8-channel LPCM drivers for the Radeon HD 4870 so we'll be testing this functionality shortly. As we mentioned in our 4850 preview:

"All of AMD's Radeon HD graphics cards have shipped with their own audio codec, but the Radeon HD 4800 series of cards finally adds support for 8-channel LPCM output over HDMI. This is a huge deal for HTPC enthusiasts because now you can output 8-channel audio over HDMI in a motherboard agnostic solution. We still don't have support for bitstreaming TrueHD/DTS-HD MA and most likely won't anytime this year from a GPU alone, but there are some other solutions in the works for 2008."

The Radeon HD 4870 is scheduled for widespread availability in early July, although AMD tells us that some cards are already in the channel. Given that the 4870 relies on a new memory technology, we aren't sure how confident we can be that it will be as widely available as the Radeon HD 4850 has been thus far. Keep an eye out but so far the 4850 has been shipping without any issues at $199 or below, so as long as AMD can get cards in retailers' hands we expect the 4870 to hit its $299 price point.

AMD's "Small-Die" Strategy


View All Comments

  • formulav8 - Thursday, June 26, 2008 - link

    They do recommend hardware for different price points and such. So they do market in a way. Have you seen anands picks links? That is promoting products and does it through his referral links as well to get paid to do so. :)

    Anyways, mentioning something as a better buy up to a certain price point would be helpful to someone who is not really in the know.

  • shadowteam - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    You've got excellent written skills buddy, and I can't help thinking you're actually better at reviews than your m8 (no offence Anand), but what I truly meant from my post above is what you summed up rather well in your conclusive lines, quote: "You can either look at it as AMD giving you a bargain or NVIDIA charging too much, either way it's healthy competition in the graphics industry once again (after far too long of a hiatus)"

    Either way? Why should anyone look the other way? NV is clearly shitting all over the place, and you can tell that from the email they send you (or Anand) a couple days back. So they ripped us off for 6 months, and now suddenly decide the 9800GTX is worth $200?

    Healthy competition? Could you please elaborate on this further?
    $199 4850 vs $399 GTX260.... yup! that's healthy

    GTX+ vs 4850?
    Does that mean the GTX260 is now completely irrelevant? In fact, the 2xx series is utterly pointless no matter how you look at it.

    To bash on AMD, the 4870 is obviously priced high. For $100 extra, all you get is an OC'ed 4850 w/ DDR5 support. I don't think anyone here cares about DDR5, all that matters is performance, and the extra bucks plainly not worth it. From a consumers' perspective, the 4850 is the best buy, the 4870 isn't.
  • mlambert890 - Sunday, July 13, 2008 - link

    "200 series is utterly pointless"

    Yep... pointless unless you want the fastest card (280), then it has a point.

    Pointless to YOU possibly because you're focusing on perf per dollar. Good for you. Nice of you to presume to force that view on the world.

    Absolute performance? GTX 280 seems near the top of every benchmark there bud. Both in single card and in SLI where, last I checked, it gives up maybe TWO instances to the 4870CF - Bioshock and CoD and in both cases framerates are north of 100 at 2560. The 4870, on the other hand, falls WELL short of playable at that res in CF in most other benches.

    High res + high perf = 200 series. Sorry if thats offensive to the egos of those who cant afford the cards.

    Theres a lot in life we can and cant afford. Should have ZERO impact on ABSOLUTE PERFORMANCE discussions.
  • FITCamaro - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    AMD/ATI has to make some money somewhere. And regardless, at $300, the 4870 is a hell of a deal compared to the competition. Yes the 4850 is probably the best value. But the 4870 is still right behind it if you want a decent amount of extra performance at a great price.

    Nvidia may have the fastest thing out there. But only the richest, most brain dead idiots who have not a care in the world about how they spend their (or their parents) money will buy it with cards like the 4850 and 4870 available.

    And its pretty sad when your new $650 high end card is routinely beat by two of your last generation cards (8800GT) that you can get for $150 each or less. It wouldn't be as big a deal if the new card was $300-350 but at $650, it should be stomping on it.

    I think Nvidia is in for a reality check for what people want. If their new chips are only going to cater to the top 1% of the market, they're going to find themselves quickly in trouble. Especially with the all the issues their chipsets have for 6 months after release. And their shoddy drivers. I mean this past Friday I decided to try and set up some profiles so that when I started up Age of Conan, it would apply an overclock to my GPU and unapply it after I exited, it ended up locking up my PC continuously. I had to restore my OS from a backup disc because not even completely uninstalling and reinstalling my nvidia chipset and video drivers fixed it. And in my anger, I didn't back up my "My Documents" folder so I lost 5 years worth of stuff, largely pictures.
  • mlambert890 - Sunday, July 13, 2008 - link

    "Nvidia may have the fastest thing out there. But only the richest, most brain dead idiots who have not a care in the world about how they spend their (or their parents) money will buy it with cards like the 4850 and 4870 available."

    You just summed it up in that first sentence there bud. NVidia has the fastest thing out there. The rest is just opinion, bitterness and noise.

    I notice that the tone of the "enthusiast" community seems to be laser focused on cost now. This is like car discussions. People want to pretend to be "Xtreme" but what they really want to see is validation of whatever it is THEY can afford.

    Have fun with the 4870 by all means, its a great card. But the GTX280 IS faster. Did NVidia price it too high? Dont know and dont care.

    These are PERFORMANCE forums to all of the people that dont get that. Maybe even the editors need to be reminded.

    If I want to see an obsession with "bang for the buck" Ill go to Consumer Reports.

    I mean seriously. How much of a loser are you when you're taking a shot like "your PARENTS money"? LOL...

    Personally, I treat the PC hobby as an expensive distraction. Ive been a technology pro for 15 years now and this is my vice. As an adult earning my own money, I can decide how I spend it and the difference between $500 and a grand isnt a big deal.

    The rehtoric on forums is really funny. People throw the "kid/parents" insult around alot, but I think its more likely that the people who take prices beyond what they can afford as some kind of personal insult are more likely the kids here.
  • formulav8 - Thursday, June 26, 2008 - link

    "Nvidia may have the fastest thing out there. But only the richest, most brain dead idiots who have not a care in the world about how they spend their (or their parents) money will buy it with cards like the 4850 and 4870 available."

    Yuk Yuk Yuk :)

  • drpepper128 - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    To be honest, while I was reading the article I felt as if the article seemed a little ATI biased, but I guess that goes to show you that two different people can get drastically different opinions from the same article.

    The real reason I’m posting this is I want to thank you guys for writing some of the best articles that Anandtech has ever written. I read every page and enjoyed the whole thing. Keep up the great work guys and I look forward to reading more (especially about Nehalem and anything relating to AMD’s future architecture).

    Also, is GDDR5 coming to the 4850 ever? If so, maybe it would be a drastically better buy.

    Thank you,
  • Clauzii - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    Damn, You R pissed!! :O

    OK, get some sleep and wake up smiling tomorrow, knowing that It's ATI needing to raise prices - - - and go get that 4870 :))
  • Clauzii - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    OH, " ... that It's NOT ATI needing to ... "

    BTW: I actually read the review as pretty neutral, making a hint here and there that the further potential of the HD4870 is quite big :)
  • paydirt - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    You guys are reading into things WAY too much. Readers understand that just because something is a top performer (right now), doesn't mean that is the appropriate solution for them. Do you honestly think readers are retards and are going to plunk down $1300 for an SLI setup?! Let's leave the uber-rich out of this, get real.

    So a reader reads the reviews, goes to a shopping site and puts two of these cards in his basket, realizes "woah, hey this is $1300, no way. OK what are my other choices?"

    This review doesn't tell people what to do. It's factual. You (the AMD fanbois) are the ones being biased.

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