...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
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  • jay401 - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    Good but I just wish AMD would give it a full 512-bit memory bus bandwidth. Tired of 256-bit. It's so dated and it shows in the overall bandwidth compared to NVidia's cards with 512-bit bus widths. All that fancy GDDR4/5 and it doesn't actually shoot them way ahead of NVidia's cards in memory bandwidth because they halve the bus width by going with 256-bit instead of 512-bit. When they offer 512-bit the cards will REALLY shine. Reply
  • Spoelie - Thursday, June 26, 2008 - link

    Except that when R600 had a 512bit bus, it didn't show any advantage over RV670 with a 256bit bus. And that was with GDDR3 vs GDDR3, not GDDR5 like in RV770 case. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, June 26, 2008 - link

    R600 was 512-bit ring bus with 256-bit memory interface (four 64-bit interfaces). http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2552&p...">Read about it here for a refresh. Besides being more costly to implement, it used a lot of power and didn't actually end up providing provably better performance. I think it was an interesting approach that turned out to be less than perfect... just like NetBurst was an interesting design that turned out to have serious power limitations. Reply
  • Spoelie - Thursday, June 26, 2008 - link

    Except that it was not, that was R520 ;) and R580 is the X19x0 series. That second one proved to be the superior solution over time.

    R600 is the x2900xt, and it had a 1024bit ring bus with 512bit memory interface.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, June 29, 2008 - link

    yeah, r600 was 512-bit

    http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2988&p...">http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2988&p...

    looking at external bus width is an interesting challenge ... and gddr5 makes things a little more crazy in that clock speed and bus width can be so low with such high data rates ...

    but the 4870 does have 16 memory modules on it ... so that's a bit of a barrier to higher bit width busses ...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    I'd argue that the 512-bit memory interface on NVIDIA's cards is at least partly to blame for their high pricing. All things being equal, a 512-bit interface costs a lot more to implement than a 256-bit interface. GDDR5 at 900MHz is effectively the same as GDDR3 at 1800MHz... except no one is able to make 1800MHz GDDR3. Latencies might favor one or the other solution, but latencies are usually covered by caching and other design decisions in the GPU world. Reply
  • geok1ng - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    The tests showed what i feared: my 8800GT is getting old to pump my Apple at 2560x1600 even without AA! But the tests also showed that the 512MB of DDR5 on the 4870 justifies the higher price tag over the 4850, something that the 3870/3850 pair failed to demonstrate. It remains the question: will 1GB of DDR5 detrone NVIDIA and rule the 30 inches realm of single GPU solutions? Reply
  • IKeelU - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    "It is as if AMD and NVIDIA just started pulling out hardware and throwing it at eachother"

    This makes me crack up...I just imagine two bruised and sweaty middle-aged CEO's flinging PCBs at each other, like children in a snowball fight.
    Reply
  • Thorsson - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    The heat is worrying. I'd like to see how aftermarket coolers work with a 4870. Reply
  • Final Destination II - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Powercolor/HD_4...">http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Powercolor/HD_4...

    Look! Compare the Powercolor vs. the MSI.
    Somehow MSI seems to have done a better job with 4dB less.
    Reply

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