The Test and Performance Improvement

Here's our test setup:

Test Setup
CPU Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 @ 3.20GHz
Motherboard EVGA nForce 790i SLI
Video Cards ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2
ATI Radeon HD 4870
ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216
Video Drivers Catalyst 8.7
ForceWare 177.34
Hard Drive Seagate 7200.9 120GB 8MB 7200RPM
RAM 4 x 1GB Corsair DDR3-1333 7-7-7-20
Operating System Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit SP1
PSU PC Power & Cooling Turbo Cool 1200W

Performance Improvement

So we'll spoil it right up front and give away the answer to the question on everyone's mind: how does performance improve with the addition of the extra 512MB of RAM to the 4870? And since we got a nice little surprise last week with the GTX 260 Core 216, we can even compare performance improvement of the slightly upgraded models of both the NVIDIA and AMD parts.

These comparisons are taken from the highest playable resolution in each game we tested, which is either 1920x1200 or 2560x1600 depending on the game. This class of card is able to handle the highest resolutions, but sometimes not with all the features cranked up (as our tests are designed). These high resolutions do the best job at stressing both memory and processing power, as processing more pixels every frame has an impact on both.

Another factor to consider is that we can't really tell you the maximum potential theoretical performance gain from adding more memory to a system. With the NVIDIA GTX 260 core 216, we know the maximum theoretical improvement is something like 12.5 percent. This is because we added 12.5 more compute resources. But doubling the amount of RAM, we aren't really doing anything directly to performance: we're just increasing the availability to resources to the hardware which may or may not improve utilization. Adding more RAM decreases the chance that something will need to be pulled in from system memory.

Both routes have the potential to improve performance, but both also speak to the balance of the initial design. We really don't want more memory on a board than we need to adequately feed the GPU, and, at the same time, we don't want so many compute/texture resources on the GPU that we can't possibly feed it enough data to crunch. From our perspective, it looks like the Radeon 4870 with 512MB was targeted at 1920x1200 or lower resolutions. More RAM has a lessened impact on lower resolutions, and the price point of the 4870 is generally in line with what a gamer would love to have paired with a high end 1920x1200 panel. People that buy 30" panels for gaming are more likely to go after more expensive solutions.

Some games also show a benefit from more RAM regardless of resolution, meaning they are very resource intensive games. While you can't make purchasing decisions based on future-proofing (there's really no way to accurately predict what card will do better in the future), the trend has generally been that newer games use larger and more textures and pile on more effects which take up more space in local memory. While the games that benefit across the board now are few, it is possible we could see that number increase down the line.



Oblivion and Assassin's Creed are the only two tests we see that don't see better improvement on AMD hardware. Perhaps not-so-coincidently, Oblivion is also one of two tests we ran where the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 leads the AMD Radeon HD 4870 1GB (and the only test we ran where the original GTX 260 leads the 4870 1GB) - the other being The Witcher. This does change things up again, but it also highlights that the GTX 260 and 4870 are fairly well matched in general. With minor tweaks to performance they we are seeing a back and forth on whose part leads in our benchmark suite. It's like we have NVIDIA and AMD playing that game where each one grabs slightly higher on a stick.

Unlike the core 216, we've known this 1GB 4870 was coming down the pipe for a long time, and we've honestly expected some performance gain at high resolution. But we really didn't expect this much of a difference. The differentiation between the products is better with 4870 1GB than on NVIDIA hardware.

Let's drill down and look at individual game performance to get the rest of the picture.

Index Age of Conan Performance
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  • SiliconDoc - Friday, October 3, 2008 - link

    No offense robotslave, none to anandtech either, but they've reached the point that the corpo-politician model of perma e-boner has been erected, and there's no going back.
    They need no gamer left behind legislation. lol
    It must be blocked from the floor overclocking vote. tee hee
    ( don't you care about team cohesion and enthusiasm levels ?) -rofl
    I mean do you expect these silicon valley monster review boys to settle for 1024x768x32 on a $150.00 vidcard lineup ?
    That sounds like a hostile work environment.
    The "secondary" market (or is that 3rd world now ?) requires too much viagra, the team has to think about morale and hype, man.
    I think we'd better move to the "less interesting" review pages where gamerz aren't "seen or heard" even if they "are there".
    ( I'll see ya there, or rather, I won't ... wink)

  • Gaz - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    which of theses two senario's would be the better one to implement 4 x 4870 1gb or 2 x 4870x2
    I have a MSI K9A2 platinum that can handle 4 cards in crossfireX the only problem is that the power conections to the cards and the size of the power supply needed to run all 4 4870 1gb cards compaired to the 2 x 4870x2 which would only use 2 six pin and 2 eight pin conectors
    the 4 x 4870 1gb i think would use 8 six pin power conecters to run the vidio cards but what size psu would you realy need a 1500psu or would a 1350 or 1000 psu do
    I havent bought any cards yet
  • Comdrpopnfresh - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    I think the changes in the 4870 show that AMD was smart in designing their current generation of graphics products.

    They were able to provide an appreciable performance increase by adding more memory. In doing this, they saved money by not have to tape out new die alterations, and don't drastically alter power consumption.

    Nvidia, on the other hand, didn't seem to be able to provide as much of a performance improvement, while increasing power consumption and probably having to spend on the new core.
  • Paladin1211 - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    Unlike the GTX 260 Core 216, this card isn't an epic fail at its price point...
  • AlB80 - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    "It still draws a significant amount more power at idle and load than the GTX 260."

    They still using catalyst 8.7.
  • dennilfloss - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    I am confused when you say it does not tax memory as much because with QTP3, I sometimes reach around 950MB of VRAM use, so I'd think the extra 512MB would make quite a bit of difference in not having to use the hard disk instead of some VRAM. I think most of the Oblivion players interested in the 1GB version of the 4870 will have extra texture mods installed. Do you use one of the more detailed texture packs in Oblivion or is your Oblivion just vanilla?

  • grmnasasin0227 - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    So now that the 1GB is out, when will we be able to see the 4870X2 compared to a 4870 1GB in CF? I'd like to know which is the better buy.
  • Kulamata - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    I would have liked to have seen the 4850 XFire included; I think it (they?) can run with this pack. I'm keeping my eye open for the promised 4850 X2; we'll see if they're a real product. If so, I'm quite interested for 1920 X 1200.
  • emilyek - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    Can you guys show frames for something other than 2560 x 1600 and maxed AA/AF? Not everyone has a 30" Apple Cinema Display or better.

    Cards that are neck and neck at that resolution very well might have anywhere from a 10-20 fps difference at, say, 1680 x 1050, where most people game.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    Look again: the line graphs have your resolution.

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