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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  • carmaster22 - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    How come you don't include the NVIDIA 9800 series cards anymore?

    They were proven to perform just as well and better than the GTX series and there's many people that have them.
  • SiliconDoc - Friday, October 3, 2008 - link

    It's to make it as confusing as possible to we the consumer. No matter WHAT review site I go to - they are absolutely CERTAIN to leave out a couple of KEY cards in the reviews - so that it makes it absolutely near IMPOSSIBLE to make a reasonable decision without endless HOURS of finding, comparing, checking the system stats, of various reviews....
    It's like corporate code - but what really happens is the goobers are thinking, thinking, thinking - and they think so much and so !bleepin! hard, that they come up with some cool points, and interesting facts - but alas - you still don't know what you want to know.
    Whatever, it's so frustrating - I'm sending $100 paypal to the first author that actually satisfies a good lineup in review.
  • Goty - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    The only 9800 series card that could outperform the 4870 was the 9800GX2, and even that fell behind the 4870 and the GTX200s when you started cranking up the resolution and IQ.
  • daniyarm - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    8800gt SLI beat 4750 in several tests even at hi-res. People that own single or sli 8800 or 9800 want to know how the cards compare. What's the point of a review that compares only new gen cards and give absolutely no information for people that want to know if they need to upgrade or not.
  • daniyarm - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    I meant 4870.
  • Patrick Wolf - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    Where do you get your info?

    The 9800 GX2 can be had for under $300 and is also very comparable to the 8800gt SLI. If you have an SLI mainboard and an 8800gt, a very cheap and viable upgrade would be to throw in another 8800gt. If you lack the SLI mainboard, bite on the GX2 and sell your current card.

    Same goes for the 9800 GTX and GTX+ if you're going SLI with them.

    The following graphs speak for themselves. All the above solutions are still a great contender, worthy of inclusion.

  • Patrick Wolf - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    Considering you just linked a recent review that has all of the pertinent information, then throw in the cluttered nature of those charts, and I'm of the opinion that dropping most of the cards and just keeping the more recent stuff makes a lot of sense.

    FYI, outside of a few games (The Witcher 2xAA, ETQW 4xAA, COD4 4xAA) the 9800 GTX+ is very close to the performance of the GTX 260. That's understandable, since they have similar architectures. Here's the theoretical performance overview:

    GTX 260:
    192 SPs at 1242MHz = 715.4 GFLOPS
    Core clock of 576 MHz = 36.9 GT/s texture fillrate
    28 ROPs at 576 MHz = 16.1 GP/s pixel fillrate
    448-bit RAM at 999MHz = 111.9 GB/s

    9800 GTX+:
    128 SPs at 1836MHz = 940 GFLOPS
    Core clock of 738 MHz = 47.2 GT/s texture fillrate
    16 ROPs at 738 MHz = 11.8 GP/s pixel fillrate
    256-bit RAM at 1100MHz = 70.4 GB/s

    So the GTX 260 has substantially more bandwidth (59%) and pixel fillrate (36%), while the 9800 GTX+ has more theoretical GFLOPS (31%) and texture processing power (28%). The GTX 260 ends up faster overall - I'm not sure it ever trails - but there are many games where the difference between the two is only about 10%. The 8800 GT, for the record, is usually 65 to 75% of the performance of GTX 260.
  • Spoelie - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    The 9800GT is a rebadged 8800GT, which sits below any ATi 4 series .
    The 9800GTX+ is competitive with the 4850, but that's a lower price/market segment (target resolution 1600x1200/1680x1050 ?).

    This is an article about cards that run newer games on 1920x1200 and higher comfortably, and well, the 9 series just don't make that cut anymore. Anandtech included all possible contenders except maybe for some SLI configurations.
  • Jovec - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    AT is wrong in what many, if not most, of us want in these reviews. Simply, we have our specific system, and want to know if a single upgraded part or parts (when it comes to new platforms) justifies the purchase price. Obvioulsy impractical, but there is no reason AT can't build and keep 1-2 systems per year, for a 2-3 year moving window, of the most common mid-range builds and include those benchmarks as a reference in all reviews.

    The best example of this is the 8800GTS which I assume many of us still own. We don't care how the 4870 runs on the Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 @ 3.20GHz used in the review, we care if the card will boost our FPS enough to warrant purchasing for our computer. It's a different type of comparison than the GPU-limited and CPU-limited tests they currently run, but very useful to the majority of us.

    We can say "My system is very close to the Fall '07 system, so if I buy this new card I'll get a similar performance increase."

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