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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  • happytony - Thursday, October 2, 2008 - link

    just ask. thanks

    compare the price to nvforce
    it's worth?
  • LazyGarfield - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I wonder how many gamers got a 30" TFT? Like 0,3 % of the community?
    So how interesting do you think would be the 2560 x 1600 resolution to your readers?

    How about featuring some useful resolutions like 1650 x 1080 or 1920 x 1200? (Not that it ever showed much difference in such a comparison).

    Then again, when you look at the figures just one game is showing some real gains anyways because it´s not really an improvement to be playing Crysis with 33 instead of 30 fps.... even more since this is most likely an average figure. Not to mention that the improvement is most likely coming from a higher gpu/memory clock rather than from the quantity of the memory).

    The min-fps would be very interesting as well because the biggest improvement with more memory on GFX-cards is mostly showing there.
  • Gannon - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I wish people would stop mouthing off these truisms as if they were the only way to look at the situation.

    Consider that the real world is a physical place, competition does not always bring benefits. Take a look at game console development -three radically different development platforms, which makes it a royal PITA to cross platform a game that doesn't have sufficient hardware power, and what about all the reduplication with joysticks and mice? A lot of waste goes on.

    The idea that competition "always benefit the consumer" is nonsense, I can name hundreds of negative externalities because of competition and ridiculous amounts of redundant items and work that merely clogs up the market.

    Often times we make too much stuff at a too poor quality and design things to go obsolete without thinking about the future. This at some point is unsustainable environmentally. So lets just remember that things are made from nature, not anywhere else, that's where all true value comes from. All we do is merely reshape what was already there, all that potential value already existed in potential form, you can't get a glass bottle, computer, microchip, or a factory, if you dont have pre-existing value by which to make it out of.
  • helldrell666 - Monday, September 29, 2008 - link

    The 4870 1Gb version does beat the 280gtx in 3 out of 6 games at 2560 1920 res. it beats the 280gtx in 4 out of 6 and matches it in the witcher.

    Nive job ATI...AMD
  • tiggers - Monday, September 29, 2008 - link

    Like some of the other posts above, I wouldn't mind having an older tech, mid-level card (1 to 3 generations back) thrown in as a reference point.

    It would be nice to have a bench mark to help people judge cost/performance to see if it's worth while to upgrade or not.
  • aldy402 - Saturday, September 27, 2008 - link

    derek, looking at the 512mb and 1gb pcb pic comparisons, they look the same besides the double density ram chips. I just wanted to confirm that all the full cover WC blocks for the the 512 model should fit the 1gb model as well, correct?
  • unclebud - Saturday, September 27, 2008 - link

    i bought one from best buy wth the 10% off befre the 4850/4870 launch, making it $117 before tax, and didn't want to bother with buying the 4850 (this week) for $135, especially since i play on a 17" CRT.
  • jedz - Friday, September 26, 2008 - link

    the hd4870 does it well again this time by adding another 512mb of video memory and making it a 1gig card. AMD is really on the right track this time, the higher the memory the more fps can be yielded in high resolution gaming(which is still a bottleneck for nvidia). way to go AMD....

    I'm looking forward for the release of hd4850x2....
  • yacoub - Friday, September 26, 2008 - link

    How noisy is it? Why did you not include that in the Power page? Usually you cover Power and Noise.
  • robotslave - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    This is all well and good for those who have a $300 graphics card budget, but those of us who shop in the sub-$200 range are left scratching our heads a bit.

    The 1GB 4850 variant has been in stores for weeks now, but none of the major hardware sites have reviewed one. Newegg has five models in stock; have none of the manufacturers sent review samples to you guys?

    What's the holdup? How long are we going to have to wait to see whether or not the 1GB 4850 is going to make a difference for the 22"-24" 1900x1200 panels currently in the display sweet spot?

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