Proper competition from AMD in the mid-range scheme of things might have taken a while to happen, but it does happen with the HD 4000 series. We are taking a look at the smaller of the two new models, which offers exceptional performance for the price of $200.
In testing power consumption for our graphic cards, the system components are kept consistent to help keep accurate results. To capture wattage, a Kill-a-Watt is used. It is plugged straight into the wall and the PSU is plugged in directly to it. After the computer boots into Windows and is left idle for five minutes, the idle wattage is captured.
To capture the average, a run of 3DMark 2006 is run while keeping an eye on the voltage for the first two minutes. I record the value that the Kill-a-Watt reports the majority of the time. Sometimes the wattage might go higher, but scale right back down, and vice versa.
You have got to love this! The HD 4850 uses less power at load than its predecessor, the HD 3850, yet is far faster. Another interesting comparison is the HD 4850 to 9800 GTX. The latter uses 32W more at full load and 12W more at idle. Not significant, but differences none-the-less.
It goes without saying, although the HD 4850 didn’t always surpass the 9800 GTX’s performance, it’s still right up there, and thanks to its price, it’s still the best choice for a new mid-range GPU at around the $200 mark. AMD has a winner, any way you look at it.
What I did find interesting was the fact that the card performed far better in canned benchmarks than in our real-world tests, though. Out of the seven manually-played games, the HD 4850 didn’t dominate any. Rather, its performance either met the 9800 GTX, or came close. In a few instances, such as our games run at higher resolutions (namely 2560×1600), we did see increases. But it wasn’t congruent across the chart.
Instead, it was with our lone timedemo (ET: QW) and 3DMark Vantage where the real differences were seen. The HD 4850 didn’t just beat the competition, it obliterated it in some cases. So I’m led to believe the card performs better in canned benchmarks than in real-world, but take that as you will. Aside from that odd fact, the card still offers killer performance, and that’s what matters.
Did I mention that the HD 4850 is one heck of a hot card? In the picture above, you see the result of stressing the GPU with RTHDRIBL. The diode is pushed into the cooler to get as close to the GPU core as possible. I estimate the diode was no further than half of an inch away.
What this means is that you may as well forget about overclocking, unless you have some killer airflow or after-market cooling. The reason I didn’t include any overclocking reports is because any overclock that I found reasonable caused the card to overheat, which resulted in even worse performance.
This is the reason we don’t see pre-overclocked cards right now. I’ve been told by two companies that they are unsure if they will even be able to release the cards they want to, because the overclocks they want to hit, just can’t be done without overheating. Rumor has it that AMD will be releasing a revision of the core, however, which should allow higher clocks to be put in place. Those might even happen as early as three weeks to a month, so stay tuned.
I might have been focusing a lot on the bad the past few paragraphs, but the fact remains, this card is amazing and is the huge step-up that AMD needed. Before it came out, the 9800 GTX was still priced at around $300, but now it’s closer to $235. Even at that price, the HD 4850 is still a better value, if what you are looking for is the best bang for your buck.
The question now is whether you care about overclocking. If you do, the 9800 GTX might be the smarter purchase. As we saw in our results, our pre-overclocked 8800 GTS 512 out-performed the 9800 GTX in almost all of the tests, and that overclock is nowhere near top-end. So overclockers might want to look that way instead or wait until the HD 4000 series revisions come out.
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