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Palit Radeon HD 4870 X2 1GB – AMD Reclaims GPU Supremacy
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by Rob Williams on August 12, 2008 in AMD-Based GPU

AMD has gone too long without a real high-end graphics card to compete with the competition, but they’re done with the pity, and prove it with the HD 4870 X2, which becomes the fastest graphics card the planet has ever seen. It may cost more than the competition, but its end performance easily negates that premium.

Introduction, Closer Look

Since ATI’s acquisition by AMD, it’s become ever-so-difficult to begin any sort of AMD-related article and not mention the trouble that the company has faced since. But there’s little point now – we all know about it, and know about it very well. So how about we start things off on a happier note this time? Sounds good.

AMD is now responsible for building the most powerful graphics card in the world.

How’s that? It all began with the launch of the Radeon HD 4850 and HD 4870 cards, which took even NVIDIA by surprise. Those cards were the first launch from the ATI camp that offered consumers a real choice when on the lookout for a new GPU. Unlike the HD 3000-series, which could never keep up to NVIDIA’s comparative offerings, the HD 4000-series out-performed them in many regards.

It’s good to see, because if there’s a company that needs some uplifting, it’s AMD. But with their HD 4000-series launch as successful as it was, we all knew what was next: Dual-GPU models. When the HD 3870 X2 came launched this past January, AMD became a real threat to NVIDIA, because despite the dual-GPU likeness, the card managed to outperform any one of NVIDIA’s single-GPU offerings, but that wasn’t too surprising given the design.

But with their HD 4000-series keeping up to and sometimes surpassing NVIDIA’s equal offerings, what could possibly be in store with a dual-GPU model of the HD 4870? How would it compare to NVIDIA’s GTX 280? Those questions will be answered today, and the results are sure to please.

Closer Look at the Radeon HD 4870 X2

Like the HD 3870 X2 before it, the HD 4870 X2 offers nothing more than the single-GPU version of the card, except twice of everything. It’s essentially two HD 4870 GPU cores placed on the same card, with various improvements to offer up to a 100% improvement in performance, which as we will find out is nice, since the SRP of the card is lower than purchasing two HD 4870s separately, in most cases.

The HD 4870 by itself was a mind-blowing card, offering a staggering 800 stream processors, 1.2 TeraFLOPS worth of horsepower, and the X2 version of the card essentially doubles those numbers to offer 1600 stream processors and 2.4 teraFLOPS worth of computational power. That metric by itself puts the HD 4870 X2 in another league compared to NVIDIA’s GTX 280, which offers close to 1 TeraFLOP of power.

Model
Core MHz
Mem MHz
Memory
Bus Width
Stream Proc.
HD 4870 X2
750
900
2x1024MB
256-bit
1600
HD 4870
750
900
512MB
256-bit
800
HD 4850
625
993
512MB
256-bit
800
HD 3870 X2
825
900
2x512MB
256-bit
320
HD 3850 X2
666
828
2x512MB
256-bit
320
HD 3870
775
900
512MB
256-bit
320
HD 3850
666
828
512MB
256-bit
320
HD 3650
725
800
256,512MB
128-bit
120
HD 3450
600
500
256MB
64-bit
40

The basic improvements of the HD 4000-series includes PCI-E 2.0 and DX10.1 support, the option for Quad-GPU via CrossfireX along with enhanced anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering methods, including the option to use up to 24x CFAA (custom filter AA). Given that these cards can power most any game with maxed out graphics, it’s the AA where they may make the most noticeable difference.

As mentioned above, the new card essentially doubles the available stream processors, so this card can go well beyond the general task of gaming and handle hardcore computational scenarios where a lot of horsepower is a requirement.

Straight from AMD, here is a chart explaining the differences between the X2 card and their already-launched HD 4870 and HD 4850:

 
Radeon HD 4870 X2
Radeon HD 4870
Radeon HD 4850
Transistors
~ 1.9 billion
965 million
965 million
Manufacturing Process
55nm
55nm
55nm
Stream Processors
1600
800
800
Texture Units
32
16
16
Core Clock
750 MHz
750 MHz
625 MHz
Mem Data Rate
3.6 Gbps
3.6 Gbps
2.0 Gpbs
Math Processing
> 2.4 TeraFLOPS
1.2 TeraFLOPS
1.0 TeraFLOPS
DX 10.1 Support
Yes
Yes
Yes
Tessellation Unit
Yes
Yes
Yes
UVD
Yes
Yes
Yes
ATI PowerPlay
Yes
Yes
Yes

Here we can see that the SRP for the HD 4870 X2 is $549, which equates to about $100 more than its main competitor, the GTX 280.

That’s not a small premium, as $450 is high to begin with. But bear in mind, when the GTX 280 was first launched, a little over a month ago, it retailed for $649, so it itself has dropped considerably due to the intense competition. As you’ll see in this article though, the HD 4870 X2 actually warrants itself the $100 premium. If your computer is prone to bleeding, this card shouldn’t be installed.


HD 4870 X2 die shot

Bad humor aside, as I mentioned in our review of Palit’s GTX 280 card, these new high-end GPUs are not for the weak of heart. In that article, I said that for the GTX 280 to be worthy of a purchase, you either have to own a 30″ monitor capable of a 2560×1600 resolution, or plan to use intense AA modes at the same or lower resolutions. Forget it if you are running anything less than 1920×1200… the GTX 280 and HD 4870 X2 is going to be overkill, and you will not likely see a real-world difference over a 9800 GTX/+ or HD 4870 unless running a DX10-heavy game.

It’s the higher resolutions and higher AA settings that sets both dual-GPU setups and massive GPU cores apart. They thrive on these insane settings, and it’s very rare that lower resolutions will show a worthy increase, and if it does, chances are the human eye wouldn’t be able to differentiate the differences between the two.

The GTX 280 effectively became the first card to be catered towards those with an insatiable need for the highest settings their game can offer, and ATI’s Radeon HD 4870 X2 takes it all one step further. But before we hop into testing, let’s first tackle our testing methodologies, which I highly recommend reading through if you haven’t before.