The Games of Christmas '08: GPU Performance Part II

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     December 23, 2008

The Competition: ATI Cards

The past year has seen ATI transition from the HD 3800 and HD 3600-series towards the 4-series architecture which has proven to be superior in every aspect. Team Red has a pretty strong presence in the sub-$200 price bracket with cards like the HD 4670 and new HD 4830. Interestingly, since they have not been able to fill certain gaps in pricing, some of the “older” technology has stayed around for an extended encore at a much lower price. Other than that, it seems that ATI is well on their way to making their name known in traditionally Nvidia-held territory.

HD 4830 512MB

Believe it or not, even though more than a year has passed since its release on October 29th 2007, ATI did not have a real answer to the 8800 GT (now renamed the 9800 GT) until quite recently. With their HD 4830 512MB, it seems like ATI finally has something customers will want in the $140 - $150 price category after the HD 3870 failed to really compete with Nvidia’s cash cow. This card is decked out with double the shader processors of the HD 3870 yet operates at significantly lower clock speeds so it will be interesting to see how far it can pull ahead of the 9800GT. It is also the highest-end ATI card being used in this article.

It should also be mentioned that our card is one of the reference samples ATI sent out without the full number of shaders enabled. We have reflashed it with a BIOS sent directly from ATI so the full 640 shaders are being used.

HD 3870 512MB

Yeah, you might think we are crazy but with some cards retailing for as little as $89 after MIR and plenty of stock still to be had, the HD 3870 512MB is still very much a viable option considering ATI simply doesn’t have anything else between $100 and $130. It sports reasonably high clock speeds but seems to seriously lack in the shader department and has always had issues with AA implementation. That being said, it is good to see this card still around and its price point sure makes it an interesting competitor. As they say: down but not out.

HD 4670 512MB

The HD 4670 is the card that originally surprised us with its performance against the card it was supposed to compete against: the lacklustre 9500 GT. Since its inception, this card has continued to sell well despite Nvidia’s release of the 9600 GSO (a renamed 8800 GS) and a lot of that success is due to the fact this little bruiser sells for under $100. As such, it seems to pack some great specs into its relatively svelte frame even though the fast GDDR3 could be somewhat bottlenecked by the 128-bit memory interface. This card is truly the lynchpin in ATI’s lower-end lineup but it faces some pretty tough competition.

HD 4650 512MB

ATI’s cards in this article are rounded out by their lowest-end 4600-series offering: the HD 4650. This card is essentially a HD 4670 which has had its nuts cut off making it much less of a performer and its price reflects this. It is equipped with a good amount of ram at 512MB but it is hobbled with GDDR2 running at 1Ghz (effective) versus the GDDR3 at 2Ghz of the HD 4670. The RV 730 core also operates at much slower core speeds even though it retains the same number of shaders and ROPs as the HD 4670.

The HD 4650 is billed as more of a HTPC card for high-definition movie watching but it has some aspirations of being able to play some games at some resolutions some of the time. Its main competition is the newly-rebated 9500 GT and at around $75, this little ATI card could prove to be some stiff competition. I can’t say there are particularly high hopes for this card but it already has a leg up on the 9500 GT considering Nvidia’s card doesn’t support VC-1 video decoding support while the ATI card does.

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