Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 1GB Review

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     April 2, 2009


We mentioned at the beginning of this review that in today’s marketplace innovation through the maturing of existing technologies would be the way to success. Even though their new architecture is still some time away, ATI knew that they needed a card placed between the HD 4870 1GB and HD 4870 X2 to better compete with Nvidia’s offerings. They also knew that while readers may think that cards like the GTX 285 are performance monsters, they just didn’t fit into many people’s budgets. With the HD 4890 1GB ATI has tried to offer consumers the middle ground: a card with performance within spitting distance of the $470+CAD Nvidia single chip flagship but sporting a retail price that is a whopping 30% less. It sounds like a tall order but against all odds, ATI has pulled it off with spectacular results.

Sure, at face value the HD 4890 looks a hell of a lot like the HD 4870 but this isn’t a rebadge folks; the RV790 core and the card’s components combine to make this card a different beast altogether. Its higher clocks meant that it retained a good 10-20% performance advantage over a stock-clocked HD 4870 1GB and it placed a serious beat down on the GTX 260 216. Granted, it seems like the HD 4870 1GB’s 9.3 drivers mean inconsistent performance versus the new betas being used with the HD 4890 but we expect the performance difference to stay the same as time goes on. This also means that the GTX 285 has some competition every now and then since there are some instances where the HD 4890 actually surpasses its performance. It is just too bad ATI didn’t release this card 6 months ago; it would have made the perfect alternative to the GTX 280. As it stands now, I think it will redefine the way we all look at how much we have to pay for incredible performance.

Unfortunately, Nvidia was spoiling for a fight and they released the GTX 275 in order to spoil ATI’s little party. How does it affect our outlook of ATI’s new wunderkind? Well, it doesn’t affect it in any way actually. While history is written by the victors, we can’t count the HD 4890 out yet since the GTX 275 won’t even be available when this review goes live. In addition, even though Nvidia quoted to reviewers a price of around $250 USD, after speaking to some contacts on the retail side of things, we expect Canadian pricing of between $350 and $380. If this holds true, the HD 4890 may be a slightly better buy on a price / performance level.

Most people look the other way when it comes to overclocking due to voided warranties and potential stability issues. Overclocking is an inexact science at the best of times which is why we usually leave mention of it out of conclusions but this time is different. ATI is specifically marketing this card’s overclockability and we have to commend them for backing up their words with some serious muscle. The HD 4890 1GB is the first card we have seen that can clock to 1Ghz (and beyond) on nothing but stock cooling. What more is there to say? Well, the memory overclocks like no one’s business too.

You probably know by now that no product is perfect and this holds true with the HD 4890. Personally, I find the fan profile is far too aggressive considering the relatively low temperatures we were getting after more than an hour under load. I would have been more than happy to sacrifice a few degrees if it meant some peace and quiet. Idle power consumption is also what I would call unacceptable for the whole 4800-series lineup and this card is no exception. While under load it was extremely efficient, it seems like ATI’s PowerPlay is still vastly inferior when compared to Nvidia’s dynamic clock and voltage scaling.

All in all, this evolution of the RV700-series architecture has been a long time coming and I for one think the wait was well worth the end result. Not only does ATI now have a card that bridges the gap between the HD 4870 1GB and the HD 4870 X2 but it has also put the screws to Nvidia as evidenced by their rushed GTX 275 release and its subsequent paper launch. One way or another, competition like this will surely bring down prices at just the right time. I could go on and on about the benefits of this new ATI card but there is probably one question on your minds: who wins the battle between the HD 4890 and GTX 275? The answer is simple: you the consumer do.

- Amazing performance
- Huge overclocking headroom
- Good accessory package
- Efficient under load
- Price

- Far too loud
- High idle power consumption


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