ATI HD4870 & HD4850 Crossfire Performance Review

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     August 7, 2008

ATI HD4870 & HD4850 Crossfire & Mixed Crossfire Performance Review

Cards Used:

Palit HD4870 512MB (See our review of this card here)
Sapphire HD4850 512MB (See our review of this card here)

When you think of Crossfire what is the first thing you think of? Performance? Price? Driver issues? Well, if we were back in 2005 when Crossfire was first introduced as a competitor to Nvidia’s SLI, you would have probably said “frustration”. Back then, Crossfire was a mishmash of ultra-expensive “Crossfire Edition” cards, wonky external cable loops and vague motherboard requirements. A lot has changed since then as ATI’s multi-card solution has gradually matured into what some would call a perfect alternative to Nvidia’s SLI. Within the last few weeks we have seen some amazing developments in the graphics card world with the release and subsequent price cutting of many high end video cards. These lower prices coupled with a bevy of motherboards supporting Crossfire has meant that many people are seriously considering a system with a pair of ATI graphics cards. Indeed, in the race to have the fastest computer on the block, many people have gravitated towards dual card setups within the past few years and this trend seems to be increasing as of late.

Right now Intel has the processor families of choice for both enthusiasts and gamers alike while having chipsets which seem to be loads more popular than their Nvidia competition. Since higher-end Intel chipsets like the X38 and X48 fully support ATI’s Crossfire, cards like the HD4870 and HD4850 have quickly become more and more popular as viable options for running a dual GPU configuration. Now with the advent of the new P45 chipset-based boards which support 8x / 8x PCI-E 2.0 Crossfire support, there is a whole new market of mainstream users who have access to a highly competitive Crossfire platform. AMD processors also have Crossfire chipsets with their 790-series of motherboards and upcoming SB800 products but they are unfortunately saddled to somewhat less popular processors right now. That being said, the AMD 790FX boards are the only ones available at this time to actively support up to 4 graphics cards running in Crossfire on quad 8x PCI-E lanes.

While the inclusion of Crossfire on Intel chipsets has proven to be a boon for ATI, it is really only part of the reason we are seeing more and more systems pop up with a pair of their graphics cards. The other part of this equation comes with the fact that since the HD3800-series, the majority of ATI’s cards have been priced in the sub-$300 price segment. Many times people (myself included) bought one card with their system and then once prices decreased a bit and games increased in their demands, bought a second card to tie them over until the next big thing arrived.

Up until this point we have somewhat shunned full-on dual card reviews but with the current popularity of Crossfire and ATI’s current crop of sub-$300 graphics cards, it is high time we tackled this subject. In this performance review we will be taking a look at Crossfire configurations with HD4870 cards from Palit, HD4850 cards from Sapphire and a few little interesting twists (Mixed Crossfire) and turns (Crossfire by combining 4800-series and 3800-series cards) along the way. So please feel free to pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back and read a bit more about Crossfire and decide if it is of any use to you.


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