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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

AMD/ATI has released two new high-end graphics chips recently, Radeon HD 4870 and Radeon HD 4850, known by the codenames RV770 XT and RV770 PRO, respectively. As you can guess by the numbers, HD 4870 provides a higher performance compared to HD 4850 and currently is the fastest GPU provided by AMD/ATI – until Radeon HD 4870 X2, a video card featuring two HD 4870, is launched. In this review we will benchmark HD 4870 from Sapphire and compare it to its main competitors from NVIDIA. Is this video card a good buy? Check it out.

Sapphire HD 4870 follows AMD/ATI’s reference model both on its physical aspect as in specifications: the graphics chip runs at 750 MHz with its memory being accessed at 900 MHz (real clock) through a 256-bit memory interface. Just for a quick comparison, HD 4850 runs at 625 MHz and has its memory running at 993 MHz.

But what is really new on HD 4870 is the use of the new GDDR5 memory, which transfers four data per clock cycle instead of two like it happens on DDR through GDDR3 technologies. Because of that the memories achieve a performance as if they were working at 3.6 GHz, pumping data transfer rate up to 115.2 GB/s (these numbers for HD 4850 are 1,986 MHz and 63.5 GB/s, respectively).

Both new chips are based on DirectX 10.1 (Shader 4.1) architecture, where all processing units inside the graphics chip is generic, being able to process any kind of vector (pixel shader, vertex shader, etc). What is really impressive about these two new chips is that they both have 800 processing units inside the chip. We will provide a short table comparing the specs from this new video card with the specs from its main competitors. Before that, let’s take an overall look at Sapphire HD 4870.

Sapphire HD 4870Figure 1: Sapphire HD 4870.

Sapphire HD 4870Figure 2: Sapphire HD 4870.

Sapphire HD 4870Figure 3: Sapphire HD 4870.

This video card requires the installation of two 6-pin auxiliary power connectors, see in Figure 4. The product comes with two adapters for you to convert standard peripheral power plugs into a 6-pin power plug if your power supply doesn’t provide them. At least this time AMD decided to stick with the 6-pin connector instead of using the 8-pin one, which isn’t found on the majority of power supplies.

Sapphire HD 4870Figure 4: Auxiliary power connectors.

[nextpage title=”Introduction (Cont’d)”]

We removed the video card cooler to take a look. As you can see in Figure 5, the cooler base is made of copper, using two thick copper heat-pipes to connect the base to the aluminum fins.

Sapphire HD 4870Figure 5: Video card cooler.

In Figure 6, you can see the video card without its cooler. It uses eight 512-Mbit Qimonda IDGV51-05A1F1C-40X GDDR5 chips, making its 512 MB memory (512 Mbits x 8 = 512 MB). These chips have a maximum transfer rate of 4 Gbps (“40X” marking), which is equivalent of a 4 GHz GDDR5 clock or 1 GHz (4 GHz / 4) real clock. Since on this video card the memory was running at 900 MHz, there is a good 11.11% headroom for you to overclock the memories with them still inside their specifications. Of course you can always try pushing them above their specs. In Figure 7 we provide a close-up of the GDDR5 memory chips.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4870Figure 6: Sapphire HD 4870 with its cooler removed.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4870Figure 7: GDDR5 memory chips.

In Figure 8, you can see all accessories and CDs/DVDs that come with this video card, which includes a 2 GB USB drive (limited time offer). With the accessories that come with this card you can convert the video output to VGA, HDMI, component video and composite video, plus the DVI and S-Video connectors already present on the product.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4870Figure 8: Accessories.

This video card comes with three games inside a DVD called “Ruby ROM 1.1”: Call of Juarez, Dungeon Runners and Stranglehold. Programs that come with this video card include CyberLink DVD Suite (PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5 Express, Power2GO 5.5, Mediashow 3 and trial versions of PowerBackup 2.5, PowerDVD Copy and LabelPrint 2), Cyberlink Power DVD 7,3DMark06 Full, EarthSim and GameShadow.

Now let’s compare the Radeon HD 4870 specifications to its main competitors.

[nextpage title=”More Details”]

To make the comparison between Sapphire HD 4870 and the other video cards we included in this review easier, we compiled the table below comparing the main specs from these cards. If you want to compare the specs of Radeon HD 4870 to any other video card not included in the table below, just take a look at our NVIDIA Chips Comparison Table and on our AMD ATI Chips Comparison Table.

GPU Core Clock Shader Clock Processors Memory Clock Memory Interface Memory Transfer Rate Memory Price
GeForce GTX 280 602 MHz 1,296 MHz 240 1,107 MHz 512-bit 141.7 GB/s 1 GB GDDR3 USD 430-475
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX 640 MHz 1,363 MHz 192 1,150 MHz 448-bit 128.8 GB/s 896 MB GDDR3 USD 330
GeForce GTX 260 576 MHz 1,242 MHz 192 1,000 MHz 448-bit 112 GB/s 896 MB GDDR3 USD 290-320
GeForce 9800 GX2 600 MHz 1,500 MHz 128 1,000 MHz 256-bit 64 GB/s 1 GB GDDR3 USD 370-500
GeForce 9800 GTX 675 MHz 1,688 MHz 128 1,100 MHz 256-bit 70.4 GB/s 512 MB GDDR3 USD 185 – 325
Radeon HD 4870 750 MHz 750 MHz 800 900 MHz 256-bit 115.2 GB/s 512 MB GDDR5 USD 285
Radeon HD 4850 625 MHz 625 MHz 800 993 MHz 256-bit 63.5 GB/s 512 MB GDDR3 USD 175
Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 857 MHz 857 MHz 320 927 MHz 256-bit 59.3 GB/s 1 GB GDDR3
Radeon HD 3870 776 MHz 776 MHz 320 1,125 MHz 256-bit 72 GB/s 512 MB GDDR4 USD 125 – 180

As you can see the main difference between the new Radeon HD 4870 and its competitors is the amazing number of processing units, 800 against 192 on GeForce GTX 260, for example.

It is important to note that this table reflects the current prices for the listed video cards, which are lower than the prices we published in other reviews, since prices tend to drop every day. NVIDIA is now pushing their partners to sell GeForce GTX 280 for USD 500 (from the original USD 650 MRSP), GeForce GTX 260 for USD 300 (from the original USD 400 MRSP) and GeForce 9800 GTX for USD 199.

With these new prices the main competitor to Sapphire HD 4870 is GeForce GTX 260.

The only high-end video card not included in our comparison is GeForce 9800 GTX+, which is basically an overclocked GeForce 9800 GTX.

Some important observations regarding this table:

  • All NVIDIA chips are DirectX 10 (Shader 4.0), while all AMD/ATI chips are DirectX 10.1 (Shader 4.1).
  • The memory clocks listed are the real memory clock. Memory clocks are often advertised as double the figures presented, numbers known as “DDR clock.” Radeon HD 4870 uses GDDR5 chips, which transfer four data per clock cycle and thus the “DDR clock” for this video card is four times the value presented on this table (i.e., 3.6 GHz).
  • GeForce 9800 GX2 and Radeon HD 3870 X2 have two GPU’s. The numbers on the table represent only one of the chips.
  • All video cards included on our review were running at the chip manufacturer default clock configuration (i.e., no overclocking), except Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 and XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX. The official core clock for Radeon HD 3870 X2 is 825 MHz, while the official memory clock is 900 MHz. So this card was a little bit overclocked. We couldn’t reduce these clocks to their reference values and since we hadn’t any other Radeon HD 3870 X2 available we included this video card anyway.
  • Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
  • We couldn’t find Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 for sale. This model will be more expensive than cards from other vendors based on the same GPU because it features water cooling. Just for you to have an idea, prices on the regular Radeon 3870 X2 are quoted between USD 260 and USD 370.

Before going to our tests let’s recap the main features from Sapphire HD 4870. [nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 main features are:

  • Graphics chip: Radeon HD 4870 (codename RV770 XT), running at 750 MHz.
  • Memory: 512 MB GDDR5 memory (256-bit interface) from Qimonda (IDGV51-05A1F1C-40X) running at 900 MHz (“3.6 GHz”).
  • Bus type: PCI Express x16 2.0.
  • Connectors: Two DVI (with HDMI support) and one S-Video output (with component video support).
  • Video Capture (VIVO): No.
  • Cables and adapters that come with this board: S-Video to component video cable, S-video to composite video adapter, DVI-to-VGA adapter, DVI-to-HDMI adapter, two standard 4-pin peripheral power plug to 6-pin PCI Express auxiliary power plug (PEG) adapters and Crossfire bridge.
  • Number of CDs/DVDs that come with this board: Five.
  • Games that come with this board: Call of Juarez, Dungeon Runners and Stranglehold (inside “Ruby ROM 1.1” DVD).
  • Programs that come with this board: CyberLink DVD Suite (PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5 Express, Power2GO 5.5, Mediashow 3 and trial versions of PowerBackup 2.5, PowerDVD Copy and LabelPrint 2), Cyberlink Power DVD 7, 3DMark06 Full, EarthSim and GameShadow.
  • Extra features: free 2 GB flash drive (limited time offer).
  • More information: https://www.sapphiretech.com
  • Average price in the US*: USD 301.00

* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the video card being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

  • Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
  • Service Pack 1

Driver Versions

  • nForce driver version: 15.17
  • AMD/ATI video driver version: Catalyst 8.5
  • AMD/ATI video driver version: Catalyst 8.6 + hotfix (8.501.1.0, 6/21/2008) (Radeon HD 4850, HD 4870)
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 175.16
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 177.34 (GeForce GTX 260, GTX 280)

Software Used

Resolutions and Image Quality Settings

Since we were comparing very high-end video cards, we ran all our tests under three 16:10 widescreen high resolutions: 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600. We always tried to run the programs and games in two scenarios for each resolution, one with low image quality settings and then maxing out the image quality settings. The exact configuration we used will be described together with the results of each individual test.

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

[nextpage title=”3DMark06 Professional”]

3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We run this software under three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, first with no image quality enhancements enabled – results we call “low” on the charts and tables below –, then setting 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering. See the results below.

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 1680×1050 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 16260 14.39%
GeForce 9800 GX2 15623 9.91%
GeForce GTX 280 14904 4.85%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 14878 4.66%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 14215  
GeForce GTX 260 13701 3.75%
GeForce 9800 GTX 12759 11.41%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 11842 20.04%
Radeon HD 3870 10694 32.93%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 1920×1200 – Low Score Difference
GeForce 9800 GX2 15547 19.44%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 15489 18.99%
GeForce GTX 280 14215 9.20%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 13730 5.48%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 13017  
GeForce GTX 260 12668 2.75%
GeForce 9800 GTX 11631 11.92%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 10691 21.76%
Radeon HD 3870 9454 37.69%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 2560×1600 – Low Score Difference
GeForce 9800 GX2 13015 28.11%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 12315 21.22%
GeForce GTX 280 11766 15.82%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 10977 8.05%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 10159  
GeForce GTX 260 9894 2.68%
GeForce 9800 GTX 8743 16.20%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 8077 25.78%
Radeon HD 3870 6823 48.89%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 1680×1050 – High Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 16260 46.98%
GeForce 9800 GX2 13900 25.64%
GeForce GTX 280 12157 9.89%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 11703 5.79%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 11063  
GeForce GTX 260 10617 4.20%
GeForce 9800 GTX 8981 23.18%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 8881 24.57%
Radeon HD 3870 6915 59.99%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 1920×1200 – High Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 15489 54.67%
GeForce 9800 GX2 12213 21.96%
GeForce GTX 280 10991 9.76%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 10512 4.97%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 10014  
GeForce GTX 260 9450 5.97%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 7972 25.61%
GeForce 9800 GTX 7811 28.20%
Radeon HD 3870 6114 63.79%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 2560×1600 – High Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 12315 63.11%
GeForce 9800 GX2 9829 30.19%
GeForce GTX 280 8704 15.28%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 8165 8.15%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 7550  
GeForce GTX 260 7285 3.64%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 5896 28.05%
GeForce 9800 GTX 5774 30.76%
Radeon HD 3870 4319 74.81%

[nextpage title=”3DMark Vantage Professional”]

3DMark Vantage is the latest addition to the 3DMark series, measuring Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance and supporting PhysX, a programming interface developed by Ageia (now part of NVIDIA) to transfer physics calculations from the system CPU to the video card GPU in order to increase performance. Mechanical physics is the basis for calculations about the interaction of objects. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? Notice that we didn’t upgrade the PhysX to the latest version, which would make the physics calculations for CPU Test 2 to be made by the GPU instead of the CPU on NVIDIA video cards (since we aren’t considering CPU or 3DMark scores this change wouldn’t produce any increase in our results anyway).

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600. First we used the “Performance” profile, and then we used the “Extreme” profile (basically enabling anti-aliasing at 4x, anisotropic filtering at 16x, and putting all detail settings at their maximum or “extreme” value. The combination of 2560×1600 resolution with extreme settings didn’t produce reliable results according to the program, so we aren’t going to add them here. The results being compared are the “GPU Scores” achieved by each video card.

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 1680×1050 – Performance Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 7695 24.25%
GeForce 9800 GX2 6990 12.87%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 6808 9.93%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 6193  
GeForce GTX 260 5898 5.00%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 5651 9.59%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 4797 29.10%
GeForce 9800 GTX 3805 62.76%
Radeon HD 3870 2977 108.03%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 1920×1200 – Performance Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 6106 25.12%
GeForce 9800 GX2 5379 10.23%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 5315 8.91%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 4880  
GeForce GTX 260 4582 6.50%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 4336 12.55%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 3725 31.01%
GeForce 9800 GTX 2891 68.80%
Radeon HD 3870 2269 115.07%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 2560×1600 – Performance Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 3549 30.10%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 3068 12.46%
GeForce 9800 GX2 2910 6.67%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 2728  
GeForce GTX 260 2640 3.33%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 2382 14.53%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 2050 33.07%
GeForce 9800 GTX 1557 75.21%
Radeon HD 3870 1244 119.29%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 1680×1050 – Extreme Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 6005 37.73%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 5319 22.00%
GeForce 9800 GX2 4858 11.42%
GeForce GTX 260 4531 3.92%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 4360  
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 3567 22.23%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 3445 26.56%
GeForce 9800 GTX 2703 61.30%
Radeon HD 3870 1855 135.04%

Sapphire HD 4870

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 1920×1200 – Extreme Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 4732 35.59%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 4188 20.00%
GeForce GTX 260 3576 2.46%
GeForce 9800 GX2 3508 0.52%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 3490  
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 2753 26.77%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 2669 30.76%
GeForce 9800 GTX 2038 71.25%
Radeon HD 3870 1439 142.53%

[nextpage title=”Call of Duty 4″]

Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will h
appen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was put on the maximum values on the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the game internal benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo for downloading here if you want to run your own benchmarks. The game was updated to version 1.6.

Sapphire HD 4870

Call of Duty 4 – 1680×1050 – Maximum Score Difference
GeForce 9800 GX2 106.2 13.70%
GeForce GTX 280 105.3 12.74%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 98.7 5.67%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 93.4  
GeForce GTX 260 91.0 2.64%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 75.7 23.38%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 72.4 29.01%
GeForce 9800 GTX 69.1 35.17%
Radeon HD 3870 43.0 117.21%

Sapphire HD 4870

Call of Duty 4 – 1920×1200 – Maximum Score Difference
GeForce 9800 GX2 94.5 23.69%
GeForce GTX 280 91.7 20.03%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 84.8 10.99%
GeForce GTX 260 77.1 0.92%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 76.4  
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 61.3 24.63%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 59.1 29.27%
GeForce 9800 GTX 57.7 32.41%
Radeon HD 3870 35.4 115.82%

Sapphire HD 4870

Call of Duty 4 – 2560×1600 – Maximum Score Difference
GeForce 9800 GX2 64.8 34.72%
GeForce GTX 280 64.8 34.72%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 58.1 20.79%
GeForce GTX 260 53.5 11.23%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 48.1  
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 40.6 18.47%
GeForce 9800 GTX 38.3 25.59%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 36.7 31.06%
Radeon HD 3870 22.4 114.73%

[nextpage title=”Crysis”]

Crysis is a very heavy DirectX 10 game. We updated this game to version 1.2.1 and used the HOC Crysis Benchmarking Utility to help us collecting data. Since we don’t think the default demo based on the island map stresses the video card the way we want, we used the HOC core demo available with the abovementioned utility. We ran this demo under three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, first with image quality set to “low” and then with image quality set to “high.” Since all video cards achieved a number of frames per second below 10 at 2560×1600 with image details set to “high,” we are not including this test as the results aren’t reliable. We ran each test twice and discarded the first result, as usually the first run achieves a lower score compared to the subsequent runs since the game loses time loading files. The results are below, in frames per second (FPS).

Sapphire HD 4870

Crysis 1.2.1 – 1680×1050 – Low Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 125 23.76%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 125 23.76%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 109 7.92%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 101  
GeForce GTX 260 99 2.02%
GeForce 9800 GTX 84 20.24%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 84 20.24%
GeForce 9800 GX2 75 34.67%
Radeon HD 3870 71 42.25%

Sapphire HD 4870

Crysis 1.2.1 – 1920×1200 – Low Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 115 36.90%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 108 28.57%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 96 14.29%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 84  
GeForce GTX 260 83 1.20%
GeForce 9800 GTX 69 21.74%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 67 25.37%
GeForce 9800 GX2 63 33.33%
Radeon HD 3870 58 44.83%

Sapphire HD 4870

Crysis 1.2.1 – 2560×1600 – Low Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 95 79.25%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 71 33.96%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 62 16.98%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 53  
GeForce GTX 260 52 1.92%
GeForce 9800 GTX 44 20
.45%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 43 23.26%
GeForce 9800 GX2 42 26.19%
Radeon HD 3870 35 51.43%

Sapphire HD 4870

Crysis 1.2.1 – 1680×1050 – High Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 42 13.51%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 38 2.70%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 37  
GeForce GTX 260 32 15.63%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 29 27.59%
GeForce 9800 GTX 29 27.59%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 26 42.31%
GeForce 9800 GX2 25 48.00%
Radeon HD 3870 19 94.74%

Sapphire HD 4870

Crysis 1.2.1 – 1920×1200 – High Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 34 13.33%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 30 0.00%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 30  
GeForce GTX 260 26 15.38%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 23 30.43%
GeForce 9800 GTX 22 36.36%
GeForce 9800 GX2 21 42.86%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 20 50.00%
Radeon HD 3870 16 87.50%

[nextpage title=”Unreal Tournament 3″]

Unreal Tournament 3 is the latest installment from this famous first person shooter franchise, supporting DirectX 10 graphics when installed on Windows Vista with a DX10 compatible card. We upgraded Unreal Tournament 3 to version 1.2 and benchmarked it with the help of HOC UT3 benchmarking utility using the “Containment” demo, maxing out image quality settings (image quality at “high” and anisotropic filtering at x16). It is important to note that we haven’t applied the PhysX mod to this game, which would transfer PhysX processing from the CPU to the GPU on NVIDIA cards. The results are below, in frames per second (FPS).

Sapphire HD 4870

Unreal Tournament 3 – 1680×1050 – Maximum Score Difference
GeForce 9800 GTX 112 7.69%
GeForce 9800 GX2 108 3.85%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 108 3.85%
GeForce GTX 260 106 1.92%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 104  
GeForce GTX 280 104 0.00%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 96 8.33%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 84 23.81%
Radeon HD 3870 83 25.30%

Sapphire HD 4870

Unreal Tournament 3 – 1920×1200 – Maximum Score Difference
GeForce 9800 GTX 108 10.20%
GeForce 9800 GX2 106 8.16%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 106 8.16%
GeForce GTX 260 103 5.10%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 98  
GeForce GTX 280 91 7.69%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 89 10.11%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 78 25.64%
Radeon HD 3870 75 30.67%

Sapphire HD 4870

Unreal Tournament 3 – 2560×1600 – Maximum Score Difference
GeForce 9800 GTX 92 17.95%
GeForce 9800 GX2 92 17.95%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 85 8.97%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 78  
GeForce GTX 260 76 2.63%
GeForce GTX 280 62 25.81%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 60 30.00%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 51 52.94%
Radeon HD 3870 47 65.96%

[nextpage title=”Half-Life 2: Episode Two”]

Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmark the video cards using Episode Two with the aid of HOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two benchmarking utility using the “HOC Demo 1” provided by this program. We ran the game in three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, under two scenarios. First with quality set to maximum, bilinear filtering and anti-aliasing set to x0. This configuration we are calling “low” on the charts and tables below. Then we maxed out image quality settings, enabling x16 anisotropic filtering and 16xQCS anti-aliasing. This configuration we are calling “high” on our charts and tables. We updated the game up to the June 9th 2008 patch.

Sapphire HD 4870

< /tr>

Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 1680×1050 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 170.0  
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 164.9 3.09%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 160.4 5.99%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 158 7.59%
GeForce GTX 260 157.0 8.28%
GeForce GTX 280 156.3 8.77%
GeForce 9800 GTX 153.8 10.53%
Radeon HD 3870 145.7 16.68%
GeForce 9800 GX2 136.8 24.27%

Sapphire HD 4870

Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 1920×1200 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 165.0  
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 157.0 5.10%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 156.7 5.30%
GeForce GTX 280 156.3 5.57%
GeForce GTX 260 153.0 7.84%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 149.8 10.15%
GeForce 9800 GTX 146.9 12.32%
GeForce 9800 GX2 135.2 22.04%
Radeon HD 3870 120.1 37.39%

Sapphire HD 4870

Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 2560×1600 – Low Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 145.1 24.02%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 137.0 17.09%
GeForce 9800 GX2 130.6 11.62%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 129.7 10.85%
GeForce GTX 260 124.0 5.98%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 117.0  
GeForce 9800 GTX 107.9 8.43%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 93.9 24.60%
Radeon HD 3870 72.8 60.71%

Sapphire HD 4870

Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 1680×1050 – High Score Difference
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 144.0  
GeForce 9800 GTX 137.9 4.42%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 134.0 7.46%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 126.1 14.20%
GeForce 9800 GX2 125.4 14.83%
GeForce GTX 260 121.0 19.01%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 116.2 23.92%
GeForce GTX 280 89.3 61.25%
Radeon HD 3870 68.3 110.83%

Sapphire HD 4870

Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 1920×1200 – High Score Difference
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 124.0  
GeForce 9800 GTX 116.3 6.62%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 113.0 9.73%
GeForce 9800 GX2 111.1 11.61%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 106.5 16.43%
GeForce GTX 260 101.0 22.77%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 97.2 27.57%
GeForce GTX 280 70.3 76.39%
Radeon HD 3870 56.8 118.31%

Sapphire HD 4870

Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 2560×1600 – High Score Difference
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 75.0  
GeForce 9800 GTX 71.3 5.19%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 69.0 8.70%
GeForce GTX 260 61.0 22.95%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 58.4 28.42%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 50.6 48.22%
GeForce 9800 GX2 37.5 100.00%
GeForce GTX 280 35.5 111.27%
Radeon HD 3870 34.9 114.90%

[nextpage title=”Quake 4″]

We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.4.2 and ran its multiplayer demo id_perftest with SMP option enabled (which allows Quake 4 to recognize and use more than one CPU), under the same three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, first with image quality settings configured at “low” and then with image quality settings configured at “ultra.” You can check the results below, given in frames per second.

Sapphire HD 4870

Quake 4 – 1680×1050 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 285.30 2.46%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 278.46  
GeForce GTX 280 268.80 3.59%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 241.38 15.36%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 240.92 15.58%
GeForce GTX 260 234.45 18.77%
Radeon HD 3870 227.75 22.27%
GeForce 9800 GTX 225.52 23.47%
GeForce 9800 GX2 220.48 26.30%

Sapphire HD 4870

Quake 4 – 1920×1200 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 266.23 7.29%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 248.13  
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 237.57 4.45%
GeForce GTX 280 235.92 5.18%
GeForce GTX 260 220.96 12.30%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 207.58 19.53%
Radeon HD 3870 188.40 31.70%
GeForce 9800 GX2 174.06 42.55%
GeForce 9800 GTX 158.87 56.18%

Sapphire HD 4870

Quake 4 – 2560×1600 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 197.82 24.42%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 170.99 7.55%
GeForce GTX 280 168.81 6.18%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 158.99  
GeForce GTX 260 149.28 6.50%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 128.00 24.21%
Radeon HD 3870 116.01 37.05%
GeForce 9800 GTX 114.34 39.05%
GeForce 9800 GX2 100.07 58.88%

Sapphire HD 4870

Quake 4 – 1680×1050 – High Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 246.39 1.68%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 243.41 0.45%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 242.32  
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 241.91 0.17%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 237.98 1.82%
GeForce GTX 260 222.32 9.00%
GeForce 9800 GX2 218.80 10.75%
GeForce 9800 GTX 194.65 24.49%
Radeon HD 3870 167.26 44.88%

Sapphire HD 4870

Quake 4 – 1920×1200 – High Score Difference
GeForce GTX 280 224.44 4.52%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 222.28 3.51%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 218.62 1.81%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 214.74  
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 207.57 3.45%
GeForce GTX 260 200.28 7.22%
GeForce 9800 GX2 158.35 35.61%
GeForce 9800 GTX 158.18 35.76%
Radeon HD 3870 144.80 48.30%

Sapphire HD 4870

Quake 4 – 2560×1600 – High Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 177.36 26.34%
GeForce GTX 280 168.43 19.98%
XFX GeForce GTX 260 640M XXX (OC) 150.45 7.17%
GeForce GTX 260 149.80 6.71%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 140.38  
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 127.88 9.77%
GeForce 9800 GTX 102.04 37.57%
GeForce 9800 GX2 94.68 48.27%
Radeon HD 3870 94.40 48.71%

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

With so much data presented in the previous pages, we think we should summarize our review answering two questions: how is Sapphire HD 4870 compared to Radeon HD 4850 and how is Sapphire HD 4870 compared to its main competitor, GeForce GTX 260, especially now that NVIDIA is promoting a price cut on this model in order to make it a competitor to HD 4870.

In most scenarios Sapphire HD 4870 was between 20% and 30% faster than Sapphire HD 4850, but on some games like Quake 4 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two both cards achieved a similar performance, depending on the video configuration used.

Sapphire HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260 achieved a similar performance in most scenarios. The only time that GeForce GTX 260 was faster than Sapphire HD 4870 was on Call of Duty 4 at 2560×1600 maxing out image quality settings (11% faster). In all other configurations on this game both cards achieved the same performance level.

Sapphire HD 4870 was faster than GeForce GTX 260 in some games. On Crysis it was around 15% faster when we set image quality settings to “high,” but both cards achieved the same performance when image quality was set at “low.” On Half-Life: Episode 2 HD 4870 was 6-8% faster when image quality was set at “low” and 19-23% faster when we maxed out image quality settings. And on Quake 4 HD 4870 was between 6.50% and 19% faster, depending on the video configuration.

You can see the performance difference between Sapphire HD 4870 and other high-end video cards by browsing the tables published in the previous pages.

If you have around USD 300 to spend on a video card Radeon HD 4870 is certainly today your best option. As mentioned, it reaches the same performance as GeForce GTX 260 or better, and if you search carefully you can find it being sold cheaper than GeForce GTX 260.

Of course if you don’t have that much money and still want a high-end video card our recommendation is Radeon HD 4850, which can be currently found below the USD 200 mark in the USA and thus providing a terrific cost/benefit ratio for the average user.

A final trick: at this time Radeon HD 4870 will only run stable if you install Catalyst 8.6 drivers and a hotfix made available by AMD.