...and then disaster struck.

Or at least that's how it felt. The past few weeks have been incredibly tumultuous, sleepless, and beyond interesting. It is as if AMD and NVIDIA just started pulling out hardware and throwing it at eachother while we stood in the middle getting pegged with graphics cards. And we weren't just hit with new architectures and unexpected die shrinks, but new drivers left and right.

First up was GT200, which appeared in the form of the GeForce GTX 280 and GeForce GTX 260. Of course, both of those can be paired or tri-ed (if you will), but with two cards requiring at least a 1200W PSU we're a bit worried of trying three. Then came the randomness that was the accidental launch of the Radeon HD 4850 (albeit with no architectural information) and only a couple hours later we first heard about the 9800 GTX+ which is a die shrunk higher clocked 9800 GTX that is now publicly announced and will be available in July.

And now we have the other thing we've been working on since we finished GT200: RV770 in all it's glory. This includes the 4850 whose performance we have already seen and the Radeon HD 4870: the teraflop card that falls further short of hitting its theoretical performance than NVIDIA did with GT200. But theoretical performance isn't reality, and nothing can be done if every instruction is a multiply-add or combination of a multiply-add and a multiply, so while marketing loves to trot out big numbers we quite prefer real-world testing with games people will actually play on this hardware.

But before we get to performance, and as usual, we will want to take as deep a look into this architecture as possible. We won't be able to go as deep with RV770 as we could with GT200, as we had access to a lot of information both from NVIDIA and from outside NVIDIA that allowed us to learn more about their architecture. At the same time, we still know barely anything about the real design of either NVIDIA or AMD's hardware as they prefer to hold their cards very close.

This won't work long term, however. As we push toward moving compute intensive applications to the GPU, developers will not just want -- they will need low level architectural information. It is impossible to properly optimize code for an architecture when you don't know exact details about timing, latency, cache sizes, register files, resource sharing, and the like. While, this generation, we have decidedly more information from NVIDIA on how to properly program their architecture, we still need more from both AMD and NVIDIA.

And Now, the Rest of the Story

Last week was a weird teaser - we gave you the goods, without explaining what they were.

By now you know that the Radeon HD 4850 is the best buy at $199, but today we're able to tell you much about its inner workings as well as introduce its faster, more expensive sibling: the Radeon HD 4870.

ATI Radeon HD 4870 ATI Radeon HD 4850 ATI Radeon HD 3870
Stream Processors 800 800 320
Texture Units 40 40 16
ROPs 16 16 16
Core Clock 750MHz 625MHz 775MHz+
Memory Clock 900MHz (3600MHz data rate) GDDR5 993MHz (1986MHz data rate) GDDR3 1125MHz (2250MHz data rate) GDDR4
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 512MB 512MB 512MB
Transistor Count 956M 956M 666M
Manufacturing Process TSMC 55nm TSMC 55nm TSMC 55nm
Price Point $299 $199 $199

Priced at $299 the Radeon HD 4870 is clocked 20% higher and has 81% more memory bandwidth than the Radeon HD 4850. The GPU clock speed improvement is simply due to better cooling as the 4870 ships with a two-slot cooler. The memory bandwidth improvement is due to the Radeon HD 4870 using GDDR5 memory instead of GDDR3 used on the 4850 (and GDDR4 for 3870); the result is a data rate equal to 4x the memory clock speed or 3.6Gbps. The Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 both use a 256-bit memory bus like the 3870 before it (as well as NVIDIA's competing GeForce 9800 GTX), but total memory bandwidth on the 4870 ends up being 115.2GB/s thanks to the use of GDDR5. Note that this is more memory bandwidth than the GeForce GTX 260 which has a much wider 448-bit memory bus, but uses GDDR3 devices.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX ATI Radeon HD 4870 ATI Radeon HD 4850 ATI Radeon HD 3870
Memory Size 1GB 896MB 512MB 512MB 512MB 512MB
Memory Technology GDDR3 GDDR3 GDDR3 GDDR5 GDDR3 GDDR4
Memory Bus Width 512-bit 448-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Clock 1107MHz 999MHz 1100MHz 900MHz 993MHz 1125MHz
Memory Data Rate 2.2Gbps 2.0Gbps 2.22Gbps 3.6Gbps 1.99Gbps 2.25Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 141.7GB/s 111.9GB/s 70.4GB/s 115.2GB/s 63.6GB/s 72.0GB/s

The use of GDDR5 enabled AMD to deliver GeForce GTX 260 class memory bandwidth, but without the pin-count and expense of a 448-bit memory interface. GDDR5 actually implements a number of Rambus-like routing and signaling technologies while still remaining a parallel based memory technology, the result is something that appears to deliver tremendous bandwidth per pin in a reliable, high volume solution.

AMD most likely took a risk on bringing GDDR5 to market this early and we do expect NVIDIA to follow suit, AMD is simply enjoying the benefits of jumping on the GDDR5 bandwagon early and getting it right, at least it seems that way. It wouldn't be too far fetched to imagine a 55nm GT200 die shrink with a 256-bit GDDR5 memory interface, it should allow NVIDIA to drop the price down to the $300 level (at least for the GTX 260).

As we mentioned in our Radeon HD 4850 Preview, both the Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 now support 8-channel LPCM audio output over HDMI. AMD just sent over 8-channel LPCM drivers for the Radeon HD 4870 so we'll be testing this functionality shortly. As we mentioned in our 4850 preview:

"All of AMD's Radeon HD graphics cards have shipped with their own audio codec, but the Radeon HD 4800 series of cards finally adds support for 8-channel LPCM output over HDMI. This is a huge deal for HTPC enthusiasts because now you can output 8-channel audio over HDMI in a motherboard agnostic solution. We still don't have support for bitstreaming TrueHD/DTS-HD MA and most likely won't anytime this year from a GPU alone, but there are some other solutions in the works for 2008."

The Radeon HD 4870 is scheduled for widespread availability in early July, although AMD tells us that some cards are already in the channel. Given that the 4870 relies on a new memory technology, we aren't sure how confident we can be that it will be as widely available as the Radeon HD 4850 has been thus far. Keep an eye out but so far the 4850 has been shipping without any issues at $199 or below, so as long as AMD can get cards in retailers' hands we expect the 4870 to hit its $299 price point.

AMD's "Small-Die" Strategy
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  • calumhm - Friday, September 11, 2009 - link

    i mean, ATI invented the unified pixel/shader architechture, or so i believe, and this generation they've got dx10.1 level hardware something like 7 months and counting before Nvidia have any.

    Also i once read an article about SLI and Crossfire, about how SLI has only one rendering type, scissors. (meaning the screen is divided in two) Whereas ATI have scissors, tiled, (so that the more demanding areas of the screen are better divided amongst the cards) and others.
    Also, you can combine any HD series ATI card with any HD series card! thats way better than having to say, buy another 7800 for SLI because just one isn't doing it anymore, even though the 9800 series are out. With CFire you could add a 4870 to your old 3870!

    Im currently with Nvidia (a 9600gt (found one for £60!)) but am frequently impressed by ATI.

    -IS- ATI the smart customer's choice?
    Reply
  • billywigga - Friday, August 29, 2008 - link

    im pretty shore the 4870 is low profile ive been looking everywhere for a low profile graphics card and i think i foung a high ends one unlike the geforce 8400 and the 8600 those arenot very good and they dont look good either but where do i buy the 4870 Reply
  • Hrel - Thursday, August 21, 2008 - link

    Why has there been no article comparing the 8800GT to the 9800GT? Is it just a rebrand, are there noticeable performance differences. It's 9 series, I assume it has hybrid power, but I don't know. Anandtech, PLEASE! Do an article on this. Reply
  • billywigga - Friday, August 29, 2008 - link

    bang for the buck id get the 9800 because its newer also all the diffrence is it has more intagrated ram your saving a lot if you just get more ram to your computer. Reply
  • firewolfsm - Friday, August 01, 2008 - link

    I'm trying to do the same benchmark for Crysis for my 4850 as I have a similar system and a fresh vista install. Just wondering what kind of driver settings you used. Reply
  • spikeysting - Saturday, July 19, 2008 - link

    I just got it for $179 at Frys. Such a good deal. Reply
  • Yangorang - Tuesday, July 08, 2008 - link

    Anyone tried this mod?
    http://www.hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1319658">http://www.hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1319658
    Reply
  • jALLAD - Friday, July 04, 2008 - link

    I would for sure go for the 4870. (I am a Quake Wars fan boy u see :P)
    But I was unsure how these would perform on Linux. Is the driver support reliable? Right now I use a 7950 NVIDIA and their support on Linux is almost shite. I was wondering whether its better or worse...

    Anyone ?
    Reply
  • KriegenSchlagen - Monday, July 07, 2008 - link

    If you are a Quake Wars fan, aren't the scores higher in 3-4 GeForce SLI configs vs. Crossfire mode 4870? Reply
  • jALLAD - Wednesday, July 09, 2008 - link

    well I am looking forward to a single card setup. SLI or CF is beyond the reach of my pockets. :P

    Reply

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