The graphics card world has long been dominated by two companies; nVidia and ATI/AMD. The battle over the last ten years has played out like a constant tug-of-war with one side gaining brief dominance over the other. This generation, ATI looks to have the upper hand with their HD 48xx series of cards.
If you take a winning spot in the 2008 GUI Championships, there’s a very good chance you’ll find yourself with one of these bad boys in your PC very soon. So, today I’m going to give you a bit of a preview of the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512MB Video Card.
First, lets take a look at the card’s base specs…
Sapphire Radeon HD4850 512 MB Grapics Card
- Display Output: Dual DL-DVI-I+HDTV
- Core Clock: 625 MHz
- Memory Clock: 933 MHz, 1986 Mbps
- PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
- 512 MB/ 256 bit GDDR3 memory interface
- Single Slot Active Cooler
- HDMI complaint via dongle
- 7.1 Audio Channel Support
- Microsoft DirectX 10 Support
- Shader Model 4.1 Support
At stock settings, it’s a solid performer that stands up to pretty much every modern game out there; Crysis, Fallout 3, Far Cry 2 and more.
How the Card Performs…
There are two measures of any piece of gaming hardware; How it scores and how it feels. Quantitative vs Qualitative analysis. For the quantitative analysis, you can find any number of full benchmarks and comparisons at the major hardware sites, but those don’t necessarily reflect the reality you’d see on your system.
So I decided to pick up the latest 3DMark and do a real-world benchmark. These tests were run on my home PC, which is primarily used for gaming and is kept pretty lean in terms of cruft, fragmentation etc. Before I get into the scores, here are the system specs:
- CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+
- RAM: 8.0 GB
- OS: Microsoft Windows Vista 64-bit
- Motherboard: ASUS M3A78-EMH HDMI
- Video: ATI Radeon HD 4850
- 512 MB Memory
- Catalyst 8.10 Drivers
Note that all hardware in the system is left at factory default settings. There was no overclocking or settings tweaking going on here. The only change to the system is I run the GPU fan at a higher default speed to reduce idle system temps.
Now that you know my system data, here are the 3D Mark Scores:
- 3DMark Score: P5903
- Overall CPU Score: 4585
- Overall GPU Score: 6530
- Graphics Tests
- Jane Nash – 19.07 FPS
- New Calico – 19.19 FPS
- CPU Tests
- AI Test – 565.8 Operations/Sec
- Physics Test – 7.8 Operations/Sec
- Feature Tests
- Texture Fill Test – 652.92 GTexels/Sec
- Color Fill Test – 3.43 GPixels/Sec
- Pixel Shader – 19.99 FPS
- Stream Out – 15.71 FPS
- GPU Particles – 26.5 FPS
- Perlin Noise – 45.3 FPS
So with all of my hardware at stock settings, I get a pretty respectable score. Now, if you’re a big time overclocker, you’ll get a lot more juice out of your PC, but I like to get as much life out of my hardware as possible.
Of course this means little to most gamers. For me, the important measure is how games perform/feel in action. Benchmarks are like academic exams. They test the theoretical capabilities but don’t say much for real-world performance.
In the last few weeks I’ve given the system a real workout with all of the holiday games coming out, and a few that are considered big titles for performance testing.
- Fallout 3
I run this game at 1400x900 with all the settings maxed, 4x AA, 8x AS. This runs as smooth as butter. I’ve only had a few stutters but I think that’s more to do with the game loading world content as I traverse The Capitol Wasteland. A few years ago Oblivion was the big game to check out, and it brought my system with a brand-new nvidia card to its knees. The 4850 didn’t even break a sweat on FO3!
Crysis is an interesting game to look at since it has a 64-bit binary, letting it take full advantage of my system resources. When I first was checking out the game, I only had 4gb of RAM in the system, and the game decided to take up every bit of RAM not in use by the OS. This only was a problem on the last boss fight on the aircraft carrier. When I jumped to 8GB though everything was fine and happy.
I ran the game with max settings in DirectX 10 mode, and 1400x900. Again it moved smoothly. And like I said, my performance was more hampered by the amount of memory the game could access than by my graphics hardware. Crysis is considered a kind of benchmark game because of the visuals it pushes. The 4850 combined with a 64-bit system and 8GB of RAM had no problems with this game.
- World of Warcraft
I know, I know, this isn’t a game that people think of when they’re looking at graphics cards and high-end systems. It’s aging graphics engine and simplistic art style make it accessible to a wide range of systems because it’s just not as generally demanding. But anyone who’s ever been in a large raid, or tried to get to the AH in Ironforge during a busy time on the server can tell you that if you put enough players on the screen, it will drag down almost any system.
This is even more true with the recent Wrath of the Lich King expansion/latest WoW patch that introduces a lot of enhancements to the core game engine. Improved draw distances and increased world, item and effects details mean those crowded areas require even more juice.
The 4850 performed perfectly on the first few days of the Lich King Release. Even in areas swarming with Gnomish Death Knights casting spells left and right. I didn’t experience the drop in frame rate all of my friends saw in the new areas on launch.
- Left 4 Dead
Who doesn’t like killing Zombies? This is the newest title on my play list and I’ve put in a lot of hours slaying the undead hordes. Even though this is based on the now several year old Source engine, Valve has seriously tweaked things to make the game look good. And with the number of zombies that will be swarming at you from every direction, if you really want to turn up the settings you need some big graphics guns to pull it off.
Like most of my games I play this one at 1400x900, 4xAA, 8x AS and with all the various effects and detail levels set to their highest. Not once have I seen a stutter in performance. No dropping framerates. This game is smooth from the first, to the last zombie dispatched by a shotgun blast to the left temple.
I’ve played other games like Far Cry 2 and Dead Space, and while they both performed great (wow… Dead Space PC is just a beautiful game) I didn’t play them enough to get a solid feel on how they’d be over the course of the whole game. But for the first hour I put into both, there was nothing to complain about in terms of performance. These are both games that will make good use of your gaming hardware too.
Every few years I switch out my graphics card and make the leap to the latest and greatest. Starting with the S3 Virge 3D back in the mid 90s and then bouncing back and forth between brands for the next decade or so, this is the first time I’ve seen a major jump in performance from one generation to another (or even skipping multiple generations as I’ve done in the past).
The Radeon HD 4850 met and exceeded all of my expectations and has been far more stable and future-proof than most video cards I’ve owned in the past. Typically when I get a new card, within 3-4 months there are games coming out that I can’t hope to run on high settings. I’ve now had this card since mid-summer and there isn’t anything on the horizon for PC games that this card and this rig can’t handle. The 4850 has made me an ATI card fan again, and I seriously hope they can keep this up with their next generation cards too. If they do, I’ll definitely look to buy one next time I’m in the market.