ATI Radeon HD 4890: Playing To Win Or Played Again?

So far, this year has been a real bore with regard to graphics launches, don't you think?

True, we’re only four months in to 2009. But we’ve already seen Nvidia reclaim the “fastest card” title with its GeForce GTX 295—a dual-card solution with two chips somewhere in between the nearly year-old GeForce GTX 280 and GTX 260. The company followed up with a rebranding of its GeForce 9800 GTX+ in the GeForce GTS 250.

To Nvidia’s credit, it has kept a steady stream of those GeForce GTX 295s in stock at e-tail, despite all of the whining elsewhere on the Web about that being a stunt card. If I’m a gamer and I can buy one right now online, then that’s all I care about.

And we’re hearing rumblings now of a GeForce GTX 275—in essence, a GeForce GTX 295 cut in half (just one of those in-between GPUs). And oh, look at what just arrived via Fed Ex—a GeForce GTX 275. You’ll want to read that story when you’re done with this one for the scoop on Nvidia’s newest mid-range offering.

A Little Action From The Other Side

Today isn’t about Nvidia, though (Ed.: As suggested above, it turns out that Nvidia is out to steal the red team’s thunder with its GeForce GTX 275. We’ve written that one up in a separate story). Rather, it’s ATI’s turn to respond. And while AMD has commanded the organization’s spotlight through the start of ’09 with its Phenom II processor, the graphics division has a little something up its sleeve, too.

I say ‘little’ because today’s launch of the Radeon HD 4890 is, like Nvidia’s recent string of unveilings, decidedly evolutionary in nature. To ATI’s credit, its latest is based on a re-spun GPU, so it’s no RV770 plus a few megahertz. But if you were hoping for something that could kill a Radeon HD 4870 X2, you’ll be a bit disappointed.

I say ‘a bit’ because, while it won’t break past any existing speed records, the Radeon HD 4890 is notably faster than the single-GPU flagship preceding it. And while enthusiasts are expected to pay a premium for the new, faster processor and higher-clocked GDDR5 memory, the 4890’s real purpose is to bridge a gaping hole in ATI’s lineup between its $180-ish Radeon HD 4870 and the ~$400-ish Radeon HD 4870 X2.

To that end, the company is forecasting a roughly $249 price tag on this new solution. We think that number needs to come down a bit, though, to reflect the very-competitive sub-$200 prices on Radeon HD 4870 1 GB and GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 cards.

AMD’s reasoning on the price point is that the company is refreshing its “sweet-spot strategy,” which saw it launch RV770 last year, adapting the architecture down to the mainstream and up to the high-end. Since then, competitive pressure has pushed prices on those Radeon HD 4780/4850 cards down a bit. Now, it says, is its chance to re-establish a product at a crucial demand peak, as seen in the Mercury Research Data from Q4 ’08.

Our problem with that parallel is this: when RV770 launched, Nvidia was still trying to sell GTX 280s for $649 and 260s for $399. As a result, the AMD offerings looked like tremendous values. After a series of drastic cuts on Nvidia’s end, the competition is far tighter. So where, exactly, does the Radeon HD 4890 fall with regard to AMD’s own lineup and Nvidia’s contenders? Let’s take a closer look at the card, its GPU, DirectX 10.1, overclocking, and the always-telling benchmarks!

Create a new thread in the UK Article comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • skeptic_27
    Where are the HD4890 OC benchmarks, because that is where this card was made for.
  • mi1ez
  • Anonymous
    afaik far cry 2 has nothing to do with crytek anymore but was developed by ubisoft who bought the license
  • Anonymous
    Why aren't there any X3 Terran Conflict benchmarks?
    Surely one of the most power demanding games ever should be a benchmark to show us how these cards react to realkly demanding games.
  • wild9
    With prices on GeForce GTX 260 Core 216s hovering between $180 and $190 online (with rebates dropping that to $160 in many cases), this isn’t June of 2008, where a surprise attack from ATI rocks Nvidia’s world.

    Cheapest I have seen a GTX260 in the UK is £181.00 or $266.00. Forget rebates as well, they're non-existent.

    We're paying an increase of around 66% more and I think that's disgraceful. It's holding the industry back, denying people access to new technology and ripping people off who can barely afford it. Looks like globalisation doesn't extend to harmonising graphics cards specs or prices. Thus, the UK consumer has no choice but to go back to June 2008 or earlier in order to get a graphics card they can afford.

    I am sorry to go, it's just that I would very much like to have access to this technology (nVidia or AMD), and I realise there are different tariffs to take into consideration but this is simply ridiculous. These prices are bound to come down in the US and even before they do they are drastically cheaper than those in the UK. Short, sharp shaft again.
  • tstebbens

    Amazon have the GTX 260 for ~£150. That's still $220 I know, but better than £181. I did find it for as little as £139 but, unsurprisingly it was out of stock.
  • waxdart
    @Wild9 - Blame the government! You’ll just get told - The cost of just doing business in the UK is a lot higher. Also the exchange rates are crap for us right now. And E.U. Law blar blar - and trade agreement- blar blar.

    @ everyone in the UK
    People have been bending over and taking it for far too long. Down with rip-off Britain. Write to your MP. I'll do it too. everyone join in!
  • Reynod
    This article like the previous is a bit too pro NVidia for my liking.

    The ATI cards just waste the current NVidia cards and the X2's are awesome.

    The respin of the 4870 core also allows for much higher overclocking due to the changes to the timings in the core.

    I'd like to see what XFX and some of the others are going to do wit hthis little baby .... expect bigger things than the standard benchies your showing.

    Reviews on a number of other sites are showing the ATI cards in a much more favourable light than here today ...

    Balance ...
  • wild9
    I like the fact that AMD is rolling in GDDR5, instead of sticking to slower, older memory like GDD3. if only AMD could produce a chipset with say, 256MB of the stuff dedicated to the IGP :)
  • wild9
    GDD3..I meant GDDR3, sorry.
  • robbins
    tstebbens that's the old 260.
    You can get the old one for ~ £130

    This is by far the best core 216 to get. £151, factory overclocked, 2 fans... Just ordered one.
  • t-track
    The article is comparing a ATI's 4890 with Nvidia's 260 and 285 by using a driver for the new 4890 that actually does not support fully this card and a well updated and well tested driver for the Nvidia's counterparts.

    That is why the conclusions about the cards' performance are ill founded.

    Wait until the release of the new catalyst 9.4 and you will see that 4890 does not only kill NV 280, but also NV285 at this price range.
  • yourma2000
    this benchmark needs to be retaken with the 9.4 drivers which officially support the 4890
  • Anonymous
    Lawl, vantage.. Vantage counts PhysX support, so you gave nVidia a lead in the synthetic benchies already, and guess what, the 4870 still matches the 285... Let alone what the core update'll do on the 4890. Besides that, like many people before me: Use the damn supportive drivers, then get a bench.