ASUS EAH4890 Video Card Evaluation

AMD's new Radeon HD 4890 launches today and we've got it covered with a good [H] look at the ASUS EAH4890. We've got a great evaluation for you guys today, comparisons with the GTX 280, HD 4870 1GB and the new GeForce GTX 275. You guys won’t be disappointed, 1GHz GPU possible?

Introduction

ASUS is known as the one of the largest and most successful motherboard manufacturers in the world, but they make more than just motherboards. They also offer graphics cards, notebooks, netbooks, optical drives, handheld PCs, and many other computer hardware accessories.

This article will focus on a brand new addition to their video card lineup: The ASUS EAH4890, featuring the new AMD Radeon HD 4890 GPU and 1GB of GDDR5 memory.

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AMD ATI Radeon HD 4890 GPU

Today, AMD is officially launching an update for spring of 2009, with the Radeon HD 4890. This video card is powered by AMD's ATI RV790 GPU, which is an updated version of the RV770 which powers the Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 series' of video cards.

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Since the launch of the Radeon HD 4870, AMD's graphics strategy has been the intelligent scaling of a very small, very efficient and cost-effective GPU. The RV770 was the first step of that strategy. Before today, it powered every product in the Radeon HD 4800 series of video cards. The only problem has been the huge difference in cost between AMD's mainstream products and their high-end product, the Radeon HD 4870 X2. Right now, it is about a $230 gap. Today, AMD's strategy in launching the Radeon HD 4890 is what they call their "Sweet Spot Strategy." The Radeon HD 4890 is powered by a tweaked version of the RV770 GPU, which they call the RV790. With its targeted retail price, it is set to fall into the sweet spot somewhere between the Radeon HD 4870 1GB and the Radeon HD 4870 X2.

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The RV790 is not a new architecture. It is a modified and tweaked version of the RV770 architecture, which has proven its worth since its launch in June of 2008. It boasts 1.36 teraflops of computing power on its GPU core with a maximum power rating of 190 watts.

The Radeon HD 4890 GPU contains the same number of streaming processors: 800, the same number of texture units: 40, and the same number of ROPs: 16. AMD informed us that the RV790s chip design was hand-tweaked by AMD's engineers. AMDآ’s engineers literally went through tens of thousands, if not more, paths in the chip to make it more efficient. In fact, it contains 3 million more transistors than the RV770. The RV790 is manufactured on the same 55nm process as the RV770 GPU.

The reference design clock speeds on the Radeon HD 4890 have been increased over what we saw on the Radeon HD 4870. The GPU clock rate has been increased by 100MHz to 850MHz, and the memory clock rate has been increased by 75MHz, for an aggregate data-rate frequency of 3.9GHz, which is 300MHz over the Radeon HD 4870. Those clock speed increases have resulted in a 4 GigaTexel/sec texture fill-rate increase, a 1.6 GigaPixel pixel fill-rate increase, and a 9.8 GB per second increase in memory bandwidth.

It is important to note that that AMDآ’s design goals with this GPU were to make it a آ“900MHz GPU.آ” Indeed, AMD engineers made it so that it operates great at 900MHz, it was simply a marketing decision to sell it at 850MHz. This will allow vendors to sell آ“OCآ” SKUs along with standard clock speeds. In fact, you guys are going to see some awesome overclocks from this GPU, upwards to 1GHz!

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AMD has finally allowed a more liberal overclocking capacity in their Overdrive panel for the Radeon HD 4890. Instead of the past limitations around 50MHz, the HD 4890 will be overclockable to a full 1GHz without using a 3rd party utility. The memory's noose has also been loosened. In the past, we were lucky to be able to go 100MHz above spec. Overdrive allows the HD 4890 memory slider to go up by 225MHz, up to 1.2GHz.

It's about time.


ASUS EAH4890

The ASUS EAH4890 is the first Radeon HD 4890 video card we have seen. It follows AMD's reference design all the way. It has the reference cooling device with an ASUS branded sticker covering the bulk of the cooling shroud. It comes out of the box with the GPU and Memory clock rates set at AMD's reference specification. The GPU is at 850MHz, and the memory is at 3.9GHz.

ASUS tells us that the EAH4890 video card carries an MSRP of $269 USD. However, you may find this a lot cheaper at launch with mail-in-rebates and the like, down to $229 on some HD 4890آ’s. ASUS will also carry an آ“OCآ” SKU.

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The outer shipping box is a medium sized box. It features very colorful artwork with a dark armored hero (or villain) on a fiery background. On the left on the front of the box is a series of icons describing the video card's various features. One side of the box features a white sticker with all of the model and serial number information, and a whole lot of bar codes.

The back of the box shows the usual multilingual marketing babble, as well as a list of system requirements and natively supported resolutions. Interested consumers will need to ensure that they have at least a 550W power supply with a 12v rating of 40A in order to run one of these video cards.

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The inner packaging is sleek and eye-catching. The whole package is contained within a black cardboard box with ASUS' logo and motto embossed in gold lettering. Opening up that box, we find a series of other boxes with the same embossed text. In the large flat box on the left is the software bundle, the installation guide, and the included mouse pad. Underneath that is the video card itself, encased in a plastic foam form. The narrow box on the right side contains all of the bundled hardware accessories.

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The "soft" bundle includes a driver CD-ROM disc with the ASUS SmartDoctor and GamerOSD software packages, another CD-ROM with the owner's manual, an installation guide, and a mouse pad. The SmartDoctor utility will allow you to overvolt the video card, and we will do that later in this evaluation. The pad looks nice; its brown vinyl with ASUS embossed onto the surface. It is doubtful that it will be winning any slickness awards, though.

The "hard" bundle includes almost everything a gamer might need to install this video card and connect it to nearly any kind of display. There is a DVI to VGA adaptor, a DVI to HDMI adaptor, a composite video output dongle, and a component video HDTV output dongle. There is also a crossfire bridge connector and a dual-Molex to 6-pin auxiliary power supply connector.

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The video card itself is almost indistinguishable from a Radeon HD 4870. In fact, if this video card had arrived without any stickers, we would have to plug it in and install a driver to figure out what it is. On the cooling device, there are two stickers. One large ASUS branded sticker covers the face of the cooler shroud, and repeats the same artwork featured on the outer box. The other ASUS sticker covers the cooling fan's hub.

It is the same physical height and length as the Radeon HD 4870. It has the same red, translucent plastic heat-sink shroud covering almost the entire front face of the video card. It has the same large red fan at the backside, to suck air from inside the case and blow it across the enclosed heat-sink and out of the video card's rearward ventilation slots. It even has the same red PCB that we have come to expect from AMD and ATI branded video cards.

It also came with blue plastic protectors covering every port and connector; even the PCI-Express card edge was protected.

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The cooling device features several heat-pipes woven throughout the inside of the cooler, as is visible from the first photo above. Compared to the HD 4870's cooler, the EAH4890 has one additional heat-pipe inside, for a total of three. The added heat-pipe runs from the base of the GPU heat transfer plate, to the outer edge of the heat-sink almost directly above the GPU.

At the business end, the ASUS EAH4890 has the usual assortment of output ports. There are two dual-link DVI connectors and a single composite TV out and component HDTV output jack.


The Competition

For this evaluation, we will be directly comparing the ASUS EAH4890 to the Radeon HD 4870 1GB video card, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280, and the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275.

We are including the 1GB Radeon HD 4870 because the Radeon HD 4890 essentially usurps that video card's initial position in the market. Therefore, we want to know if the Radeon HD 4890 is a suitable refresh for early adopters of the Radeon HD 4870 1GB.

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 is included because it is only $20 more expensive than this video card's MSRP. We are quite curious to know if the Radeon HD 4890 can challenge some of the great value of that video card at $289.

Lastly, we are including the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 because it is also being launched today. Unfortunately, we did not receive our GTX 275 with sufficient time to execute a full evaluation on it, but there is one forthcoming. NVIDA tells us that the GTX 275 should hit the shelves on or before the 14th of April (2009) with an MSRP of about $249, placing it in direct competition with the Radeon HD 4890.

We are intentionally leaving the GeForce GTX 260 out of this evaluation for two reasons. First, we simply did not have the time to include a 5th video card. Second, the GTX 260 performs just about on-par with the Radeon HD 4870 1GB, and since we have that video card represented here, it is easy to make performance comparisons with the 4870, as well as data from prior evaluations which did feature the GTX 260.