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Solid performer, great price
Published on November 20, 2008 By Zoomba In PC Gaming

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…

Card 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+
    • 3000 MHz Dual-Core CPU
  • RAM: 8.0 GB
    • DDR2-800 (PC-6400)
  • 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
    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.

Comments (Page 2)
on Nov 20, 2008

Zoomba, it's me Dark-Star! Good review, btw. I own an ASUS Radeon HD 4870 (512MB version) and I LOVE IT. Best card I've ever owned and it was well worth it. I play GRID a lot and the game runs all details on, 1920x1200 full 8xFSAA @ 80+fps. Most of my games I'm able to run at full details at 1920x1200. Only Crysis slow down at full detail, but if I take the detail level to HIGH the game is back to 60+ fps.

Here are my stats in case others care:
AMD Phenom 9950 (Quad-core 2.6GHz)
ASUS Radeon HD 4870 (512MB version)
ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe Motherboard
4GB's DDR2-1066 (2x2GB)
4x320GB WD 7200RPM HD's in RAID10 (640GB's @ 172MB/s)
24 inch Dell LCD (1920x1200)
22 inch Dell LCD (1680x1050)


Out of curiosity . . . what kind of RAM is that?

on Nov 20, 2008

I'm happy with my almost 2 years old 8800GTX 768Mo. Runs pretty much everything at top settings in 1680x1050

But I'd change if there was a new directX coming and incompatible with my card.

You make me want a 64 bit OS and 8Go of DDR2 though lol

on Nov 21, 2008

nice, does it do crossfire? (that is radeons answer to SLI right?)

We can even find HD4850 crossfire ready set bundle.

on Nov 21, 2008

Out of curiosity . . . what kind of RAM is that?

G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel

on Nov 21, 2008

i've had the hd4850 for awhile now... only probablem ive had is it gets VERY hot!

on Nov 21, 2008

Great review there Zoomba.  I've been an ATI fanboy forever (ragepro days).  It is nice to see the 4850, 4870, and 4870x2 offer great performance and value to customers.

i've had the hd4850 for awhile now... only probablem ive had is it gets VERY hot!

Look for some of the bios mods, or the 3rd party software to control the fan.  If I'm not mistaken (I don't have a 4xxx series), the new verion of CCC has fan control as well.  This will help with cooling and overclocks.

on Nov 21, 2008

I am really enjoying my new 4850 as well.  It does run hot, but that's what aftermarket fans are for...

on Nov 21, 2008

i've had the hd4850 for awhile now... only probablem ive had is it gets VERY hot!

I use a fan tweak to keep the fan speeds high even when the GPU is idle.  And I also have a lot of case fans pushing air around.

on Nov 21, 2008

Zoomba, it's me Dark-Star! Good review, btw. I own an ASUS Radeon HD 4870 (512MB version) and I LOVE IT. Best card I've ever owned and it was well worth it. I play GRID a lot and the game runs all details on, 1920x1200 full 8xFSAA @ 80+fps. Most of my games I'm able to run at full details at 1920x1200. Only Crysis slow down at full detail, but if I take the detail level to HIGH the game is back to 60+ fps. Here are my stats in case others care:AMD Phenom 9950 (Quad-core 2.6GHz)ASUS Radeon HD 4870 (512MB version)ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe Motherboard4GB's DDR2-1066 (2x2GB)4x320GB WD 7200RPM HD's in RAID10 (640GB's @ 172MB/s)24 inch Dell LCD (1920x1200)22 inch Dell LCD (1680x1050)

Glad to see you're still checking in here from time to time!  How's the new gig going?

We have a few 4870s in the office and I've heard great things about them too, but those suckers are a little bit too big to fit in my case without doing some crazy cable management. 

With Crysis, your slow-down problems are probably from hitting a memory limit.  Once I went past 4GB of RAM, I didn't have any problems.

on Nov 22, 2008

Thats exacly my card, I bought it some months ago. I have Dead Space and is just very smooth. I use the max settings except for resolutions. I use 1024x768 (or lower) for all games (even if the card can handle more), that is my monitor resolution, so I never get to force it. Graphics can easily be pretty enougth for me.

There was no time I wished more from any game that the card could not provide me. Its very good at cost-benefit. It just freaked me out how hot it can get by default and I had to take a program to control the fan, but now the last ATI Catalyst that already comes with fan control because of requests they received; even tough they stated the card was made to handle that temperatures.

The card is comparable with the Nvidia 9800GT, but it is better. Its only not better for games that are made under Nvidia Cards (some of them), or using their money, this kind of stuff. But both are good enougth. Was going to get one or another, but ATI preferable because its a superior card, cheaper and they are the poor ones, I think its important to maintain the competition. Wanted to support that and risk what some say has inferior support/drives, but no problems so far, good enougth too.

on Nov 26, 2008

Hey Zoomba,

Things are going good over here at Vectorform. The projects a pretty cool and I'm learning a lot. The Microsoft Surface is awesome, by the way. I want one for my house!

Here is a slightly outdated pic of my computer. Since then I've added a better RAID controller (Adaptec) and a second DVD-Burner. I think I might take your advice and add 4 more gigs of RAM too.

My Rig

on Dec 08, 2008

I recently upgraded my HD3850 to a HD4870 1GB card, and it doubled my FPS in most games. Haven't had one driver issue as of yet either.

Seeing as I saw Crysis mentioned a few times, I highly recommend the CCC config mod. It basically tweaks the game behind the scenes and helps cut down on unnesscary things that just slow the game down while actually improving on the visuals.

on Dec 09, 2008

nice write up

on Dec 10, 2008

Excellent review, Zoomba.

One question: I am getting the new Gateway FX 6800-0IE system, which has that card in it. Do any of you know if Gateway puts enough fans in the cases of their FX systems to keep the cards cool? I don't to have card melt itself simply from use (I do not screw with my hardware for that very reason.) Any answers would be nice.