The Asus Matrix HD 4870

Asus Matrix Radeon HD 4870 512MB Video Card

When Nathan approached me with an ATI Radeon HD 4870 video card review, I immediately groaned and mumbled "Not another Radeon HD 4870." After he told me which specific card and a few seconds spent Googling, I immediately perked up considerably. ASUS' Republic of Gamers line has released some of my favorite components like the 965P Commando and the X48 Rampage Extreme. This is the first ROG branded graphic card I've laid my hands on, so I was quite jittery with excitement.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

This card continues with the color trends established for ROG with a black PCB, a dark shroud, and the ROG emblem prominent. It looks out of place on the Gigabyte MA790GP-DS4H, but would look at home on a Rampage II Extreme. Thankfully, unlike nearly every other Radeon HD 4870 I've reviewed in the past, ASUS has catered to my one weakness: overclocking. Asus means business with this ROG branded card and their iTracker software which will be discussed after we first analyze stock performance.

The ASUS Matrix HD 4870, sadly, doesn't bring anything new to the table regarding stock performance. It features the original 512MB of GDDR5 that the reference ATI Radeon HD 4870 launched with, clock frequencies that fall within the averages of factory overclocked cards, and the same core used on all Radeon HD 4870 cards. So, what has improved? Let's first tear into the card a bit and see.

Asus Matrix HD 4870 Card Images

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

To kick things off, here's the card from the top. Asus has included a double-fan configuration with a quad heatpipe assembly. No joke, this thing has the cooling capacity for a chip much hotter than the RV770 GPU core.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

The backside is rather plain and more or less a common sight. Plenty of little components for the GDDR5 power circuit and the PWM.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

An interesting view of the card shows both 6-pin PCIe plugs and the backside of the heatsink.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

The card features two DVI ports and an HDTV/S-Video output port.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Popping the heatsink off reveals a custom PCB with a much simpler layout than the reference HD 4870.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

The all important PWM circuits: This card features 4-phase GPU and 2-phase GDDR5 regulation -- more than sufficient for all scenarios.

Test System

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

The AMD Phenom II platform was used for today's testing. Microsoft Vista Ultimate x64 with service pack 1 was used. AMD Catalyst 8.12 and Nvidia 180.84 drivers were used and an XFX GTX 260 216SP Black Edition was the comparison card. All titles were patched to the latest revisions.

AMD Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

AMD Phenom II X4 940

Motherboard

Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H

Memory

Corsair 2x1GB PC2-8888 CAS4

Video Card

Asus ROG HD 4870 512MB

Hard Drive

Seagate 7200.10 320GB

Cooling

Scythe Ninja RevB

Power Supply

Corsair HX1000

Operating System

Windows Vista Ultimate

Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes is a real-time strategy computer game developed by Relic Entertainment that was released on September 14, 2006. On May 29, 2007 Relic released a patch for Company of Heroes that supports DirectX 10 and we used the latest patch to test DirectX 10 game performance.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Due to some strange fluke, I was unable to run the GTX260 tests with anti-aliasing enabled as Company of Heroes would stop showing video with AA enabled. That being said, the performance shown above is more or less expected given the hardware differences and frequency differences.

Crysis

Crysis is a science fiction first-person shooter computer game that was developed by Crytek, and published by Electronic Arts. It was released on November 15, 2007 in the United States.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Crysis repeats what has been seen before with the GTX260 leading the HD4870 by 5% to 10%. The major difference, though, was the minimum FPS with the HD4870 suffering from some slow-downs that were unplayable.

FarCry 2

Far Cry 2 is a first-person shooter developed by Ubisoft for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. It was marketed as the true successor of the popular title Far Cry.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Once again the 512MB of memory really cripples performance at 1920x1200 compared to the GTX260. This is more or less the only downside to this card. Performance is more or less within 10% of the GTX260 up to 1920x1200 with 4xAA, after which it nosedives.

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is a stand alone expansion for the real-time strategy game Supreme Commander and was developed by Gas Powered Games. It was released on November 6, 2007 to the United States.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Supreme Commander, strangely enough, was the only test where the HD4870 beat the GTX260 across the board. I don't know if the game was optimized for AMD cards but the game played remarkably well on the HD4870.

3DMark 2006 and Vantage

3DMark Vantage is the latest 3DMark test from Futuremark. Traditionally, 3DMark focused on GPU performance but with 3DMark 2006 and Vantage, Futuremark has given more attention to the CPU. 3DMark Vantage features two CPU tests that focus on either artificial intelligence calculations or physics calculations. 3DMark 2006 features two CPU physics simulations of differing quality. These tests scale incredibly well with cores so the more threads available the higher the score.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

The XFX GTX260 Black Edition once again pushes past the Asus ROG HD 4870. The SM2 and SM3 scores of 3DMark2006 are particularly interesting with Nvidia showing much closer scores than AMD.

Asus iTracker


I tend to frown upon hardware companies releasing software as they tend to be terribly executed. However, lately I've been proven wrong. This particular bit of software, iTracker, could use a different GUI but it is rather useful. iTracker lets the user adjust GPU and GDDR5 voltages, monitor video card and system values, and configure temperature warning.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

The above images show the fastest configuration, the Gaming Mode, and the maximum values available with the user defined configuration. The values they give you to work with are impressive for the voltages but quite limiting with the frequencies; 1200MHz core and 1300MHz memory would have been very nice to see.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

The above menus are all the system health monitoring options. The values present are quite useful such as the video card's power consumption, temps, and voltages.

Overclocking and Temperatures


The Asus Matrix HD 4870 is a most unusual card to overclock. Unlike nearly every other video card I've overclocked, this particular card has been equipped with everything you would need to reach the limits of the components. With Asus' iTracker software, you can increase the GPU and GDDR5 voltages well past what would be useful on air-cooling. The overclock below was achieved with 1.425vGPU and 1.6vGDDR5 while solely using iTracker. Click the image for the 3Dmark Vantage run associated with those clocks.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

I was a bit conservative with the card due to not having finished by the deadline but I plan on fully utilizing this software when I assemble AMD's Dragon Platform with the Phenom II X4 940 I reviewed earlier.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

I was incredibly surprised with the capacity of the heatsink that the Asus Matrix HD4870 was equipped with. Load testing was performed by looping 3DMark 2006 Game Test 3 and 4 three times each with the temp measured the average of the last loop. Fan speed was kept on "auto" and was silent at idle and a faint buzz on the Gamer preset. The overclock runs though had the fan at 70% and it was quite audible, definitely not an ideal speed for an open case but it'd be muffled in a PC case.

Conclusion

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

In the months since the HD4870 launched, Nvidia has increased performance through driver optimizations and released slightly stronger cores for its GTX260. Due to these improvements, the Asus Matrix HD4870 no longer scores an easy victory, and in fact gets pushed around a bit through all the tests. Comparing price between these two cards, the XFX GTX260 216SP Black Edition comes with FarCry 2 and can be found for $249.99 at Newegg.com and TigerDirect.com after a $20 rebate. This makes the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 exactly $10 cheaper than the ASUS EAH4870MATRIX/512MD5 as it sells for $259.99 after a $20 rebate from Newegg.com. The retail version of the ASUS EAH4870MATRIX/512MD5 video card does come with a full copy of World of Warcraft, so you also get a game with the purchase of this product.

The Asus Matrix HD4870 more or less would hold its own against a stock-clocked GTX260, but with most GTX260's selling with 600MHz+ core overclocks from the factory, that comparison would have made no sense. In the end it takes a ~15% overclock on the HD 4870 to make up for the performance gap. Thankfully, Asus gives you the power to perform this overclock, and rather easily.

Asus Republic of Gamer's HD 4870

I rather like what Asus has done with the otherwise bland HD4870, and even though it is outperformed by the competition at the same price-point, I feel the HD4870 has more potential for the average consumer. When I overclocked the GTX260, I wasn't able to adjust core voltage so I was more or less hoping the card wouldn't artifact noticeably while gaming. With the Asus Matrix HD4870, you can insure stability by increasing voltages and monitoring temperatures to keep everything in check.

It is a tough call to make, but putting my personal overclocking desires aside, it isn't a fast and hard sell with this card. To reach the performance of the competition requires an overclock the average consumer may not be comfortable performing. If the card were priced $26 (10%) lower then I'd wholeheartedly endorse it, but as it stands for the plug-and-play consumer you may want to look to a different card. In the end this card desperately needs 1GB of GDDR5 to be competitive at high resolutions, where it belongs.

Legit Bottom Line: The Asus Matrix HD4870 may be an overclocker's dream, but the average consumer may find it a bit underpowered due to the frame buffer size.