NVIDIA and AMD - Spring 2009 Cards Arrive

AMD and NVIDIA usually do not launch graphics cards on the same day, but today is a new day and that is exactly what has happened. AMD is announcing the Radeon HD 4890 graphics card, which is powered by the RV790 GPU. This is basically an updated and improved version of the RV770 which powers the Radeon HD 4870 and 4850 series of video cards. Arch rival NVIDIA is releasing the GeForce GTX 275 graphics card. This graphics card is basically half of a GeForce GTX 295 and it has been overclocked for even better performance than the GeForce GTX 260. Neither of the cards has been designed from the ground up with truly new designs, but both feature improvements in a number of areas that are important to consumers.
Radeon HD 4890 versus GeForce GTX 275

The RV790 is a re-masked RV770 that has been improved upon. AMD basically took a look at the RV770 and figured out what could be done better to improve thermals and power consumption, while at the same time boosting the clock frequencies. When the dust settled AMD had a new chip they named RV790. This new GPU has 3 million more transistors than the old one due to changes in the decap Ring (signal noise/die area), retiming of entire chip, and altered ASIC power distribution. With that many new transistors you can see that AMD really did change a ton of things and they claim the new chip is an overclocking monster. They also updated the PCB design, improved the heat sink by adding a heat pipe, and have improved drivers since the launch of the original RV770.

Radeon HD 4890 Specifications

As a result, the base clocks for the Radeon HD 4890 will be 850MHz for the GPU and 975MHz for the GDDR5 memory. They also have a Radeon HD 4890 OC, which has a higher core clock of 900MHz. If that isn't fast enough, AMD claims that these graphics cards can easily reach just shy of 1GHz on the core and 1050MHz+ on the memory without touching the voltages. If you wanted to tinker with the voltages and add a better cooling solution, AMD claims you might even be able to reach higher! When it comes to pricing AMD told Legit Reviews today that the Radeon HD 4890 1GB graphics card will sell for ''under $260”, but they expect that you will find them for under $220 after mail-in-rebate. They also said that retailers have them already, so by the time you read this you should be able to order one. No paper launch going on with AMD, so let's take a look at what NVIDIA is doing today.

GeForce GTX 275 Specifications

The GeForce GTX 275 is based on the GT200 architecture, featuring 240 shader processors operating at 1404MHz. In price and performance, the card sits between the GeForce GTX 260 core 216 and the GeForce GTX 285. In all honesty, the GeForce GTX 275 isn't that far off from a GTX 285 as the 448-bit memory interface is just shy from the full 512-bit interface. The GeForce GTX 275 also differs from the GeForce GTX 285 as it has two fewer memory ICs, so it has a total frame buffer size of 896MB instead of the 1GB. NVIDIA is eager to inform the consumers that the GeForce GTX 275 is fundamentally differentiated from the Radeon HD 4890 by supporting PhysX, CUDA, and GeForce 3D Vision, but our readers already should know that. The GeForce GTX 275 is supposed to retail around the $249 USD range with retail availability expected on or before April 14, 2009.

Let's take a closer look at the cards and head to the performance numbers!

The Radeon HD 4890 OC and 4890

ASUS Radeon HD 4890

First up is the ASUS EAH4890, which features the standard reference clocks and is based off the reference design.  The design looks just like a Radeon HD 4870, but the PCB is different and so is the heatsink that is found under the plastic shroud. The Radeon HD 4890 is a dual-slot card as you can see from the picture above.

ASUS Radeon HD 4890

The back of the ASUS Radeon HD 4890 graphics card is pretty bare since no memory chips or components happen to be located here.

ASUS Radeon HD 4890

AMD wanted to address the concerns that the Radeon HD 4870 series was running too warm and added an extra heat pipe to help keep the core nice and cool. The picture above shows the two heat-pipes that are found on the Radeon HD 4870 1GB on the left and then the new three heat-pipe design on the right. The Radeon HD 4890 and Radeon HD 4890 OC both feature the same three heat-pipe heat sink.

ASUS Radeon HD 4890

The Radeon HD 4890 has a max board power of 190 Watts, but due to improved power efficiency it should use less power at idle than a Radeon HD 4870 1GB. At full load though it will consume more as it has higher clock speeds and voltages. The Radeon HD 4870 used 160 Watts of power during peak usage in case you are wondering what the old specification was. One thing that I'd like to point out is that the new reference PCB has a spot on it for an 8-pin power connector, so I wonder if at one point AMD was planning on using a 6-pin and an 8-pin connector on this graphics card. When it comes to power supply requirements, ASUS suggests a minimum 550W system power supply with a +12V current rating of 40Amps in order to properly run a single Radeon HD 4890.

ASUS Radeon HD 4890

On the top of the card you will find the pair of CrossFire connectors, which allow the cards to be used in CrossFire with two cards or CrossFireX with a total of 3 or 4 graphics cards connected together. Multi-GPU technology has been around for years and is here to stay.

ASUS Radeon HD 4890 I/O

The ASUS Radeon HD 4890 also includes two dual-link DVI outputs and an HD TV output that can be used with the bundled dongle.

ASUS Radeon HD 4890

The Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 OC is the same exact card with just a different BIOS on it that has a 50MHz higher core clock. Since there is no physical difference between the cards let's move on!

The ASUS Retail Box and Bundle

ASUS Radeon HD 4890 Retail Box

ASUS has a pair of Radeon HD 4890 graphics cards coming to market: the EAH4890 (standard reference clocks) and the EAH4890 TOP (overclocked edition). The card that ASUS sent out to us is the standard EAH4890, but that doesn't mean it is going to be a lame duck when it comes to performance. This card comes with what they are calling 'Voltage Tweak'. This means that this card comes with ASUS's SmartDoctor utility that now has the ability to change the GPU voltages for extreme overclocking. Since we were very time limited for this review we will do a follow up article on overclocking to see just how far we can push this design and utility.

ASUS Radeon HD 4890 Retail Box

Opening up the retail box you find a very nice set of boxes inside. It made me feel like I was opening up a box of fine chocolates to be honest. These aren't just regular old cardboard boxes - these are ribbed for your pleasure!

ASUS Radeon HD 4890 Retail Bundle

Once you open all the boxes you will find driver and utility discs, an HD component output dongle, an S-Video to Composite adapter, a CrossFire bridge connector, a dual 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCI Express power adapter, and DVI to VGA and HDMI (with audio) adapters.

ASUS Radeon HD 4890 Retail Box

The last thing that was inside the box that was a bit strange if you ask me was a small 8.5" by 7" leather mouse pad. Actually, it is faux leather fabric and it reminds me of the back of my Blackberry Bold to be honest. Not sure gamers are going to want a small faux leather mouse pad, but what the heck I'll roll with it.

The GeForce GTX 275

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 Graphics Card Front

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 uses a single-PCB design and is really nothing more than one half of a GeForce GTX 295 graphics card. NVIDIA did do a few minor changes here and there as the GeForce GTX 275 has higher clock frequencies than the GeForce GTX 295 as it has a higher core clock speed (633MHz over 576MHz), a higher shader clock (1404MHz against 1242MHz) and a higher memory clock (1134MHz against 1000MHz). That being said, there isn't much else new about this card, so let's keep moving.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 Graphics Card Front

The back of the GeForce GTX 275 graphics card is pretty bare since no memory chips or components happen to be located here.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 Graphics Card Power Connectors

The GeForce GTX 275 has a max board power per card of 219 Watts and requires two 6-pin PCIe connectors to operate properly.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 Graphics Card I/O

The air from the cooling fan blows air across the inside of the plastic fan housing over the heat sink and is exhausted out the rear of this dual-slot card. The picture above gives you a visual reference for where the hot air goes. This picture also shows the rear output connectors on the GeForce GTX 275, which are a pair of dual-link DVI-I connectors.

The Test System

The Test System:

All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit with Service Pack 1 installed. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. All of the modules were run in triple-channel mode at 1866MHz. The NVIDIA GeForce graphics cards were benchmarked with Forceware 185.65 drivers; the ATI Radeon HD graphics cards were tested with 9.4 CATALYST beta drivers. The ASUS P6T Deluxe V2 motherboard was run using BIOS 0302 with the processor running stock settings and the Corsair 6GB memory kit was running at 1866MHz with 8-8-8-24 timings.

The Test System

Here is the Intel LGA 1366 Test platform:

Intel Test Platform






Live Pricing



Intel Core i7 965



ASUS P6T Deluxe



6GB Corsair DDR3 1866MHz


Video Card


Radeon HD 4870X2


Hard Drive


Western Digital VelociRaptor




Intel Reference


Power Supply


Cooler Master 1000W




Thermaltake Spedo Advance


Operating System


Windows Vista Ultimate 64-Bit

GPU-Z 0.3.3 Details on The New Cards We Tested:

Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 OC:

Radeon HD 4850

ASUS Radeon HD 4890:

Radeon HD 4870

GeForce GTX 275:

GeForce GTX 275

Crysis Warhead

Crysis Warhead

Crysis Warhead updates and refines the gameplay of Crysis through a side story plot involving Psycho, one of previous protagonist Nomad's allies. The game is a parallel story that follows Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes, a character from the original Crysis, as he faces his own trials and challenges on the other side of the island during the time period of the first game. It features new fully customizable weapons, vehicles and enemies, along with new multiplayer content. It also showcases a new, enhanced and optimized version of Cry Engine 2.

Crysis Warhead Benchmark Settings

Playing in “Gamer” mode automatically sets resolution to 1280x1024 and optimizes the other settings around this resolution. We ran the HOC benchmark utility with very high image quality settings to benchmark Crysis Warhead.

Crysis Warhead Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: Crysis Warhead is tough on video cards with the image quality settings cranked up, and while the GeForce GTX 275 leads the performance chart over the Radeon HD 4890 it is only by 2-3 FPS depending on if you are looking at the Radeon HD 4890 or the Radeon HD 4890 OC.

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It was released on October 21, 2008 in North America. Crytek, the developers of the original game, were not involved in the development of Far Cry 2.

FarCry2 Screen Shot

Ubisoft has developed a new engine specifically for Far Cry 2 called Dunia, meaning "world," "earth" or "living" in Parsi but also used in many languages. The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers realistic destructible environments, special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system and non-scripted enemy A.I. The engine takes advantage of multi-core processors as well as multiple processors and supports DirectX 9 as well as DirectX 10. Only 2 or 3 percent of the original CryEngine code is re-used, according to Michiel Verheijdt, Senior Product Manager for Ubisoft Netherlands. Far Cry 2 also supports the amBX technology from Philips. With the proper hardware, this adds effects like vibrations, ambient colored lights, and fans that generate wind effects.

For our testing today, we benchmarked exclusively in DirectX 10 with 8x AA enabled at 1280x1024 and then without AA turned on at 1920x1200.

Far Cry 2 Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: In Far Cry 2 the Radeon HD 4890 does better than the GeForce GTX 275 without AA enabled, but once 8xAA was turned on the GeForce GTX 275 and even the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 played the game with higher frame rates.

Stalker: Clear Sky

Year 2011. Five years passed since the Second Disaster, which eclipsed the events of April 1986. The Zone is shaken by frequent and powerful blowouts, which move anomaly fields, opening new routes to previously inaccessible locations. Stalker factions fight for the new territories and key points. A lot of stalkers die, but newbies keep on arriving. The action takes place one year prior to the events of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, one year before Strelok's most successful trip to the center of the Zone – the third one. We will learn about Strelok and his squad from another character's vantage point.

Image Description

The Zone is waiting for you ahead, new locations and unknown threats, spatial holes and monsters hiding in the fog, pitch-black nights and saving rays of a rising sun. Try to avoid anomalies and hide from blowouts, discover the Zone and collect artifacts, cure radioactive irradiation and fight for any stalker faction you like! Only then you will uncover the truth about Strelok and how he happened to get inside the death track and receive the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. tattoo on his arm.

STALKER Clear Sky Benchmark Settings

STALKER Clear Sky Benchmark Settings

Benchmark Results: I remember by S.T.A.L.K.E.R Clear Sky the day it came out and for some reason this game is still one of my favorites to benchmark using FRAPS. This game title brings video cards down to their knees and the Radeon HD 4890 does very well in this game. The difference between a GeForce GTX 275 and the Radeon HD 4890 was less than 3% at 1920x1200, so it's not a significant difference. 

Call of Duty: World At War

Call of Duty: World At War

Call of Duty: World at War completely changes the rules of engagement by redefining WWII gaming and thrusting players into the final tension-filled, unforgiving battles against a new ferocious enemy in the most dangerous and suspenseful action ever seen in WWII.

Powered by Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare technology, Call of Duty: World at War brings an uncensored edge to combat, as soldiers face the most harrowing and climatic European and Pacific battles in which an enemy, who knows no surrender and no retreat, will fight to the last breath, unleashing an arsenal of lethal surprising tactics. Peril and danger lurk throughout the battlefield as players combat the unknown risk of the new chaos of battle.

From the remains of Russia and the ruins of Berlin, to the beach and jungles of the deadly Pacific Theater, the volatile action takes on added depth as players employ new features that previously were only available in multiplayer, including perks, rankings and online stats in up to full four-player cooperative gameplay. New infantry and vehicle-based weapons, like the potent flamethrower, bring the battlefield ablaze.

Call of Duty: World At War

Call of Duty: World At War

Benchmark Results: The Radeon HD 4890 does well at 1280x1024 and performs better than the GeForce GTX 275 at this resolution, but at 1920x1200 the GeForce GTX 275 comes to life and takes the lead. All of the cards easily have enough horse power to play Call of Duty: World at War with 4x AA enabled, so you really can't go wrong with either card.

Tom Clancy: H.A.W.X.

Call of Duty: World At War

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. (High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron) is an aerial warfare video game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows. It was released in United States on March 6, 2009 and features Microsoft DirectX 10.1 game play.

Call of Duty: World At War

For this game VSync was turned off, but Antialiasing was turned on and set to 8x for better image quality.

Call of Duty: World At War

All of the DirectX 10 options were set to high including Ambient occlusion (SSAO) on both the NVIDIA and ATI graphics cards.  All of the ATI cards tested had DirectX 10.1 enabled, as in the real world anyone owning one of these cards will have the feature enabled for better performance and improved image quality.

Call of Duty: World At War

Benchmark Results: Tom Clancy's H.A.W.K. is a game that was just released this month and it does much better on ATI Radeon 4800 series graphics cards as you can see in the chart above. The Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 OC was 48% faster than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 reference board in this benchmark at 1920x1200 with 8x AA enabled. The graphics in Tom Clancy's H.A.W.K. are very stunning and if you like aerial combat games this is one title that is worth a look.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware. 3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

3DMark Vantage

The Extreme settings were used for testing, so a resolution of 1920x1200 was used.

3dmark Vantage Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: I threw in some other video cards that I tested on this system recently just to give a better picture of performance on this, one of the most popular benchmarks in the world. The GeForce GTX 275 makes short work of the Radeon HD 4800 series in this benchmark as you can see from the graph above.  The Radeon HD 4890 does significantly better than the Radeon HD 4870 1GB and 512MB versions, though. All of the cards in the $149-$249 price range are pretty close together when it comes to performance in this benchmark.

Power Consumption

For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Seasonic Power Angel. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers, we measured the peak wattage used by the system while running the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky at 1280x1024 resolutions with high image quality.

Total System Power Consumption Results

Power Consumption Results: The Radeon HD 4890 1Gb uses less power than a Radeon HD 4870 1GB at idle, but more at load. This shows that the improvements that AMD did to the RV790 core paid off as they were able to drop power consumption on a video card that has higher clock speeds and voltage requirements. At load the Radeon HD 4890 uses more than a Radeon HD 4870, but this is due to the higher frequencies and voltages.  The GeForce GTX 275, on the other hand, had the same idle Wattage as the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216, which was amazing seeing how it has 240 shader cores. At load the GeForce GTX 275 uses more power than the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 though, so NVIDIA did something to get the idle power consumption down. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 also has the highest power consumption of the group, but just by 3W.

Temperature Testing

Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 OC Idle Temperature:

Temperature Testing Results

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 Idle Temperature:

Temperature Testing Results

Since video card temperatures and the heat generated by next-generation cards have become an area of concern among enthusiasts and gamers, we want to take a closer look at how these cards generate heat under load. In order to get proper temperature readings of both the ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards I used GPU-Z to monitor and log the GPU temperature. As you can see from the screen shot above, the idle state of the Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 OC drops the GPU frequency down to 240MHz to help conserve power and lower temperatures. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 drops down to 300MHz on the core and 1100MHz on the memory. Let's compare that to some other cards while playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky in order to get the highest load temperature while playing at 1280x1024 with all the settings on high.

Thermal Testing

Temperature Testing Results

Power Consumption Results: The extra heat-pipe in the ATI Radeon HD 4890 really helps cooling performance over the two heat-pipe design found on the Radeon HD 4870 512MB and 1GB cards. The GeForce GTX 275 also does very well at idle, but under full load it gets much hotter than the EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216.

Radeon HD 4890 Overclocking

ATI Radeon HD 4890 OC Video Card Overclocking

To overclock the Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 OC graphics card, I used ATI Overdrive that is part of the CATALYST Control Center. When you 'unlock' the ATI Overdrive, you can manually set the clock and memory settings or let the 'auto-tune' utility set the frequencies for you. Just for fun, I tried out the auto-tune feature to see if it could really find a stable clock configuration, and it worked in just a few minutes and did not lock up the system. This utility determines the highest core and memory clock frequency that is stable and shows you what the GPU temperature is and how much load the GPU is under during testing.  I started out at the default settings of 900MHz on the core and 975MHz on the memory, but was able to reach 990MHz on the core and 1190MHz on the memory. This is a 90MHz overclock on the core and a 225MHz boost on the GDDR5 memory ICs. 

ATI Radeon HD 4890 Video Card Overclocking

To test out the overclock I fired up 3DMark Vantage again and this time got a score of X5451.  The score went up 576 points, which was an improvement of 11.8%!

ATI Radeon HD 4890 Video Card Overclocking

In case you forgot what the stock score was I tossed the overclocked numbers into the performance chart with the other cards to give you an idea on how it stacks up to the competition with the overclock. It is just a tad behind the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275! 

NVIDIA got the GeForce GTX 275 to us at the very last minute and we will be looking at overclocking on that card at a later time.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Radeon HD 4890 versus GeForce GTX 275

Both the Radeon HD 4890 and the GeForce GTX 275 are great graphics cards that are clearly better than the previous generation cards that they have replaced.  The price versus performance value is high on both of these cards and for someone that has ~$250 to spend you'll find that you can't go wrong with either card.

When it comes to the Radeon HD 4890 it is hands down the fastest single-GPU graphics card that AMD has ever produced. It performs significantly better than the Radeon HD 4870 1GB and runs cooler and uses less power at idle. There really is not much bad to say about the card as it is also priced lower than the GeForce GTX 275. Add in the fact that it has already proven itself to be an overclocking monster with a core clock frequency of nearly 1GHz with the stock cooler and no voltage adjustments you have a clear winner for all the Radeon fans out there. It should also scare some of the NVIDIA fans out there as it was overall faster than the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 and even the GeForce GTX 275 in a couple of the benchmarks. Just think if AMD were to update the Radeon HD 4870 X2 with a pair of these RV790 chips!

The GeForce GTX 275 was also a fantastic card to benchmark and game on from the short period of time we had with it. NVIDIA gave us the public Forceware 185.65 drivers less than six hours before the launch of the GeForce GTX 275, so it was a mad dash to re-test all the benchmarks to make sure you have the best data to make a purchase decision. Speaking of drivers, the new Forceware Release 185 drivers are pretty slick as not only do they feature performance optimizations, but they also introduce new features like Ambient Occlusion. Ambient Occlusion is being used in a number of game titles like Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. and it is a feature that improves the eye candy in games. The Forceware 185 drivers also have improved texture management in DirectX 10, Z-culling efficiency, AA compression performance, and enhanced SLI scaling, especially in Valve Software Source-based game engines. That said, the GeForce GTX 275 was a great card and in the majority of the benchmarks it was faster than the Radeon HD 4890 and the Radeon HD 4890 OC, which is impressive. With an MSRP of $249 it might just be worth waiting for as it won't be hitting store shelves till April 14th, 2009.

Legit Bottom Line: This battle is too close to call, but that doesn't matter as the consumer wins no matter which card they pick.