HIS HD 4870 IceQ 4+ Turbo 1GB GDDR5
Written by Huy Duong   
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

thumb.jpgHIS HD 4870 IceQ 4+ Turbo 1GB DDR5

Instead of looking at HIS' HD 4870 from a traditional review perspective, we'll be looking at their flagship card from an upgrader's perspective.
Manufacturer: 
Price: 

For a long time, I haven't really had the need to replace my existing video card. I've been offered a few here at VL, but for the games I play, my trusty GeForce 8800 GTX has always been able to do the job. As of late, I have noticed though that I've needed to scale back a few detail settings and even lower my resolution to enjoy consistent frame rates in some of my games. In doing so, this has altered the way developers intended the game to look of course, but pretty pictures don't do much good at 15fps. True, I exaggerate, but where I used to be able to play at 1920x1200 with everything on, this has not been the case lately.

I figured it's time to bite the bullet and off load my 8800 GTX while it is still worth something. I did consider a few options on what to replace it with, but having never tried offerings from  before, the  looked to be a good place to start. 

Specifications

Product Code
H487QT1GP
Cooler

IceQ 4+

GPU

ATI Radeon HD 4870

Memory Size(MB)

1024

Memory Interface 256-bit
Core/Memory Clocks 770/4000 MHz
Interface PCI Express x16 (PCI Express 2.0)
   

The  is based on AMD's latest revision of the HD 4870. While not much has changed in terms of GPU features, the newest revision offers support of up to 1GB of video memory. Does anyone really need all that memory? That really depends on the type of usage you are planning. We would imagine anyone reading up until this point intends to play something more than stock games that come with Windows.

The box for the HIS HD 4870 IceQ 4+ Turbo is not overly large. Despite the rather small size, the box is quite heavy due to the cooling HIS uses. On the box are the list of the specifications as well as large stickers outlining that the package in question is the "Turbo" version. The back of the box shows off some more features as well as having a window display to show off the card.

The card sits in a hard cellophane, resting on a thin piece of foam. HIS includes a PCI Express power adapter, though only one is given. This struck us as a little odd given the card requires two power connections, but our hope would be that at this point, any serious power user will have a power supply with at least two PCI-E power connections.

 

A thin quick guide is also included as well as a driver CD. HDMI is supported with the , and it is done so via a DVI to HDMI adapter. There is also a DVI to VGA adapter as well for those of you limited to analog connections. While most CrossFire motherboards will include the bridge connection, HIS includes this as well. Finally, while not as well known as a game such as Far Cry 2, Stalker: Clear Sky is bundled with the card. Clear Sky is the stand-alone prequel for Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl and includes DirectX 10 support.

 

Some of the core features of the HIS HD 4870 mirrors AMD's reference. The Radeon HD 4870 is built on a 55nm fabrication process and is composed of 956 million transistors. The Unified Superscalar Shader Architecture features 800 stream processing units which allow dynamic load balancing and resource allocation for vertex, geometry and pixel shaders. The stream processing units share a common instruction set and texture unit access for all types of shaders as well as dedicated branch execution units and texture address processors. Naturally, Direct X 10.1 is supported.

 

One of the major additions from AMD is custom Filter Anti-aliasing, or CFAA. Using the stream processors, the 4870 improves AA image quality without hitting the framebuffer and hence using less memory. The catch is if the game is very shader intensive, you may not have any available horsepower from the stream processors available. That said, if you use traditional AA methods, there have been improvements to the memory controller as well as support for GDDR5 and 256-bit memory bus.

While the default core speed of the Radeon HD 4870 is 750MHz, the  factory overclocks to 770MHz. True enough, you can overclock any card on your own, but in the case of this card, the included overclock is covered by warranty by HIS.

 

HIS uses a large heatsink and fan combination for the 4870 IceQ 4+ Turbo. This is where the IceQ 4+ in the name comes in as the cooler is an upgrade over their previous version. The cooler works by drawing air into the rear of the card and blowing out of the front. The front in this case is towards the rear of the case where the card's IO connections are.

 

As heatpipes are all the rage these days, the  uses them for their cooler here as well. This is one of the new improvements with their latest cooler. The increase from 6mm to 8mm heatpipes increases the thermal transfer capacity by 60% over the previous IceQ 4 design. Another improvement of the cooler is the heatsink block for the GPU is separate from the memory heatsinks. The advantage here is the GPU will not contribute additional heat to the memory and vice versa.

We mentioned the adapters HIS includes earlier, but for the majority of us, the DVI connections will be our main output for video. There is also a S-Video connection, though with modern LCDs and televisions offering digital interfaces, we do not expect this to see much action. The  is a dual slot card, and you can also see the vent for the heat exhaust here.

The  is a power hog in terms of connections. As we already said earlier, one PCI-E power adapter is included, but as AMD recommends a 500W+ PSU, many of these should already have both connections.

 

Benchmarks

As we've already pointed out, the  will compete directly against the NVIDIA 8800 GTX. Other than the video cards being different, the test platform will be identical.

Test Setup:  Intel C2D X6800, ASUS P35, 2GB Corsair Dominator DDR3, Seagate 7200.8 400GB, Windows XP SP3, Audio on.

NVIDIA 8800 GTX w/GeForce Driver Release 182
 w/AMD Catalyst 9.3

Games:

Call of Duty 5 - 1920x1200, default settings with 4xAA.

Race Driver GRID - 1920x1200, default settings no AA.

Crysis Warhead - NVIDIA - 1440x900, HIS 1920x1200, default settings no AA.

Far Cry 2 - 1920x1200, default settings no AA.

Stalker: Clear Sky - NVIDIA - 1152x864, HIS 1650x1050, default settings no AA.

Tomb Raider Underworld -  1920x1200, default settings no AA.

Benchmarks were done with a 300 second run through using the latest version of FRAPS. Generally, you'll want to avoid severe dips in the chart as usually that indicates some sort of performance drop as well. These benchmarks measure true gaming performance rather than canned synthetic or scripted benchmarks.

Call of Duty 5: World at War

codwaw.gif 

The game engine is not as advanced as some of the latest games out there and the 8800 GTX still does a solid job, but the   does not suffer the same performance drops.

The game looks very good nonetheless and stayed above 40fps throughout testing.

Race Driver Grid

grid.gif

Neither video card had any issues with the game.




8800 GTX 

HIS 4870 

Both cards looked very good and while both performed the same on straight roads, the animation did appear to be smoother during many of my crash sequences. Unlike the older card, the newer  was able to stay over 60fps most of the testing.

Crysis Warhead

crysis.gif 

At first glance, it would appear both cards performed equally, but then you need to take into consideration that the 8800 GTX was running at 1440x900 while the HIS 4870 was at 1920x1200.

Image quality was very good, though we did feel the performed better when we stepped back a little at 1650x1050. However, the performance was fairly consistent at the higher resolution and was able to handle the on-screen explosions better than the 8800 GTX.

Far Cry 2

farcry2.gif

As the games get a bit newer, we see the gaps getting larger.

The  clearly felt much smoother here, making the gaming experience better. Was it a dramatic difference? For this game, we felt it was.

Stalker Clear Sky

stalker.gif 

Like the Crysis tests, looks can be deceiving.

We needed to scale back the 8800 to 1152x864 to be able to function. The  did struggle at our preferred 1920 resolution, so we knocked it back to 1650x1050 and it played much better.

Tomb Raider Underworld

tru.gif

 

Tomb Raider didn't pose much of a problem for either card but the HIS 4870 consistently stayed above 80fps, hence some of the fram drops we did have did not feel as drastic. 

Final Words

Clearly, the  is a big step up from the NVIDIA 8800 GTX. I realized long before undertaking the review that the results would sometimes be ugly for the 8800, but that was not the point of this review. What we are trying to illustrate here is the cost of performance. The going rate of an 8800 GTX on eBay is roughly $150 USD plus shipping. I was lucky enough to offload my card locally here for $160 CAD. The HD 4870's average price right now is roughly $250, making the 

So, the question now, is what does $100 get you in the end? As our benchmarks have shown, quite a lot. The 8800 GTX is still a great card for older games, but the newer games are straining it. Speed is only one part of the equation, as lowering the resolution on the 8800 allowed comparible performance as the HIS 4870, but you will not get the same eye-candy as you would with the HIS card.

I don't have any professional sound measuring equipment, so bear with me as I provide my opinion on this matter. While I cannot comment on the reference card, the  is not as loud as I would have expected given the reputation some 4870s have. When the card is idle or under 50% load, the fans have a low whisper to them. It slowly becomes higher pitched as the load increases, but I was able to tolerate the noise. As I play most online games with headphones on, I hardly hear anything at all. That said, compared with the 8800 GTX, the 8800 is much quieter overall. I realize it isn't as powerful, but we are simply talking about the cooling here.

On that note, the cooling performance of the IceQ 4+ is quite impressive. General range of reference HD 4870 products are around 90c. The runs at a much cooler 81c under full load. Average temperature moving from games to Windows and so forth kept the card at a constant 57c to 62c under real-world conditions.

Overclocking went pretty much as we expected. As the  is already factory overclocked, we didn't have a lot of headroom to reach much past the "stock" clock speeds. At most, we were only able to get an extra 15MHz from the core and no luck at all with the memory. The performance improvements were almost nil at the resolutions we tested with.

Image quality was great, as one would expect from a mainstream performance product. The games looked fantastic and did so with good performance. To be honest, I am not particularly sharp when it comes to comparing Spartan apples and Granny Smith, so comparing the  and NVIDIA card was not easy to do. I'd like to say one card's quality was much better than the other, but at high resolutions with the same effects on, it was hard to tell.

The  by itself is worth of our consideration given its price. For the purposes of this review though, as an upgrade from a 2006 $500 product, it is definitely worth it. Certainly, if you are sitting on a high end 8800 and have an opportunity to sell it to upgrade, the current pricing on the  makes it an attractive choice.

edchoice.gif