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AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison

Today we have a look at the new top dawg HD 5870 model and compare it directly against the HD 4890 to find out just what kind of improvements we get.

Published Thu, Sep 24 2009 10:22 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:03 PM CST
Manufacturer: Game.AMD


AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 29 |

When we had a look at the Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 we saw how it compared to a number of cards including the older HD 4890 and its main competition, the GTX 285 from NVIDIA. With a reference HD 5870 on our hands we thought that we could take a look at it in a slightly different way.

What we'll do here today is see how the card compares to the HD 4890 and that card only. What we want to find out is the kind of performance improvements the new generation card offers over the previous generation without being distracted by any other models. While the HD 5870 might be replacing the HD 4890 when it comes to the red team's fastest single GPU card, the older HD 4890 continues to be available with many companies having added their own flair to the model recently.

Since the package consists of a bunch of bubble wrap, we'll just be getting stuck into a look at the card itself today. From there we'll see what happens in the performance department and find out what the extra power ATI has placed in the HD 5870 does for it.

Video Card

Being a reference card there isn't a whole lot to look at. We can see how the ATI partners get their card, though. There are really only two colors to the whole setup. We've got a fair bit of black going on with a nice red stripe down the middle. To the right we have the fan that helps keep our card nice and cool.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 34 |

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 35 |

At the back of the card we have a pair of vents that help draw air from a second source instead of just over the top where the fan is. In a situation where you're using CrossFire and both cards are going to be right on top of each other, it's good to know that the top card is able to pull air from a source which isn't the back of a hot graphics card.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 36 |

Just next to the vents, but across the two, we have our two 6-Pin PCI Express connectors that are needed to get the card up and running. The good news is that ATI hasn't made the same mistake as NVIDIA in the early days of a full shroud cooler where the power connectors were too close together. We've got plenty of room to install and remove our power connectors which is nice.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 37 |

Moving closer to the front, we've got our two CrossFire connectors, which as we've mentioned before gives us the ability to run up to three HD 5870s. We're happy to report they work well as we've already looked at CrossFire performance from the model.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 38 |

The I/O department carries with it two Dual Link DVI connectors. Next to one is a vent that lets the hot air escape. The other has a further two connectors which include a native HDMI port and also DisplayPort.


You're not going to get much more reference than the card we have with us today. The core comes in at 850MHz like the Sapphire we looked at which as we mentioned is the same clock speed as the HD 4890.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 28 |

The memory has been increased from the HD 4890 with the 1GB coming in at 1200MHz or 4800MHz QDR.

Test System Setup and 3DMark Vantage

Test System Setup

Processor(s): Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.8GHz (190MHz x 20)
Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P (Supplied by Noctua)
Motherboard(s): GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Memory: 3 X 2GB OCZ Technology PC-12800 DDR-3 8-8-8-24 (OCZ3G1600LV6GK)
Hard Disk(s): Western Digital 300GB Velicorapter (Supplied by Western Digital)
Operating System: Windows Vista SP1 64-bit
Drivers: ATI Catalyst 9.8, ATI Catalyst Cypress Driver, ForceWare 190.62,

As we've mentioned already, we'll be seeing how the HD 5870 compares directly against the HD 4890 which is ATIs last generation top single GPU graphics card.

Let's get started!

3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

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.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 01 |

In our first test we see just the kind of power the new HD 5870 offers over the older HD 4890. We can see in our X preset the gains are almost tipping 100% which is extremely impressive considering we're dealing with the same core clock as the HD 4890.

Benchmarks - PT Boats: Knights of the Sea

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a naval action simulator that places gamers in charge of a mosquito fleet of the Allied Forces, Russia or Germany during the height of World War II.

Using the latest Direct X 10 technology PT Boards - Knights of the Sea manages to apply a lot of stress to the components of today which in turn gives us quite an intensive benchmark.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 02 |

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 03 |

At the lower resolution we don't see that much difference between the two cards. As we move up, though, we can see the gain becomes a bit greater showing just over 15%. When we get to 2560 x 1600, though, not only is the gain quite big, but it's the difference between being able to play at 2560 x 1600 and not.

Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10


Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.

MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 04 |

There isn't much difference at all between the two cards when it comes to CINEBENCH performance.

Benchmarks - World in Conflict

World in Conflict

Version and / or Patch Used:
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10).

The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 05 |

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 06 |

Again across the board we see good improvements. The most important one is the 2560 x 1600 one. Like PT Boats the difference between the two cards is that one is playable at the ultra high resolution and the other simply isn't due to it being below that 30 FPS minimum.

Benchmarks - Crysis Warhead

Crysis Warhead

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Airfield
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

Crysis Warhead updates and refines the gameplay of the original game through a sidestory 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 also showcases a new, enhanced and optimized version of CryEngine 2 using full DX10 extensions and is the first game developed by Crytek's Budapest studio.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 07 |

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 08 |

Warhead has never been a great game when it comes to optimization. We can see the HD 4890 struggles at all resolutions with it not breaking 30 FPS in the minimum department at even the lowest resolution. The HD 5870 on the other hand sees some impressive gains and lets us play the game comfortably at not only 1680 x 1050, but also 1920 x 1200.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 09 |

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 10 |

Like we've seen all along, we've got good performance across the board. But like a few of our other games the most important score we want to look at is that 2560 x 1600 minimum. We again see that the difference between the HD 4890 and the HD 5870 is the latter lets us play the game at Very High using that ultra high 2560 x 1600 resolution.

Benchmarks - S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5.07
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, is the stand-alone prequel for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, a first-person shooter computer game by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World.[3] The game consists of a roughly 50/50 mix of new areas and old, remodeled areas from the previous game. The X-ray graphics engine has been updated to version 1.5 and includes DirectX 10 support (later patch 1.5.06 included DirectX 10.1). Additionally, the AI received an overhaul to accommodate the new faction wars feature.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 11 |

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 12 |

The picture above here, especially in the minimum department is a lot like Warhead. What we see is that the HD 4890 isn't able to break that 30 FPS minimum we need to make a game playable. The HD 5870 on the other hand is able to not only break it at 1680 x 1050, but also at 1920 x 1200.

Benchmarks - Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

Left 4 Dead uses the latest version of Valve's Source engine, with improvements such as multi-core processor support and physics-based animation to more realistically portray hair and clothing, and to improve physics interaction with enemies when shot or shoved in different body parts. Animation was also improved to allow characters to lean realistically when moving in curved paths.

Rendering and artificial intelligence were scaled up to allow for greater number of enemies who can navigate the world in better ways, such as climbing, jumping or breaking obstacles. Lighting has been enhanced with new self-shadowing normal mapping and advanced shadow rendering that is important to convey information about the environment and player actions.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 13 |

Left 4 Dead isn't the most intensive game and the HD 4890 is already giving us pretty impressive numbers. The HD 5870 does manage to improve on them, though, with the best gains being seen at 2560 x 1600.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.

Far Cry 2

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 14 |

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 15 |

While we do have a very good gain here for the HD 5870, it's unfortunate that we're still under that 30 FPS minimum when it comes to Far Cry 2 with AA on.

World In Conflict

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 16 |

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 17 |

Fortunately the news is better for WIC. Like we've seen a few times already the HD 5870 is the difference between playing a game at a particular setting and not. As you can see above, in the minimum department the 8 FPS gain gives us a 31 FPS minimum which is perfect for us.

Left 4 Dead

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 18 |

When we don't work with minimum we're normally looking for an average FPS of 60. What this should give us is a minimum of no less than 30 FPS. We can see that the HD 4890 falls under 60 FPS while the HD 5870 manages to fly past it.

Temperature and Sound Tests

Temperature Tests

With the TES 1326 Infrared Thermometer literally in hand we found ourselves getting real-world temperatures from the products we test at load (3D clock speeds).

There are two places we pull temperature from - the back of the card directly behind the core and if the card is dual slot and has an exhaust point we also pull a temperate from there, as seen in the picture.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 25 |

The better temperature seems to be a combination of better cooling, 40nm technology and an overall better design on the said cooler.

Sound Tests

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 26 |

The drop in temperature has fortunately been able to be done with no increase in noise, which is always pleasant.

Power Consumption Tests

Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD ROM or many cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 vs. HD 4890 GPU Comparison 27 |

Power draw at load is slightly up when compared to the HD 4890. When it comes to the idle, though, the HD 5870 down clocks itself to 157MHz on the core and 1200MHz QDR on the memory. This manages to result in minimum power draw when sitting idle. The majority of that 211 Watt is thanks to other components like hard drives, motherboard and CPU.

Final Thoughts

Having a direct look at the new generation card to its older generation sibling gives us a good idea of just how hard a company has worked to improve the technology they use in today's graphics cards. The HD 5870 is no different; it's easy for people to say "well this is disappointing, it's not that much faster than the GTX 285, or it's similar to only slightly better than the HD 4870 X2".

If you stand back, though, and think about it, it's faster than NVIDIAs fastest single GPU graphics card and it's able to outperform ATIs dual GPU graphics card without having to resort to CrossFire. How is there anything wrong with that? - The card was never going to the fastest single graphics card on the market. The GTX 295 really has too much power behind it. We don't need to tell AMD that, though, as they've got a HD 5870 X2 in the pipeline coming in November which should steal back the performance crown.

If the earlier CrossFire testing was anything to go by, the green team had better look out. The team over at AMD is throwing rocks at that green light trying to put it out. Come November it looks like they would've actually hit too, which is great. We love the competition; it's the reason we get better and faster products on the market. The HD 5870 is also only going to look better again when Windows 7 is released and Direct X 11 games are there to accompany it.

Today we're able to see the amount of work and effort ATI has put into the HD 5870. We can also see that they haven't created just a good card at launch that will become great over time, but a great card at launch that will probably become fantastic over time.

We've always been a fan of the HD 4870; sure it hasn't been the fastest card on the market, but it had aggressive pricing and was a great option for people who wanted to game at resolutions of up to 1920 x 1200 for the most part. The HD 5870, however, is great for 1920 x 1200, but perfect for 2560 x 1600 which is what we really love to see.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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