Atomic graphics power from Sapphire

Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 Atomic reviewed

Atomic - this stands for Sapphire graphics cards with increased frequencies. PC Games Hardware testes the OC version of the Radeon HD 4890 with 1 GHz GPU clock speed, a VRAM frequency of 1.05 GHz and the proven Vapor-X cooling solution.
Sapphire HD 4890 Atomic: Review of the 1 GHz graphics card (6)
Sapphire HD 4890 Atomic: Review of the 1 GHz graphics card (6) [Source: view picture gallery]
Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 Atomic reviewed: Introduction
The Atomic series usually stands for huge overclocking "out of the box” - so the customer gets increased frequencies that are covered by the warranty and AMD is able to exceed the gigahertz barrier once more. After the company was able to beat Intel in the race for the first gigahertz processor the limit is now pushed in the graphics card sector - with a little help from one of AMD's board partners.

Thus the Atomic is currently the fastest Radeon card available - Powercolor has announced the HD 4890 PCS++ but hasn't released any samples yet. The Sapphire HD 4890 Atomic has not been listed by many shops, but the average price is supposed to settle down above 200 Euros since it is equipped with the proven Vapor-X cooler.

The chart below shows the important technical specifications.

Our sample is shipped in a silver box and Sapphire has included some extras. Besides the card, which has one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCI-E power connector, the range of delivery also contains:
• Crossfire Bridge
• YpBrB Component break out cable
• Composite adaptation
• DVI to VGA adaptation
• DVI to HDMI adaptation
• HDMI cable
• Molex to PCI-E 8-pin adaptation
• Molex to 6-pin PCI-E adaptation
• 3D Mark Vantage (Advanced Edition)
• Cyberlink Power DVD 7
• Cyberlink DVD Suite
• Driver CD
So except a full version of a game the extras are more or less complete. A little criticism: Although including the Molex adaptations for the graphics card is nice and appreciated, the card is nevertheless pulling up to 180 watt through those connections if stressed - this might too much for the 12 volt rails of older power supply units. Modern high-end gaming graphics cards (applies to Geforce and Radeon) should always be power by PSUs that are equipped with the necessary power cables.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 Atomic reviewed: Loudness, power consumption and cooling
In idle mode the fan reaches a loudness of 1.3 sone, almost matching the default for current gaming cards - so it is a good result. Nevertheless the fan control could have acted a little better here since the RV790 is quite cool with 42 degrees Celsius. In 2D mode the Atomic also reduces the clock speed to 240 MHz. As usual for AMD single GPU cards with GDDR5 the VRAM is constantly running at its full 1,050 MHz.

Sapphire HD 4890 Atomic: Review of the 1 GHz graphics card (10)
Sapphire HD 4890 Atomic: Review of the 1 GHz graphics card (10) [Source: view picture gallery]
If stressed the Vapor-X cooling solution can show some more capabilities. In comparison to the Geforce GTX 285 or the default HD 4890 it is rather pleasant for the ears since the noise level reaches only 2.3 sone. Although the loudness increases to 3.3 sone if the card is stressed to full extend, it is nevertheless quieter than most of its competitors.

The power consumption is typical for Radeons: Too high in 2D mode since the frequency of the GDDR5 is not lowered, but lower than the Geforce competition in 3D.

Please pay attention to the fact that the real power consumption of the graphics card had been recorded - in three different scenarios. Besides the idle mode while running the Windows desktop and the game test with Race Driver: Grid we also challenged the card with the "Xtreme Burning Mode” of the Furmark which represents a worst-case scenario. The loudness of the card was recorded at a distance of 50 centimeters.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 Atomic reviewed: Benchmarks
We test the performance of the HD 4890 Atomic in four popular games. For comparison we also deliver results of a regular Radeon HD 4890 as well as a Geforce GTX 285. All those graphics cards have 1 GiByte video memory. For a bigger selection of benchmarks please take a look at our extensive chip reviews.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 Atomic reviewed: Overclocking
The cooling solution of the Atomic is the same model that is used on Radeon Vapor-X and hopefully will deliver high overclocking results. But the high ex factory frequencies and the power supply of "only” 1.36 volt (although this is 0.05 volt above the HD 4890 default) are a little constraining. Given those restrictions we didn't reach more than additional 30 MHz before Crysis Warhead indicated the absolute limit with graphics aberrations. The GDDR5 VRAM on the other hand is a little more OC friendly and reaches 1,200 MHz.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 Atomic: Conclusion
The fps performance of the Atomic is able to reach the level of the noticeably more expensive Geforce GTX 285 because of the 1.0 GHz ex factory chip frequency. Due to the Vapor-X cooling Sapphire can also undercut the typical noise level of Geforce GTX cards a little and keeps the Atomic much quieter than the HD 4890 default - even the sometimes critically heated up voltage converters survived our worst-case test with the Furmark "Xtreme Burning Mode”.

If the final price of the Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 Atomic will, as expected, settle at little above 200 Euros the card is a valid alternative for framerate enthusiasts and fans of 8x MSAA since it beats the default HD 4890 not only in matters of performance but also has the lower noise level. But even with the enhanced cooling system the Atomic is not a silent card in 3D mode. Nvidia's Geforce GTX 260 is, regardless of Physx support, CUDA or 3D Vision as well as higher visual quality (AMD hasn't achieved this for years because expedient optimizations are coupled with the noticeable reduction of Texture Filtering for the Catalyst A.I.) no competition for the heavily overclocked Atomic. Interested customers would have to take a more expensive GTX 285 variant to find a faster card.

More graphics card and processor reviews:
Sapphire Radeon HD 4730 reviewed
Sapphire Radeon HD 4890 Vapor-X reviewed
Evga Geforce GTX 285 FTW reviewed
Nvidia Geforce GTX 295 Single PCB reviewed

Picture gallery  (enlarge to view source)

Author: Carsten Spille (Jul 03, 2009)

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