Manufacturer:Sapphire UK Price (as reviewed): Expected Price: £250 (inc. VAT) US Price (as reviewed): Expected Price: $299 (ex. Tax)
Core Clock: 1,000MHz Memory: 1,050MHz (4,200MHz effective) Memory: 1GB GDDR5 Warranty: Two years (parts and labour)
In the continuing war of words and technical specifications between ATI and Nvidia, both companies are always on the lookout for the latest milestone to pass to earn bragging rights. Be it the first to release a WHQL certified Windows 7 driver (ATI, although Nvidia soon caught up), the first to support on physics acceleration on the GPU (Nvidia, although ATI is catching up) or the first card to be able to deliver playable frame rates in Crysis at very high detail settings at 2,560 x 1,600 (still waiting on that one guys) the culture of one-up-manship between the two companies is embedded as deep as the online rivalry between pirates and ninjas.
Today though it’s ATI’s turn to crow with the retail launch of the first graphics card to crack the 1GHz core barrier. ATI, and in this instance Sapphire, has taken the already nippy Radeon HD 4890, and ramped the GPU core speed up from an already impressive 850MHz to a mighty 1GHz, a whopping 17 per cent increase. We’re generally used to seeing pre-overclocked graphics cards sporting overclocks of five or 10 per cent and often much less, so to see such a major increase over the performance of the stock card is both rare and exciting, with the prospect of not just marginal, but really significant performance improvements over a garden variety Radeon HD 4890.
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What’s even more impressive is the hardware which ATI has used to accomplish this feat of clock speeds – after all, the HD 4890 is based on a modified version of the same RV770 GPU that garnered so much praise last summer. However, the 4890's GPU has been specifically modified to be more capable and stable while using much higher clock speeds than the 4870, with widened internal copper interconnects and a reworked GPU design to help reduce transistor power leakage and strengthen signal integrity to ensure reliable performance.
The Sapphire HD 4890 Atomic takes this one step further by enabling the optional extra +2 PCI-E power connectors, upping the power connections for the card to a both 6-pin and 8-pin PCI-E to deliver the requisite amount of smooth and consistent power to feed that 1GHz core.
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As well as upping the core clock by 150MHz Sapphire has also upped the memory clock from 975MHz (3,900MHz effective) to 1,050MHz (4,200MHz), just shy of an eight percent increase over the stock speed. While not as impressive as the core overclock, it’ll most certainly help in memory bandwidth hungry titles like Fallout 3 or S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky, and it’s good to see a board partner not exclusively chasing those headline grabbing high core speeds.