Core Clock: 850MHz Memory Clock: 3,900MHz (effective) Memory: 1GB GDDR5 Warranty: Three years (parts and labour)
Usually when we come to review a partner graphics card it boasts something noticeably different from a reference card to help differentiate it from the rest of the market. Be it a custom cooler, redesigned PCB, more memory, a factory overclock or any combination of these improvements, there’s usually plenty for us to cast our critical eyes over and test.
This makes the card we’re looking at today seem a bit out of place as it’s, at least physically, a completely standard stock Radeon HD 4890, identical bar the board partner’s sticker to any other reference Radeon HD 4890. This means it sports the same RV790 GPU running at 850MHz, the same 1GB of GDDR5 running at 975MHz (3,900MHz effective) and the same dual slot reference cooler as any other stock Radeon HD 4890.
While we found the HD 4890 to be a perfectly capable card, it was by no means perfect. The default clock speeds, which having seen the card’s overclocking potential we consider pretty conservative, meant the card was overshadowed by the competing GeForce GTX 275 in many benchmarks and the reference cooler is intrusively loud when the card is under load. While both these issues can be corrected by a hefty factory overclock and third party cooler (as is the case with Sapphire’s excellent HD 4890 Atomic), the reference design still leaves much to be desired.
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However, while the Asus Radon HD 4890 might be a reference card, it’s got a crucial ace up its sleeve that puts it very much apart from the competition – the ability to tweak the card’s core voltage using Asus’ own Smart Doctor overclocking software. Usually when overclocking a graphics card you’re limited not by heat, but by the increased voltage requirements of the higher clock speeds and top overclockers have long been “volt modding” their cards to allow for increased core voltages and thus ever high clock speeds.
When the Radeon HD 4890 first launched we heard rumbling of the card being capable of a 1GHz core clock, something we weren’t able to confirm on a reference card thanks to voltage limitations. By adding this functionality into its overclocking application, Asus has unlocked a great deal more of the HD 4890’s already impressive overclocking potential, and we can’t wait to find out just how hard we can push the card.
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The Smart Doctor overclocking software, while not the most tasteful of applications, serves its purpose well, allowing you to alter the card’s core voltage from the 1.312v default to anywhere between 1.2v and 1.45v, the card’s core up to 1GHz and the card’s memory up to a somewhat over ambitious 5,000MHz, with overclock settings able to be applied on startup.
It also serves as a GPU temperature monitor and can even be combined with Asus’ GamerOSD software to overclock on the fly in games; not something we’d particularly recommend but a nifty inclusion nonetheless. Sadly for those hoping to pinch this software to overclock and overvolt their own HD 4890 though, Smart Doctor checks the card’s BIOS before starting to ensure it’s a compatible Asus card, so barring a cheeky BIOS flash you won’t be able to take advantage of this helpful utility.
Click to enlarge - While the card is a reference design, the Smart Doctor software allows you to change the card's core voltage, making overclocking easier
As well as the exclusive Asus overclocking applications the card also boasts a fairly decent and very nicely presented bundle. As well as the driver and software CDS there are adapters for both DVI to VGA and DVI to HDMI, as well as a dual molex to 6-pin PCI-E cable, RGB component cable, S-Video to composite adapter and a CrossFire bridge – pretty much everything you’ll need to get the card installed regardless of your setup.
Asus provides a comprehensive three year warranty, that doesn’t require any form of registration or activation for you to take advantage of. While admittedly not as long a warranty as you’ll get from Nvidia specific board partners like BFG, the advantage of not having to register your purchase is a big plus, and means that as long as you have proof of purchase, you’re warranty is safe.
Asus also have both USA, UK, and European RMA centres, so no matter where your card should go wrong, you won’t have to ship it back to Taiwan for a replacement.