This time last year, if you wanted a high-end graphics card, Nvidia’s 8800 series was by far the best choice; ATI’s 38xx series just couldn’t keep up. Then, when Nvidia released their GT200 series cards, the performance bar was set even higher. Massive graphics cards with massive performance, massive power draw, and a massive price to boot.

Then ATI released the 4850 and 4870 and took everyone by surprise – including Nvidia. They did not compete on performance with GT200 but they competed on price, bringing high-end performance at mainstream price points.

Fast-forward to today and soon we will see the launch of ATI’s RV790(4890) and RV740. The 4890 will be a 55nm product, and AMD says to expect a 20% performance increase over the 4870. That should really give the GTX285 a run for its money. We know the 4890 will have a different pin layout to the 4870, which suggests that is it more than just a speed-binned 4870.

pic2-powercolor4890The 4890 has a 100MHz core speed bump over the 4870, setting the core at 850MHz and a 75MHz speed bump for the memory, setting it at 975MHz(3900MHz effective) for the GDDR5 memory, providing 124.8 GB/s of bandwidth. It will also require a 6pin and 8pin power connector. RV790 will have the same number of stream processors, ROPs and TMUs as the 4870 – so how exactly does a 13% core speed bump and an 8% increase in memory speed increase performance by 20%? According to AMD the RV790 will have more efficient shaders that might just be enough to achieve that claimed 20% performance increase. Nvidia is already preparing a card for release to combat the 4890, the GTX275. This is essentially just a single, higher clocked GPU from the GTX295 that will operate at 633MHz on the core and 1164MHz(2328MHz effective) on the GDDR3 memory with a 448bit memory interface.

ATI’s HD4890 will launch on 9 April, with RV740 coming at the end of April or early in May.

RV740 will be a 40nm card, meaning it should stay cool and require very little power to run. It will also have a 128bit memory interface to keep costs down. It will have 640 stream processors with 8 ROPs, 32 TMUs and a 650MHz core clock paired with GDDR5 memory running at 800 MHz, which boils down to 3200 MHz effective. That’s just over 50 GB/sec of bandwidth. All this means that RV740 has performance close to the 4850 at a lower price point. Rumours place this card below $99 and will be the successor to the RV730 (4650/4670).

RV740 engineering sample

RV740 engineering sample

In the gaming benchmarks, the RV740 was 5-10% faster than the 4830 on average .

Please keep in mind with engineering samples specs can change, but not much. Drivers will also improve performance once the card hits retail, meaning RV740 should come within spitting distance of the 4850.

The next few months before the DX11 cards hit in Q4 will surely be interesting. RV740 will definitely shake up pricing. One thing is certain though – we as consumers will win.

02/04/2009 Update: The RV740 will known as the Radeon HD 4770 and will feature a core clock speed of 750MHz – A 100MHz speed bump over the engineering samples. This means its performance will be right on the 4850’s doorstep. The card should use about 80Watts, comsuming less power than the 55nm Radeon HD 4850 and 4830. The card is expected to retail for around $99 USD.

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