Diamond HD 4890 XOC Preview, Part 1
Introduction and a little history
Rarely has a generation of graphic cards had so much impact on its competitor. The arrival of ATI’s HD4800 series meant that Nvidia’s cards that offered similar performance for a higher cost had to come down in price, especially if they were to compete with ATI’s renewed vigor in the discrete graphic card market after being dominated by Nvidia’s 8 series for so long.
To understand how we arrived here, we have to go back to 2006 when Nvidia and ATI, now a part of AMD, were both planning their first DirectX 10 parts. End of 2006 is approaching and Microsoft plans to launch its Windows Vista Operating System early next year, bringing DirectX10 along with it. Launching DirectX10 hardware first means capitalizing on the sales from all the enthusiasts who want to have the latest and greatest in both hardware and software, which could translate into large profits and domination in the discrete graphic card market.
Come Nov 08, 2006 – Nvidia launches its DirectX10 hardware. 8800GTX and 8800GTS 640MB based on the G80 chip are unveiled to the world. Performance numbers show that older hardware is left in the dust.
January 30, 2007 – Microsoft launches Windows Vista. Its almost 3 months and ATI still hasn’t launched its DirectX10 part.
May 14, 2007 – ATI finally launches its DirectX10 hardware with HD 2900XT (codename R600 chip). What could be more worse for ATI than a product launch that is 7 months late, and it doesn’t even compete for the performance crown? In the video card world, 7 months is a long time, enough time for a company to tweak their already successful product and launch a new chip with a die shrink. R600 was an expensive chip for ATI to make due to their use of 512-bit memory bus. Due to its lackluster performance, ATI is forced to sell the chip for $399 and compete with Nvidia’s 8800GTS 640.
Both the companies use single large monolithic chips here, a strategy we shall see change.
October 29, 2007 – Nvidia takes the mainstream segment with storm with the launch of 8800GT. Never has the world seen such price/performance ratio as this sub $260 card provided. Nvidia almost wipes out its own lineup in addition to ATI’s with this card. A die shrink from 80nm to 65nm based on the G92 chip, this card provides the same or more performance than much more expensive-selling 8800GTS 640 and HD2900 XT.
November 14, 2007 – Not to be outdone by Nvidia this time, ATI launches its own R600 refresh. RV670 is based on the 55nm manufacturing process. The die size is reduced from 408 sq.mm to 192 sq.mm. This is a major change in ATI’s ideology as we shall see in the following text. ATI unveils HD3870 and HD3850 selling at attractive price points of $219 and $179 respectively. These price points make extreme sense as HD3870 offers about 85% performance of a 8800GT and costs about 85% of 8800GT too.
Things look to be improving for ATI as they start capturing back some share in the mainstream segment that was lost with R600.
January 29, 2008 – ATI launches its dual GPU on a single PCB card called HD 3870X2. This card completes the major shift in ATI’s ideology. They have now shifted from making a large monolithic chip to compete at the high end, to making smaller power-efficient chips for the mainstream while combining those smaller chips on the same PCB to make a single high-end part. HD3870X2 provides impressive performance beating the 8800 GTX and Ultra.
June 16, 2008 – Nvidia launches its first major new video cards among all the renaming, the GTX 280 and GTX 260. Nvidia has decided to stick to its large monolithic chip for the high end strategy, a strategy which will put it at a disadvantage in a few weeks.
June 25, 2008 – Hot on the heels of Nvidia’s new products, ATI launches HD 4870 and HD 4850. These products continue ATI’s ideology of “multiply and conquer” introduced with the HD3800 series. HD 4850 priced at $199 and HD 4870 priced at $299 offer the same or more performance as almost $100 more Nvidia parts, 9800 GTX and GTX 260. Nvidia launches 9800 GTX+ which is a die shrink of 9800 GTX from 65nm to 55nm, in order to counter HD 4850.
July 14, 2008 – ATI launches HD4870X2 and takes the performance crown. Nvidia slashes prices on both the GTX 260 and GTX 280. GTX 280 drops from $649 to $499, and the GTX 260 from $399 to a more appealing $299. Users who bought these cards at original prices are given refunds by EVGA, XFX, BFG. This means lesser profits for Nvidia as these large chips cost a lot to make and price cuts are not what Nvidia expected.
ATI HD 4800 series sells well and helps ATI recapture some of the lost share in the discrete video card market.
Nvidia in order to compete better with ATI and reduce manufacturing costs, transitions to 55nm process launching GTX 260 on 55nm and GTX285 with higher clock speeds.
April 02, 2009 – ATI launches HD4890, Nvidia launches GTX 275.
This brings us to our article, what is HD4890 ?