Requiem for a 4870

It’s been a bad month for celebrities, so forgive the poor taste. We’ve lost David Carradine, Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Billy Mays. My loss isn’t as great as an entire human life, but the little things always irritate us the most, don’t they? I therefore request a moment of silence for my fallen Radeon HD 4870.

Around August of last year—my birthday—I bought myself a very special present: a VisionTek Radeon HD 4870 512MB. It was replacing a pair of CrossFired Radeon HD 3850s from the same company. The 3850s were pretty solid, but I wanted to go back to having a single card. Multi-GPU setups can be finicky creatures, and I hated having to disable CrossFire whenever I wanted to use my third monitor.

First, a bit of history. I’ve almost always been an ATI guy. I’ve owned five All-in-Wonder cards in my lifetime and loved them all. (And, as a side note, I do miss that line dearly.) My All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro was an awesome card for its era. When I sold off my desktop and switched to a desktop-replacement laptop, I begrudgingly used a Mobility Radeon X600 (a major disappointment in the mobile and desktop sectors to be sure) before eventually jumping to a GeForce Go 7600 in my next laptop. That 7600 was an absolute demon at the time, and it made me a believer in the Nvidia team. I went on to put a GeForce 7600 GT in the new desktop PC I built for college, and that card performed incredibly for the time. I later made the switch to the even more amazing GeForce 7950 GT, before finally using EVGA’s marvelous trade-up program to secure a GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, largely as a result of reviews on TR (which I wouldn’t find myself writing for until two years later).

And that’s when the tears came. While Nvidia’s coverage sampled antialiasing is fantastic, and its transparency AA is in my opinion superior to AMD’s alternative, it’s no secret that Nvidia’s Vista drivers were dismal and unreliable for the first year or so. While running the 8800 GTS, I used a cheap GeForce 7100 GS to drive my third monitor. OpenGL games crashed on loading unless I disabled the 7100, and one stage of Tomb Raider: Legend simply refused to run on the 8800. While Tomb Raider: Legend is a fantastic game, I could deal with having to play that one section on the 7100. But for better or worse, Quake 4‘s single-player campaign is one of my favorites, and if that’s not running, I’ve got problems.

So, I defected back to the AMD camp when the Radeon HD 3850 came out. Life was good, for the most part. Then the Radeon HD 4800 series dropped and I, like many you, got very excited—AMD was back and truly competitive again. I cheerfully picked up the Radeon HD 4870 and brought it home.

Once again, the tears came. While performance was absurdly better and smoother than my 3850s, the 4870’s cooler was, at the default settings, woefully incapable of dealing with the heat generated in my case. Raising the fan speed helped, but ultimately, having to choose between noise and having my video card combust proved to be an unacceptable compromise. After experimenting with different cooling solutions, I finally settled on a Zalman VF1000 coupled with the red metal backplate from the stock AMD cooler. This was an "acceptable" compromise that appeared on a lot of different forums. While the VRMs still ran punishingly hot, the GPU remained cool enough to keep operating, provided there was adequate airflow from the front of the case.

Indeed, once I had this situation in order, the 4870 was problem-free… until last Friday, when it decided it’d had enough amid a game of Ghostbusters. After monitoring the voltage, amperage, and temperatures under stress, then swapping drivers, swapping entire video cards, and experimenting with clock speeds, the culprit finally revealed itself: the memory was dying, if not dead. The card now only operates in 2D mode; visits to 3D mode result in driver crashes if I’m lucky, but more often the system just hard locks.

I still gaze at AMD with something of a fanboy’s eyes. I game at 1920×1200, so I must now decide if I want to step up to a 4890, or if I should grab a 4850 (or a 4830) as a stopgap until the DirectX 11 lineup arrives later this year. While Nvidia allures me with promises of CUDA-accelerated Adobe Premiere Pro and the chance to fool around with PhysX, I still find myself gravitating towards AMD’s GPUs. They generally offer better performance for the price, in my opinion, and AMD remains the underdog. The 4800 series offers incredible performance at 8xAA, as well, negating my desire for CSAA. I even like to fool around with shader-based antialiasing options.

Still, the disappointment is palpable. While I eye the Radeon HD 4890 for the opportunity to tweak it, I can’t help but feel kind of screwed here. It’s unfortunate. I didn’t want to splash out on another card, since I quite liked my 4870, but what am I gonna do now?

Comments closed
    • Shinare
    • 10 years ago

    Zip Zoom Fly has the MSI R4890-T2D1G-OC Radeon HD 4890 OC 1GB DDR5 PCI-E Video Card for $190 $30 using eBillme for New Customers – $30 rebate [Exp 7/31] = $130 with free shipping. Features a core clock of 880 MHz, memory clock of 3996 MHz, and is HDCP compliant.

    Saw that and thought of you….4890 OC for $130…

    • swaaye
    • 10 years ago

    After seeing my bro go through a couple of 8800GTs, I’ve become rather aware of which companies are worth buying from. EVGA is awesome.

    It was cool to see XFX start making ATI cards.

    • Samlind
    • 10 years ago

    Just cause this is a 4800 series thread, I’ll throw in my experience with an Asus 4850, running dual monitors.

    I got the TOP model – slightly overclocked with a Zalman cooler stock, and it was ok but slightly buggy on Win2k, maybe moreso since I was using wildcat drivers since Win2k wasn’t officially supported. It replaced a dying 8800gt which was barely out of warranty. Which brings me to another point – if it doesn’t have at least a 3 year warranty, I now refuse to buy it.

    So after switching to Vista, all through the winter the 4850 was pretty stable, but as spring came, so cometh the blue screen. Downclocking the card helped slightly, but the weather was getting warmer.

    The VRM’s are hugely hot. Hotter IMO than anything in a computer should be, so I took an old slot 7 heatsink and split it with a Dremmel as it’s width was perfect to fit over all three VRM’s. Add a few globs of Arctic Silver and a cable tie, and nothing is irreversable or with some cleaning detectable if a visit to the warranty fairy is needed.

    The room has been 20°F hotter then it was all winter. I have never seen a blue screen since the day I put the cooler on.

    • oldDummy
    • 10 years ago

    IMO, the thrill gotten when playing with new hardware warrants a new 1Gb 4850 or 4870 and then when the newest bestest comes out take your time, think it through and pick one to obtain that new hardware thrill again.
    Enjoy your journey.

    • A_Pickle
    • 10 years ago

    Buy your next card from XFX or some brand that has a competent warranty, then you won’t feel so screwed. And, as it happens, usually the brands with competent warranties have higher quality cards…

    • clone
    • 10 years ago

    warranty?…. if expired and your feeling unjustly left in the cold buy a 2nd Visiontek card identical and send the defective one back to the retailer you purchased from with the new receipt opting for either a refund or a 2nd card and crossfire them for blazing hard core gaming goodness….. yeah yeah it’s a less honorable but more fun choice…. .and besides (devil on your shoulder whispers) “who did they think they were screwing you on the warranty anyway”.

    the moral direction in case the previous makes you feel uncomfortable.

    if expired replace with an XFX next time and get a lifetime warranty… I’d recommend a 4890 but a 4870 is still a very good video card selling for a very nice price nowadays and choose one with a better cooling solution from within XFX’s lineup or one with the same cooling solution and use your aftermarket assembly on it.

      • PRIME1
      • 10 years ago

      That’s about as bad as the RRoD on the 360 (failure rate wise).

        • Krogoth
        • 10 years ago

        The same as a certain batch of G92s, G82s and G84s. 😉

      • scpulp
      • 10 years ago

      While I definitely entertain this possibility, it bears pointing out that the card only became remotely stable when the memory was underclocked as low as it could go (450MHz; 1800MHz eff. or half of stock). Underclocking the core to 500MHz didn’t solve the problem at all, and it’s my understanding that the core draws the lion’s share of power.

      I could try popping the card back in and monitoring the amperage, but I’m not sure it’s worth it since the net result is still the same: card dead, need replacement.

        • mdk77777
        • 10 years ago

        There are 3 or 4 VRM phases (depending on Manufacturer) The one that burned out on your card just happens to go to the memory. If you could get your card to run, you would see in RivaTuner that one of the phases does not go up under load…..But you are right, there is no repair possible….If you look at the heat sink on the 4890 cards, and later models of the 4870, you will see that the VRM has moved on the PCB and the heat sink is SIGNIFICANTLY larger…..Don’t bother getting a replacement if they will only send the original model and not a revision…It is definitely an under designed VRM that is causing the failures. By and by, ddr5 does draw significant amperage at these frequencies…Best Luck.

      • YeuEmMaiMai
      • 10 years ago

      lol i think someone wanted to make ATi look bad because nVidia is having actual failures………

        • mdk77777
        • 10 years ago

        “lol i think someone wanted to make ATi look bad ”
        Not me..I own AMD stock…I just happen to know why these first models are failing….I can post my RMA emails going back to October 2008 on this issue…only 5 pages or so going back and forth……

    • shaq_mobile
    • 10 years ago

    MARS 295. go go go!

    • GTVic
    • 10 years ago

    IMO, if you want a quiet PC you have to get away from the stock AMD/nVidia coolers.

    I have a 4850 with a Zalman cooler I originally bought for a 7600GT. I put those little stick on RAM sinks on all the other chips contacted by the original heat sink. No problems and the fan cannot be heard above the rest of the system.

    • Chrispy_
    • 10 years ago

    AMD chips seems to fail more often for me, I think simply because they put less effort into cooling than the green team. The reference coolers have improved dramatically since the X1000 series but they’re still questionable.

    Look at the evidence. Either nVidia is stricter on it’s vendor’s cooling design, or more AMD partners are dissatisfied with the reference AMD coolers.

    Go to Newegg and compare the percentage of AMD boards with nonstandard coolers and then do the same thing for nVidia

    • HurgyMcGurgyGurg
    • 10 years ago

    I had an HD 4870 with the PCS+ from Powercolor. It also had a very high core clock (800 MHz) and high memory (950 MHz). To my knowledge there hasn’t been an HD 4870 with higher clocks since.

    The cards memory fried just like the authors. Except I had a 80 mm (I think) fan mounted on an angle blowing upwards to the card. I installed it several weeks after buying. When I heard about these heat issues. That fan gets its air from another fan pulling in outside air. It probably never got above 28 C. Still failed.

    It’s the third party coolers that are sketchy on cooling the VRM’s.

    The thing is still in RMA two months after being shipped off to Powercolor. They shipped me back an X1650 Pro for some guy in Michigan. Don’t know how they got that confused with Texas.

    Still no response on what I should do…

      • mdk77777
      • 10 years ago

      Same model, after second failure, I suspected the VMR and asked if they had a different model…They sent the same model a third time, and guess what…it also self destructed. After a month long email tag game with “HUGO” they sent me a fourth card which is stock and not OC. Fine with me as long as the VRM don’t self destruct.

    • madmanmarz
    • 10 years ago

    I’m still running my 2900 pro at 1.35v with the stock cooler and a 275mhz overclock on the core. I got it the week it came out. No problems. Waiting on DX11. I’d say your cooler is the bastard here.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    r[

      • gooch02000
      • 10 years ago

      Not enough love shown to this post. Here’s my contribution.

        • ssidbroadcast
        • 10 years ago

        Bless you!!

    • YeuEmMaiMai
    • 10 years ago

    lol at the ati card couldn’t handle the heat……lol story writer up there has no idea about case cooling………

    I HAVE a 4870 running a stock speeds in a mATX case with “ZERO” heat issues…….and I am using the stock cooler……

      • Farting Bob
      • 10 years ago

      The stock cooler (and factory installed coolers) tend to be much better at cooling the other parts of the board, most aftermarket coolers ignore things like the VRM’s and RAM because every card is different its hard to design a cooler that will fit more than a few boards. I purchased some tiny (1cm square) heatsinks which i put onto all the necessary parts to go with my passive Accelero S1 to cool my 4850. Stability is my cards middle name.

    • PRIME1
    • 10 years ago

    l[

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      What’s wrong with ATI’s transparency AA?

    • UberGerbil
    • 10 years ago

    CUDA isn’t the only way to get hardware accelleration in Premiere Pro, despite what nVidia would like you to think.

    • potatochobit
    • 10 years ago

    I heard when people use aftermarket coolers the stock memory sinks dont get cooled properly or something?
    anyway, 4850 is not bad and should play ghostbusters fine
    i recently bought a 4890 but I cant find a game i want to play that needs this much power
    but u know i got my 4890 for 160$, and that is a steal
    either way u go u will win
    the 4890 doesnt seem to like to have its memory tweaked though if that is what u were planning!

    • maxxcool
    • 10 years ago

    I had to give up Amd/Ati… 🙁 after the unexpected death of my x1650xt, then a 4670, and the 4670 replacement that was shipped to me i defected back to a EVGA nvida 250/9800/8800.

    just annoying…

    • honoradept
    • 10 years ago

    sadly, i’m also using 4870 + thermaltake VF1000 at the moment.

    • highlandr
    • 10 years ago

    Funny, I bought a fairly new 3850 when they came out as well. I folded on mine, and was continually fighting heat issues. It eventually got unstable at default clocks, so I pulled it and it appeared to have mouse pee on it. 🙁

    A couple of weeks ago I was trying a few dead cards from my brother and thought, hey, since I’m screwing with stuff, why not try my 3850 again? It turns out the stock cooler was clogged full of lint, and it has been running fine ever since! (No folding yet).

    Moral of the story – don’t leave PCI covers open for mice to squeeze through, and regularly check fans for fuzz.

    • Ruiner
    • 10 years ago

    The 4770 sits at a sweet spot of performance/price, and power consumption/heat output, IMHO.

    edit:
    but it was a much better deal when they were going for $100.

    • TurtlePerson2
    • 10 years ago

    I run 1920×1200 with a 4830. The price difference for a 4850 makes the 4850 a much better choice.

    • altcon
    • 10 years ago

    I always try to buy Pre custom cooled card.
    I have very little belief in default cooling solutions, especially from ATI.
    It’s kind of funny but I always upgraded my ATI coolers and always kept Nvidia’s stock coolers.
    Still I love both and I’m debating whether to get an HD4890 Toxic.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    I’d look for a deal on a 4890 is you’re ATi-inclined and want to get something at that performance level. I’ve seen deals as low as $160-170, maybe with a MIR. Otherwise GTX260-216s can be had for a little bit less.

    I would though seriously consider a stopgap card, possibly used. Take a hard look at the games you play at a given resolution. Just because an older card can’t play the newest games that are featured in reviews at high speed doesn’t mean it’s bad for what you play (unless it’s those games :p) If you get one cheap enough you can always have a useful backup card for when you do swaps in the future.

      • swaaye
      • 10 years ago

      CSAA’s advantage is more quality for the same speed. You don’t really lose speed for the coverage samples. That’s the big draw. 16X is 4X MSAA + 16 coverage samples and 16XQ is 8X MSAA + 16 coverage samples.

      ATI’s FSAA was a really bad on the speed side of things for over a year while G80 reigned. R600 and RV670 have a hardware flaw that drags FSAA speed way down. I also wish that ATI could copy NVIDIA’s app-detecting control panel….

    • eitje
    • 10 years ago

    I’d just use the oodles of money that TR pays you to write reviews, and buy a new card. 😉

    Also, don’t discount the fact that DX11 is *[<5<]* months away, and that DX11 cards could take even longer to get to market.

    • Skrying
    • 10 years ago

    Guys… he changed the heatsink. This is a known way to eventually kill the HD4870. RMAing it has a lot of moral issues and double that when you’ve posted your story on a widely read tech review website…

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      Agreed – the moral thing to do here is not RMA the product, admit your fault, and select a better product on your next purchase.

        • SubSeven
        • 10 years ago

        Yes, thats right, you should always do the moral thing, lest you get 150 years in prison.

    • FubbHead
    • 10 years ago

    Even though you’ve tampered with the fan, check with VisionTek if they can’t help you out in some way. In my experience, they can be really fourthcoming. Eg. Leadtek is one of those companies, at least their local support here.

    And with a little luck, they read Tech Report aswell, and realize there’s some PR to be had cheap. 🙂

    • DrDillyBar
    • 10 years ago

    I have the same 4870 you did. Mine chuggs along quite happily with the stock cooler and a slightly higher default fan speed to keep thigs cool.

    • marvelous
    • 10 years ago

    warranty?

    • SubSeven
    • 10 years ago

    Pick up another 4870. These are incredible value right now and unlike their earlier counterparts with temperatures high enough to fry an egg, newer versions have superior coolers & performance. I recently picked up a HIS ICEQ 4 Turbo card (an absolutely beautiful card) at a great $153 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814161265). The card had a $15 mail in rebate (of which i opted to scarifice $2 to get sooner) and it came with a copy of battle forge. I mailed my rebate some 2 weeks ago, it has been approved and i should get the $13 visa card this week. I also sold the copy of battleforge for $15 so if you tally it all up, the final price is $125. For a “jacked up” version of a 4870, $125 is a STEAL! Check out the cards from XFX, they got some pretty decent cards and very good prices.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 10 years ago

      I concur. Radeon HD4870 1GB cards are going for only $140 today. If that seems like too much to spend on a DX 10.1 card only four months before DX 11 arrives, then spend $95 on a Radeon HD4850 512MB or $105 on a Radeon HD4850 1GB to hold you over until the next big thing comes along.

    • ludi
    • 10 years ago

    A hundred bucks for a 4850 versus about twice that for a 4890. How much fun do you expect to extract from the purchase before the inevitable $350 DX11 upgrade?

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      I rather stick with affordable, proven DX10.x parts then pay the $$$$ and play beta tester on unproven hardware platforms. By the time DX11 becomes mainstream. The first-generation of DX11 parts will be dated and underwhelming performance-wise.

        • Game_boy
        • 10 years ago

        Just like the 8800GTX was when DX10 first came out, right?

          • MadManOriginal
          • 10 years ago

          There’s really no way to tell either way.

          • Krogoth
          • 10 years ago

          8800GTX is now dated and the current budget and mid-range line of DirectX 10.x parts completely wipe the floor with it.

            • yogibbear
            • 10 years ago

            sure they do…..

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            They do, a 9800 GT is already neck-and-neck with it and that’s like the bottom of the basement as far as gaming graphics go. All of today’s common offerings trounce the 8800 GTX badly.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            If that’s the bottom basement then I’m underground 🙁

            • swaaye
            • 10 years ago

            9800GT = 8800GT != 8800GTX. You really want a 9800GTX or 4850 to match up to a 8800GTX. The bandwidth advantage holds 8800GTX above water even with its fillrate/shader disadvantage. The 768MB is useful if you try any heavy mods out too.

            • Krogoth
            • 10 years ago

            8800GTX’s slight advantage in memory bandwidth and capacity only happens with certain titles at extreme resolutions and degrees of AA/AF. 8800GTX owes almost all of that advantage from its greater memory capacity.

            Anyway, none of the aforementioned cards (8800GTX included) can yield a playable framerate at such conditions.

    • Spurenleser
    • 10 years ago

    I highly recommend Sapphire’s Vapor-X cooling system. There are HD4870 and HD4890 cards:

    vapor-x => not overclocked, only change from stock is the cooler
    toxic => overclocked and the new cooler
    atomic => high-end overclocked and the new cooler.

    I have the HD4890 Toxic and it’s deadsilent in 2D mode (using ATI Tray Tools) and barely audible under load.

      • a_non_moose
      • 10 years ago

      Spur: how did you get ATT to work with a 48XX card?

      Curious after all the problems with ATT above a 38XX card.

      Did (IIRC) Wizard fix ‘tray tools at long last?

    • Dposcorp
    • 10 years ago

    q[< VisionTek Radeon HD 4870 512MB<]q q[http://support.visiontek.com/warranty/limited_warranty.html<]§ Sounds like u can RMA it, so all is not lost. Or is there a reason you can not RMA it?

      • spintroniX
      • 10 years ago

      he used an aftermarket heatsink. AFAIK, none of the ATI vendors (with the possible exception of XFX) cover the product once aftermarket cooling has been used.

        • blazer_123
        • 10 years ago

        Palit does. I tried to RMA my card and they told me they would even after I had taken off the cooler and replaced the thermal paste (aka, ruined the warranty).

        And then I got the bad card back because they told me I needed a Serial # that I had torn off when I first got the card. One out of Two ain’t bad. Next time I won’t be an idiot and peel off everything on a graphics card.

    • JoHowdy123
    • 10 years ago

    well, as it turns out, 4870’s are quite a bit cheaper these days then they were a year ago… I’m sorry to hear about your 4870 and its woe’fully short life span, I too own a 4870 and it scares me to hear your story. Check out the prices of the 4870’s now before looking down a 4890… that’s my two cents… 🙂

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      Your 4870 will be alright as long you stick with stock cooling or one of the few aftermarket coolers that do provide sufficent cooling to VRMs.

    • Kent_dieGo
    • 10 years ago

    VisionTek has lifetime warranty. Just RMA it and let us know how it goes. Wait until the DirectX 11 cards come out before spending the big money for a new card.

    • Farting Bob
    • 10 years ago

    A shame you took the cooler off, it would have been covered otherwise. I would grab a 4890, i dont see that the new breed which isnt likely to be out for a while still is going to blow it away by the same magnitude the 4×00 beat its predecessor. And the 4890 can already handle very demanding games at 1080p.

    • Krogoth
    • 10 years ago

    You are another unfortunate victim of 4870 + aftermarket coolers. I have read countless horror stories. The vast majority of aftermarket GPU coolers do not adaquately cool the power delivery circutary on reference 4870s. The tiny VRM chips can easily cook up to 100C+. Stability problems are only inevitable.

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