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Revisiting a Legend: The ATI Radeon HD 4870 Graphics Card

The ATI Radeon HD 4870 holds a special place in graphics card history. When it launched way back in 2008, this mid-range GPU delivered excellent 1080p gaming performance for just $299. It represented a major turnaround for AMD‘s struggling graphics division at the time.

In this in-depth retrospective, we‘ll explore everything that made the Radeon HD 4870 so great. From its groundbreaking specs to real-world gaming benchmarks, we‘ll see how it stacks up today as a retro gaming card. If you‘re feeling nostalgic for old school PC hardware, read on!

HD 4800 Series Overview

The Radeon HD 4800 series launched in 2008 as AMD‘s new mid-range graphics lineup built on a 55nm process. It consisted of three models:

  • Radeon HD 4850 – 640 stream processors, 625 MHz core clock
  • Radeon HD 4870 – 800 stream processors, 750 MHz core clock
  • Radeon HD 4870 X2 – Dual-GPU card, 2x 800 stream processors

The star of the show was the Radeon HD 4870. With its 800 stream processors and GDDR5 memory, AMD took back the performance crown from Nvidia at an affordable $299 price point. Let‘s look at why this card was so impressive for its day.

Groundbreaking Specs

For a mid-range card in 2008, the Radeon HD 4870 delivered a killer combination of cutting-edge technology and high clock speeds.

Radeon HD 4870 Core Specs:

  • Fabrication Process: 55nm
  • Stream Processors: 800
  • Core Clock Speed: 750 MHz
  • Memory Clock Speed: 900 MHz (3.6 Gbps)
  • Memory Bandwidth: 115 GB/s
  • Memory: 512MB/1GB GDDR5
  • API Support: DirectX 10.1, OpenGL 3.0
  • Power Connectors: 1 x 6-pin
  • Thermal Design Power: 160W

The most notable advancement was the move to faster GDDR5 memory clocked at 3.6 Gbps. This gave the HD 4870 nearly double the memory bandwidth of previous generation cards still using GDDR3.

It was also the first 40nm GPU fabricated at TSMC, allowing AMD to cram those 800 stream processors into a relatively small die area. Theetable specs coupled with an efficient architecture delivered great performance/watt for the time.

Comparison of 2008 GPU Specs:

Specs Nvidia GTX 280 ATI Radeon HD 4870
Core Clock 602 MHz 750 MHz
Memory Clock 1107 MHz 900 MHz
Memory Type GDDR3 GDDR5
Memory Bandwidth 141 GB/s 115 GB/s
MSRP $649 $299

As you can see, the Radeon HD 4870 delivered higher core and memory speeds at nearly half the price! This was a major turnaround compared to previous AMD cards struggling to keep up.

Real-World Gaming Performance

Thanks to its cutting-edge specs, the Radeon HD 4870 excelled as a 1080p gaming card. It handled the latest titles of 2008 at high settings while even giving Nvidia‘s top-tier GTX 280 a run for its money.

Some average benchmark results at 1920×1080:

  • Crysis: X35 fps (DX10 High)
  • Far Cry 2: 68 fps (Ultra settings)
  • Left 4 Dead: 130 fps (Max settings)
  • Call of Duty 4: 161 fps (Max settings)

Not only could the HD 4870 achieve smooth frame rates in demanding games like Crysis, it did so at $350 less than the GTX 280! This combination of excellent 1080p performance and value cemented its status as the new mid-range king.

But how does the Radeon HD 4870 hold up today for retro gaming? With some 1080p testing, it can still run many classic titles from 2008-2013 smoothly while handling newer games at reduced settings:

  • Far Cry 3 (2013): 54 fps (High)
  • Battlefield 4 (2013): 58 fps (Medium)
  • BioShock Infinite (2013): 44 fps (High)
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018): 28 fps (Low)

While modern AAA titles require some compromises, the HD 4870 is still a capable 1080p card for older games. It can even manage esports titles like CS:GO and DOTA 2 easily. Not bad for a 12+ year old GPU!

Overclocking Headroom

A major appeal of the Radeon HD 4870 for enthusiasts was its ample overclocking headroom. The 55nm RV770 GPU left plenty of clock speed left in the tank.

With some voltage tweaks, many HD 4870 owners reported achieving core clock speeds around 850-900 MHz. That‘s an extra 13-20% speed boost, delivering performance approaching the higher-end Radeon HD 4870 X2 for minimal cost.

Memory speeds could also be raised to around 1 GHz (4 Gbps effective) depending on silicon lottery luck. For just $299, you got a GPU that could easily be overclocked to near-4870 X2 levels for free.

Drivers and Compatibility Today

Since the Radeon HD 4870 launched, AMD has ended driver support after Windows 8. Newer Windows 10 systems may require some tweaking to get it running properly. Here are some tips:

The card lacks modern outputs like DisplayPort or HDMI. You‘ll need a DVI or VGA monitor. Also make sure your power supply has the required 6-pin PCIe power cable.

While full featured driver support has ended, you can still get the HD 4870 working adequately for retro gaming. Just don‘t expect optimal stability or performance in newer titles.

Used Pricing in 2023

As you shop around for a used Radeon HD 4870 today, prices can vary wildly depending on model, condition, and demand. Here are some approximate values from popular resellers:

  • eBay (Auctions) – $20 – $60
  • eBay (Buy it Now) – $45 – $150
  • Amazon – $80 – $200

The 1GB models tend to cost $20-30 more than the original 512MB version. Considering its original $299 MSRP, anything under $100 is reasonable for this old mid-range card. Just inspect seller photos closely and buy from reputable retailers.

The Verdict: Still a Great Retro GPU

The Radeon HD 4870 delivered a tremendous value in 2008 and remains a solid retro gaming card today. It earns a rightful place in GPU history books for AMD.

The Good:

  • Excellent 1080p performance in older games
  • Surprisingly capable for esports/indie titles too
  • Good overclocking headroom
  • Very affordable used pricing today
  • A cool piece of hardware history

The Bad:

  • Lacks driver support and modern outputs
  • Can struggle in the newest AAA games
  • Only 512MB/1GB of VRAM
  • Used market purchase risks

For retro gaming rigs focused on older titles, the venerable Radeon HD 4870 holds up remarkably well in 2023. It can handle anything up to around 2013 on high settings and remains a great budget card for esports or emulation gaming.

Of course, its age shows in modern AAA games. The low VRAM and lack of current driver updates hamper performance and compatibility. For a well-rounded experience, slightly newer used cards like the GTX 970 and RX 470 are better equipped today.

But for some old school PC gaming on the cheap, it‘s hard to beat a used HD 4870. It‘s a cornerstone GPU that helped reshape the graphics card landscape in 2008. And with amazing longevity, it remains a more than capable retro card 15 years later. For any PC hardware enthusiast, the Radeon HD 4870 is certainly a special piece of history.