Summary: With 4+1 phase power, 1.0GHz memory modules from Samsung, and a powerful dual-slot cooler, MSI's put together one impressive Radeon 4830 board. In fact, once OC'ed it outran the Radeon 4850! Read our review for the full scoop.
With the holidays upon us, many gamers choose this time of year for their annual or semi-annual PC upgrade.
This time last year the upgrade everyone wanted was NVIDIAís GeForce 8800 GT. Packing 112 shaders clocked at 1500MHz, a 600MHz GPU core clock, and a 256-bit memory interface with 900MHz memory, the GeForce 8800 GT delivered an extraordinary amount of performance for its $300 price tag. In our GeForce 8800 GT Performance Preview we proclaimed ďClearly the GeForce 8800 GT is the best GPU in the mainstream segment right now, and may even tempt a few prospective GeForce 8800 GTX buyers. NVIDIA really has outdone themselves with this GPU.Ē
As we expected, consumers flocked to the card as well. Retailers couldnít keep the card in stock for more than a few hours before selling out their entire inventory. This situation lasted all the way throughout the Christmas selling season and into 2008. For months getting your hands on a GeForce 8800 GT was next to impossible.
Today the situation has changed drastically.
As a result of the overwhelming demand for the 8800 GT, NVIDIA ramped up production significantly. The company assumed demand would remain strong throughout the summer. However NVIDIA underestimated the strength of ATIís then upcoming Radeon 4800 line. Ahead of the 4800 release, everyone anticipated that ATIís high-end 4870 part was targeting GeForce 9800 GTX when actually ATIís mainstream Radeon 4850 offering had its sights set on the GTX. To put further pressure on NVIDIA, ATI priced the Radeon 4850 directly against the cheaper 8800 GT, giving consumers more performance than ever at the $200 price point.
It was a game-changing move that forced NVIDIA to slash prices on their entire GeForce lineup; the 9800 GTX saw its price reduced $100 from $299 to $199 while the 8800 GT was reduced to $169. Ultimately ATIís move crippled 8800 GT sales as enthusiasts gladly ponied up the extra couple of dollars for a Radeon 4850, forcing NVIDIA to reduce prices yet again. This eventually lead to a situation where NVIDIA had supplies of all these 8800 GT/9800 GT parts that they had a hard time moving, forcing them to trim prices yet again. Today GeForce 9800 GT boards can be found for an MSRP of $120-$130 with manufacturers offering mail-in rebates that bring the final price down to as low as $95!
This is simply an amazing value for gamers on a budget as the 8800 GT is still more than capable of handling most of todayís latest games at resolutions as high as 1920x1200 as long as you donít go overboard with the gameís graphics settings and levels of AA/AF. ATI needed to respond in kind with a new GPU of their own to counter this threat, so they prepped a watered-down derivative of the same RV770 GPU found in the Radeon 4850, the RV770LE-powered Radeon 4830.
The Radeon 4830
Rather than develop a new GPU from scratch, as we just mentioned the RV770LE GPU powering the Radeon 4830 is physically the exact same RV770 chip found in the Radeon 4850, only ATI lowers the clock speeds and disables two SIMD cores (ultimately disabling 160 stream processing cores), leaving 640 active shaders. The final product is then sold as the Radeon 4830.
ATI clocks the Radeon 4830 at 575MHz, 50MHz slower than the Radeon 4850ís 625MHz core clock speed. The board is then paired with cheaper 900MHz GDDR3 memory. Officially the card carries an MSRP of $129, but already street prices at online retailers have dipped as low as $105 after mail-in rebate.
Not content with ATIís reference specifications, MSI is the first 4830 manufacturer to ship with factory OCíed clocks. Their R4830-T2D512 OC sports more than just OCíing though, MSI equips the board with a more powerful dual-slot cooler, as well as a 4+1 power phase design.
While MSI could have taken the easy and cheaper route and played it safe by sticking with ATIís 4830 reference board design, which is actually a carbon copy of the Radeon 4850 design, they didnít. In fact theyíve come up with the most robust 4830 board design thatís been released to date.
MSI starts with the boardís power subsystem. Whereas the reference board design for the 4850 and 4830 utilize 2-phase power, MSI ups the ante by integrating a 4-phase power design for their R4830-T2D512 OC.
With double the number of power phases, the GPU gets a cleaner power signal. This is particularly important as you go beyond the stock clock speeds and begin to OC the GPU. With more phases, less stress is placed on the individual power phases. This in turn helps to reduce temperature and extend the life of the components, as theyíre under less stress than a 2-phase power system.
One additional power phase is devoted exclusively for the GDDR3 memory. This is why MSI refers to their power subsystem as a 4+1 power design.
The memory MSI uses is top notch. Unlike many of the other Radeon 4830 manufacturers who use 1.0GHz GDDR3 memory modules manufactured by Qimonda, MSI has sourced 1.0GHz Samsung memory modules for their R4830-T2D512 OC card. As any OCíer will tell you, Samsung graphics memory is preferred over all other memory manufacturers. This is because Samsung modules tend to scale further than other companies.
For cooling the GPU MSI has developed their own custom cooling solution. The heatsink itself is dual-slot and made entirely from aluminum. It features an egg-like shape weíve never seen before.
Interestingly enough, the heatsinks fins are varying lengths, we assume MSI did this to address hotspots uniquely to the RV770 chip. The fins on the midsection of the heatsink are longer than the rest of the cooler. As you can see, the fins on the bottom of the cooler are tiny; we measured them and theyíre just under five millimeters in length. In comparison the largest fins are nearly forty millimeters long.
Many of the fins are also curved. This allows MSI to cram more long fins into the same amount of space, helping to increase the effectiveness of the heatsink.
MSI uses what they call a seaweed-blade fan. The fan has uniquely shaped fan blades that are curved at the edges like an airplane with a scimitar propeller. According to MSI, this design allows the fan to create more air flow without resorting to higher RPMs.
In operation, MSIís cooler does an incredible job of keeping the RV770 GPU cool Ė we observed idle temps below 40 degrees Celsius! The only downside is that the fanís motor has a slightly higher pitched whine than other Radeon cards weíve tested; this is reflected in our noise testing later in this review. Donít get us wrong, the MSI R4830-T2D512 OC still runs quietly, but we wouldnít characterize it as a near-silent graphics card.
To keep the price as low as possible, MSI ships their R4830-T2D512 OC board without a game bundle. Instead the boardís accessories consist of a DVI adapter, component video cable, S-Video cable and a combo cable with S-Video and composite outputs.
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
ASUS P5E3 Premium WiFi AP Edition
4GB OCZ DDR3 Platinum @ 1333MHz
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 8800/9800 GT
Sapphire Toxic 4850 512MB
AMD Radeon HD 4830 512MB
MSI R4830-T2D512 OC
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Call of Duty: World at War
Crysis High Ė Direct3D
4+1 Phase Power with solid-state chokes: MSIís R4830-T2D512 OC is the only Radeon 4830 card on the market to utilize 4-phase power for the GPU. ATIís reference design calls for 2-phase power, which is what most of ATIís board partners have implemented for their 4830 boards (ASUS being the one exception thanks to their 3-phase design). With more phases, the GPU is supplied with cleaner power, particularly at higher clock speeds. In theory this also gives you more headroom for OCíing. With more phases the power subsystem as a whole also runs cooler. This helps to increase longevity.
MSI also employs solid-state chokes on their R4830-T2D512 OC, versus the ferrite chokes used on other cards. Solid-state chokes are more durable and can withstand higher electrical current than ferrite chokes.
Dual-slot cooling: Rather than stick with ATIís stock (and anemic) single-slot cooler borrowed from the Radeon 4850, MSI has developed their own Orb-like heatsink/fan unit that does an extraordinary job of keeping the Radeon 4830ís RV770LE core cool. At idle, the MSI R4830-T2D512 OC ran at just 37 degrees Celsius, this is an amazing figure thatís 12 degrees cooler than the stock 4830 cooler. Load temps were even more impressive, as the GPU temp topped out at 52 degrees, a figure which is 28 degrees cooler than the stock ATI cooler.
For our load tests we loop Far Cry 2ís benchmark tool to run 20 times back-to-back, so itís pretty impressive that the GPU ran so cool.
The only downside is that the MSI cooler generates more noise than ATIís stock cooler. We wouldnít call it a loud card by any means, but you definitely can hear a faint whine from the cardís fan.
1.0GHz Samsung memory: MSI employs Samsung memory modules on their R4830-T2D512 OC board. Most of the other 4830 board partners use memory sourced from Qimonda.
Generally speaking Samsung memory is preferred most among enthusiasts, as their modules tend to OC further than other manufacturers. The fact that MSI uses 1.0GHz modules gives enthusiasts more headroom for OCíing.
Tame out-of-the-box OC: Considering the added expense MSI went too to add the extra power phases and solid-state chokes, as well as the dual-slot cooling and 1.0GHz memory, a 10MHz OC on the GPU is considerably conservative: this card is begging to be OCíed!
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