Summary: With adjustable GPU/memory voltages, a 4+2 phase power design, and excellent dual-slot cooling, ASUS' 4850 and 4870 Matrix cards are built for overclockers. See how far we were able to push these cards in today's review!
If they have one weakness however itís cooling. In order to bring their TOP cards to market as quickly as possible, ASUS often employs the same reference design and cooling unit used by ATI and NVIDIA. Physically no changes are made to the hardware, with the card basically shipping with a tweaked BIOS offering higher than stock clock speeds. This obviously isnít as big of a deal for their GeForce boards, as NVIDIAís reference cooler for most of their GPUs is quite good, but ATIís stock coolers tend to run on the hot side, particularly in the case of the Radeon 4800 series. (Weíve written numerous times in the past about the 4850ís tendency to idle in the 60 degree range.)
Fortunately ASUS will then go back later and add the heatpipes and passively cooled Silent cards that enthusiasts tend to look for when upgrading. These are the cards you want if stock cooling just isnít good enough for you. After all, you can easily OC the board on your own anyway.
In the past year however ASUS has taken their game to the next level, bringing their Republic of Gamers series from exclusively motherboards and notebooks to their latest graphics cards as well.
In case you didnít know, ASUS Republic of Gamers line have brought us some excellent products, including the Striker and Rampage Extreme series of motherboards, as well as ASUSí G1/G2 and G50 series notebooks. All of these products have incorporated numerous noteworthy features -- the Rampage Extreme boards are known for their LCD POST screens, Supreme FX audio, and radical cooling, while the latest G50 notebooks ship with GeForce 9800M graphics, dual 7200RPM hard drives running RAID 0, and their sharp displays -- so what has the Republic of Gamers team concocted for graphics? Enter the Matrix series of graphics cards.
So whatís the Matrix claim to fame? In addition to providing the ability to adjust the graphics core and memory speeds (something all cards are capable of actually) how does GPU and memory voltage adjustment sound!?
As any CPU overclocker can tell you, voltage adjustment is a critically important feature to have when overclocking the processor. Without it, your max OC is limited by several hundred MHz in the case of the latest Core 2 processors. Unfortunately, most video cards lack the ability to adjust voltages. Modders have gotten around this by soldering resistors to each other (some volt mods can also be accomplished with a pencil), but this requires a steady soldering iron hand, and obviously will void your cardís warranty.
With their Matrix series of video cards, ASUS provides limited volt modding without having to void your cardís warranty. This helps you push your card further when OCíing! ASUS also equips their Matrix boards with custom coolers that include heatpipe cooling.
Up for review today are ASUSí two newest Matrix cards, the Republic of Gamers EAH 4850 Matrix and the EAH 4870 Matrix. Letís take a closer look at the cardís shall we?
Before we get started discussing the software that makes the ASUS Matrix cards so intriguing, weíre going to start by going over the easier topic, which in this case is actually the hardware itself.
ASUS Republic of Gamers EAH 4850 Matrix
The EAH 4850 Matrix is ASUSí answer to enthusiasts who have been craving a Radeon 4850 card with top-notch cooling. Unlike their previous Radeon 4850 cards, which have either relied on ATIís stock heatsink/fan unit or more traditional Orb-style coolers, the EAH 4850 Matrix features a dual-slot cooler with heatpipe cooling. More specifically, ASUS employs three separate heatpipes on the EAH 4850 Matrix.
All three heatpipes are composed of nickel-plated aluminum, while a copper base plate rests directly above the RV770 GPU to further aid in cooling. A long dual-slot aluminum heatsink is then used to keep the heatpipes cool.
A blower style fan is used to supply fresh air to the graphics card. Here we should note that the fan doesnít actually exhaust hot air outside your case. Because the cooler isnít completely enclosed, most of the air from the fan actually exits along the sides and top of the cooler, only a little bit of air actually manages to exhaust out the back of the card.
ASUS refers to the cooler as a ďHybridĒ cooler. This refers to its ability to run in 2D mode with the fan shut off completely. The fan will then crank back up when the card hits a certain temperature, or you load up a 3D application. Of course, in order for all this magic to happen you will need to install ASUSí iTracker utility which weíll be describing in more depth on page 4.
The dual-slot cooler isnít the only custom part of the 4850 Matrix graphics card. ASUS also employs their own unique board design that actually sports a cleaner board layout than ATIís reference board. The card also has a beefed up power delivery subsystem, with ASUS devoting 4-phase power to the GPU, and 2 power phases for the cardís memory. This 4+2 power design is the most robust weíve seen on a Radeon 4850 card: ATIís reference design features 2-phase power circuitry.
Moving around to the back plate of the 4850 Matrix we can see dual DVIs and a TV-out. Youíll also see that one DVI output is colored yellow, while a second one is the traditional white. Whatís the yellow connector for? ASUS recommends this connector be used with the bundled HDMI adapter, which is also colored yellow to make it easy to remember. The downside though to this DVI is that itís a single-link DVI output. This means when the card is hooked up to a high-end 30Ē monitor your max res is limited to 1280x800. Fortunately, the other DVI is dual-link.
Normally the Radeon 4850 ships with two dual-link DVIs.
By default, the card runs at the stock ATI reference speed of 625MHz on the graphics core, while the cardís memory is clocked at 993MHz. Technically, thatís 6MHz slower on the memory than other Radeon 4850 boards weíve tested. As weíll describe on page 4 however ASUS does provide an OCíed profile that clocks the card up to 660MHz, but youíll have to load their software in order to get it.
Hardware accessories bundled with the EAH 4850 Matrix include a DVI adapter, an HDMI adapter, component video cable, power adapter, and CrossFire connector. Neither Matrix card ships with a game bundle.
ASUSí Radeon EAH 4870 Matrix is also an engineering marvel amongst Radeon 4870 cards. Like the EAH 4850 Matrix, the card has an imposing look, with a black PCB, dual fans, and dual-slot cooler. Once again ASUS employs a custom board design and cooling on their 4870 Matrix, with the 4870 Matrix board sporting a much more powerful cooler than the 4850 board, or many other Radeon 4870 cards for that matter.
Like the EAH 4850 Matrix, the 4870 Matrix supports ASUSí Hybrid Cooler technology. When running 2D apps at the Windows desktop both fans completely shut off. The cardís fans will remain at 0 RPMs as long as the GPU remains cool, if the GPU begins to get too hot one of the cardís fans will turn itself on automatically, the fan will then remain on until the GPU hits a certain minimum threshold temp. At this point the fan will turn off again and the cycle will repeat itself. The fans will also turn themselves on automatically when you boot up a 3D application or game. In this case, both fans will turn on regardless of the GPUís current temp.
The cooler ASUS has employed on the 4870 Matrix is very impressive. It sports four copper heatpipes, with two of the heatpipes extending all the way to the edges of the PCB (one on the right side, just above the PCIe power connectors and one on the left side of the card, just behind the DVIs)! Besides the quad heatpipes, the cooler is actually composed of dual Orb-shaped aluminum heatsinks. One Orb rests directly above the RV770XT GPU while the second Orb heatsink doesnít come into direct contact with any components on the board and sits to the right. Like the 4850 Matrix, a copper plate comes into direct contact with the GPU, helping to pull heat off the chip and is attached to the four copper heatpipes. The heatpipes used here are much longer than the ones used on the 4850 Matrix further increasing the surface area and thus their effectiveness, and once again some of them encircle the cardís fans.
The dual fans are a little more traditional than the blower-style fan used on the 4850 Matrix, and surprisingly they actually run a little quieter than the 4850 Matrix.
Without the ASUS power management software installed and the cards merely running ATIís reference driver and CCC, we recorded noise levels ranging between 48-50 decibels in Far Cry 2, and a max of 52 decibels in Crysis with the 4870 Matrix. In comparison the 4850 Matrix generated 52 decibels of noise while running Far Cry 2 and a whopping 55 decibels in Crysis.
Before you get too alarmed keep in mind that these noise levels were recorded without running ASUSí iTracker software. Youíd be crazy to pay the premium for these Matrix cards and not run iTracker, as it does a much better job of managing fan settings than the default ATI driver settings.
Like the 4850 Matrix, ASUS employs a custom board design with 4+2 power on the 4870 Matrix. Also like the 4850 Matrix, the 4870 Matrix board ships with only one dual-link DVI.
In terms of clock speeds, ASUS does OC the 4870 Matrix, but only slightly. The card runs at 770MHz core/920MHz memory, an improvement of 20MHz over stock. Not exactly a massive OC, but it is a slight boost nonetheless.
ASUS ships the EAH 4870 Matrix with one DVI adapter, an HDMI adapter, component video cable, power adapter, and CrossFire connector.
ASUS calls their Matrix line of video cards the ďworldís most intelligent graphics cardsĒ. This is accomplished not only due to the exceptional hardware, but just as importantly, its software.
At the heart of the Matrix cardís intelligence is their iTracker software. iTracker is a hardware monitoring utility that can be used for watching GPU /memory clock speeds, GPU/memory voltage, GPU loading, GPU/memory temperature, active number of power phases, and fan speed.
iTracker ships with four preset profiles: Gamer, Power Saving, Default, and User Defined. Under the power saving profile, iTracker automatically undervolts the RV770 GPU to 1.275V and graphics memory to save power. In addition, the number of active power phases for the GPU and memory drops to just 1-phase power. As a result of these changes, GPU power draw drops to just 25W under this mode as measured by iTracker! Under gaming, the opposite occurs, with the GPU running at 1.318V and power consumption spiking to 50W. For added performance the gamer profile also clocks the 4870 Matrix to run at 800MHz GPU/950MHz memory, a slight OC over the stock speeds (under the gamer profile the 4850 Matrix is OCíed to 660MHz, the memory speed sits unchanged at 993MHz).
Meanwhile, with iTracker installed, Hybrid Cooler kicks in, shutting off the fan(s) completely as long as the temps remain within a certain threshold.
As a result, the card frequently generates no noise when running at the Windows desktop.
We noticed that the fan profiles adjust based on your profile; in gaming the temp range topped out at 74 degrees Celsius, at this point iTracker would turn on the fan until the GPU cooled to 44 degrees. Under the default mode, the temp threshold was higher, topping out at 76 degrees, and finally, under power saving mode the fan didnít kick in until the GPU hit 80 degrees Celsius.
Because of the nature of the Matrix cards, manual fan control isnít provided in ATIís Catalyst Control Center. Fortunately though if you set iTracker to user defined, you can manually control RPMs to your heartís content. You can even manually adjust the temperature thresholds for when the fan(s) will kick in to cool the card.
In user defined mode you can also adjust your graphics core and memory clock speeds, as well as their voltages. Itís the voltage adjustment in particular that sets the ASUS Matrix cards apart from other Radeon 4800 series cards, the vast majority which lack this feature (Palitís 4850 Sonic is the only other card weíre aware of with voltage adjustment).
ASUS provides voltages settings up to 1.581V/1.929V respectively on the GPU and GDDR3 memory for the Matrix 4850 and 1.581V/1.540V on the GPU and GDDR5 memory for the 4870 Matrix. We cranked both of our boards up to these limits when OCíing them so we could get the max OCíing potential out of the cards.
Another bonus iTracker provides is the ability to set much higher clocks when overclocking. By default, the slider for a normal Radeon 4870 card maxes out at 800MHz on the GPU. With iTracker however you can go up to 950MHz. Memory speeds top out at 1200MHz (4.8GHz effective). Meanwhile, GPU clock speeds up to 800MHz are available for the 4850 Matrix (regular Radeon 4850 cards top out at 700MHz) while memory speeds max out at 1100MHz (2200MHz effective).
The final feature ASUS provides inside iTracker is profiles. Say for instance you want an HTPC profile, a desktop profile, and a gaming profile, or you want to setup profiles for 3 different games. Even 2D or 3D mode operation. Itís all possible with iTracker.
Our only gripe with iTracker is its user interface. Itís pretty clunky. You have to scroll back and forth to monitor GPU temps and voltages versus the boardís memory temps and voltages. Fortunately all the adjustments in the user defined mode can be found on one page, but thatís located in a separate section of iTracker too! Itís a bit of a jumbled mess that needs to be completely reworked in our opinion.
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
EVGA X58 SLI
3GB Qimonda DDR3-1066
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 216 Shaders
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+
ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
ASUS Radeon EAH 4850 Matrix 512MB
ASUS Radeon EAH 4870 Matrix 512MB
Catalyst 8.561.3-081217a-73402 (Updated Catalyst 8.12 multi-core hotifx)
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Call of Duty 4
Fallout 3 Ė DirectX 9
Call of Duty 4 Ė DirectX 9
Crysis Ė DirectX 10
Far Cry 2 Ė DirectX 10
BioShock Ė DirectX 9
Cooling: ASUS ships both Matrix cards with very powerful coolers that quite frankly, are probably overkill for their respective GPUs. The Radeon 4870 Matrix ships with quad copper heatpipes and a dual heatsink/fan setup that does an incredible job of keeping the RV770XT GPU cool. Did you see the idle and load temps for the Radeon 4870 Matrix when itís running standard CCC without iTracker? In our testing the card hit just 39 degrees at idle, and maxed out at 48 degrees under these conditions! This is because without iTracker, both fans are running at higher RPMs to keep the GPU cool. Once iTracker was enabled though the load temp only rose to 50 degrees. This is 31 degrees cooler than the stock Radeon 4870 cooler.
Stock clocks on 4850 Matrix: Weíre really perplexed as to why ASUS has elected to stick with the reference clock speeds for the 4850 Matrix. Considering the incredible cooler it ships with, and the 4+2 phase power design and iTracker, itís just begging to be OCíed. ASUS does charge a premium for their Matrix cards in comparison to other ASUS cards (including the Dark Knight and TOP), so they should also deliver premium out-of-the-box performance in our opinion.
ASUS EAH 4850 Matrix
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