Summary: With its beefier 3-phase power, dual-slot cooling, and 8-pin PCIe 2.0 connector, Palit's Radeon 4850 Sonic is designed for the enthusiast who wants to push the Radeon 4850 to unprecedented levels. But does it live up to the hype? Find out in this review!
Over the course of the past few months, weíve been taking a look at Radeon 4850 cards with custom cooling. Back in August we reviewed the first crop of custom 4850 boards to hit the retail market, MSIís R4850 512M and Sapphireís Toxic 4850 and Radeon 4850 Dual Slot. All three of these cards delivered significantly improved cooling performance over the stock ATI Radeon 4850 reference design, while Sapphireís Toxic board was also OCíed out of the box for added performance.
Our search for the best of the best in Radeon 4850 cards brings us today to Palitís 4850 Sonic. Like the Sapphire Toxic, Palitís 4850 Sonic combines custom heat pipe cooling with factory OCíed clocks, but Palit adds one additional twist to the equation designed to improve OC performance even furtherÖMore Power!
Custom 4850 board design
While weíve been reviewing their cards for a few months now, many of you still arenít very familiar with who Palit Multimedia is. The company is actually a very large player worldwide, with their cards being sold under the Gainward brand in Europe, and XpertVision in Asia. The Palit brand is targeted towards the North American market, with the company focusing on delivering high quality innovative designs that stand out from other manufacturers in the marketplace. For Palit, the reference board design isnít good enough, they know that in order to gain share they have to deliver cards that are as unique as possible. Palit manufactures cards based on GPUs from AMD and NVIDIA.
So what has Palit done to separate their Sonic 4850 card from ATIís reference board? Quite a bit.
Once again Palit has come up with their own custom board design that offers many features you wonít find on the stock ATI reference board. Physically Palitís 4850 Sonic board is 1/2" shorter than the ATI design, measuring 9Ē in length instead of ATIís 9.5Ē. This makes the card an easier fit in tight cases.
The biggest change though is the boardís power circuitry. Palit has beefed up the boardís power subsystem with a 3-phase power design instead of ATIís reference board which is just 2-phase:
Unlike ATI, Palit chooses not to provide cooling for their power subsystem. Fortunately this didnít seem to have a negative effect on board temps, as our card still ran considerably cooler than the ATI reference board design. With the additional power phase, less stress is put on the power subsystem, so the system as a whole is able to run cooler. This in turn also helps to improve the cardís longevity, and OCíing ability.
To further improve OCíing, Palit equips the board with an 8-pin PCIe 2.0 power connector instead of the 6-pin PCIe connector used on stock Radeon 4850 cards.
The 8-pin connector is able to deliver two times the power to the graphics card, 150W versus 75W. As any experienced OCíer will tell you, often times you need more juice (power) to get a stable OC. When overclocking the CPU, many enthusiasts will increase the voltage by 10% or more. By integrating an 8-pin power connector instead of a 6-pin connector, Palit is seriously upping the amount of juice that the card draws.
In theory this should allow the card to scale further when OCíing (weíll put this theory to the test in the OCíing portion of the article). In fact, Catalyst Control Center actually provides higher speeds for OCíing the Palit Sonic card than standard Radeon 4850 boards. Whereas a standard Radeon 4850 card is limited to just 700MHz in Catalyst Control Center, once you plug in Palitís Sonic 4850, the slider maxes out 35MHz higher, speeds up to 735MHz are automatically available. Palit clocks the board 60MHz higher than stock, running at 685MHz on the graphics core instead of the Radeon 4850ís 625MHz.
Just in case you were wondering, the 8-pin connector isnít an option either. Itís required in order for the board to operate. Fortunately if you donít own a PCIe 2.0 compliant power supply, Palit does include an 8-pin adapter inside the box, so end users shouldnít have a problem getting the card to operate.
The final addition Palit has integrated into the 4850 Sonic is custom cooling. Palit cools the card with a dual-slot heatsink/fan unit that also features dual copper heat pipes. The heat pipes cool the GPU, while the heatsink keeps the heat pipes cool. Weíll test out the effectiveness of this cooler a little later in this review.
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850
EVGA nForce 790i Ultra SLI motherboard (for GeForce cards)
ASUS P5E3 Premium WiFi AP Edition (for Radeon cards)
4GB OCZ DDR3 @ 1333MHz
GeForce 9800 GTX+
GeForce 9800 GTX
GeForce 9600 GT
GeForce 8800 GT
Palit GeForce 9800 GT Sonic
AMD Radeon HD 4850
Sapphire Toxic HD 4850
Palit Radeon 4850 Sonic
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Company of Heroes 1.71
Crysis High Ė Direct3D
Factory Overclocking: Like all Sonic Edition boards, Palit overclocks their 4850 Sonic for improved performance in comparison to ATIís stock Radeon 4850 specifications.
The graphics core on the Sonic 4850 runs at 685MHz, this speed is 60MHz higher than stock. Meanwhile Palit elects to stick with the stock ATI reference specifications for the boardís GDDR3 memory, which operates at 1.0GHz (2.0GHz effective).
As a result of the overclock, Palitís 4850 Sonic ran 4-8% faster than the stock Radeon 4850 in our performance testing.
Custom Coooling: Palit outfits their 4850 Sonic with a custom cooling solution featuring dual copper heat pipes and a large dual-slot aluminum heatsink/fan unit. In testing, the card ran 9 degrees cooler at load than ATIís stock 4850, and ran quietly as well.
3-Phase Power: Unlike the 2-phase power design used on ATIís reference board, Palit equips their 4850 Sonic with more powerful 3-phase power circuitry. With three power phases instead of two Palit is able to supply the RV770 GPU with a steadier flow of power, even under the most extreme circumstances. In theory this should also increase the longevity of the board.
Besides the 3-phase power, Palit also equips their 4850 Sonic with an 8-pin PCIe 2.0 power connector thatís capable of delivering up to 150W of power to the graphics board. The stock ATI design calls for a 6-pin PCIe connector, which maxes out at just 75W.
The additional power allows end users to OC the board further than conventional Radeon 4850 cards. If youíve followed our previous Radeon 4850 reviews youíll notice one recurring theme: the boards tend to max out around 680-690MHz when OCíing.
In contrast, our Palit 4850 Sonic sample was able to hit 725MHz without any problems!
Price: Despite the custom board design and cooling, Palit prices their 4850 Sonic very competitively in comparison to the rest of the market. Right now the card sells for $169.99 after $20 mail-in rebate. This price is $30 less than the Sapphire Toxic we reviewed last month, and $20 less than the HIS 4850 ICEQ 4 Turbo.
Not quite as cool as other 4850 cards: We noted a temp improvement of eight degrees Celsius at idle over the stock Radeon 4850 reference design cooler and nine degrees cooler at load. While this is certainly good to see, other cards with custom coolers weíve tested have delivered more significant temperature reductions than the Palit cooler.