For several years now, the headline graphics card launches have been ridiculous testosterone-fuelled pixel-pumpers that have pushed the games of the day to new heights; but they've been accompanied by suitably exclusive price tags.
However, while there seem to have been more new graphics chips hitting the streets than ever before, the need for ever-improving technology appears to have diminished somewhat recently. Yes, Crysis still requires a horrendous amount of horsepower but, that aside, how many advances have there been in games over the last 12 months? Indeed, many of the games used to test today's cards were launched 12-18 months ago. So is there finally a place for a good sub-£75 graphics card, one that accurately renders the earth without costing it?
From Sapphire we have a gently enhanced version of the ATI Radeon HD 4670, fitted with the costlier option of 512MB of GDDR3 RAM. ATI's 4670 processor chip is crafted from the remnants of the RV770 architecture, the RV730. As such, it has a good deal in common with the 4800-series products, including their incredible efficiency. The Sapphire Radeon HD 4670's 512 million transistor count makes it quite small when compared to the 956 million of the Radeon HD 4870 and 4850. Combine this with a 55nm manufacturing process, and the Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 512MB is a compact and conservative design, and noise levels are pleasingly low.
Inevitably, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 512MB falls behind the next range's 4870 and 4850 cards in several areas. The 320 stream processors, for instance, are less than half of the 800 figure offered by the 4800 series. Strangely, the core and memory clock speeds are pretty competitive (even beating those of the 4850), although the appearance of a 128bit memory bus is a significant damper on overall bandwidth.
As you'd expect, then, the 4850 is a vastly superior performer to the Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 512MB. This, though, is to miss the point, since the Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 512MB's real competition is the likes of the nVidia 9600 GT and the older ATI Radeon 3850. And here, the 4670 acquits itself extremely well, comfortably beating the 3850 by 13% in Crysis testing, and by 15-18 percent in Quake Wars and Stalker. Only in Company of Heroes did the 3850 manage to finish marginally ahead. The 9600 GT also put up a losing fight, although it'll be interesting to put up the Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 512MB against one of the newly enhanced 9600 cards.