AMD has shaken things up lately in the world of video cards with the launching of its next generation GPU, the ATI Radeon HD 5800 series. These next gen video cards support the latest DirectX 11 API and expand upon the previous generation’s architecture by upping the ante in gaming performance. Making no excuses that this generation was geared to play games well, AMD has delivered the best performance we have seen yet in a video card series.
On the flip side of this, many hardware enthusiasts are asking, where is NVIDIA? The fact is that NVIDIA has no products to immediately answer AMD’s 5800 series and it is our understanding that it will be late February at the earliest before we actually see a next-gen GPU show up from NVIDIA in the retail channel.
The New 5800 Product Stack
At the top of the stack, at least until we see the HD 5870 X2, is the ATI Radeon HD 5870. As we evaluated, this video card delivers the best performance in its price range currently. It allowed us to run at very high graphical quality settings in all our games and supplied a fully enjoyable gaming experience. Not only can it game well, but it can also push three displays in an Eyefinity display group quite well allowing for very high resolution gaming while dramatically improving gameplay immersion.
The ATI Radeon HD 5870 is AMD’s highest-end video card at the moment, and the current retail price has settled at $379 on Newegg as of typing this. AMD knows it needs to cater to other market segments and so it has launched the ATI Radeon HD 5850 coming in at a mere $259. We would suggest that $259 is “Not so serious,” given the performance and gaming value contained.
ATI Radeon HD 5850 Specifications
The Radeon HD 5850 GPU is based on the same ASIC as the ATI Radeon HD 5870. All AMD has done is to disable some streaming processor units and texture units. However, most uniquely, the Radeon HD 5850 retains the same 32 ROPs found in the ATI Radeon HD 5870. This means it should be a powerhouse in antialiasing and post processing performance for the price.
There are 1,440 streaming processor units in the Radeon HD 5850. This is down from the 1600 streaming processor units in the Radeon HD 5870. That is only a difference of 160 streaming processor units. The texture units have been reduced to 72 versus 80 in the Radeon HD 5870. Uniquely the ROP count stays the same between both the 5870 and 5850 models at 32 each. The clock speed operates at 725MHz versus 850MHz on the Radeon HD 5870. You will also notice that both GPUs have the exact same number of transistors.
The Radeon HD 5850 uses the same 256-bit bus and GDDR5 memory as the Radeon HD 5870, but runs the 5850’s clocks in at 4GHz. This means it has a memory bandwidth of 128GB/sec versus 153GB/sec. Obviously though, different manufacturers can use different memory models on retail cards, so don’t expect 5GHz spec memory on every card. AMD has maintained the 1GB framebuffer on the Radeon HD 5850! This should help at high resolutions with AA and with two cards with CrossFireX enabled.
The Radeon HD 5850 pulls in maximum board power wattage of 151W, versus 188W on the Radeon HD 5870. The idle power is still the same between the two at 27W with one display at 27W. Remember however that idle wattage is doubled when you have two or more displays supported by your single card.
CrossFireX is fully supported, and today we have two HD 5850 cards with CrossFireX enabled to evaluate. There have been no major changes to CrossFireX; it works just like it does on the previous generation, with the preferred method of rendering being Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR.) We are told that only one CrossFireX bridge connector is required atop the video card with this new series, however you can still install two if you wish. There might be some situations at high resolution with AA that two bridge connectors will provide a more stable experience in games. We will talk about this in the conclusion.
ATI Radeon HD 5850 CrossFireX in Pictures
The very first thing you will notice is that the ATI Radeon HD 5850 is thankfully shorter than the Radeon HD 5870. It is still double-slot, but it shouldn’t cause case clearance issues as it just came to the edge of our full size ATX motherboard. Length measures in at 9.5 inches right to the red “vents” sticking out. Length on the Radeon HD 5870 came to 10.75″, so it is a big improvement in that area.
Other than that, the biggest change is that the power connectors are now at the very end of the card, right in one of the red vents. In the other vent is some circuitry and the fan header. Some people prefer the power connectors to be atop the video card, as it allows them room right in front of the cards. In this case however since the video cards are shorter, that should give most a little more wiggle room in that area to plug these in. We think however this is the one design mistake we can point out.
Like a lot of CrossFireX setups, sometimes motherboards require you plug the video cards in right next to each other. In this situation the video card at the top has very little breathing room to intake air. Unfortunately the “Batman” vents on the HD 5850 do not allow air to be pulled in, since one has the power connectors occupying it, and the other is obstructed by circuitry. AMD admitted that the vents were there for looks alone. Therefore, that one card at the top may be starved for air in some situations. We highly recommend side panel case cooling in such a situation as ours shown above. Thankfully we operate out of a case, but inside a case we can see this getting very hot.
The display configuration that exists remains the same as the Radeon HD 5870. There are two Dual Link DVI ports, one HDMI, and one Display Port per video card. Each Radeon HD 5850 supports 3x 2560×1600 (3 displays.) Remember, Eyefinity currently does not support CrossFireX, therefore you will see no benefit with CrossFireX and multi-display at this time. That support is however forthcoming.
System Test Setup
While it might be a bit “overkill,” we use the i7 920 at 3.6GHz processor in an attempt to keep from putting our evaluation into a position of being CPU limited. Obviously, we make every effort to not use CPU limited games for video card evaluations, but the i7 920 at 3.6GHz seems to put many peoples’ minds at ease when it comes to that subject.
We have chosen to include the GTX 285 and Radeon HD 5870 as comparison video cards. We are using latest drivers, including 8.66 RC6 as provided by AMD.
A newer version of GPUz was provided by AMD that reveals specifications; you can see that CrossFireX is enabled with two GPUs.
One interesting thing to note, with CrossFireX enabled you have the option to force on 16X MSAA in games that support it. While we did not have time in this evaluation to explore this feature, we will in later evaluations.
We evaluate what each video card configuration can supply us in terms of a playable gaming experience while supplying the best culmination of resolution and “eye candy” graphical settings. We focus on quality and immersion of the gameplay experience rather than how many frames per second the card can get in a canned benchmark or prerecorded timedemo situation that often do not represent real gameplay like you would experience at home. Then we will follow with apples-to-apples testing in with minimum, maximum, and average framerates.
We are using the full Steam version of Arma II with latest patches. For our testing procedure, we are playing the first five minutes of the single-player scenario entitled “Counterattack,” in which Russian forces are tasked with retaking control of a city from rebel forces. We begin our FRAPS recording immediately following that ejection, while we work our way into the outskirts and eventually into the heart of the city.
Highest Playable Settings
Note: The order of video cards in our table ranges from most expensive video card configuration to lowest cost video card configuration. I.E. the HD 5850 CrossFireX is the most expensive setup, and the single HD 5850 is the least expensive setup being compared here. This way you can see which card at what end of the price scale provides the best value in comparison. For example, in this game, the HD 5850 provides a better experience than the GTX 285, yet is less expensive than the GTX 285.
In our launch evaluation of the ATI Radeon HD 5870 we found that it provided the highest gameplay experience we have seen yet in Arma II. Similarly, the ATI Radeon HD 5870 also offered the best gameplay experience in its single GPU class.
We were able to play Arma II at 1920×1200 with “Low” AA and visibility at 1200 and everything else at “Very High” settings. The ATI Radeon HD 5850 is less expensive than the GeForce GTX 285, and the Radeon HD 5850 delivered the better experience. The GeForce GTX 285 was playable at 1920×1200 but with No AA and visibility down to 1000 and terrain/objects and shadow detail at “Normal.” The difference in the gameplay experience was extremely noticeable.
As we would have expected the ATI Radeon HD 5870 was faster than the ATI Radeon HD 5850, however the in-game differences aren’t massive. The ATI Radeon HD 5870 allowed us to go up one more notch in AA levels to “Normal” AA and increase visibility to 1600. Those are the only differences in Arma II between the Radeon HD 5850 and Radeon HD 5870. The difference between those two video cards is a lot less than the difference in gameplay compared to the GTX 285.
In the past, we have seen that multi-GPU video cards do not scale well in Arma II, apparently we just didn’t have the right cards for the job! We found that there was better scaling with the new ATI Radeon HD 5850 CrossFireX than we have seen with other cards in this game. The best scaling came, at no surprise, at 2560×1600. At this resolution we were able to push CrossFireX farther than at lower resolutions! At 2560×1600 this game was playable at “Low” AA with visibility at 1200 and terrain/objects and shadows at “High.”
You simply have to up the resolution in this game to receive the best scaling, because at 1920×1200 we did not see much of a difference with HD 5850 CrossFireX. We were able to up the AA level and visibility at 1920×1200, but that was it. We received a much smoother performance actually at 2560×1600. Very interesting. There are still a lot of things going on with this game that are odd to say the least.
One thing to also note in this table and graph are the minimum framerates. The new AMD ATI video cards are pulling in the highest minimum framerates, compared to the GTX 285 and Radeon HD 4890. This is very important for gaming, and it shows the new AMD ATI Radeon HD 5800 series provides a smoother and more consistent gameplay experience, especially with CrossFireX.
In our testing we always check out gameplay at other resolutions. In this case, the Radeon HD 5850 single video card was playable at 1680×1050 with visibility at 1600, Antialiasing on “Normal” and everything else on “Very High.” This provided a very rich and detailed gameplay experience in Arma II. This is close to as good as you can get in this game, other than maxing out the visibility slider, which is impossible on any video card right now.
Alternatively, you could play at 2560×1600 on the Radeon HD 5850, but you’d have to lower visibility to around 1000 and turn terrain/objects and shadows to “Normal” with No AA.
Apples to Apples
In our apples-to-apples testing we have setup two graphs for you to compare with, to make things easier to read.
We are testing at 2560×1600 with “Low” AA and “VeryHigh” AF with visibility at 1200, terrain, object and shadows at “High.”
HD 5850, 5850 CrossFireX vs. HD 5870
In this graph we can see that ATI Radeon HD 5850 just barely trails the Radeon HD 5870. With ATI Radeon HD 5850 CrossFireX we do see a performance advantage, but it isn’t as big as other games.
HD 5850, 5850 CrossFireX vs. GTX 2850
In comparison to the GeForce GTX 285 a single Radeon HD 5850 is much faster in this game, no doubt about it.