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AMD ATI Radeon HD 5870: Unquestionably Number One
Date: Sep 23, 2009
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Intro, Specifications and Related Info

Over the past couple of weeks, we've been completely preoccupied trying to come up with a catchy and informative introduction for this article. We thought maybe it would be fun to play off of AMD's tree-laden GPU codenames to come up with an interesting segue into the Radeon HD 5800 series' power efficiency. But we came up short. Then we thought we could use an image of the Radeon HD 5870's cooler and draw a parallel to the awesomeness that was the original Bat Mobile, but a couple of folks from AMD snagged that idea. Even being briefed on the technology we're about to show you on the very same aircraft carrier that scooped up the Apollo 11 astronauts didn't cure the writer's block.

Then it hit us. Why bother? PC Enthusiasts are always chomping at the bit trying to glean even the slightest bit of information about cutting edge GPU technology. And that's exactly what we've got in store for you right here.

We've got a sneaking suspicion that telling you all about the first DirectX 11 compatible GPU, that's crammed with over 2 billion transistors, produced using an advanced 40nm process, would get you all worked up into the kind of frenzy that a no pithy intro could. So, feast your eyes on the Radeon HD 5870, check out the specs and features below, and read on for full scoop on AMD's latest flagship GPU. Just don't get too worked up, too quickly. We want you to make it all the way to the end without passing out...

AMD Radeon HD 5870 DirectX 11 Graphics Card

AMD ATI Radeon HD 5870
Specifications and Features

2.15 billion 40nm transistors

TeraScale 2 Unified Processing Architecture
  • 1600 Stream Processing Units
  • 80 Texture Units
  • 128 Z/Stencil ROP Units
  • 32 Color ROP Units
GDDR5 Memory Interface

Up To 153.6GB/sec of memory bandwidth

PCI Express 2.1 x16 bus interface

DirectX 11 support
  • Shader Model 5.0
  • DirectCompute 11
  • Programmable hardware tessellation unit
  • Accelerated multi-threading
  • HDR texture compression
  • Order-independent transparency
OpenGL 3.2 support

Image quality enhancement technology
  • Up to 24x multi-sample anti-aliasing
  • Super-sample anti-aliasing modes
  • Adaptive anti-aliasing
  • 16x angle independent anisotropic texture filtering
  • 128-bit floating point HDR rendering
ATI Eyefinity
  • Advanced multi-display technology
  • Three independent display controllers
    • Drive three displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls, and video overlays
  • Display grouping
    • Combine multiple displays to behave like a single large display

ATI Stream acceleration technology

  • OpenCL 1.0 compliant
  • DirectCompute 11
  • Double precision floating point processing support
  • Accelerated video encoding, transcoding, and upscaling
    • Native support for common video encoding instructions

ATI CrossFireX multi-GPU technology

  • Dual, triple, and quad GPU scaling
  • Dual-channel bridge interconnect


ATI Avivo HD Video & Display technology

  • UVD 2 dedicated video playback accelerator
  • Advanced post-processing and scaling
  • Dynamic contrast enhancement and color correction
  • Brighter whites processing (blue stretch)
  • Independent video gamma control
  • Dynamic video range control
  • Support for H.264, VC-1, and MPEG-2
  • Dual-stream 1080p playback support
  • DXVA 1.0 & 2.0 support
  • Integrated dual-link DVI output with HDCP
    • Max resolution: 2560x1600
  • Integrated DisplayPort output
    • Max resolution: 2560x1600
  • Integrated HDMI 1.3 output with Deep Color, xvYCC wide gamut support, and high bit-rate audio
  • Max resolution: 1920x1200
  • Integrated VGA output
  • Max resolution: 2048x1536
  • 3D stereoscopic display/glasses support
  • Integrated HD audio controller
  • Output protected high bit rate 7.1 channel surround sound over HDMI with no additional cables required
  • Supports AC-3, AAC, Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio formats

ATI PowerPlay power management technology

  • Dynamic power management with low power idle state
  • Ultra-low power state support for multi-GPU configurations

Certified drivers for Windows 7, Vista, and XP

Speeds & Feeds

  • Engine clock speed: 850 MHz
  • Processing power (single precision): 2.72 TeraFLOPS
  • Processing power (double precision): 544 GigaFLOPS
  • Polygon throughput: 850M polygons/sec
  • Data fetch rate (32-bit): 272 billion fetches/sec
  • Texel fill rate (bilinear filtered): 68 Gigatexels/sec
  • Pixel fill rate: 27.2 Gigapixels/sec
  • Anti-aliased pixel fill rate: 108.8 Gigasamples/sec
  • Memory clock speed: 1.2 GHz
  • Memory data rate: 4.8 Gbps
  • Memory bandwidth: 153.6 GB/sec
  • Maximum board power: 188 Watts
  • Idle board power: 27 Watts


Radeon HD 5800 Series Design Goals...

A few of the design goals AMD / ATI set when the Radeon HD 5870 was still in the design phase are outlined on the slides above. Of course, a lot of groundwork had to be laid over the years before the company could produce such a product. As the above list of specifications and features show, the new Radeon HD 5870 is quite advanced in comparison to other current GPU products. But the chip does leverage technologies already implemented in previously released GPUs--it's not all new.  As such, we'd recommend perusing some recent HotHardware articles to brush up on a few of the technologies and features employed by the new Radeon HD 5870...

The articles listed above cover many of the features available with the Radeon HD 5870, like CrossFire, the UVD 2 video engine, Catalyst Control Center, PowerPlay, GDDR5 memory, and more. There are, however, a lot of brand new things being introduced with the Radeon 5800 series that we plan to cover on the pages ahead. So strap in as we take the most advanced GPU released to date for a spin through the the labs--we promise you won't be disappointed.

The RV870 GPU and Radeon HD 5870

The GPU at the heart of the Radeon HD 5800 series has literally double the amount of processing power of the previous generation--up to 2.72 TeraFLOPS to be precise. As such, AMD has dubbed it their TeraScale2 GPU Architecture...

The GPU features 20 SIMD engines, each with 16 thread processors, that each have 5 stream cores, for a grand total of 1600. If you recall, the Radeon HD 4890 has a total of 800 processing cores. The Radeon HD 5800 series GPU also sports 80 texture units--4 per SIMD engine--and a GDDR memory interface that offers approximately 150+ GB/sec of peak bandwidth.

With a core clock speed of 850MHz, the Radeon HD 5800 series GPU offers 2.72 TeraFLOPS of single-precision processing power, or 544 GigaFLOPS double-precision. Its Texel fill rate (bilinear filtered) is 68 Gigatexels/sec, and its pixel fill rate is 27.2 Gigapixels/sec.

As the comparison chart above shows, the Radeon HD 5870 offers essentially double the performance of the Radeon HD 4870 in a number of key categories. But in addition to the increased processing resources and performance, the Radeon HD 5800 series GPU also offers many more features, like full DirectX 11 support, ATI Eyefinity, and updated video engine, and more.



Radeon HD 5870 Reference Design

The Radeon HD 5870 card itself is 10.5" long and features a black fan shroud that encases the entire PCB. The card's cooler has a barrel fan that draws air into the shroud, where it is forced through the heatsink and partially exhausted from the system through vents in the card's mounting plate. Two more small vent at the back of the card also direct some air to be vented within the system. Overall, the cooling solution is much like the one used on the Radeon HD 4890--we cover more details on the power consumption page towards the end of the article.

The Radeon HD 5870 sports a GPU clock of 850MHz with a memory clock speed of 1.2 GHz (4.8Gbps effective)--that equates to roughly 153.6GB/sec of peak memory bandwidth. According to AMD, maximum board power is 188 Watts, up slightly from the previous generation, but idle board power is down to an impressive 27 Watts. The low idle power comes by way of aggressive clock gating and voltage reductions when the card is not under a significant workload. And as you can see, two 6-pin PCIe power connectors are required.

The outputs on the Radeon HD 5870 consist of dual, dual-link DVI output, and HDMI output (with audio) and a DisplayPort output. A future version of the card will feature 6 DisplayPort outputs--more on that on the Eyefinity page.

ATI Radeon HD 5850--Coming Soon

AMD is also announcing the Radeon HD 5850, which is very similar to the 5870 save for a smaller PCB, lower clocks, and fewer stream processing units (1440). We hope to take a look at Radeon HD 5850 in the not too distant future, and will of course fill you in on the pertinent details as soon as possible.

DirectX 11 Features Explored

There are a multitude of new features and capabilities being ushered in by DirectX 11, but there are a certain few that have significant importance as they relate to the new Radeon HD 5800 series. Tessellation and multi-threading support, and DirectCompute 11, Shader Model 5, and Texture Compression in particular...

Tessellation is something we have written about in the past. In fact, Tessellation has been available in Radeon GPU's dating back to the R600 GPU found on the Radeon HD 2900 XT.

Tessellation Off

Tessellation On

Tessellation works by taking a basic polygon mesh and recursively applying a subdivision rule to create a more complex mesh on the fly. It's best used for amplification of animation data, morph targets, or deformation models. And it gives developers the ability to provide data to the GPU at a coarser resolution. This saves artists the time it would normally take to create more complex polygonal meshes and reduces the data's memory footprint. The Tessellation support built into the Radeon HD 5800 series, however, is different than what was offered in previous Radeon GPUs, and now programmable via two newDX11 features dubbed domain and hull shaders.

The images above give an example of how Tessellation works. As the images show, the simpler polygon meshes are increasingly subdivided, which in turn increases the level of detail. While Tessellation is not a new technology, the implementation in the Radeon HD 5800 series is, and now that it is part of the DirectX specifications and not a proprietary mechanism, we expect it to be more widely supported in the future.

We also reference multi-threading above. With DirectX 11's multi-threading capabilities applications--i.e. games, the DirectX runtime, and DirectX drivers can each run in separate threads to potentially increase performance. Tasks like loading a texture or compiling a shader, for example, can execute in parallel with the main rendering thread.

In addition to multi-threading support, DX11's DirectCompute 11 capabilities will also enable heterogeneous computing, that leverages the power of the CPU and GPU in tandem. So what, you say. That' s been happening with NVIDIA's CUDA and ATI's Stream for quite a while. The difference is, DirectCompute 11 is part of a cross platform, industry standard, so developers won't have to use proprietary tools or program for only a particular GPU type.

Order Independent Transparency

A couple of other interesting featured offered by the Radeon HD 5800 series are Order Independent Transparency and High-Definition Ambient Occlusion.

Order Independent Transparency, or OIT, enhances the quality of images rendered with overlapping transparent objects. Rendering transparent objects correctly requires sorting and blending is an order dependent operation. DirectCompute 11 enables OIT by making it possible to sort transparent pixels in one pass through the shaders. The image above gives an example of how OIT can enhance an image. Without it, parts of the robot appear to be floating inside its body, but with OIT, each parts appears to be in the correct position.

HD Ambient Occlusion

High-Definition Ambient Occlusion is a means to render more realistic shadows on objects. Objects that are in the path of a light source will cast shadows, which affects the lighting of other objects in the scene. HDAO improves the quality of the cast shadows by accounting for the dimming caused by objects that block out ambient light. The effect of HDAO is subtle, but does enhance the realism of a scene. The image above is of an AMD-created demo of HDAO in action. The left portion of the image is the HDAO buffer, which shows the parts of the scene being affected by ambient lighting that blocked by parts of the model.

There are dozens of other features offered by DirectX and DirectCompute 11 and the Radeon HD 5800 series by extension, that we won't be covering here. Above is a list of just few of them and how they differ from their DX10 counterparts.

ATI Eyefinity Multi-Display Technology

One of the more exciting new features of the Radeon HD 5800 series, ATI Eyefinity, is something we were able to tell you about a couple of weeks ago, but we'll go over it again here. ATI Eyefinity technology, in essence, allows for multiple monitors to be used as a singlem large display. As it stands today, for the most part, when multiple monitors are connected to a single PC, those monitors are recognized as independent displays and can be configured for desktop spanning or mirroring, etc. With ATI Eyefinity, however, the displays are arranged in a single group (or in multiple groups) and they are treated as a single display by the OS. The technology was made possible in part by DisplayPort which does not require individual clock signals for each connected display and by a new Output Crossbar implemented within the GPU that allows for data to be sent from the display pipeline out to the necessary display, regardless of where it is connected on the card.

AMD Eyefinity Multi-Display Technology In Action

Eyefinity is enabled through a combination of hardware and software being developed by AMD. On the hardware front, AMD's upcoming Radeons will sport between 3 and 6 display outputs of various types, DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, etc. And those outputs will be managed by software currently dubbed SLS, or Single Large Surface. Using the SLS tool, users are able to configure a group of monitors to work with Eyefinity and essentially act as a single, large display.

11,520 x 4,800 - 55.3 megapixels, From Four Cards

During our experiences with Eyefinity, we have been impressed. The technology allows for some exciting possibilities. For example, six, 30" Dell 3008WFP panels can be grouped as a single display, in a 3 x 2 arrangement, with a resolution of 7680 x 3200--that's about 24.6 megapixels if you do the math.  And a single Radoen HD 5800 series card is all that is necessary to power the displays. In such a configuration, the Windows desktop functioned as one monolithic surface, with all of that expansive resolution available to the user. What was more impressive than that though, was gaming on the six screens. We played an upcoming DX11 racing game, Dirt 2, at a resolution 7680 x 3200 with perfectly acceptable frame rates--a hint at the power of the Radeon HD 5800 series. We also spent some time gaming across three 30" displays in a 3 x 1 configuration with Left 4 Dead and have to say it absolutely changes the experience for the better.

Upcoming Samsung Thin-Bezel Displays

Currently, Eyefinity will support single-GPU configurations for gaming, but we're told CrossFire support will be coming at some point in the future as well.  Please note, the technology will require that at least one of the displays be equipped with a DisplayPort connection.

We've also been informed that AMD has partnered with some display makers, like Samsung for example, that will be introducing new displays with ultra-thin bezels, designed with Eyefinity in mind. Samsung's thin-bezel displays are pictured above.


UVD Updates, Image Quality Analysis


The Radeon HD 5800 series is also outfitted with an enhanced version of the ATI UVD 2 video engine. Although the vast majority of the features of the UVD 2 engine remain unchanged from the Radeon HD 4800 series, AMD's latest flagship does have some new capabilities...



The slides above detail the new features available with the Radeon HD 5800 series' updated UV2 engine. The Radeon HD 5800 series offers 2.0 hardware accelerates decoding of dual 1080p HD video streams, independent video gamma controls, Blue-Stretch processing for effectively brighter whites in video, and dynamic video range support. The Radeon HD 5800 series also has some new capabilities related to its HDMI output. Cards now support Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio playback, with full support for AC-3 and DTS surround sound output with up to 8 channels of 192kHz / 24-bit audio.

The Radeon HD 5800 series has also been treated to new texture filtering algorithms that removes the angle dependence of previous generations and features a new LOD management scheme that is supposed to offer higher quality. In addition, the Radeon HD 5800 series also offers new Super Sampling AA modes.

Although time did not permit us to do an in-depth analysis of the Radeon HD 5800 series image quality, we have been using a Radeon HD 5870 for a couple of weeks and can safely say in-game image quality is excellent.

Radeon HD 5870

Radeon HD 4890

GeForce GTX 295

To demonstrate, we captured a few images with a Radeon HD 5870, a Radeon HD 4890, and a GeForce GTX 295. The images above were captured in Left 4 Dead's Blood Harvest map, at precisely the same perspective. The full resolution scenes are available above, with minimal JPG compression.

Radeon HD 5870
4X AA, 200% Zoom

Radeon HD 4890
4X AA, 200% Zoom

GeForce GTX 295
4X AA, 200% Zoom

We also zoomed into a couple of areas to highlight anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering quality. Here are what the trees in the upper-right corner of the scene look like when magnified 200%. With 4x multi-sampling anti-aliasing enabled on all three cards, output is very similar. We of the opinion that the Radeon HD 5870 produces a somewhat softer image, that lacks some of the sharpness of the 4890 or GTX 295. Whether or not that is better is up to interpretation.

Radeon HD 5870
16X Aniso, 200% Zoom

Radeon HD 4890
16X Aniso, 200% Zoom

GeForce GTX 295
16X Aniso, 200% Zoom

Here we have some magnified images of the ground at approximately the center of the screen. Inspecting the zoomed images reveals almost no differences in the image quality between the three cards, save for some harder edges on the shrub in the Radeon HD 4890 shot.

There are a multitude of other anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering settings and combination that could be compared and contrasted between the different cards featured here, but ultimately some of the differences are so subtle they can hardly be seen without enlarged, stills of a scene. From what we've seen so far, the Radeon HD 5870 offers excellent image quality, but the previous generation from AMD and NVIDIA do a good job too.

Test Setup and 3DMark Vantage

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: We tested the graphics cards in this article on an Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD6 motherboard powered by a Core i7 965 quad-core processor and 6GB of OCZ DDR3 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS and installed the latest hotfixes, along with the necessary drivers and applications.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Core i7 965 (3.2GHz)

Gigabyte EX58-UD6
(X58 Express Chipset)

Radeon HD 5870
Radeon HD 4890
Radeon HD 4870 X2
GeForce GTX 285
GeForce GTX 295

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333 C7
(3 X 2GB)

Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Western Digital "Raptor" 150GB
(10,000RPM - SATA)

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
ATI Catalyst v9.10b
NVIDIA GeForce Drive v191.00

Benchmarks Used:

3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
FarCry 2
Left 4 Dead*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5*

* - Custom benchmark

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark Vantage

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which y isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

The new Radeon HD 5870 put up a strong performance in 3DMark Vantage. AMD's new flagship graphics card smoked all of the single-GPU based cards and even outpaced the dual-GPU powered Radeon HD 4870 X2. The GeForce GTX 295, however, was able to pull ahead by a sizable margin, thanks in part to NVIDIA's PhysX technology, which is used by this benchmark.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance

Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on a radically enhanced version of id's Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many smaller textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.


Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, the only OpenGL-based game in our test suite, proved to be somewhat of a showcase for the Radeon HD 5870. Here, AMD's latest and greatest outperforms every other card we tested, regardless of resolution, and regardless of whether or not the cards were powered by one or two GPUs. The performance deltas versus the singe-GPU based cards are huge, but the dual-GPU powered cards hang tough. The Radeon HD 5870 is triumphant nonetheless, though.

Crysis Performance

Crysis v1.21
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player, FPS smash-hit Crysis, should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine produces some stunning visuals that are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the PC to date.  The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet.  In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is a beast of a game.  We ran the full game patched to v1.21 with all of its visual options set to 'Very High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested  A custom demo recorded on the Ice level was used throughout testing.


In our custom Crysis benchmark, the Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 285 are blown away by the Radeon HD 5870. The Radeon HD 4870 X2 fares much better, but it is still outpaced by the 5870--not bad for a single GPU. NVIDIA's current flagship, dual-GPU powered GeForce GTX 295 is able to pull ahead of AMD's new baby by about 10% at both resolutions, however.

FarCry 2

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA enabled.


Although the framerates are much higher, the results reported by the FarCry 2 benchmark somewhat mirror those of Crysis on the previous page. In this game, the Radeon HD 5870 once again decimates the single-GPU powered cards and outpaces the dual-GPU powered Radeon HD 4870 X2 at the higher resolution. The X2 finished out in front of the Radeon HD 5870 at the lower resolution, however, and the GeForce GTX 295 was fastest overall, regardless of resolution.

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead
DirectX Gaming Performance

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is a co-operative, survival horror, first-person shooter that was developed by Turtle Rock Studios, which was purchased by Valve part-way into development. Like Half Life 2, the game uses the Source engine, however, the visual in L4D are far superior to anything seen in the Half Life universe to date. The game pits four Survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic against hordes of aggressive zombies. We tested the game at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.


The Radeon HD 5870 performed very well in our custom Left 4 Dead benchmark as well. In this test, the Radeon HD 5870 was the fastest of the bunch at the lower resolution of 1920x1200, albeit by only the slightest of margins. With the resolution cranked up to 2560x1600 though, the GeForce GTX 295 was able to eke out a victory.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
DirectX Gaming Performance

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare video game that takes place during the time of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.  Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 famous aircrafts in both solo and 4-player co-op missions, and take them over real world locations and cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye.  We used the built-in performance test at two resolutions with all quality settings set to their highest values, using the DX10-based engine for the GeForce cards, and DX10.1 libraries for the Radeons.


H.A.W.X. really preferred the dual-GPU powered cards when tested at 1920x1200, as is evident by the Radeon HD 4870 X2's and GeForce GTX 295's excellent performance. Ratchet the resolution up to 2560x1600 though, and the Radeon HD 5870 bests all comers, except for the X2, that is. The other single-GPU powered cards in the mix--the Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 285--were simply left in a flat spin, but the Radeon HD 5870's jet wash. Get it? H.A.W.X., jets, jet wash?  Oh, nevermind... 

Overclocking The Radeon HD 5870

With a 2.15 billion transistor, ultra-complex 40nm GPU at the heart of the card, we were curious to see how much frequency headroom the Radeon HD 5870 had left under its virtual hood. So, for our next set of performance metrics, we spent some time overclocking the new Radeon HD 5870 using the Overdrive utility built into ATI's Catalyst drivers.

Overclocking The Radeon HD 5870
Pedal To The Metal

At this point, at least as far as our early reference sample is concerned, it looks like the Radeon HD 5870 doesn't have much frequency headroom left. Of course, that could change when AMD's board partners launch products with tweaked voltages, coolers, BIOSes, etc.

With that said, we were able to take our Radeon HD 5870 up to a stable 890MHz for its GPU and 1290MHz (1.29GHz) for its GDDR5 memory, up from its stock 850MHz and 1200MHz, respectively. With the card overclocked, we re-ran a couple of benchmarks at a resolution of 1920x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x aniso enabled and saw some modest performance gains.

We'll revisit the topic of Radeon HD 5870 overclocking when we get in some cards from third-party AIB manufacturers to see if the story changes at some point in the future.

Power Consumption and Acoustics

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely power consumption and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

After witnessing the Radeon HD 5870's excellent performance throughout the benchmark testing, we were impressed by its power consumption characteristics. AMD claimed significantly reduced power consumption while idle and only slightly higher power consumption than the previous generation while under load. Our tests proved out the idle-power claims, as the Radeon HD 5870 clearly used the least amount of power. And while under load, the Radeon HD 5870 also finished a bit lower than the 4890. We suspect that power consumption will differ a bit from card to card due to GPU yields using TSMC's 40nm process, but regardless of that possibility, better than Radeon HD 4870 X2 performance with power consumption that's about ~150 watts lower is a testament to the 5870's power efficiency.

While we're talking power, we should also talk noise for a bit. Although AMD claimed the bearings used in the Radeon HD 5870's fan would result in a lower-pitched noise than the 4890's, we couldn't hear much of a difference when the fans on each card spun up. However, despite its strong performance, the Radeon HD 5870's fan spun up far less than the 4890's, which resulted in a quieter experience overall. While idling the Radeon HD 5870 is, for all intents and purposes, inaudible. Under load, the card's fan is audible, but we would not consider it noisy by any means.

We should also point out that despite its complexity, the Radeon HD 5870 also runs relatively cool. While idling, we witnessed GPU temperatures in the mid-40'C range. While under load, that number shot up into the mid-80'C range.

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The new Radeon HD 5870 proved to be an excellent performer throughout our entire battery of tests. In comparison to other single-GPU powered cards, the Radeon HD 5870 is clearly and unquestionably the most powerful released to date. The Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 285 never really came close to competing with the Radeon HD 5870, regardless of the benchmark or game, or resolution tested.

The Radeon HD 5870 also performed very well in light of the dual-GPU powered offerings we compared it to--the Radeon HD 4870 X2 and GeForce GTX 295. More often than not, the single-GPU powered Radeon HD 5870 is faster than the Radeon HD 4870 X2, depending on the game engine and resolution; 3DMark Vantage, ET:QW and Left 4 Dead ran better on the 5870, while the cards split victories in FarCry 2, and the 4870 X2 finished out in front in H.A.W.X. and Crysis. The GeForce GTX 295, however, was a bit faster than the Radeon HD 5870 overall. The performance deltas weren't very large though, the Radeon consumed far less power, and it isn't plagued by the issues sometimes associated with multi-GPU solutions.


It has been quite a while since we've been able to evaluate a totally new GPU architecture, that also offers best-of-class performance and support for a new edition of DirectX. When Windows Vista first hit the scene, and brought with it DirectX 10, the OS and API were not very well received due to performance, compatibility, and stability issues. The situation is very different today, however, with Windows 7 garnering praise from a myriad of outlets and DirectX 11 shaping up to be a game changer (pardon the pun), with its integration of DirectCompute, a new Shader Model, and numerous other features. And AMD is poised to take advantage of the potential windfall with the first, and currently the only, GPU in town to fully support DX11, that just so happens to offer killer performance and features.

By now, we're sure you're all wondering what arguably the fastest graphics card released to date, and unquestionably the fastest single-GPU, is going to cost. Well, according to the latest information provided to us by AMD the Radeon HD 5870 will e-tail for about $379 and its sibling, the Radeon HD 5850, will be roughly $259. We are also told to expect initial quantities of Radeon HD 5870 cards to be available on store shelves today, with the Radeon HD 5850 arriving sometime next week. While we can't sit here in good conscious and say that a $380 graphics card is a bargain, we can't help but be pleased that the single most feature-rich graphics card available right now will be sold at under $400.  Although NVIDIA doesn't have an answer for the Radeon HD 5870 just yet, other than some expected price cuts on their current cards, AMD isn't introducing the 5870 at an ultra-high price point to milk enthusiasts and early adopters, which we feel is a very good thing.

We've been hearing rumblings about the Radeon HD 5800 series for quite some time. They are here now. And they are good. The Radeon HD 5870 we've evaluated here offered excellent performance that decimated any other singe GPU with top notch image quality. It also has the most extensive feature set of any other GPU, with support for ATI Eyefinity, an enhanced UVD 2 engine, and support for DirectX 11. And it is arriving at a fair price point--should street prices jibe with AMD's claimed MSRPs, of course. All things considered, we'd have to declare the arrival of the ATI Radeon HD 5800 series unequivocal success.

  • Excellent Performance
  • Good Power Consumption
  • DirectX 11 Support
  • ATI Eyefinity
  • Fastest Single-GPU To Date
  • Competitive Pricing


  • Doesn't Dominate 4870 X2 or GTX 295
  • No DX11 Games Just Yet

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