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AMD ATI Radeon HD 5850 Performance Review
Date: Sep 30, 2009
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Specifications

Exactly one week ago today, AMD unleashed the ultra powerful, DirectX 11-ready ATI Radeon HD 5870 upon the PC gaming world and staked a claim as the undisputed 3D performance leader. Having evaluated the features, performance, and image quality of AMD's latest and greatest flagship we were left thoroughly impressed, not only with the new Radeon's killer performance, but its extensive feature set, excellent image quality, power consumption, and competitive price.

In our coverage of
the official launch
of the Radeon HD 5870, we also revealed AMD's plan to release a more affordable, pared-down version of the card, with a shorter PCB, lower core and memory frequencies, also sans a few stream processors and texture units, dubbed the Radeon HD 5850. Unfortunately, cards did not arrive in time to be tested alongside the 5870. The Radeon HD 5850 did arrive in the lab a few days later, however, and we jumped right on testing it.

We've got our evaluation of the $259 Radeon HD 5850 available on the proceeding pages. First up some specs and a quick refresher, then its onto the close ups, performance, and a little overclocking...

AMD Radeon HD 5850 DirectX 11 Graphics Card

AMD ATI Radeon HD 5850
Specifications and Features

2.15 billion 40nm transistors

TeraScale 2 Unified Processing Architecture
  • 1440 Stream Processing Units
  • 72 Texture Units
  • 128 Z/Stencil ROP Units
  • 32 Color ROP Units
GDDR5 Memory Interface

Up To 128GB/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: 725 MHz
  • Processing power (single precision): 2.09 TeraFLOPS
  • Processing power (double precision): 418 GigaFLOPS
  • Polygon throughput: 725M polygons/sec
  • Data fetch rate (32-bit): 209 billion fetches/sec
  • Texel fill rate (bilinear filtered): 52.2 Gigatexels/sec
  • Pixel fill rate: 23.2 Gigapixels/sec
  • Anti-aliased pixel fill rate: 92.8 Gigasamples/sec
  • Memory clock speed: 1 GHz
  • Memory data rate: 4 Gbps
  • Memory bandwidth: 128 GB/sec
  • Maximum board power: 151 Watts
  • Idle board power: 27 Watts


Radeon HD 5850 Feature Summary

The Radeon HD 5850 shares the exact same features as the more powerful Radeon HD 5870. In fact, the GPU powering the card is essentially the same chip with a few functional blocks disabled. Radeon HD 5850 cards are still DirectX 11-ready, support ATI Eyefinity multi-display technology, offer the same UVD updates, and new anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering modes.

Where the two cards differ are in their allotment of stream processors--the Radeon HD 5850 has 1440 versus 1600 on the 5870. The Radeon HD 5850 also has fewer texture units, a shorter PCB, and a lower clocked GPU and memory. The changes made to the 5850 result in a much lower-power, more affordable product. How much performance has changed remains to be seen, so let's get a move on, shall we?

The Radeon HD 5850


The new ATI Radeon HD 5850 is a significant step up from the Radeon HD 4870 which launched last year, but not quite as powerful as AMD's current flagship Radeon HD 5870. The chart below illustrates exactly how the cards compare in a number of key categories.

Radeon HD 4870, Radeon HD 5850, and Radeon HD 5870 Comparison 

As you can see, the Radeon HD 5850 is outfitted with the same 2.15B transistor GPU manufactured at 40nm as the Radeon HD 5870, but the GPU is clocked at only 725MHz, and is outfitted with 1440 stream processors, which results in 2.09TeraFLOPS of compute performance versus the 5870's 2.72TeraFLOPS. The Radeon HD 5850 also sports eight fewer texture units than the 5870, but the same number of ROPs. Finally, the 5850's memory clock is reduced to 1000MHz (4Gbps data rate), which results in 128GB/s of peak bandwidth.

The aggregate effect of all of the changes made to the Radeon HD 5850 result in a graphics card with a 52.2GTexels/s texture fillrate (23.2Gpixels/s), that's still capable of breaking the 2TeraFLOP mark in terms of compute performance. The changes made to the Radeon HD 5850 result in lower power consumption too, as is evident by the card's 151W max board power, which is actually 9 watts lower than the previous generation Radeon HD 4870.

From the front, the Radeon HD 5850 looks very much like the Radeon HD 5870 that launched last week.  Although, as we have already pointed out, the Radeon HD 5850 has a shorter PCB; 9" to be exact. Both cards are equipped with a black fan shroud, with a red stripe running down the middle, that encases the entire front side of the card. Like the 5870, the 5850'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 vents at the back of the card also direct some air that is vented within the system.

The outputs on the Radeon HD 5850 consist of dual, dual-link DVI outputs, an HDMI output (with audio) and a DisplayPort output. Any combination of three of these ports can be used, and of course the card fully supports the ATI Eyefinity multi-display technology.

Unlike the Radeon HD 5870 though, the backside of the Radeon HD 5850 is exposed. Other than the myriad of surface mounted components, however, there isn't much to see. The GPU heatsink retention bracket is visible right about in the center the PCB, with the card's dual CrossFire edge connectors a couple of inches away at the top corner, just like every other Radeon since the X1950.

As we've mentioned, total board power is rated at 151 watts.  As such, the Radeon HD 5850 requires a pair of 6-pin PCI Express power connectors--no 8-pin connection is required, like some other higher-powered boards.

Test Setup and 3DMark Vantage

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: We tested the graphics cards in this article on an Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 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-UD5 (X58 Express)

Radeon HD 5850
Radeon HD 5870
Radeon HD 4890
Radeon HD 4870 X2
GeForce GTX 285
GeForce GTX 295

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333

Western Digital Raptor 150GB

Integrated Audio

Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
ATI Catalyst v9.10b
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers 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.

As the 3DMark Vantage results show, the closest competitor to the Radeon HD 5850 in terms of performance is the GeForce GTX 285. NVIDIA's current high-end single-GPU based card performs somewhat better than the Radeon HD 5850 here, but keep in mind the GeForce's numbers are enhanced by its support for PhysX, which is used in some of the Vantage tests.

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.



The GeForce GTX 285 edged out the Radeon HD 5850 in the 3DMark Vantage testing on the previous page, but the opposite is true here. In our custom Enemy Territory: Quake Wars test, the Radeon HD 5850 slightly outpaced the GTX 285, but trails the dual-GPU powered cards and of course the Radeon HD 5870.

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.



The GeForce GTX 285 and Radeon HD 5850 were closely matched in our custom Crysis benchmark was well.  Here, the Radeon HD 5850 outperforms the GeForce GTX 285 by a couple of percentage points at both resolutions and significantly outpaces AMD former top-of-the-line single-GPU powered card, the Radeon HD 4890.

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.



Once again, the Radeon HD 5850 and GeForce GTX 285 are evenly matched. In the FarCry 2 benchmark, the Radeon HD 5850 pulled slightly ahead when tested at a resolution of 1920x1200, but the GeForce GTX 285 came back to score the victory at the higher 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 5850 trailed all of the other high-end cards we tested in our custom Left 4 Dead benchmark, save for the Radeon HD 4890. Here, the GeForce GTX 285 is about 8% - 11% faster, but both cards put up framerates so high the difference would hardly be noticeable in real-world game play.

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.



The built-in benchmark incorporated into Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. had the Radeon HD 5850 finishing just ahead of the GeForce GTX 285 at both resolutions, but again, both cards are very evenly matched.

Overclocking The Radeon HD 5850

We were curious to see how much frequency headroom the Radeon HD 5850 had left in the tank, with a 2.15 billion transistor, ultra-complex 40nm GPU under the hood. So, for our next set of performance metrics, we spent some time overclocking the new Radeon HD 5850 using the Overdrive utility built into ATI's Catalyst drivers.

Overclocking The Radeon HD 5850
Pedal To The Metal


Ultimately, we were able to take the Radeon HD 5850 up from its default GPU core and memory clock speeds of 725MHz and 1000MHz, respectively, to 765MHz and 1150MHz, increases of 40MHz and 150MHz. While the card was in its overclocked state, we re-ran a couple of benchmarks and saw modest performance improvements of about 4% (L4D) and 6% (ET:QW).

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



The Radeon HD 5850's power consumption characteristics were impressive to say the least. Despite the fact that it was essentially the second fastest single-GPU powered card in our tests, it had the lowest power consumption under both idle and load conditions.

As a direct result of the Radeon HD 5850's very good power consumption, it also tends to run relatively cool and quiet. At idle, the GPU on the 5850 hovered right around the 39'C mark and under load, that number hit about 78'C. More importantly, at least in our opinion, is that because of the relatively low power consumption of the card, its cooling fan hardly ever spins up to audible levels. While idling, the Radeon HD 5850 is inaudible over other common system components, like PSU and CPU cooling fans. And while under load, the Radeon HD 5850 isn't necessarily silent, but its fan spins at a low enough speed that the card is very quiet and can barely be heard over other system components.

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: After running the Radeon HD 5850 through an assortment of tests, a distinct trend emerged. Save for a few instances (namely in 3DMark Vantage and L4D), the Radeon HD 5850 performed right on par with or just ahead of the GeForce GTX 285. The Radeon HD 5850 was also significantly faster than the Radeon HD 4890, but it trailed the more powerful and more expensive cards, like the Radeon HD 4870 X2, GeForce GTX 295, and of course the Radeon HD 5870.


Having thoroughly tested the Radeon HD 5850, it is abundantly clear what AMD's goals were with this product--to introduce a more affordable and more economical to produce variant of the Radeon HD 5870, with an identical feature set, at a price point that severely undercuts rival NVIDIA's current flagship single-GPU based card, the GeForce GTX 285. And should Radeon HD 5850 cards hit store shelves at their projected price point of $259 today, as we are told they are supposed to, we'd have to say enthusiastically that AMD has succeeded in this effort.

As of this moment, 1GB GeForce GTX 285 cards can be found for about $295 - $369 at a variety of e-tailers. At that price range, in light of the Radeon HD 5850's performance--not to mention its features--the GeForce GTX 285 is simply priced too high. NVIDIA will obviously react to the release of the Radeon HD 5850, but upon its arrival at this moment, the 5850 is the clear choice. NVIDIA can claim support for CUDA-enabled applications and PhysX at this time, but AMD's new baby supports DirectX 11 and ATI Eyefinity technology.  It occasionally outperforms the GeForce GTX 285 all the while using much less power, and that bodes very well for AMD.

There you have it. A week after introducing the Radeon HD 5870, AMD is ready with the more affordable Radeon HD 5850. It is not the barn-burner that the 5870 is, but for the money, the Radeon HD 5850 is supremely attractive. Gamers in the market for a powerful graphics card, that supports all of the latest technologies, need look no further.

  • Excellent Performance
  • Great Power Consumption
  • DirectX 11 Support
  • ATI Eyefinity Support
  • Competitive Pricing


  • Just Barely Outpaces The GTX 285
  • No DX11 Games Just Yet

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