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PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 PCS+
Date: Apr 19, 2010
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Intro, Specs, and Bundle

When the ATI Radeon HD 5800 series was first introduced a few months back, all of AMD's add in board partners offered essentially the same products, at least at the hardware level. The various boards available during the 'first wave' of Radeon HD 5800 series availability shipped with different accessory bundles and usually had custom decals affixed to their fans and fan shrouds to help differentiate them from one another. But plug them into a slot, install the drivers and they all performed at exactly the same level. That's what happens when ever card is clocked the same and have the same sized frame buffers, etc.

Recently, however, the 'second wave' of Radeon HD 5800 series cards begun shipping. This second wave of product didn't strictly adhere to AMD's reference designs and featured factory overclocks, custom cooling, and even custom circuit boards. The first cards from the second wave of Radeon HD 5800 series cards to land in the HotHardware labs comes by way of PowerColor. The PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 PCS+ cards look very similar to each other, but they're nothing like the original Radeon HD 5800s, save for their output configurations. These babies have custom coolers, are factory overclocked and sport redesigned PCBs. Take a look...

The PowerColor Radeon HD 5800 Series PCS+

PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 PCS+
Specifications and Features

The PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850 PCS+ cards both ship with the exact same accessory bundle.
Included with the cards themselves, we found quick installation guides and driver discs, single DVI-to-VGA adapters, and CrossFire bridge connectors--nothing terribly exciting, but most of the essentials are there. We would have like to have seen PCI Express power adapters included as well, however.

In addition to the aforementioned items though, PowerColor also throws in a copy of the DirectX 11-based Colin McRae Dirt 2 racing game from CodeMasters. Although I loathe Dirt 2's interface, the game itself is really good. And it's absolutely a welcome addition to the accessory bundle.

PowerColor Radeon HD 5800 PCS+

At first glance, it's obvious that PowerColor's Radeon HD 5800 series PCS+ offerings are quite different than AMD's reference design. Take a look for yourselves...


We evaluate both the Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 PCS+ in this article, but only have one set of pictures above. We've done this to keep image-clutter to a minimum and because the cards look essentially identical. The cooler's on the front are the same, everything is colored the same, and the PCBs are the same length. The only visible difference is that the 5870 PCS+ has some extra components in its voltage regulation module.


The cards feature dual DVI outputs, and HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, and of course support ATI's Eyefinity Technology, and dual 6-Pin PCI Express power feeds are necessary for operation.

Whereas reference Radeon HD 5870 cards feature an 850MHz GPU clock with 1.2GHz memory, PowerColor's Radeon HD 5870 PCS+ sports an 875MHz GPU clock with 1.225GHz memory--increases of 25MHz for each. The PowerColor Radeon HD 5850 PCS+'s overclock is a little more pronounced. Stock reference cards ship with 725MHz and 1GHz GPU and memory clocks, respectively, while PowerColor's PCS+ offering has a 760MHz GPU and 1.05GHz memory--increases of 35MHz and 50MHz.


Perhaps more interesting than the factor overclocks, however, is the PCS+ cooler. The cooler on these cards sports four, thick copper heatpipes that rest atop the GPU and curl upwards and outwards though an array of aluminum cooling fins. Moving air through the entire assembly is a relatively large 92mm fan. Quite simple, we love this cooler. These cards are always quiet and they run significantly cooler than reference cards. Whereas the stock Radeon HD 5870 typically idles with a GPU temperature around 42's and peaks around 87'C under load, PowerColor's PCS+ card idles in the mid 30's C and under load it barely tickles the 80'C mark. Same with the 5850 for the most part, although it's load temp was a few degrees lower.

Test System and Unigine Heaven

How We Configured Our Test Systems:  We tested the graphics cards in this article on a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 motherboard powered by a Core i7 965 quad-core processor and 6GB of OCZ DDR3-1333 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)

PowerColor Radeon HD 5800 PCS+
Radeon HD 5850
Radeon HD 5870
Radeon HD 5870 OC

GeForce GTX 285
GeForce GTX 480

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333
Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX Feb. 2010 Redist
ATI Catalyst v10.3a
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers v197.13 / 197.17

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.0
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
FarCry 2
Left 4 Dead 2*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5*

* - Custom benchmark

Unigine Heaven v2.0 Benchmark
Synthetic DirectX 11 Gaming

Unigine Heaven

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark v2.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), and it also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering. Due to the fact that we tested Heaven in DX11 mode, no NVIDIA GT200 series cards are represented in the graph below.

The increased core and memory clock frequencies of the PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 PCS+ give them a slight edge over the stock cards in the Unigine benchmark. The 5850 PCS+'s delta is more pronounced than the 5870's, but ultimately both were faster.

3DMark Vantage

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 factory overclocked PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 PCS+ cards were markedly faster than the stock cards in the 3DMark Vantage benchmark. Here, the 5870 PCS+ turns in the best score of the group, but it and the 5850 PCS+ were a few hundred points faster than the stock Radeons overall.

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.

Our custom Enemy Territory: Quake Wars benchmark had the PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 PCS+ cards finishing a couple of frames per second ahead of the reference Radeons at both resolutions. Once again, the Radeon HD 5850 PCS+'s performance increases were somewhat larger than the 5870's.

Crysis v1.21

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.

Our custom Crysis benchmark didn't benefit much from the increased clocks offered on the PowerColor Radeon HD 5800 series PCS+ cards. With the exception of the 5850 PCS+, when running at 1920x1200, all of the performance increases were less than a single frame per second.

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.

The PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 PCS+ showed decent, albeit small gains in the FarCry 2 benchmark. Once again though, both cards offered higher performance than the reference models.

Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

Left 4 Dead 2

Like its predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 is a co-operative, survival horror, first-person shooter that pits four players against numerous hordes of Zombies. Like Half Life 2, the game uses the Source engine, however, the visual in L4D 2 are far superior to anything seen in the Half Life universe to date. The game has much more realistic water and lighting effects, more expansive maps with richer detail, more complex models, and the list goes on and on. We tested the game at various resolutions with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.

At both resolutions, both the PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 PCS+ and Radeon HD 5850 PCS+ showed marginal performance improvements in our custom Left 4 Dead 2 benchmark.

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 code path for the GeForce GT 200 series cards, and DX10.1 path for the Radeons and GeForce GTX 480.

The benchmark built-into Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. showed marginal improvements for the PowerColor Radeon HD 5800 series PCS+ cards as well.  Here, at both resolutions the 5870 PCS+ was 3 frames per second faster than the reference card and the Radeon HD 5850 PCS+ was two frames per second faster.

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: PowerColor's Radeon HD 5870 PCS+ and Radeon HD 5850 PCS+ cards performed very well throughout our entire battery of benchmarks. Due to their increased core and memory clocks frequencies, both cards were measurably faster than their stock, reference design-based counterparts. The differences were most pronounced in 3DMark Vantage, L4D 2, and H.A.W.X., but PowerColor's cards were faster in every game / application we tested, at every resolution.

Although the additional performance offered by PowerColor's Radeon HD 5870 PCS+ and Radeon HD 5850 PCS+ isn't earth shattering in any way, these cards are clearly better than stock, reference models in our opinion. Their factory overclocks result in performance gains, however small, across the board, PowerColor's PCS+ cooler does an excellent job of keeping the cards cool while at the same time remaining very quiet, and a full version, DX11 game (Dirt 2) is included. All good news from where we're standing.

Over and above what we've already mentioned, the PowerColor Radeon HD 5800 series PCS+ cards are also competitively priced. In fact, the PowerColor Radeon HD 5850 PCS+ is currently the least expensive Radeon HD 5850 card available on Newegg.com, with a price of $299. The PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 PCS+ is a little harder to find, but if you do it is only $15 - $20 more expensive than a stock, reference Radeon HD 5870. If you're looking for a quiet, high performance graphics card, that paltry premium is well worth paying for the PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 PCS+.

  • Quiet Coolers
  • Strong Performance
  • Eyefinity Support
  • Included Full DX11 Game
  • Competitive Prices


  • Overclocks Help Performance Very Little
  • Bundle Should Include Some Power Adapters


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