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Asus ARES Dual Radeon HD 5870 4GB Review
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Date: Jul 08, 2010
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

Back in April, we first gave you a glimpse of the extreme Asus ARES dual-Radeon HD 5870 GPU powered graphics card, complete with some preliminary benchmarks. At the time, the specifications weren't quite finalized and there was little word about availability in the U.S., but the card's impressive configuration immediately piqued our interest. The ARES was, after all, a "true dual-Radeon HD 5870" CrossFire setup on a single PCB. The Radeon HD 5970 was / is the fastest single graphics card on the market, and the Asus ARES would clearly offer more performance due to its increased number of stream processor cores and potentially higher clocks.

Over the long holiday weekend, we received word that Asus had decided to introduce the ARES in the U.S. market. And much to our satisfaction one of the cards was en route to the HotHardware labs. We have only had a short time with the card, but it is exactly the type of product we know the hardest of the hardcore among you are dying to check out. So, we immediately ripped the box open and plugged it into one of our test rigs to see just what it could do. Here's a hint--this baby is freakin' Fast, with a capital F.

Asus ARES Limited Edition Dual Radeon HD 5870
Specifications & Features


Above are the final specifications for the Asus ARES. As you can see, not only does the card employ dual, fully functional Radeon HD 5870 GPUs with the full complement of 1600 stream processors running at 850MHz, but each of the GPUs is paired to 2GB of GDDR5 memory, clocked at 1200MHz (4800MHz effective), for a grand total of 4GB. This card is obviously geared to the ultra enthusiast, with a high-res monitor (think 30" LCD) or a multi-monitor Eyefinity setup.

 
(click for larger view)

To further enhance the extreme image of the ARES, Asus ships the card is an absolutely gigantic box, that's more than triple the size of their typical graphics card packaging. And inside the box is a locking, metal briefcase that protects the actual card and all of its included accessories. Wait until you see this thing...

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Asus ARES: Up Close and Personal

As we've mentioned, inside the gigantic Asus ARES retail box resides a locking, metal briefcase that holds the card itself and all of the accessories included with it. While the size is a bit much, the overall presentation is definitely that of an ultra-high-end, enthusiast product.

 

Cracking open the brief case reveals a number of items; the ARES card (obviously), a pair of dual 6-pin to 8-pin PCI Express power adapters, a DVI to HDMI adapter, a CrossFire bridge connector, a case badge, driver discs, and users manuals. In addition, Asus also throws in a Republic of Gamers branded gaming mouse, with adjustable DPI settings and customizable buttons.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, the Asus ARES is a unique sort of beast. The card is massive and quite heavy. The PCB measures 11.5" by 5" and the large cooling solution will cover three expansion slots. A finned aluminum heatsink adorns the backside of the PCB, to cool half of the RAM. Another aluminum heatsink covers much of the front of the card, to cool the power regulation circuitry and remaining RAM, and two large all-copper heatsinks with think, 8mm heatpipes take care of the two Cypress XT (Radeon HD 5870) GPUs. In the middle is a large 100mm cooling fan. And covering the whole assembly is a black and red aluminum shroud.

 

 

As you can see, the Asus ARES is a biggun'. And it requires three power connectors--two 8-pin, and one 6-pin. The shebang weighs in at around 5lbs, so securely screwing the card in place is paramount--the plastic, tool free hold downs on some cases aren't going to cut it.

Outputs on the ARES card consist of a single dual-link DVI output, an HDMI output and a DisplayPort output. The ARES obviously is a great candidate for Eyefinity due to its sheer horsepower, but note that it's limited to three screens due to its output configuration. and because one of those outputs is HDMI, the maximum Eyefinity resolution will be limited to 3 x 1920x1200.

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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)

Asus ARES
Radeon HD 5850
Radeon HD 5870
Radeon HD 5970
GeForce GTX 285
GeForce GTX 298
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 v10.5
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers 257.15

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.0
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
H.A.W.X.
FarCry 2
Crysis*
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 Asus ARES takes the top spot in the Unigine Heaven benchmark. Its combination of dual Radeon HD 5870 GPUs, high-clocks, and 4GB of total RAM push it ahead of every other card here.

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Futuremark 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 Asus ARES simply dominated the 3DMark Vantage tests. The card finished well ahead of the Radeon HD 5970, which was previously the fastest graphics card we had tested.

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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


We know, we're beginning to sound like a broken record. But, once again, the Asus ARES was the fastest card overall in our custom ET: Quake Wars benchmark.

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Crysis v1.21 Performance



Crysis v1.21
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


Crysis

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.


To answer the question weighing heavily on everyone's mind, yes, the Asus ARES can play Crysis. Its dual-GPUs and huge frame buffer push the ARES well ahead of anything else in our custom Crysis benchmark.

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FarCry 2 Performance



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.

Much like the Crysis results on the previous page, the Asus ARES simply dominates in the FarCry 2 benchmark. Nothing can touch it here.

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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.


Left 4 Dead 2 is mostly CPU bound with the settings we used for testing, and as such, the Asus ARES shows only marginal performance improvements. Regardless, it's still the fastest card out there.

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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 400 series.


Yet another dominant performance from the Asus ARES. The card had no trouble churning through the H.A.W.X. benchmark at either resoltuion, and yes, it was the fastest card overall by a wide margin.

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Total System Power Consumption

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

Considering the Asus ARES' excellent performance, its two, fully-loaded Radeon HD 5870 GPUs and massive 4GB total frame buffer, it should come as no surprise that the card requires a lot of power. And our testing showed it was the most power hungry of the ATI-based cards by a decent margin. But it's not that far out of line with other enthusiast offerings, and in fact, the GTX 480 pulled more power under load.

While we're talking power, we should note that the Asus ARES' cooling solution is actually quieter than the stock Radeon HD 5970, so dealing with the additional power doesn't result in a louder card. We wouldn't call the card quiet under load, but it doesn't generate as much noise as a loaded 5970 or GTX 480.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Summarizing the Asus ARES' performance couldn't be any easier. Quite simply, the Asus ARES is the fastest graphics card we have ever tested. The ARES' combination of dual-Radeon HD 5870 GPUs and 4GB (2GB per GPU) of fast GDDR5 frame buffer memory resulted in excellent performance across the board. In every test, at every resolution, the Asus ARES came out on top.

We should also point out that as fast as the Asus ARES is in its stock form, the card also offers voltage adjustments via the Asus SmartDoctor Utility, and overclocking is supported. We have only had the card in our possession for a very short period of time and couldn't focus on overclocking just yet, but rest assured the ARES has even more performance left in the tank.

We have to look at the Asus ARES from two different perspectives. From a technological standpoint alone, the Asus ARES is impressive to say the least. Asus' engineers have assembled the fastest, single graphics card on the planet, that's also quieter than lower-performing solutions, and they should be commended. There's no question the Asus ARES represents the current pinnacle of ultra-high-end, enthusiast graphics card.

But, all of that custom engineering, performance, and technology comes at a price. The Asus ARES commands a hefty $1200 MSRP. To put that into perspective, a pair of 2GB Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity 6 Edition cards will cost about $1000 ($499 ea.), so the few users who can opt for an ARES will pay an approximate 20% premium for the card. To be fair, Asus does include a quality gaming mouse and cool metal briefcase, but the bottom line is consumers will have to pay a premium to play on an ARES.

And that's if you're one of the lucky few that can get in on the action. The Asus ARES will be a limited edition product, with only 1000 being introduced into the U.S. market. Considering its ultra-high-end specs and relatively small pool of potential buyers, Asus was smart to make this a limited edition product. But something tells us all 1000 of these puppies are going to disappear from store shelves. We know ours isn't going to make it out of the lab without a fight.

  • Extreme Performance
  • Eyefinity Support
  • Fastest Single Graphics Card
  • DX11 Support
  • Quieter Than Stock 5970s

 

  • Extremely Expensive
  • Limited Edition
  • Requires Lots of Power



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