Performance Summary: Before running a single benchmark, it was easy to postulate the outcome of our testing. Now that the scores are in, Gigabyte's Super Overclock has established itself as the undisputed performance leader. It consistently racked up the highest scores in every benchmark we ran, except for Tom Clancy's HAWX, where it tied with the Turbo X and Lightning graphics cards. The additional graphics processing power and memory speed made a noticeable difference. We also dig the fact that Gigabyte's Super Overclock lived up to its name by achieving a speed of 1034 MHz, the highest overclock of the group.
Although the HIS Turbo X and MSI Lightning trailed in almost every benchmark we conducted, we have to underscore that the difference in performance was minimal at best. Will you be able to detect the variance between 34 FPS and 36 FPS during game play? Of course not. All three cards scream, and they do provide a measurable upgrade from the HD 5870 in stock form. Although their bundled game is appreciated, we wish HIS would bump their warranty coverage up to 3 years, in order to match the the industry standard. Also, we were let down by the Lightning's overclocking headroom, especially with the attention that MSI put into it in that regard. The MSI card's custom PCB, top quality components, and two 8-pin PCIe power connectors should have put the Lightning in a league of its own, but we did not see that.
The Recommendation: We know these cards are fast and they all cost a premium over stock cards but you should also consider a few options. First, let's look at different models available within the HD 5870 family. They can be divided into three general groups: reference design cards, overclocked variants, and 2GB models. Stock 5870's are plenty fast and can be had for under $400 at various retailers. Although you can purchase one and overclock it on your own, higher frequencies are not guaranteed (nor supported under warranty), whereas these three Super Overclock, Turbo X, and Lightning models are binned and tested at their given speeds. Also take into consideration the factory overclocked cards in this article command a 25% price premium over the base model, while providing a 11% to 16% performance increase on average.
Next, let's examine the wide range of overclocked 5870's available at the market. There are several to choose from, but unfortunately, we could not get a hold of more for this roundup. Sapphire and XFX currently offer 875 MHz models, while Powercolor just released the PCS++ clocked at 950 MHz. Prices will vary but just remember that it usually is directly proportional to clock speed, since the higher you go in frequency, generally the fewer number of cards will yield that target speed.
Another choice available to you comes in the form of the 5870 with 2GB of memory installed, instead of 1GB. These niche products specifically cater to multi-monitor Eyefinity users, whose systems can utilize the added frame buffer memory. Eyefinity 6 models feature 850 MHz core clocks like the reference cards, but also sport six mini-DisplayPort connections, with 2GB of on-board memory. Our testing showed that on a single display, you would be hard pressed to see any performance gains comparing 1GB and 2GB 5870's.
So which HD 5870 would we choose for our next build? From a performance perspective, the choice is easy. Enthusiasts consider the overall muscle of a product above all, followed by cost, design, and accessories. And that's why the Super Overclock is the logical selection. As the testing showed, it finished first in 10 of the 11 performance benchmarks we conducted, and is the most powerful HD 5870 available on the market. No need to search for a 5870 with higher clocks because there isn't one, at least currently.
Every card we looked at in this article will cost you about $479 - $499. Yes, the asking price is steep but that's the norm for a high end product, and especially true when we're talking about premium graphics cards. Also realize the Super Overclock costs about as much as a GTX 480. But judging by the 16% performance advantage it held over the reference 5870, it should compete more closely with NVIDIA's top card at roughly the same price point. Taking everything into consideration,if you are in the market for the best performing single Radeon powered video card money can buy, we highly recommend the Super Overclock HD 5870 from Gigabyte, with the HIS and MSI offerings here rolling up a close second.
MSI HD 5870 Lightning and HIS Radeon HD 5870 iCooler V Turbo X