ATI Radeon HD 5870 review

£300
Price when reviewed

Aiming to continue its recent run of success at the top end of the desktop graphics scale, ATI has released the Radeon HD 5870. It represents the mid-point of the HD 5000 family of cards, soon to be followed by a more powerful card – a twin-GPU X2 variant looks likely – and the confirmed HD 5850.

The HD 5870 is the first DirectX 11 and Shader Model 5 part the industry has seen, which we’re promised brings support for smoother shadows, better tessellation, two new shader types and many other improvements. We’ll put all that to the test when the first DX11 games come flooding through the gates, but for now its main competition is existing DirectX 10 cards, most notably its HD 4000 brethren.

Efficiently brutal

It’s a 40nm GPU, down from the 55nm of the HD 4870, and it doubles that card’s stream processor count to 1,600 while increasing the transistor count to a staggering 2.15 billion. The core clock of 850MHz and 1GB of GDDR5 memory at 1,200MHz make it the most powerful single-GPU card ATI has yet produced, although it’s pretty similar in size and bulk to the previous X2 parts. If you have a cramped PC don’t expect this to be the space-saving alternative.

ATI claims an idle power draw of 27W, rising to 188W under full load. In our Core i7-920 test rig with 4GB of DDR3 and a 7,200rpm hard disk, we measured a full system load of 120W idle and 252W under load. Best of all, the HD 5870 requires two standard six-pin power connectors, eliminating the need for messy eight-pin adapters or a modern PSU.

Our old Call of Juarez benchmark proved no problem for the Radeon, with an average of 62fps at 1,920 x 1,200 with everything on maximum. World in Conflict’s benchmark was also brushed aside and the same settings – an average of 67fps with just one drop beneath 30fps during an intensive explosion.

But Crysis is the test that counts, and it romped through without breaking sweat: 66fps at 1,600 x 1,200 with High settings; 44fps when upped to 1,920 x 1,200 and Very High; it even managed a playable 31fps at the highest resolution our old CRT monitor would output – 2,058 x 1,536.

So we shoved that aside and hooked the card up to a 30in TFT with a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution, kept the settings at maximum and sat back to admire an impressive, almost playable 24fps average. To put it in perspective, this card will smoothly run more or less any game you currently own on the biggest monitor most of us would realistically buy.

Futureproof

That opens up all sorts of questions in relation to ATI’s Eyefinity – the multi-monitor capability that this family of cards supports. It’s still going to be a push to tile six TFTs as in ATI’s demo, bezels will get in the way, and we’re not convinced it actually makes the experience a great deal better for many games, but it’s one for the future.

ATI Radeon HD 5870 portsOn the rear of our sample were two dual-link DVI outputs, plus one HDMI and one DisplayPort connector, and ATI will also be making a limited number of its Eyefinity6 Edition with six outputs.

So where does it sit in the pecking order? The Crysis scores put it streets ahead of any previous single-GPU card, with its 44fps score in our Very High test eclipsing the 29fps of the HD 4890, but it’s also faster than dual-GPU chips. The HD 4870 X2 only managed 35fps in the same test.

Even the price proves a plus point. It’s faster than the HD 4870 X2, which now costs less than £300, so to see the HD 5870 in stock at various retailers for £300 inc VAT shows just what a good deal it is for enthusiasts. At least until the X2 version arrives, the HD 5870 – with its mix of low power draw and lightning speeds – is undoubtedly the new benchmark for enthusiast gamers.

Core Specifications

Graphics card interface PCI Express
Cooling type Active
Graphics chipset ATi Radeon HD 5870
Core GPU frequency 850MHz
RAM capacity 1,000MB
Memory type GDDR5

Standards and compatibility

DirectX version support 11.0
Shader model support 5.0
Multi-GPU compatibility Four-way CrossFireX

Connectors

DVI-I outputs 2
DVI-D outputs 0
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
7-pin TV outputs 0
Graphics card power connectors 2 x 6-pin

Benchmarks

3D performance (crysis) low settings 145fps
3D performance (crysis), medium settings 111fps
3D performance (crysis) high settings 66fps

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