AMD's Radeon HD 5870: Before And After A Year Of Driver Updates

Final Words

Once you get past the simple matters of rectifying system crashes and image quality errors, AMD's driver updates give us two tangible benefits:

New GUI as of Catalyst 10.12New GUI as of Catalyst 10.12

  1. New GUI interface.
  2. Performance changes.
DriverCatalyst 9.10Catalyst 10.3Catalyst 10.8Catalyst 11.1
Date10/22/093/24/108/25/101/26/11


We see mixed results when it comes to performance. If you are looking at this from one driver update to the next, we see situations where one driver update, might give you lower performance than an even older driver if you use it in a game that just came out. On the other hand, if you look at drivers in four-month intervals, we generally see a one-half to three percent improvement. Over the course of 15 drivers, there is a 5% to 10% bump in performance.

When AMD or Nvidia release a new driver, we have been trained to think that we’re always getting beneficial performance tweaks. In reality, only some drivers actually affect performance. Other times, a driver release might address gamma control or HDMI audio output. Even when the justification for a new driver is decidedly performance-oriented, the marketing lingo "up to" ends up being an easy out for vendors when end-users don’t see large frame rate increases.

GameTotal Improvement Claimed for Single-Card Radeon HD 5800 Series
From Catalyst 9.10 to 11.1
F1 201010.0%
Left 4 Dead 26-8%
Stalker: Call of Pripyat37.5%
Battleforge3.0%
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assult on Dark Athena5.0%
Far Cry 22-6%
Stormrise5-10%
DiRT 2 - DX910.0%
3DMark Vantage13.4%
Call of Duty: World at War2.0%
DiRT 229.6%
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars5.0%
Stalker: Clear Sky2.0%
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.20.0%
World in Conflict5.0%
Crysis4.0%


In the 15 drivers spanning close to 14 months, AMD claims to have improved performance in 16 games with the Radeon HD 5800-series operating in a single-card configuration. The biggest gains, understandably, come from older titles that were already out when the 5870 launched and have enjoyed constant updates from day one.

Our tests show basically no improvement in the relatively new F1 2010 (with the exception of 2560x1600 and 8x AA; in that one case, we see about a 40% improvement, which exceeds the claimed 10 percent). However, remember that F1 2010 came out nearly a year after the 5870. So, while AMD can be applauded for providing drivers supporting the game before it was sold, we see little gain from drivers rolled out once the game was already available.

We normally assume the largest performance bump occurs when we max out all settings, but this isn't true in every situation. In fact, we actually saw the reverse occur in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Aliens vs. Predators. Clearly, there are games where new drivers bring better performance at lower resolutions without anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering enabled. With DX11 introducing better support for threading, it's entirely possible that, at some point, both games benefited from an optimization that alleviated a processor-oriented bottleneck.

On one hand, driver updates are probably going to give you less real-world performance than the best-case release notes would otherwise have you believe.  On the other hand, driver updates are free. Trading up from a Radeon HD 5870 to a 6950 gives you a roughly 6% bump in Metro 2033. But getting that small increase costs you an extra $250. The moral of the story: be sure your graphics card drivers are always up to date. You might not see the gains each revision’s release notes suggest, but you will get the latest visual/stability optimizations and whatever small speed-ups might apply to your configuration.

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89 comments
    Your comment
  • dallaswits
    I run a 5850, have loved it, and always get the newest driver.
    4
  • sabot00
    Wow, someone is really pissy.
    3
  • cangelini
    More like someone has been really moderated ;-)
    1
  • Assmar
    hahahyoursowrong"The moral of the story: be sure your graphics card drivers are always up to date."I'd love to cept I get a blue screen every time and can't even get to windows going from 10.4 to the newest.

    Uninstall all drivers before installing new ones.
    2
  • opmopadop
    If that guy who created/posted his problem 5 times spent that much effort understanding why his rig BSOD'd when he used the latest set, he might have resolved his problem by now.
    3
  • slyphnier
    ever since 10.11 ... many user got "100% GPU usage" and "top right mouse lag" issue
    11.4 early preview still having the issue
    from what i know the issue above mostly effect radeon 5000series (5850 and 5970)
    for people having those issue forced to stick with 10.10e

    still no news when amd will fix those issue, as from what i heard amd can't replicate the issue on their lab, thus can't fix it
    3
  • Assmar
    I know you're terribly busy, but any way we can get the CF comparisons from then and now, even if it isn't as thorough?
    6
  • Zeh
    I'm eager for a new driver release. I've switched my old 4670 ddr2 for a 6850. In some games I'm having a few VSync problems, and the overall performance during video playback has decreased and I have no idea why, quality did not change, or at least I didn't see any changes.

    This 6850 just doesn't feel as rock solid as the good old 4670, which never gave me any trouble. Here's hoping new drivers will solve my issues. Else, I might even switch to a pair of GeForces instead of getting another 6850 for crossfire.
    1
  • cangelini
    assmarI know you're terribly busy, but any way we can get the CF comparisons from then and now, even if it isn't as thorough?


    Excellent story idea, assmar.
    3
  • howiejcee
    Andrew Ku forgot to mention that ATI's lousy drivers have and for the foreseeable future will always have problems.

    Not to say that Nvidia occasionally has driver issues, but at least they fix the problems. Only 10.9 and a couple versions before that don't give my 5870 any major problems.
    -11
  • Darkerson
    I dunno, the entire time I had my 5770 (a little over a year), I never had any driver issues. It was part of the reason I decided to pull the trigger on a 6950 instead of something from the Nvidia camp. The only time I had any driver issues with ATI was back when I had an old 9800SE, but I more assumed it was because I had soft modded it. YMMV I suppose.
    2
  • scrumworks
    howiejceeAndrew Ku forgot to mention that ATI's lousy drivers have and for the foreseeable future will always have problems.Not to say that Nvidia occasionally has driver issues, but at least they fix the problems. Only 10.9 and a couple versions before that don't give my 5870 any major problems.


    Nice trolling man.
    2
  • reprotected
    I'm not liking the new AMD drivers. They were never good in the first place. Sure Nvidia screwed up by burning a few video cards, but they are easier to manage IMO.
    -4
  • Maziar
    I were happy with the driver updates until 10.11 All drivers from 10.11 and up give me numerous problems such as 99% GPU usage,high 2D clocks etc. So unfortunately for some people,new drivers have much problems.
    1
  • Olle P
    I've previously done my own comparison of driver performance, but not at this level.
    The conclusions I made (based on upgrades done after the hardware was about two years old) were that:
    - Returns are diminishing as the hardware gets older.
    The manufacturer will spend less time updating drivers for a three year old card than they do updating for the latest generation.
    - Returns can even be negative when paired with older software.

    It would have been very nice to see the test incorporate some of the benchmarks used to test the 5870 when it was released, to see if/how these have improved.
    2
  • haplo602
    now try the same for Linux and cry :-)

    just kidding. the drivers game is the same for both camps. Nvidia is usualy more stable while AMD tries to improve often even at the cost of regresions.

    the issue with the AMD driver schedule is that they alternate development teams. basicaly fixes from one driver release don't have to be included in the next, since the development started before the current one was finished. it's mostly visible on Linux drivers. One release fixes an issue and it's back in he next one.
    2
  • Assmar
    cangeliniExcellent story idea, assmar.

    That's because you were already working on it, weren't you? :P
    1
  • mactronix
    If they spent more time on stability instead of trying to get 3 more FPS out of the latest AAA game to make it seem as if they have the best cards in benchmarks then everyone would be happier IMHO
    1
  • AMW1011
    Nice Tom's. You hit another one out the park. Driver improvements do make a nice difference, and are important. Thanks for the quality article Tom's.
    3
  • executor2
    Wonderful article , thanks Tom`s Hardware.
    3