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

Are you dutiful about keeping your drivers up-to-date? AMD does a pretty fantastic job about maintaining a monthly release schedule, after all. Today we look at how much performance you can expect from an old card in new games using four driver packages.

We update drivers for two reasons: stability and performance. When it comes to graphics, both are important, but it’s the latter we quantify using benchmarks.

Beyond making sure a game doesn’t crash, stability is difficult to measure. So, we make sure everything runs the way it should and move on.

On the other hand, performance is what built our industry. We want more frames per second. Sometimes, a performance boost necessitates an entirely new graphics card. But we’ve also seen examples of older boards picking up momentum thanks to focused driver development. If we can get extra speed via simple software updates, well, we’ll take it.

We’ll break down the evolution of an Nvidia-based card in our next installment of this series. For now, we’re tracking the performance of AMD’s vaunted Radeon HD 5870 over the course of its still-useful life.

The Radeon HD 5870 was released in mid-September 2009. So let’s assume you waited for at least a month to see what Nvidia was offering and ended up buying the 5870 in November. That means you've owned it for about a year and a half. Since that time, we've seen 15 driver updates.

Catalyst 11.22/15/11
Catalyst 11.11/26/11
Catalyst 10.1212/13/10
Catalyst 10.1111/17/10
Catalyst 10.1010/22/10
Catalyst 10.99/15/10
Catalyst 10.88/25/10
Catalyst 10.77/26/10
Catalyst 10.66/16/10
Catalyst 10.55/26/10
Catalyst 10.44/28/10
Catalyst 10.33/24/10
Catalyst 10.22/17/10
Catalyst 10.11/27/10
Catalyst 9.1212/17/09
Catalyst 9.1111/17/09
Catalyst 9.1010/22/09

After sinking close to $400 on that once flagship Radeon HD 5870, there is a good chance you've been updating its driver on a consistent basis. Each installation was probably preceded by the folllowing introduction in AMD's Catalyst release notes:

This article provides information on the latest posting of AMD’s software suite, AMD Catalyst 11.1. This particular software suite updates both the AMD display driver, and the AMD Catalyst Control Center. This unified driver has been updated to provide an enhanced level of power, performance, and reliability.

But have we really seen enhanced “power, performance, and reliability”? We are accustomed to seeing very small improvements in performance from one software update to the next. If every driver provides a performance bump, there should be a big difference between the first driver that supported the 5870 and the one AMD blogged about last month, right? Have those updates really been worthwhile? We are selecting four update packages from the original 15 to examine exactly what it means to keep your driver up-to-date.

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  • dallaswits
    I run a 5850, have loved it, and always get the newest driver.
  • sabot00
    Wow, someone is really pissy.
  • cangelini
    More like someone has been really moderated ;-)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Assmar
    cangeliniExcellent story idea, assmar.

    That's because you were already working on it, weren't you? :P
  • 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
  • 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.
  • executor2
    Wonderful article , thanks Tom`s Hardware.