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Graphics: Gigabyte Radeon HD 5850 1GB

Tom's Hardware's 2009 Gift Guide: Part 1, For System Builders
By: Anthony Celeste

Looking for a gift for the hardcore PC gamer on your holiday shopping list? Gigabyte has the answer in its Radeon HD 5850 1GB video card.

1,440 ALUs of fury...1,440 ALUs of fury...

The Radeon HD 5800-series processors are the most sophisticated, feature packed GPUs ever created by ATI (and indeed they are currently besting Nvidia's best efforts). This graphics accelerator contains 2.15 billion transistors, yet uses only 27 watts of power at idle, and 151 watts at maximum load (for more on its power and performance, check out our launch coverage of the Radeon HD 5850). The GPU’s advanced architecture enables crisp video output and high frame rates, while generating minimal heat and using minimal electrical power. 

At the heart of the Radeon HD 5850 you'll find a Cypress graphics processor with 1,440 stream processing units and 72 texture units. In other words, it's a slightly de-tuned version of the chip found in the company's Radeon HD 5870 single-GPU flagship. The Radeon HD 5850 ships with 1GB of memory, and the most advanced memory architecture in the business to boot: a 256-bit GDDR5 interface, capable of moving up to 128.0 GB/s of information. Of course, the Radeon HD 5850 includes full support for games and applications using Microsoft DirectX 11 and OpenGL 3.x technology.

In addition to putting up impressive performance numbers, the Gigabyte Radeon HD 5850 also supports impressive features: 

ATI’s Eyefinity technology enables the best in multiple display “surround sight” viewing. The Radeon HD 5850 includes four display outputs (2 x dual-link DVI, 1 x HDMI, and 1 x DisplayPort), which can drive up to three displays simultaneously. Multiple displays can be arranged to perform as a single, large-screen panoramic display, providing complete immersion into your productivity, video, and gaming applications.

ATI’s Stream Technology enables the Radeon HD 5850 to handle properly-optimized tasks, which would normally be performed by your CPU, freeing your host processor to complete other work.  Although your CPU may be an adept multi-core engine, the Radeon HD 5850's parallel architecture gives it up to 2.09 TFLOPs of compute muscle.

If your gift recipient has been extra nice this year, consider buying two Radeon HD 5850 graphics accelerators, and running them in CrossFire mode. Our tests of the Radeon HD 5850 versus Nvidia's GeForce GTX 200-series graphics cards yielded impressive results for the 5850. Two Radeon HD 5850 cards running in CrossFire mode consistently outperformed Nvidia's most expensive enthusiast card (the $500 GeForce GTX 295). The only real bummer here is that, between the time we picked the 5850 and now, the price has jumped from $249 per card to $309.

In short, Gigabyte's Radeon HD 5850 serves up great performance in today's games, compatibility with tomorrow's DirectX 11 titles, impressive display scalability via Eyefinity, and impressive power figures (especially at idle). While a card this large isn't likely to end up in a home theater PC, the board does bitstream the HD audio formats included with most Blu-ray movies, so anyone with a capable stereo receiver can enjoy great-sounded audio from the card's HDMI connection, too.

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