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ATI Radeon HD 5870: DirectX 11, Eyefinity, And Serious Speed

ATI Radeon HD 5870: DirectX 11, Eyefinity, And Serious Speed
By , Fedy Abi-Chahla

Originally, I titled this piece ATI Radeon HD 5870: Learning From Nvidia's Mistakes. That was an unfair way to kick things off, I decided. But I still want to explain my justification for that idea. When Nvidia launched the GeForce GTX 260 and GTX 280 boards more than a year ago, the company knew it had the fastest board on the market and wasn’t afraid to charge a premium for it; $650, to be exact.

How utterly devastating, then, when the Radeon HD 4870 launched a couple of weeks later, besting the $400 GeForce GTX 260 with a $300 price point. It’s not that ATI had snatched away the performance crown—Nvidia still had the fastest card around. But enthusiasts (especially those who actually bought one of the GeForce GTX 200-series boards) were certainly left feeling gouged when the cards immediately fell to more competitive prices. Good way to earn extra margin on a big GPU. Bad way to encourage brand loyalty.

Without spoiling too much of today’s story, ATI seems to have learned a thing or two from the green faux pas. It’s launching a flagship just under $400 (Ed.: as of November 30th, Radon HD 5870s, when in stock, sell for $410) and a second-in-command board based on the same design at $259 (Ed.: as of November 30th, the least-expensive Radeon HD 5850s sell for $310). That’s still a lot of money, but the two cards are being positioned as GeForce GTX 295 and GeForce GTX 285 killers. Could these boards really knock down Nvidia’s fastest pair at even lower prices?

One card, three monitors, truly useful.One card, three monitors, truly useful.

They Began By Scaring Me

ATI’s Radeon HD 5870 briefing, held in the belly of the decommissioned U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, mixed mainstream press and the more enthusiast-oriented tech folks. So, when the presentation began and the company started talking about buying graphics based on a fuzzy-wuzzy user experience, I started to worry that we’d next hear how 3D gaming was fast enough already. The message was that end-users don't care about megahertz, shader units, or cache repositories; they want smooth gaming, easy transcoding (but call it something cozier, please), and flawless Blu-ray playback. Hopefully that's not entirely true for the enthusiasts here to learn about Cypress, ATI's 2+ billion transistor, 40nm GPU. I'd like the think the engine powering Radeon HD 5870 is actually full of stuff you'll want to know more about.

Fortunately, after a group hug and a round of Kumbaya, ATI switched gears and dove into a much more technical round of info-sharing on its Evergreen-series GPUs: everything from the chip's design to the dual-GPU Hemlock, mainstream Juniper, and entry-level Redwood and Cedar, slated for a launch in 2010.

We also took away plenty of information about DirectX 11, Windows 7, stream computing, ATI’s Eyefinity technology, power consumption, video playback, and of course, performance. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s start with a look at the Cypress GPU sitting at the heart of today’s two newcomers.

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Top Comments
  • 26 Hide
    hispeed120 , September 23, 2009 4:13 AM
    I'm. So. Excited.
  • 23 Hide
    cangelini , September 23, 2009 4:43 AM
    viper666why didn't they thest it against a GTX 295 rather than 280??? its far superior...


    Ran it against a GTX 295 and a 285 and 285s in SLI :) 
  • 22 Hide
    megamanx00 , September 23, 2009 4:48 AM
    O M F G!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just wish the darn thing wasn't so big, but man, what a card! Now I'm thinking about a bigger case :D 
Other Comments
  • 26 Hide
    hispeed120 , September 23, 2009 4:13 AM
    I'm. So. Excited.
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , September 23, 2009 4:15 AM
    Can't wait
  • 21 Hide
    crosko42 , September 23, 2009 4:21 AM
    So it looks like 1 is enough for me.. Dont plan on getting a 30 inch monitor any time soon.
  • 20 Hide
    jezza333 , September 23, 2009 4:29 AM
    Looks like the NDA lifted at 11:00PM, as there's a load of reviews now just out. Once again it shows that AMD can produce a seriously killer card...

    Crysis 2 on an x2 of this is exactly what I'm waiting for.
  • 8 Hide
    woostar88 , September 23, 2009 4:38 AM
    This is incredible at the price point.
  • 20 Hide
    tipmen , September 23, 2009 4:40 AM
    wait, wait, before I look can it play cry... HOLY SHIT?!
  • 23 Hide
    cangelini , September 23, 2009 4:43 AM
    viper666why didn't they thest it against a GTX 295 rather than 280??? its far superior...


    Ran it against a GTX 295 and a 285 and 285s in SLI :) 
  • 2 Hide
    Annisman , September 23, 2009 4:44 AM
    I refuse to buy until the 2GB versions come out, not to mention newegg letting you buy more than 1 at a time, paper launch ftl.
  • 15 Hide
    jasperjones , September 23, 2009 4:44 AM
    Thanks for the timely review. I have to say though, some of the technical details are beyond me. It'd be useful if you explained terms such as "VLIW architecture" or "tessellation engine"
  • 22 Hide
    megamanx00 , September 23, 2009 4:48 AM
    O M F G!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just wish the darn thing wasn't so big, but man, what a card! Now I'm thinking about a bigger case :D 
  • 17 Hide
    Annisman , September 23, 2009 4:49 AM
    Oops, who am I kidding ? I just ordered 2 5870's. One Sapphire, and one HIS, seeing as how they limit you to one per customer.
  • 18 Hide
    falchard , September 23, 2009 4:54 AM
    I think most of this review has to do with how many games are optimized for nVidia. The Crytek Engine 2.0 and Source Engine are well known for heavily favoring nVidia architecture yet compose the bulk of the benchmarks. I think the fact ATI can do best in these engines when they have a detect ATI instant nerf its performance speaks measures for the actual card.
  • 14 Hide
    tipmen , September 23, 2009 4:56 AM
    Another thing is that the 5800x2 isn't out yet, now think of two of those bad boys in Crossfire.
  • 6 Hide
    blackbyron , September 23, 2009 4:59 AM
    Not bad for Crysis benchmark. I really want 5870 for my christmas present, but damn I also need to buy a new PSU.
  • 12 Hide
    blackbyron , September 23, 2009 5:02 AM
    In addition, I am impressed that the 5870 has a better power consumption and better gaming performance compare to DX10 cards. If the card is affordable I'd definite buy one.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , September 23, 2009 5:10 AM
    jasperjonesThanks for the timely review. I have to say though, some of the technical details are beyond me. It'd be useful if you explained terms such as "VLIW architecture" or "tessellation engine"


    Jasper,
    TBH, the architectural details are secondary to how the card performs. However, if you'd like a better idea of what tessellation can do for you, check out the picture of the Alien on page six!
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