There are certainly lessons to be learned here, but those lessons aren't exactly what we were expecting. Compared to the reference cards, these factory-overclocked models rarely deliver a sizable performance increase, even when overclocked to eyebrow-raising heights. As a percentage of the stock clock rates, these overclocks aren't enormous, and there's a fair chance that taking full advantage of an already already high-end overclocked GPU requires a monster of a platform to truly shine.
However, there are certainly other compelling reasons to consider these premium factory-overclocked models. Let's go over each product to discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
HIS HD 5870 iCooler V Turbo X
HIS delivers a strong contender in its HD 5870 iCooler V Turbo X. It's hard to argue with a bundled $50 game, a modified PCB, and improved onboard components, but this HIS card fails to deliver the critical voltage adjustment, cooling performance, and noise reduction we were expecting with the $490 price tag. Moreover, when a card is set to BIOS-based aftermarket frequencies, we'd like to retain the best possible idle clocks, too. In the case of the Radeon HD 5870, that'd be 157/300 MHz.
While we can't stand behind the Turbo X, we have to point out that HIS offers a compelling product in the HIS HD 5870 iCooler V Turbo. Notice the lack of “X” at the end. The regular Turbo version can be found for as little as $420, yet the card appears to be identical to the Turbo X, aside from a mere 25 MHz drop in core clock speed. This standard Turbo edition sports the exact same 1225 MHz memory clock speed and even the same Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 game bundle. And we doubt you'd be able to perceive a performance difference between the two models. HIS' standard Turbo version is a Radeon HD 5870 model we can more readily consider.
Gigabyte GV-R587SO-1GD SUPER OVERCLOCK
Gigabyte delivers the ultimate Radeon HD 5870 with its no-holds-barred GV-R587SO-1GD. The $500 purchase price gets you an extremely quiet and cool product, and our test card was able to achieve in excess of 1 GHz on its core thanks to the voltage adjustment option in Gigabyte's OC Guru utility.
The only downside to this card is cost. Our benchmarks show relatively little performance increase over a reference Radeon HD 5870, even when pushed to over 1 GHz. And that $500 price tag brings the card extremely close to the GeForce GTX 480 that bests it most of the time.
Yet, there is a case to be made for Gigabyte's ultimate Radeon HD 5870, a card that uses far less power than the GeForce GTX 480 and runs much cooler and quieter than the competition. It can also deliver usable Eyefinity-based connectivity, while the GTX 480 is limited to two display outputs. If these strengths appeal to you, then the GV-R587SO-1GD might be the card you want.
Zotac GeForce GTX 480 AMP! Edition
If you take a $450 GeForce GTX 480 reference card and add the upcoming $50 Zalman VF3000F cooler to it, what do you get? The $510 Zotac GeForce GTX 480 AMP! Edition. Back when we received this card, GeForce GTX 480s were $500, making the aftermarket version a veritable steal for $10 extra. Now the value is a little diluted.
Even still, the Zalman cooler fixes a good chunk of the criticism that the GeForce GTX 480 faces in the way of noise and high GPU temperatures. The extra $10 saves you from having to tear Nvidia's reference cooler off (risking delicate memory ICs in the process) and attach the Zalman unit. We still consider that a win. And, it comes with a five-year warranty.
The only ding we have to apply here is the fact that reference Radeon HD 5870s can be had for over $120 cheaper than this card. And from our benchmarks, we can see that it's rare that the GeForce GTX 480 is worth such a gaping spread. Having said that, the GeForce GTX 480 certainly does have its strengths, and if your desires include CUDA, PhysX, and 3D Vision, then this card is a very attractive option. If you are considering a GeForce GTX 480, the Zotac AMP! edition is a particularly strong choice. Just make sure you have the available clearance around this card, as it consumes three slots worth of motherboard space.