With the Radeon HD 3800-series, ATI settled for second place right out of the gate. The Radeon HD 4800-series was a staggering improvement, catapulting ATI right onto Nvidia’s heels. It was a second-place finish, yet again, but fast enough to outperform the GeForce GTX 260, surprise Nvidia, and force the company to restructure its prices. Now, with the Radeon HD 5800-series, ATI has two cards that are faster than its competitor’s quickest single-GPU board. My, how times have changed.
We've seen a number of readers say that this new Cypress GPU is not as impressive—performance-wise—next to RV770 as RV770 looked next to RV670. However, there’s still a ton to like here. Lower power consumption and three digital display outputs are compelling enough reasons for productivity-oriented gamers to upgrade, and that’s before touching DirectX 11.
At the outset of this piece, I said we were looking to the Radeon HD 5850 to best Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 285. And I was looking to a pair of 5850s to serve up a sufficient-enough lead over the GeForce GTX 295 to warrant a $20-ish dollar premium. On both counts, that’s exactly what we see. At $259, the Radeon HD 5850 offers enough speed, idle power savings, and display flexibility to warrant its price tag. Undoubtedly, it’ll turn out to be a more popular solution than the Radeon HD 5870 $120 higher up the stack, too.
The elephant in the room, of course, is Nvidia’s as-of-yet unannounced next-generation part, which we all know is coming, but don’t know when. In fact, we’re not even convinced that the next thing to emerge from Nvidia will be a new architecture. The easiest call to make in a story like this is always “wait and see.” It’s the ultimate cop-out. But in this case, short any solid information or timeline on exactly what is coming and when, we’re perfectly comfortable calling the Radeon HD 5850 a solid buy for the reasons a gamer would buy a new graphics card today.
There’s just one obstacle ATI has to overcome, and this is one the company has struggled with for a few launches now: availability. As of this writing, four days after the Radeon HD 5870’s launch, only one online vendor has cards for sale, they only have one model, and that model is marked up $20 above MSRP. Smells a bit like Radeon HD 4770, except that there’s no 4850 to fill the supply void. At least in recent history, Nvidia’s track record in this regard is significantly cleaner.
Update: checking back just hours before the official Radeon HD 5850 embargo, it looks like Radeon HD 5870s are much more widely available now. Kudos to ATI for keeping the channel supplied with these 40nm boards! Now let's see some Radeon HD 5850 availability.Update 2: as of November 30th, availability on Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850 cards remains unfortunately sparse. More disconcerting is that prices continue to creep up. The 5850s have gone from $259 to $309, while the 5870s have gone from $379 to $409.