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Radeon HD 5850: Knocking Down GTX 295 In CrossFire

Conclusion

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.

  • duckmanx88
    another great article. can you guy add these to your 2009 charts please. and the new i5 and i7 cpu's too please! =)
    Reply
  • jj463rd
    Quote "ATI has two cards that are faster than its competitor’s quickest single-GPU board. My, how times have changed." LoL

    Yep I was looking at the Radeon 5850 especially CF'd for a build.
    The Radeon 5870's seem a bit pricey to me so I'd prefer 2 5850's.
    I can wait till they become available.
    Thanks for the great review very impressive on those scores of the 5850.
    Reply
  • coonday
    Ball's in your court now Nvidia. Time to stop whining and bring some competition to the table.
    Reply
  • Annisman
    Hi, very very good article, It's nice to see my two 5870's at the top of every chart destroying every game out there!

    I hope you guys will go into more details about how you run your benchmarks for games. When I compare my own results, sometimes I wonder if you are using ingame FRAPS results, or a benchmark tool such as Crysis to get your results, this is very important for me to know. Please dedicated a small portion of reviews to let us know exactly what part of the game you benched, and in what fashion, it will be very helpful. Also, it would be great to see exactly what settings were used in games. For example you state that you set GTA4 to the 'highest' settings, however without 2GB of Vram, the texture settings can only be set on Med. unless you are compromising in the view distance category or somewhere else. So maybe a screenshot of the settings you used should be included, I would like to see this become regular in Tom's video card reviews. Great article, and please conisder by requests.
    Reply
  • Kl2amer
    Solid review. Now we just have to wait for aftermarket coolers/designs to get them a quiter and even cooler.
    Reply
  • megamanx00
    Glad that 5850 is shorter, but I'll probably wait till Sapphire or Asus put out cards with a cooler better than the reference. Damn I want one now though :D.
    Reply
  • So its a Little faster than my 4850 x2?
    Reply
  • JohnnyLucky
    Another interesting article. I'm almost tempted to get a 5850. I'm just wondering how power consumption during Furmark which is a rigorous stress test compares to power consumption during gaming. Am I correct in assuming power consumption during a typical gaming session would be less? If I'm not mistaken ATI is recommending a 600 watt power supply with 40 amps on the 12 volt rail(s) for a system with two 5850's in Crossfire mode.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    annismanHi, very very good article, It's nice to see my two 5870's at the top of every chart destroying every game out there!I hope you guys will go into more details about how you run your benchmarks for games. When I compare my own results, sometimes I wonder if you are using ingame FRAPS results, or a benchmark tool such as Crysis to get your results, this is very important for me to know. Please dedicated a small portion of reviews to let us know exactly what part of the game you benched, and in what fashion, it will be very helpful. Also, it would be great to see exactly what settings were used in games. For example you state that you set GTA4 to the 'highest' settings, however without 2GB of Vram, the texture settings can only be set on Med. unless you are compromising in the view distance category or somewhere else. So maybe a screenshot of the settings you used should be included, I would like to see this become regular in Tom's video card reviews. Great article, and please conisder by requests.
    Usually try to include them on a page in the review. Anything more detailed you'd like, feel free to let me know and I'm happy to oblige!
    Reply
  • SchizoFrog
    It does seem that the 5850 is a great £200 card and definately the option to go for if you are buying today. I pride myself on getting good performance from great value and the test of this is to try and get my GPU to last 2 years and still be playing high end games. My current O/C 9600GT 512MB which cost me a huge £95 18 months ago, is doing just that right now. So, for a £200 DX11 GPU the 5850 is on its own and a great buy by default. However, and this is a big however! While Windows 7 will support DX11 and a few upcoming games will use a few visual effects based on DX11, nothing else does and certainly there are no true DX11 games and won't be for some time as nearly all games released these days are developed with the console market in mind. So I for one will wait. I will wait for nVidia to decide it is time to launch their DX11 GPU's. Either their GPU's will push them firmly back to the top or at least drive ATi's prices down.
    Reply