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Radeon HD 5850: Knocking Down GTX 295 In CrossFire

Introduction

The Radeon HD 4870 1GB sure dropped to $150 pretty quickly, didn’t it? The Radeon HD 4890 really isn’t all that far behind at $190 (as low as $170 with mail-in rebates). So, for the Radeon HD 5850 to be a success at $259 $310, it’d better be appreciably quicker, right?

Nvidia has its own high-end bruisers around the same price range, too. A GeForce GTX 275 at $210 is mighty tasty. And a GTX 285—the company’s fastest single-GPU board available—isn’t bad at $330 or so given its single-GPU flagship status (less than $300, after some of those rebates).

If you haven’t yet checked out our review of the Radeon HD 5870, you might want to give it a quick peek. After all, the Radeon HD 5850 under our microscope today centers on the same fundamental architecture as that board (and I don’t think I can swing another 10,000 word story this week, so this piece isn't going to cover all of the GPU nuances).

5870 up top, 5850 down below

Answering The Lynnfield Question

But that doesn’t mean we can’t break some new ground. One of the criticisms I saw come up in the comments section was that we used a $1,000 processor overclocked to 4 GHz for testing AMD’s Radeon HD 5870. Of course, that configuration was by design. These new GPUs are so powerful that we wanted to give them as much room to “breathe” as possible, without seeing congestion in the benchmarks due to processor bottlenecks. This presents a bit of a theoretical question to the folks running Core i7, LGA 1156-based Core i7s, a Core 2-series chip on P45, or 790GX. Mainly, does the move from a x16 PCI Express 2.0 slot to a x8 connection affect the performance of such a powerful GPU.

In order to help answer that, we took our Core i7-870 and overclocked it to 4 GHz on Asus P7P55D Premium. I suspect that in a Lynnfield-based configuration, the Radeon HD 5870 will be a less-popular choice than the cheaper Radeon HD 5850, so we tested a pair of 5850s on both Intel-based platforms to shed a little light on this one.

We also dropped the Core i7-870 to its stock speeds in order to isolate the effect of processor performance versus our overclocked Lynnfield-based results.

Is CrossFire Worth It?

When ATI launched the Radeon HD 4770 at $110, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compare two of the cards together against Radeon HD 4890s and GeForce GTX 275s. But the Radeon HD 5850 is not a cheap piece of hardware at $259 $310. Due to availability issues, as of November 30th, a pair now costs $620. The only single card in that neighborhood is a GeForce GTX 295, which can be found for roughly $500 and hasn’t yet been discounted, despite AMD’s Cypress launch. To be fair, there isn’t yet a need, as the 5870s are still in extremely limited supply, so the challenge seems to be getting your hands on one.

But maybe the Radeon HD 5850 will change that. Today, we’ll be looking for a single Radeon HD 5850 to stand up to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 285—a card AMD couldn’t contend with using a single-GPU solution in the past—and a pair of 5850s to at least eke past significantly best the GeForce GTX 295.

  • 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