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

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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  • hispeed120
    I'm. So. Excited.
  • Can't wait
  • crosko42
    So it looks like 1 is enough for me.. Dont plan on getting a 30 inch monitor any time soon.
  • jezza333
    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.
  • woostar88
    This is incredible at the price point.
    Err... I thought I was going to see more for the price. Regardless, I think ATI missed the mark here. I am interested in playing games on my HDTV since me and my monitor don't care about these higher resolutions. Fail cakes... Nivida is undoubtedly going to rape ATI in performance with the 300 series. This is good news for mainstream prices however.... you can ptobably upgrade to a current DX10 board soon for a very good price, and then buy a 5850 for $100 in a year from now. Result? Don't but a 5000 series card yet until the price comes down? Heh, I bet the cards will be $100 less in December if the 300 series launches.

    This is not to say I am an Nvidia fan, just undoubtedly you would do well for yourself to hold off for a bit if you want to buy a 5000 series... as the price will come down for a good price/performance ratio soon enough.
  • tipmen
    wait, wait, before I look can it play cry... HOLY SHIT?!
  • viper666
    why didn't they thest it against a GTX 295 rather than 280??? its far superior...
  • cangelini
    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 :)
  • Annisman
    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.
  • jasperjones
    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"
  • viper666
    oh my bad... didn't see the rest of the pages :)
  • megamanx00
    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
  • Annisman
    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.
  • falchard
    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.
  • charlesxuma
  • tipmen
    Another thing is that the 5800x2 isn't out yet, now think of two of those bad boys in Crossfire.
  • blackbyron
    Not bad for Crysis benchmark. I really want 5870 for my christmas present, but damn I also need to buy a new PSU.
  • blackbyron
    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.
  • cangelini
    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"

    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!
  • megamanx00
    Now I wanna see a review of these cards in 4-way crossfire against say triple and 4-way SLI. Of course the power draw and heat would probably be insane :D.
  • bk420
    It looks good so far, but the 5870X2 will be my money's worth :D
  • Proximon
    Thanks Chris,

    I thought your conclusion was well balanced and stated clearer than the other guys... who got their reviews out first. Everyone does seem to agree more or less on performance.
  • Card is ffs huge 8800GTS ultra huge and the ultra had extra length so you can strap it to a HDD cage or some shit haha.

    Cards looks good for it's price seems reasonable. too bad this is only DX10 and we all assume it runs DX9 it should no problem. But i'll hold out till DX11 cards and Nvidia gives something to choose to buy a card. Last time i bought in haste of DX10 8800gts 640mb and got screwed a month or two later when they release 8800 GT that performed better and was cheaper. Also back then ATI 2000's 3000's enthusiast series was nearly a joke in benchmarks compared to nvidia. So I've learned to hold out a bit this shit ain't cheap enough for me to buy sell buy sell.