ATI Radeon HD 5970 2GB: The World's Fastest Graphics Card

The Making Of A Radeon HD 5970

As with the Radeon HD 4870 X2 and Nvidia’s second-generation GeForce GTX 295, ATI’s Radeon HD 5970 populates a single PCB. It consists of two 2.15 billion transistor Cypress GPUs with 1GB of GDDR5 memory each, joined by a 48-lane PLX PCI Express bridge. The bridge is, for the most part, the same one seen on last-generation’s Radeon HD 4870 X2. However, it has been updated for PCI Express 2.1, an incremental and non-performance-related evolution.

Radeon HD 5970
Radeon HD 5870
Radeon HD 5850
Total Transistors
4.3 billion
2.15 billion
2.15 billion
Shader Processors
2 x 1,600
Engine Clock Rate
725 MHz
850 MHz
725 MHz
Memory Clock Rate
1,000 MHz
1,200 MHz
1,000 MHz
Memory Bandwidth
2 x 128 GB/s
153.6 GB/s
128 GB/s
Texture Units
2 x 80
Texture Fillrate
116 GTexel/s
68 GTexel/s
52.2 GTexel/s
2 x 32
Pixel Fillrate
46.4 GPixel/s
27.2 GPixel/s
23.2 GPixel/s
Compute Performance
4.64 TFLOPs
2.72 TFLOPs
2.09 TFLOPs
Maximum Board Power
Idle Board Power

Each of the two graphics processors is fully-featured, with 1,600 shader processors (ALUs), 80 texture units, 32 ROPs, and 1GB of attached GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit bus. What is changed are the core and memory clocks. The pair of Cypress chips runs at 725 MHz and the memory at 1 GHz. Thus, at stock clocks, we’d expect the Radeon HD 5970 to be the fastest single discrete card in ATI’s stable, but slower than two Radeon HD 5870s in CrossFire.

But the shipping clocks don’t tell the whole story, according to ATI.

Why Not Go All-Out?

Much of the board’s length can be attributed to the onboard power circuitry needed to drive the two Cypress GPUs. Here’s where many of the design decisions behind this card were actually made.

For example, ATI reduced the voltages it used and correspondingly dropped the 5970’s clock rates to Radeon HD 5850 levels. This was done to keep maximum board power to 294W—under the defined 300W PCI-SIG electromechanical specification, delivered through the physical slot (75W), one six-pin auxiliary connection (another 75W), and an eight-pin auxiliary connector (150W). Pushing Radeon HD 5870 frequencies (850 MHz core/1,200 MHz memory) would have pushed max. board power closer to 375-400W and immediately cut out a segment of enthusiasts who don’t have twin eight-pin auxiliary power connectors on their power supplies.

However, ATI says the Radeon HD 5970 was designed to run at those clock rates. It features specially-screened low-leakage ASICs that run cooler than higher-leakage parts. It employs 5 Gb/s GDDR5 memory actually rated for 1,250 MHz. And perhaps most important, its vapor chamber-based cooling solution is designed with enough capacity to dissipate as much as 400W.

The only missing piece is an official voltage tweaking utility. In an unprecedented move by a GPU vendor, ATI went so far as to provide us with such a utility—a reference app—to give us access to those elevated settings. According to the rep who briefed us, third-party board vendors will bundle their own voltage apps along with hardware so that those with capable-enough PSUs will get the chance to push the hardware a little further—at least to 5870 levels, we’re hoping.

That’s A Huge Board

Those of you who thought the Radeon HD 5870 was already “healthy”-sized, this 5970 is even larger—an inch longer, to be exact. Despite the increase in length, the board’s exterior isn’t much different from what you saw on the Radeon HD 5870—the same fully-shrouded red/black motif with faux rear-vents are still in effect. Because ATI kept power down under 300W, it gets away with one six-pin and one eight-pin auxiliary connector on the board’s top-edge. There’s a single CrossFire connector, should the holiday season treat you well and you want to spend $1,200 on graphics cards.

Perhaps most notable is the rear I/O bracket. Gone is the HDMI output connector (you’d have to be crazy to tie this card into an HTPC). Instead, ATI exposes two dual-link DVI outputs and a single mini-DisplayPort output. Thus, Eyefinity is still viable here, right up to 3 x 2560x1600.

ATI uses the space freed up by the smaller DisplayPort and missing HDMI outputs for a full-length exhaust vent. While there’s ventilation all along the top of the board, most of the card’s heated air exits the back. In contrast, the Radeon HD 5870 is far guiltier of re-circulating hot air.

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  • cyberkuberiah
    today's a great day for graphics , as the bar's been raised again !
  • IzzyCraft
    bawhaha i was waiting for this
    5970 picture of it in size comparison is priceless to me it's freaking huge card.

    But really how are they going to get 2 chips for 5970 when they can't even get 1 for 5870 :)
  • notty22
    Wonder if this would get the same framerates as a 5870 in a AMD 965 system ?
  • In your face Gt240 =P
  • I'm getting more concerned with Nvidia these days. They keep playing with these low-end cards and haven't made anything all that great in almost a year. Hopefully Fermi doesn't turn into Itanic II.
  • amdgamer666
    Sweet, another amazing card to drool at, too bad I can't afford it. Thanks for including CF'ed 5870's, that's what I wanted to compare it to the most. The release seems to coincide with the driver update. Everybody make sure to update your drivers to 9.11 :)
    Also, because 9.11 is out, you can also try out Adobe's Flash 10.1 prelease to try out GPU-accelerated flash
    Exciting times
  • commodore64
    Wooww...4.3 billion transistors, low idle power, it's pricey but this baby has lots of potential :)

    I think ATI driven NVIDIA into a corner this time, i love the competition :)
  • christop
    Sweet but can't see spending 600 on a card...
  • 7amood
    commodore64i love the competition

    There is no competition yet >_< prices are way up there!!!
  • Honis
    Good article!

    I'll wait for a price drop since there are 0 DX 11 games out currently. Hope this forces further drops in the 4870s.
  • shubham1401
    GT 240 has found a competitor in HD5890!
  • keefasuz
    1,600-shader Cypress found in its Radeon HD 5870.
    2) Drop clock rates a bit in order to keep power and thermals under control.
    3) ???
    4) Profit

    Oh my goodness, Chris, you apparently saw the Southpark episode with the underpants gnomes! Very funny for those of us who got the joke.
  • liquidsnake718
    Thus.... the shattered dreams of Nvidia and its GT210, 220, 240... haha.
    What a time to release such low end dead end variants... the last life of the 200series chips can now be engulfed by the HD5970... THis card looks like it would smash through the GTX295 easily and is DX11 plus plus blah blah Nvidia is sweating it out as they have lost a lump of market share as they did not ride the Christmas wave... Ive said it again and again don't you guys think Nvidia should discount their cards heavily already?!?

    I hope fermi can even compare to this dual gpu... Deep down I now doubt Nvidias GTX380 or whatever can even compare to this dual GPU, they would have to compare it now with a dual GTX300 series in my opinion at the rate that ATi has vastly improved from their previous 4850-90s, to the x2's...
  • duckmanx88
    wow look at the difference in crysis and far cry 2. the 5890 just bitch slapped the gtx 295.
  • FoShizzleDizzle
    I'm sort of at a loss for words so I will pull on a quote from The Cable Guy: this would make George Lucas cream in his pants.
  • skora
    Oh no, now I have PCB envy :(
  • megamanx00
    OMFG!! It's so F**ING HUGE!!

    I think I would want one, if I could afford a new PSU and huge case to go with it :D.
  • jj463rd
    I just completed a new build however I was short funds and had to get a $50 graphics card just to see it work.I'm glad though that I selected a 850 watt power supply.
    The Radeon 5970 sounds like the perfect card for me in January 2010.I'm getting it.
    alswome card but pricey but i guess the specs make up for it. id go for the 5850 myself if i could. maybe they'll have a giveaway for this bad boy
  • javidchaos
    I think i gotta sell my kidney and liver for one of these !!!
  • deathmustard
    Got a 5870 and mabey a year for now when the prices are down will pick another up for crossfire. As of right now my 5870 seems to handle everthing i throw at it with 1900x1080 so not even sure if i will want to get another. Hopefully next year there will some be more games to push my system.
  • apache_lives
    Sorry nvidia, ATi has won me over for this round, funny since its nvidia that usually makes a card at the right time and right price for me every time i need a new video card/rig hence why all my previous cards have all been nvidia.

    Ti4200 - 6600GT - 7900GT - 8800GT
  • ravewulf
    shubham1401GT 240 has found a competitor in HD5890!

    Um, they aren't targeted at the same people and thus not in competition to begin with. The GT 240 is sub $100, this card is $600+
  • apache_lives
    christopSweet but can't see spending 600 on a card...

    thats why there are all different price points on the market, but yes i cant even see me spending that much