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

Know what really sucks? Developing a piece of hardware that everyone wants, and then not being able to make enough of it to go around. Of course, what happens next is a result of supply and demand. Suddenly your $249 Radeon HD 5850s cost $300 (Nov. 30: now $310)—when they’re in stock.

Wouldn’t it follow, then, that a card with two of those über-valuable ASICs would do little to address supply issues of ATI’s Radeon HD 5800-series cards? According to the company, the exact reason it held off on launching its potent Hemlock board related to availability. Now, it says, there are enough Cypress GPUs to support sales of this…monster.

Clearly, Size Matters

Meet the Radeon HD 5970. Apparently, Radeon HD 5870 X2 too-conspicuously conveyed the dual-GPU nature of this card—an attribute that has not necessarily been celebrated in the past by those wary of scaling or stuttering issues.

Nevertheless, this is ATI’s dual-GPU, single-PCB follow-up to the Radeon HD 5870 (and answer to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 295—a card that, up until today, was the fastest discrete graphics board you could buy). Gone are all auspices of value. This thing is set to sell for $600. Almost ironically, though, the 5970 might end up being the way to go for anyone who was previously considering a pair of Radeon HD 5850s in CrossFire, which would add up to $600 today anyway.

ATI’s approach here looks a lot like what Nvidia did with its GeForce GTX 295 earlier this year.

1) Take two top-end GPUs. In Nvidia’s case, it was the GT200 with 240 stream processors. In ATI’s, it’s the 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

It goes 5970, 5870, and 5850It goes 5970, 5870, and 5850

The most significant difference is that, while Nvidia hacked and slashed the back-end of its GPU to match what you’d get from a pair of GeForce GTX 275s, cutting ROPs and 64-bits of the originally-512-bit memory interface, ATI’s Radeon HD 5970 sports a pair of uncut Cypress chips. Only the clocks are dropped (to Radeon HD 5850 levels), and for a fairly sensible reason that we'll get into shortly, too.

What results is a massive, single-PCB card that stretches a foot long—an inch more than the already-lengthy Radeon HD 5870 and an inch and a half longer than ATI’s Radeon HD 4870 X2. This will unquestionably be a sticking point for enthusiasts with cramped enclosures. Enthusiasts are a resourceful bunch, though.

More Sweet Spot Action

Hemlock represents the third of four projected launches based on the Evergreen family, first discussed in early September. The first, of course, was Cypress—the Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850. The second was Juniper—the Radeon HD 5770 and 5750. The next launch, after today’s, is expected in the first quarter of 2010 and will consist of the entry-level Cedar and Redwood components.

At least on paper, AMD’s Sweet Spot strategy is going off without a hitch.

In reality, the same availability issues that plagued the Radeon HD 4770 shortly after launch are taking their toll on Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850 supply (the 5770 and 5750s seem to be a little more widely available). Blame, of course, is being directed at TSMC’s 40nm manufacturing node and its resulting yields.

Of course, that’s a shame since supply affects pricing. But ATI tells us that only the 5850 is being hit by a $50 price jump. The 5870 remains at its $399 price point (though you’ll see some vendors selling the card for more). Moreover, the Radeon HD 5970’s $599 MSRP is being set with already-known supply issues priced in—expect it to remain around that $600 level.

Update: as of November 30, prices on Diamond's Radeon HD 5970 sit at $600; most other 5970s range from $625 to $679.

Now, let’s dig into more depth on what you’re getting for $600—$100 more than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 295.

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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