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


Generally, when a product of this magnitude debuts, you hear polar opposite opinions of it—one from the company selling it, and another from that company’s competitor. ATI thinks that DirectX 11, stream computing, and Eyefinity are the ultimate combination of killer features for next-generation graphics. The opinions coming out of Nvidia are naturally quite opposed right now (at least until its own DirectX 11 boards are ready), favoring CUDA and the still-proprietary PhysX.

Where both companies do agree, however, is that initial reviews like this one are going to center on how the Radeon HD 5870 performs in today’s apps, and not what it might do given its future-looking specifications. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that much of what Cypress can do is still waiting to be exploited. We’re still waiting to see whether or not DirectX 11 makes more of an experiential impact than DirectX 10 or 10.1 did. We’ll have to wait for third-party developers to expose DirectCompute and OpenCL—there are no tests currently capable of measuring how Cypress handles DirectCompute, according to ATI. And we have to wait for ISVs to take advantage of ATI’s claimed protected audio path for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bitstreaming to capable receivers.

Fortunately for ATI, even if we use the games people play today as a yardstick for evaluating Radeon HD 5870, the card still dominates the hardware it’s being put up against. The board consistently beats Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 285, trades blows with the Radeon HD 4870 X2, and is sometimes able to sneak past the GeForce GTX 295.

When you consider a $379 $410 price point, the Radeon HD 5870 falls between the GeForce GTX 295 and the Radeon HD 4870 X2 (at $500, Nvidia has no choice but to cut the price on its GTX 295). Based on its performance alone, that’s very competitive. But ATI also has a handful of capabilities you can enjoy today. Add Eyefinity, CrossFire support, and idle power consumption one-third of its predecessor and ATI’s new flagship is still a solid win right now, even before factoring in the features and benefits this hardware will enable in the months to come. Never thought you'd see a reason to have so much graphics processing power (and don't own a 30" display)? Try gaming across three 20" or 24" displays. That'll tax this new GPU and give you a gaming experience you've, experienced.

Without question, ATI once again wears the single-GPU performance crown, its Radeon HD 5870 effectively blending solid performance in today’s titles with the experience-oriented extras that’ll allow developers to create tomorrow’s games. Stay tuned for more on the Radeon HD 5850. That’s the board we’re betting on to make Cypress more affordable to cash-conscious gamers. After that will come the 5870 X2 and the innovative Eyefinity⁶ Edition boards.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.