All of the Radeon cards tested in our review round-up are based on AMD’s reference design, including this Asus card. However, Asus includes Smart Doctor software, which allows you to easily overclock its card.
You can use the app to auto-tune the clock speeds, though this typically gives you a conservative up-clock that results in a relatively modest performance gain. When we used the auto-overclock feature, we saw gains of 8 percent in 3DMark Vantage, and a couple of frames per second in STALKER and Far Cry 2. If you have the patience, you can tweak voltage settings, core clocks, and memory clocks manually, which could boost performance more substantially.
As with all Radeon HD 5870s, Sapphire’s version offers superlative performance, making it one of the fastest single-GPU cards available today. At its core is AMD’s 2.15 billion transistor Cypress chip, coupled with 1GB of 1,200MHz GDDR5 memory. Two DVI, one HDMI, and one DisplayPort connection allow for flexible monitor attachment.
Sapphire is bundling two games with this card: Dirt 2 and Battlestations: Pacific. Dirt 2 is one of the first titles to support Microsoft’s DirectX 11 graphics API, so it should show off the visual chops of the new GPU. As with all HD 5870 cards, the Sapphire HD 5870 is just over 10.5 inches long, so be sure the card will fit in your case before buying.
HIS is based in Hong Kong, but its cards are readily available in U.S. outlets. They often cost slightly less than the competition, but that’s not the case with the company’s Radeon HD 5870, which is priced the same as its competitors. When we first unpacked the card, we thought it was the lesser HD 5850 model, due to its relatively compact packaging.
In our benchmarks, the HIS HD 5870 turned out excellent scores across the board, easily beating the fastest previous single-GPU champ, the EVGA 285 GTX SSC. It also pumped out the highest score in the 3DMark Vantage Performance test, although, again, margins were small.
All of the Radeon HD 5870s reviewed here are essentially identical—they’re the fastest single-GPU graphics cards you can buy currently. Out of the box, you get a typical one-year limited warranty. But if you register XFX’s product online within 30 days of purchase, the warranty lasts for “the duration of your life.” Not a bad deal, assuming the company is around that long.
It’s nice having a great warranty, but you want great performance for your $390. You’ll get that in spades. The XFX card burned through our performance tests, posting the highest scores in the 3DMark Vantage Extreme and Crysis benchmarks. The differences were minimal, though, and other 5870s won in other benchmarks.
It’s no secret that ATI’s RV770 GPU, which first appeared in the Radeon 4870 and 4850 last year, is a performance beast. The spring refresh of the GPU, which offers increased core and memory clocks, along with a slight redesign of the GPU, tells an interesting story to anyone who isn’t yet running a second-gen DirectX 10 card (GeForce 2xx series or Radeon 48xx series). However, if you’ve already upgraded, there’s not much to get excited about here.
The Radeon 4890 is built on a 55nm process, just like the 4870 and 4850, but the company made significant tweaks to the architecture to accommodate higher clock speeds, which is evidenced by the fact that Diamond overclocks this board from 850MHz to 925MHz out of the box. Diamond also overclocks the card’s 1GB of memory 100MHz faster than the default, to 1,050MHz. The Radeon 4890 sports quad-pumped GDDR5 memory running on a 256-bit bus. The real stars of the Radeon 4890’s show are its pixel shaders, though, with 800 shader units running at the GPU’s core clock speed. The massive number of shader units gives the 4890 a significant advantage over comparable Nvidia cards in shader-limited benchmarks like Crysis.
We’re constantly on the hunt for top-shelf PC performance—you’re not reading Bottom-Feeder PC, after all. When rendering our review verdicts, we do factor in price, but recommending a subpar product just because it’s cheap is sacrilege to us. Pricing can be relevant, but when it comes to videocards, we typically anchor our opinions on the toughest criteria we know of: 3D performance in the most demanding games on the market, at resolutions of 1920x1200 and higher and with all eye candy enabled.
While our editorial mantra might best be expressed as “better, faster, stronger” (hey, we should do a cover story on that!), there’s no escaping the fact that the videocard market boasts a broad spectrum of inexpensive—and intriguing—alternatives. In fact, as AMD and Nvidia have been battling for supremacy at the top of the market, we’ve watched the entry points for penultimate-performance videocards gradually but consistently come down to earth. Sure, playing Crysis on a 30-inch panel might be out of the question if you’re running one of the lower-priced cards, but we still wanted to discover the 3D tipping point—the point at which you’re better off giving up PC gaming altogether because the card you’re running is horribly, utterly lacking in horsepower.
The Radeon HD 4830 at the heart of this card is a cut-down version of AMD’s second-best graphics processor, the RV770. The 4830 has 640 stream processors, compared to the 800 processors in a higher-end card such as the Radeon HD 4870.
The 4830 is designed to run at slower clock speeds, too, and PowerColor sets this model to operate its core at 575MHz and its 512MB of GDDR3 memory at 900MHz. These are pretty hobbled specs compared to those of the reference-design Radeon HD 4870, which boasts core and memory clock rates of 780MHz and 1GHz, respectively.
Whereas AMD’s Radeon HD 4830 resembles a Radeon 4870 after a partial lobotomy, the Radeon HD 4850 that sits between these two cards comes with a full complement of 800 stream processors. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you can overclock a 4850 board to achieve the same performance as one based on the 4870: The latter uses GDDR5 memory while the former is limited to GDDR3.
Nvidia’s GeForce 9800 GT is really just a rebadged GeForce 8800 GT, which makes it the only card in our roundup based on a previous-generation GPU architecture: Nvidia’s 65nm G92. Despite its age, however, the G92 helped EVGA’s GeForce 9800 GT best PowerColor’s Radeon HD 4830—at least in terms of gaming performance.
EVGA runs the 9800 GT’s core at 600MHz, but takes full advantage of its 112 shader processors’ capacity for operating at much higher frequencies: 1,500MHz in this implementation. The card has a 256-bit memory interface to a full gigabyte of GDDR3 memory running at 900MHz.
The 55nm RV770 is one of the best arrows in AMD’s GPU quiver, so it’s a good thing the part has proven to be both versatile and powerful. As deployed in the Radeon HD 4870, the RV770 has a full complement of 800 stream processors—just like the Radeon HD 4850—but in this design, the GPU is paired with GDDR5 memory.
GDDR5 memory boasts a very high data rate (ranging from 3.6Gb/s to 6.0Gb/s, compared to GDDR3’s 1.0Gb/s to 2GB/s). This enables AMD to deliver nearly the same memory bandwidth through a relatively narrow and inexpensive 256-bit bus as it would with a much wider and costlier 512-bit bus.