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AMD’s recent release of its RV870 GPU line makes the company the undisputed graphics performance leader. The Radeon HD 5870 is the fastest single-GPU graphics card on the market currently. But at roughly $380, it’s not inexpensive, so AMD has also rolled out the Radeon HD 5850, 5770, and 5750 cards. All are DirectX 11–capable, at lower price points than the flagship HD 5870.
The HD 5850 uses the same RV870 GPU as the 5870, but with a couple of functional units disabled. Priced at around $260, the 5850 occupies the lower tier of the high-end cards. The recently released 5770/5750 cards use a different chip. Based on the same DirectX 11 architecture as their big brothers, the 5770/5750 are built with 1.04 billion transistors—just slightly more than the 956 million used in the previous-generation Radeon HD 4870/4890 products. Contrast these numbers with the 2.15 billion transistors in the Radeon HD 5870. Current prices for 5770s are roughly the same as older 4870s, around $150–$160. So the 5770 is firmly positioned as a midrange graphics card.
We put eight cards to the test, from six companies: three Radeon HD 5870s, three HD 5850s, one HD 5770, and a factory-overclocked Nvidia GTX 260 from Gigabyte, our token Nvidia card in the mix. Read on to see which one is the best for your budget!
AMD has wasted no time bringing its DirectX 11 GPU architecture to a more affordable, mainstream-class GPU in the HD 5770. HIS is one of the first manufacturers to bring the HD 5770 to market.
At around $160, the card is priced similarly to existing Radeon HD 4870 cards. It’s the lowest-cost card in the roundup, and given the 180mm2 die size (that’s incredibly tiny for a GPU), prices are likely to eventually come down even further.
It’s easy to be seduced by the latest and greatest graphics cards, but you can sometimes find excellent deals in older-generation cards that can still keep up with today’s shader-heavy PC games. Gigabyte’s 260 GTX SuperOC is a good example.
To make the cards, Gigabyte starts with cherry-picked 260 GTX chips from the factory. Then it clocks the GPUs at 680MHz, more than 100MHz faster than the standard 576MHz. Similarly, the SuperOC pushes the shader clock to 1,466MHz, instead of the stock 1,350MHz. Rounding off the performance push is 896MB of GDDR3 running at 1.25GHz instead of 1GHz. Gigabyte delivers these rarefied clock rates at slightly less than $200.
As with Sapphire’s Radeon HD 5870, the company’s HD 5850 card ships with coupons for two games: Dirt 2 and Battlestations: Pacific. Sapphire’s HD 5850 delivers a stock Radeon HD 5850, with its 1,440 stream processors, 72 texture units, and DirectX 11 support.
In our power-usage testing, Sapphire’s power draw was about average for an HD 5850. Our system power averaged 140W at idle, while pushing 260W at full throttle. Fan noise was fairly loud at full bore, but that was generally true of all the cards. At idle, overall noise levels were low enough to blend into the background of CPU, power supply, and case cooling.
We admit to mixed feelings about Diamond’s Radeon HD 5850. On one hand, it offers the same strong performance as other Radeon HD 5850 cards—second only to their big-brother HD 5870 cards. But unlike other manufacturers, you don’t get a coupon for Dirt 2 in the box. Instead, you need to register the card at Diamond’s website to get the perk. You also won’t get the two-year warranty unless you register the card.
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.