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Back in July of last year AMD wowed us all with the release of its HD 4870 graphics card. While it wasn't outright faster than nVidia's GTX 280, it was a huge improvement over AMD's previous generation cards and was far more sensibly priced. Since then both AMD and nVidia have released refresh versions of these cards in the form of the HD 4890 and GTX 285, as well as dual chip versions, the HD 4870 X2 and GTX 295. These all pushed performance forward but, as always, it's with a brand new chip that things get really exciting.
Today, then, we're looking at the HIS HD 5870, a card based on AMD's new RV870 GPU (codenamed Cyprus). This new chip is only the second graphics chip (after the much more modest one that powered the HD 4770) to be manufactured on a 40nm process. It's also the first to support DirectX 11, the API that will be introduced with Windows 7 and will be powering the next generation of PC games.
This is particularly significant as it means AMD will be seeding developers with these cards to use for testing. With nVidia unlikely to have working DirectX 11 hardware of its own available for sometime this means AMD has a head start in getting games optimised to run on its hardware - a significant advantage nVidia had with the 8800 series when DirectX 10 was first appearing on the scene.
As with its recent previous generation cards, AMD hasn't gone for an all out powerhouse of a new chip that will take performance to the next level. Instead it has aimed at creating a more modest chip that it can produce in large volumes and price more sensibly. Now, obviously £300 is still quite a lot of money for a graphics card but, compared to the likes of the GTX 280 that cost well over £400 when it launched, it's reasonable.
To battle for the outright performance crown, AMD will mount two of these chips on a single board, in the same way that it did with the HD 4870 X2. So if you're after the next level in performance and money's no object then that's the card to look out for in the future, along with whatever nVidia has to offer when it eventually arrives.