- Review Price: £217.99
Last week we looked at AMD’s brand new top-end graphics card the ATI HD 5870 and found it to be a seriously impressive piece of hardware. It doubled the performance of previous generation hardware (on a chip by chip basis) and came in at a reasonable price. However, knowing that the card I’m looking at today theoretically has 80 per cent of the performance but costs a third less, a full-on recommended for the HD5870 seemed a little over zealous. Well, now we’re actually looking at said card so let’s see if our presumptions were correct.
Well, we were right-on with the price. Even after being on the shelves for a couple of weeks, prices for the HD 5870 and HD 5850 are still hovering around £300 and £200, respectively. The particular card we’re looking at today is made by HIS but it conforms exactly to the reference design provided by AMD. It actually demands a little more than its brethren – in the shops we could find it in – for no apparent reason.
The card is very similar in design to the HD 5870. Indeed the whole 5000 series (including the new mid-range HD 5770 – review coming soon) is sporting the same black and red livery. At 242mm, the HD 5850 is a little (40mm) shorter than the HD 5870, though. This crucially means it isn’t longer than a motherboard is wide, so should fit in any ATX form factor case. We’re not sure the HIS sticker adds much to proceedings, though.
AMD’s new Eyefinity technology has been carried over from the HD 5870 so you still get a choice of four digital outputs; 2 x DVI, 1 x DisplayPort, and 1 x HDMI. As with the HD 5870, though, you can only use three outputs at once and at least one of these must be the DisplayPort. This still gives you the ability to run three 30in monitors at once, though. VGA analogue output can be obtained by using a DVI-to-VGA converter, one of which is provided in the box with this HIS card. You can also output digital audio through the HDMI connections and through the DVI ports, by using special DVI-to-HDMI adapters, giving you a single-cable connection to your AV receiver or TV. These latest cards add support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bit-streaming so they now support all major DVD and Blu-ray audio streams.
The new output configuration also impacts on the airflow for the cooling system. Instead of hot exhaust air being expelled through vents that fill one entire ‘slot’ of this dual-slot card, only half the ‘slot’ is available as one of the DVI sockets is in the way. The rest of the exhaust air is directed out the top of the card and back into your case. This concerned us when we saw it on the HD 5870 but we found that in practice it wasn’t a problem, so we expect it to be a similar situation with this card.
It should come as no surprise that this card requires two six-pin PCI-Express power sockets and they can be found nestling inside the faux venting on the front of the card. There are also two CrossFire connectors on the top of the card so you can of course run multi-card configurations for more performance.
Taking a closer look at the technology inside this card, like the HD 5870, you get AMD’s brand new RV870, or Cyprus, graphics chip that is built on TSMC’s latest 40nm process. In its HD 5870 form it housed 1,600 stream processors and 80 texture units (collectively split up into 20 ‘SIMD’ blocks containing 80 stream processors and 4 texture units each) accompanied by 32 ROPs. All of this lot ran at 850MHz and talked to 1GB of GDDR5 RAM running at 4.8GHz.
With the HD 5850, two of the SIMD blocks have been disabled resulting in a total of 1,440 stream processors and 72 texture units. The 32 ROPs still remain, though. All this lot runs at 750MHz while the accompanying 1GB of GDDR5 RAM runs at 4GHz.
Other features of this new chip are improved anisotropic filtering that is now completely angle-independent and super-sampling anti-aliasing support. It is of course ready and waiting to run all the new DirectX 11 games that will be coming in the not too distant future.
So that’s the card, now let’s get onto the important bit, the testing.
We tested this card in the usual way, whereby we added it to our reference system, the details of which are below, then ran a series of gaming benchmarks. With the exception of Counter-Strike: Source (CSS) and Crysis, the results are recorded manually using FRAPs while we repeatedly play the same section of the game. For CSS and Crysis we use timedemos and framerate recording is automated. All results are repeated to check for consistency and the average of the results is recorded. For Crysis, all in-game detail settings are set to High while all the other games are run at their highest possible graphical settings.
* Intel Core i7 965 Extreme Edition
* Asus P6T motherboard
* 3 x 1GB Qimonda IMSH1GU03A1F1C-10F PC3-8500 DDR3 RAM
* 150GB Western Digital Raptor
* Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
* AMD ATI HD 5870
* AMD ATI HD 5850
* AMD ATI HD 4870 X2
* AMD ATI HD 4890
* nVidia GeForce GTX 295
* nVidia GeForce GTX 285
* nVidia GeForce GTX 275
* AMD ATI HD 5000 series driver
* Other ATI cards – Catalyst 9.9
* nVidia cards – 190.02
* Far Cry 2
* Race Driver: GRID
* Call of Duty 4
* Counter-Strike: Source
Much as we suspected, the HIS HD 5850 has impressive performance with it comfortably beating all single-chip cards apart from its bigger brother the HD 5870. Both the dual-chip AMD ATI HD 4870 X2 and nVidia GTX 295 cards show they still have plenty of raw performance, though, so if you have either of those cards, the HD 5850 isn’t really worth the upgrade. Compatibility with future DirectX 11 games is obviously a motivating factor for upgrading but it will be a while before they start arriving in significant numbers so its worth waiting if you have either of these cards. Also, if the limited benefits of DX10 vs DX9 are anything to go by, you’re unlikely to miss anything too spectacular for a while.
There is of course one reason why you may choose to upgrade from one of these dual-chip cards and that’s power consumption. Both the HD 4870 X2 and GTX 295 consume huge amounts of power, even when idle. The HD 5850, in contrast delivers similar performance for much less power consumption, indeed it has the lower power consumption of any card on test (just behind the HD5870). It’s also one of the quietest, though strangely enough it is a little louder than its more powerful sibblings the HD 5870 and HD 4870 X2 when idling.
Finally we come to look at price and here the HD 5850 really begins to shine. As it happens, there is little in the way of direct competition at the HD5850’s £200 price point. Bizarrely, considering its performance deficit, the GTX 285 is still hovering around the £250 to £300 mark while the GTX 275 starts at around £160 with overclocked versions pushing £200. Again, though, neither of these cards offers performance that is close to the HD 5850. Meanwhile, AMD’s own HD 4870 X2 is upwards of £300. The only real consideration, then, is whether to get the HD 5850 or the more expensive HD 5870, which brings us back to our opening question of whether you get 90 per cent of the performance for 66 per cent of the cost and the answer is a resounding yes. As such we highly recommend this card if you’re looking to buy now. You just might want to pick one up made by another of the board partners (XFX, Asus, Sapphire, Gigabyte, Powercolor) as they’re all available for about twenty pounds less at the moment.
The AMD ATI Radeon HD 5850 is an astonishing graphics card. It offers performance only matched by cards costing £300 or more yet itself costs only £200. As a bonus, it also has very low power consumption figures. We really can’t recommend it highly enough. This particular HIS model does seem to be demanding more money at the moment than otherwise identical cards in all the shops we’ve looked at, though, so be sure to shop around.
Score in detail
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