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.