GPU Wars: HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB
High-end video cardRobin Morris | Tuesday, December 01 2009
Evergreen, the name of ATI’s brand new range of DirectX 11 Radeon chips, may seem a strange choice in a sector where today’s hottest silicon sparkler has lost it’s lustre within the space of a month. That said, it’s been a strangely quiet period for the graphics card industry of late, but a flurry of activity over the next few months will put paid to that. And ATI would appear to have a sufficiently large selection of new products planned to ensure that Evergreen remains current even when the leaves are starting to fall from the trees in autumn.
While manufacturers once kicked off a new chip launch with their very highest-end product, these days the approach seems to be to start with a fast chip, only to bring out a dual-GPU solution a few months later to make a truly serious assault on the performance crown. The HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB, then, isn’t the fastest card we’ll see in the Evergreen line-up. Neither, though, will it be the cheapest at a pretty eye-watering$899. The budget conscious should watch for the upcoming 5850, and cut-down budget versions of the 5870 will be available in a few months time at around the $699 mark.
So, besides the DirectX 11 support (more of this later), what do you get for this not insubstantial amount of money? Well, 2.15 billion transistors, for a start. Given that the 4870 had fewer than a billion transistors, and that even the mighty GeForce GTX 280 had just 1.4 billion, this is an astonishingly high number for a single GPU.
The 5870 chip has been manufactured using the highly compact and efficient 40-nanometre process, and this has helped keep down power consumption – when active, it sucks less power than the humble 4890, although it does use over three times as much when idle.
Indeed, in a sign that power consumption really is remarkably low for a card this stoked, only two 6-pin connectors are needed.
Given the price tag, the HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB doesn’t outclass the 4890’s specifications across the board in the way that you might expect. Both have 1GB of GDDR5 and a 256bit memory bus, for instance.
Both also have an 850MHz core clock speed, although the HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB’s memory clock of 1,200MHz (4,800 DDR effective) is a substantial improvement on the 4890’s 975MHz (3,900 DDR effective).
And it destroys the nVidia GTX 295’s figure of 999MHz (1,998 DDR effective), even if the latter’s two 448bit memory buses make quite a difference. The HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB cruises ahead on stream processors – a massive 1,600 totally eclipsing the 800 of the 4890, and the 480 stream processors of the GTX 295, for instance. And its figure of 2.7TFlops is stunning for a single-GPU product.
But the HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB isn’t all about mere specifications. Eyefinity is a very nice approach towards linking multiple displays into one big image. The 5870 can support up to three screens at once, although future versions may be able to support twice that number.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB is the first card to support version 11 of Microsoft’s DirectX programming interface.
Now, DX10 hasn’t been a fantastic success, but that’s been partly down to large numbers of people sticking to Windows XP rather than upgrading to Windows Vista. Windows 7 is likely to finally draw many of these malcontents, and so DX11 looks like getting plenty of support. And its features are very exciting.
Hardware tessellation (making it far easier and more efficient for programmers to add increased detail to in-game graphics), multi-threaded rendering (most rendering in DX10 is single-thread only) and Shader Model 5.0 are pleasing additions, as is the superior texture compression.
And DirectCompute looks like being a very good alternative to nVIDIA’s CUDA. Now, admittedly, at the time of going to press, there weren’t any DX11 games to test. However, next month we should have some figures for you. In the meantime, DX11 looks very exciting, and could well make more of a difference to game players than DX10.
When we’ve raved about a brand new card so much, it’s always slightly disappointing if it doesn’t crush the competition. The HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB, though, puts up a very good showing for a single-GPU product. It does just about edge the GTX 295, although it’s a very close run thing in many of the tests – it only actually lost to the 295 in our Crysis Warhead tests. What it does tell us is that the dual-GPU version of this card should be searing. Of course, by then, we should have seen something of nVIDIA’s new range.
The HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB proves that when it comes to high-end graphics cards, the top-line specifications aren’t always the best guide – the first DirectX 11 board, it’s a single GPU card that rocks.
Despite the HIS Radeon HD 5870 1GB’s promise, we wouldn’t recommend buying it for a couple of months yet. Around $899 is still a lot to pay for a card that isn’t intended to be the fastest in the eventual Evergreen family, and that price is bound to fall in the run-up to Christmas, especially as nVIDIA starts putting its own new technology onto the market. But if this is a sign of things to come, this summer should be something of a sizzler.
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