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ASUS HD 5870 2GB Matrix Platinum Edition Review

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SKYMTL

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Considering the number of HD 5000 series reviews we have done here at Hardware Canucks, most of you should be well versed in the positioning of ATI’s current lineup. Not only are the able to offer cost conscious DX11 solutions to a large cross-section of the most lucrative markets but the performance of their offerings is without a doubt impressive as well. When it comes to single GPU cards, the HD 5870 sits atop ATI’s current offerings and actually performs quite well when compared to the GTX 480 competition as well. However, with NVIDIA still having some serious supply issues with their Fermi-based cards, ATI and their board partners have a chance to scoop up even more of the graphics card market. To do this, many have been releasing highly overclocked and custom cooled versions

Now that ASUS has officially launched their HD 5870 Matrix Edition, they join the ranks of MSI, Gigabyte, HIS, Powercolor and Sapphire who have all released their flagship HD 5870 cards with varying degrees of success over the last few months. In past reviews we have looked at the Gigabyte’s Super Overclock and Sapphire’s Toxic and found that both were full-featured cards that did somewhat justify their price premiums . ASUS on the other hand is taking a somewhat different approach since they have decided to release the Matrix in two different flavors: a “standard” version that includes 2GB of memory and all of the unique Matrix-specific features and a “Platinum” edition that incorporates a pre-overclocked core as well. It will also come as a disappointment to many that even on the Platinum, memory clock speeds stay at the reference speed.

According to ASUS, what makes the HD 5870 Matrix stand out from the crowd is not clock speeds but rather its long list of features. This includes iTracker software that can monitor and modify nearly every aspect of VGA performance, a unique cooler that is able to exhaust all of the hot air outside your case the ability to adjust not only clok speeds but also memory timings and many other additional features. We will be going into all of these items a bit later in the review but let’s just say that the HD 5870 Matrix is one of the most fully-featured cards on the market.

Naturally, high end features, 2GB of GDDR5 memory wrapped up into a limited edition card doesn’t come cheap and the Matrix demands a high price indeed. For the standard version pricing will start at around $450 while the Platinum edition will likely be priced at or slightly above $500. This is a high premium considering most reference-based cards are currently retailing for under the $400 mark,

In this review we will be looking at the ASUS HD 5870 Platinum and will determine if its features, 2GB of memory and higher clock speeds are worth its asking price. So hold on tight because we will be getting into literally every facet of this card in the next twenty or so pages.

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SKYMTL

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ASUS Xtreme Design VGA

ASUS Xtreme Design VGA


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As the VGA market becomes more and more competitive, board partners are always looking for new ways to distinguish themselves from the competition. Gigabyte has their Ultra Durable VGA initiative and ASUS now has what they call Xtreme Design VGA which is usually implemented on their custom cards. Basically, Xtreme Design involves a number of features that all work in concert to increase the overall quality and staying power of a given card. This section may seem more like a marketing blurb but all we are aiming for is to explain what Xtreme Design claims to bring to the table.


Dust Proof Fan

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We all know that dust is a constant problem within a computer case and it can shorten the life of certain components like fans and power supplies. ASUS has implemented what they call a “dust proof fan” which is basically a hub design that ensures dust does not enter the bearing area which will in turn extend the fan’s lifespan. With this feature it is claimed that the fan’s life will be extended by nearly 10,000 hours.


GPU Guard

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One of the main problems with larger GPUs is PCB flex which is easily identifiable on cards that use certain custom coolers. In these cases, the PCB will slightly bow where pressure is applied. Even though this isn’t a problem on cards sporting full-length coolers with multiple contact points, the ASUS GPU Guard aims to eliminate this by introducing additional reinforcement between the PCB layers. This is NOT included with the Matrix.


Fuse Protection

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While surge protectors and most UPS units will protect your computer from harmful surges, there are plenty of people out there that don’t have one of these units installed between their PC and the wall outlet. In order to add another layer of protection between the sensitive components on a graphics card and harmful power surges, ASUS has begun implementing Fuse Protection. This means a pair of fuses have been installed on the card just in case your power supply’s Over Current Protection fails as well. Let’s call this a last line of defence when all else fails.
 
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SKYMTL

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Specifications / Packaging & Accessories

ASUS HD 5870 2GB Matrix Platinum Specifications


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To be perfectly honest with you, the HD 5870 Matrix Platinum Edition really doesn’t have the specifications that make us sit up and say “wow” like we were hoping when it was first announced. What we get is a mere 50Mhz overclock on the core while the memory speeds stay at stock values. The 2GB of memory is noteworthy but as we showed in the sapphire HD 5870 2GB Toxic review, the HD 5870’s architecture just can’t take advantage of it in most situations and as such it serves as nothing more than a marketing ploy at best. This 2GB of memory is left at the reference speed for some reason which is quite disappointing.

One major thing to note is that while ASUS claims this card sports a core clock of 900Mhz, it seems the retail cards (and our sample) will be clocked at 894Mhz but will increase their clock speeds to 900Mhz when the iTracker software is installed and the Gamer mode selected.


Packaging & Accessories


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The ASUS Matrix series of graphics cards usually receives a unique package and this one is no different. It sports an upright configuration with a shiny red overlay depicting a character looking over a cityscape. All in all, it is quite stunning. ASUS also pops a “Overclocked 900Mhz” label at the bottom which is a bit of a misnomer considering the Matrix Platinum is “almost” clocked at 900Mhz.

The back features a wealth of information including a a description of the ProbeIT features a marketing blurb about how 2GB of GDDR5 memory can help when gaming at Eyefinity resolutions.

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The front of the box actually features a flap that can be pulled back to reveal a dizzying amount of information and the features which the Matrix contains. There is also a cut out like we have seen on high-end motherboard boxes which shows the card in all its splendor. Brick and mortar retail stores are sure to love this.

Within the box itself we see that ASUS has spared no expense when it comes to protecting their flagship HD 5870 card. It is protected by the plastic window as well as a massive amount of black foam so it doesn’t move within the box. The accessories meanwhile are pushed out to the side compartment as well as within a separate box below the foam holder.


A high end card begets a high end accessory package and ASUS really delivered here. To begin with, the usual instruction manuals are supplemented by an instruction manual for the included iTracker software. You may think this means iTracker is horribly complicated but as we will see in another section, it is actually quite straightforward and the instruction manual is only included in order to guide newcomers through the process of tweaking their Matrix cards.

Also included with the card is a vinyl CD holder, two dual 6-pin to 8-pin adaptors, an Crossfire bridge, a HDMI to DVI dongle and a DVI to VGA adaptor. Finally, a simply stunning Republic of Gamers case badge is thrown in for good measure.
 

SKYMTL

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ASUS iTracker Software

ASUS iTracker Software


At its most basic, the ASUS iTracker is a piece of software that gives users access to video card monitoring and overclocking options in a Windows environment. This effectively replaces the limited and somewhat clunky interface of ASUS’ SmartDoctor with something that is more streamlined and user-friendly.


The first screen which pops up when iTracker is installed is actually the most important one if you are planning on overclocking the card. Starting on the left hand side is a number of predefined and user adjustable profiles that run the gamut from the sightly higher clocked Gaming more to an energy efficient profile that helps you conserve power at the cost of performance. Within each of these profiles, you have the ability to tweak both clock speeds and voltages for the core and the memory.

Clicking on the Memory tab brings up yet another menu where you are able to actually modify the memory timings. There are three pre-defined profiles of which one includes an “overclocking” preset that loosens the timings slightly in order to provide additional clock speed headroom. If you want to go at it alone in order to find the perfect mix of timings and clock speeds, ASUS allows for full control of every setting here as well.

The last section is a fan speed adjustment that actually incorporates a unique twist. You can either modify the speed by a constant amount if you want it running at say 75% no matter the temperature or you can designate the temperature thresholds for each fan speed increase manually. This last option is in our opinion a godsend.

Also, in the upper right-hand corner are two buttons: one which brings up a Monitoring window and the other allows you to customize iTracker.

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As you can see above, the Settings or customization menu is relatively basic and allows you to control how iTracker behaves along with some colour options. We would have liked all of iTracker’s options to be contained here but as you will see below, the settings for monitoring are contained elsewhere.

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The Monitoring window does exactly what its name implies: allows for the monitoring and logging of an amazing number of graphics card properties. Much like MSI’s Afterburner, ASUS decided to use the tried and true Rivatuner layout for the monitoring window itself. Meanwhile, clicking on the Setting button brings up a simple yet effective window in which you can set up everything from the speed at which the information updates itself of the path for the log file and which items you actually want to monitor. All in all, this is extremely well done.

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We can’t finish up this section without a look at the Profile Management iTracker brings to the table. Once you choose a profile, the first thing which will pop up is a screen which allows for you to name your custom profile and assign it a hotkey. This is the best way to ensure none of the default profiles are overwritten.

Just remember, these settings are saved to the Matrix’s BIOS chip which means the card will automatically boot with whichever profile you have selected. If there is an issue which prevents the card from booting into Windows, your only recourse will be to push the Safe Mode button on the back of the card in order to start the GPU with the default settings applied. On the plus side this feature also means you don’t need to have iTracker installed for the settings to be enabled once you have found that perfect combination of performance and efficiency. In addition, even if you upgrade your drivers your previous clock speed settings will remain as-is since they are not affected by software changes.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the HD 5870 2GB Matrix Platinum

A Closer Look at the HD 5870 2GB Matrix Platinum


HD5870-MATRIX-8.jpg

Similar to all of the other Matrix Edition cards, the HD 5870 version uses what looks to be a corrugated black heatsink shroud with the typical ROG logo. The effect is quite stunning especially with the small bits of red here and there which accent the ATI roots of this card. We should also mention that ASUS has decided to stick to the reference PCB length of 10.5” but since their shroud is cut off flush with the PCB, the Matrix is actually ½” shorter than a standard HD 5870.

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Unlike most of the other board partners’ custom and high-clocked HD 5870 cards, the Matrix uses a full-length heatsink that –like the reference card- exhausts hot air outside of the case. In our opinion, this gives this cooling solution a serious leg up on the competition even if it does end up exhibiting slightly higher temperatures.


Moving to the side of the card we see the heatsink shroud has a built-out section that houses the glowing Matrix logo. This section glows in different colours (green, light blue, dark blue, purple and red) to represent the amount of load being placed on the card. Pretty? Yes. Useful? Not really.

ASUS also decided to go with a pair of 8-pin PCI-E power connectors. In our opinion, this is complete overkill for most users but when placed into the hands of a seasoned overclcoker, the sky’s the limit when it comes to clock speeds and power consumption. So, the ability for the card to consume 450W (300W from the two PCI-E connectors and 150W from the slot) could come in handy for some people.


Instead of leaving bare GDDR5 memory modules on the back of the Matrix, ASUS has applied a thick aluminum heatsink in order to disperse the heat generated by the ICs. In addition, we can see the large FPCap ppeeking through a custom-made hole in this heatsink.

Another of the features we mentioned in a previous section of this article is the ability to gauge the voltages coursing through the Matrix without having to rely on sometimes-inaccurate software. The inclusion of these multimeter voltage read points once again won’t come in handy for most users but serious overclockers are sure to appreciate them.

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Finally, we come to the backplate and it’s quite obvious that ASUS has once again bucked the trend of reference design cards and has gone with a unique approach. Gone is the horribly small exhaust grille from previous ATI cards and in its place is an opening large enough to ensure proper ventilation. This doesn’t mean the Matrix’s Eyefinity abilities are curtailed because connectors for HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI are all included. In addition, if you need another DVI connector you can simply use the included HDMI to DVI dongle.

Since the iTracker software has the ability to overclock the card and save new clock frequencies directly to the BIOS, ASUS has included a failsafe button. In the eventuality that you end up pushing things too far and instability occurs, this button will set the Matrix’s BIOS to its default values and you’ll be free of worry.
 

SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 920(ES) @ 4.0Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: Corsair 3x2GB Dominator DDR3 1600Mhz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: CoolIT Boreas mTEC + Scythe Fan Controller (Off for Power Consuption tests)
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

ASUS HD 5870 2GB Matrix
Gigabyte HD 5870 1GB Superclocked
NVIDIA GTX 480
NVIDIA GTX 470
ATI HD 5970 2GB (Stock)
Sapphire HD 5850 1GB (Stock)
EVGA GTX 285 (Stock)
GTX 295 (Stock)


Drivers:

ATI 10.3a Preview + 10.3 Profile 1.0
NVIDIA 197.17 Beta


Applications Used:

Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
Dragon Age: Origins
Far Cry 2
Metro 2033
Unigine: Heaven


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 2 benchmark runs

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 

SKYMTL

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Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)

Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)


When benchmarking Aliens Versus Predator, we played through the whole game in order to find a section which represents a “worst case” scenario. We finally decided to include “The Refinery” level which includes a large open space and several visual features that really tax a GPU. For this run-through, we start from within the first tunnel, make our way over the bridge on the right (blowing up several propane tanks in the process), head back over the bridge and finally climb the tower until the first run-in with an Alien. In total, the time spent is about four minutes per run. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,841
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BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)

BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)


To benchmark BF: BC2 we used a five minute stretch of gameplay starting from the second checkpoint (after the helicopter takes off) of the second single player mission up until your battle with the tank commences. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
DiRT 2 (DX11)

DiRT 2 (DX11)


Being one of the newest games on the market, DiRT 2 cuts an imposing figure in terms of image quality and effects fidelity. We find that to benchmark this game the in-game tool is by far the best option. However, due to small variances from one race to another, three benchmark runs are done instead of the normal two. It should also be mentioned that the demo version of the game was NOT used since after careful testing, the performance of the demo is not representative of the final product. DX11 was forced through the game’s config file. In addition, you will see that these scores do not line up with our older benchmarks at all. This is due to the fact that a patch was recently rolled out for the game which included performance optimizations in addition to new graphics options.

1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,841
Location
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Dragon Age: Origins (DX9)

Dragon Age: Origins (DX9)


To benchmark Dragon Age, we used a simple walkthrough coupled with a short combat sequence. The benchmark run begins with a walk through one of the most demanding scenes we have come across in the game so far: the walk over the bridge and through Ostagar. This is followed by a combat sequence outside of the fortress itself. In total the runthrough takes about 6 minutes.

1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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