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ASUS Radeon HD 5850 1GB DirectCu TOP Review

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SKYMTL

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Let’s talk about ATI’s cards for a second before we get into the subject of this article. It used to be that lead times between video card generations –or at least the revision thereof- were measured in months and yet here we are nearly a year after the release of the first HD 5000-series and the cards still haven’t been replaced. This is not only due to a distinct lack of competition until a few months ago but also a testament to just how good these cards really are. As evidenced by the strong sales of $200 and higher GPUs, consumer hunger for high performance video cards is still there even though it is quite obvious we don’t really need loads of rendering power for today’s games.

While the HD 5000 series has continued to mature like fine wine, ATI’s board partners have helped it along by releasing a successive string of pre-overclocked, custom cooled products onto the market. In our opinion, ASUS has been leading the charge with stunning cards like the ARES and their eye-opening Matrix series. Unfortunately, the HD 5850 didn’t get a Matrix makeover but a bone has still been thrown to those of you who wanted a higher performing sub-$350 card. The famous TOP branding has now made its way to the HD 5850 and the result is a card that is sure to appeal to a wide swath of the market.

Priced at around $330, this new HD 5850 is not only overclocked but also carries a custom heatsink that ASUS dubs their “DirectCu”. This does however put it slightly above the cost of many GTX 470 cards which have seen a drastic price cut in the past few weeks. In addition, a nearly $40 price premium over a reference card wouldn’t be much if we were talking about a high-end product but when you get below the $400 mark, ever dollar counts.

There isn’t any doubt in our minds that ASUS will be able to put on a show with the HD 5850 TOP CuCore. After out disappointing outing with the Gigabyte HD 5770 “Super Overclock”, we’re due for a reminder of how an overclocked card should perform.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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ASUS HD 5850 TOP Specs / Packaging & Accessories

Specifications


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As we can see, the ASUS HD 5850 TOP DirectCU comes with some impressive clock speeds. Both the memory and the core speeds have been pushed to the point where this card stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the higher-performing HD 5850 cards currently on the market. Will these changes have a profound impact upon actual framerates? We’ll find out later.


Packaging & Accessories


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It seems like every time we come across an ASUS product it sports a different box from the last one we reviewed. This one in particular is quite stunning with an all-black colour scheme along with a few touches of colour. Once again, we just wish there was some indication of clock speeds other that the claimed “110%” performance increase claim.

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Within the exterior shell is the black box which contains the card and two separate boxes for the documentation and accessories. Protection is the usual high density foam but ASUS packs enough of it in here to protect their HD 5850 against literally anything.

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As is usual for graphics cards these days, the accessory list here is thin at best. You get an adaptor for HDMI to DVI, a Molex to 6-pin power connector, a Crossfire bridge and finally a pair of CDs; one which has the driver (we sill recommend you download the latest version from AMD.com) and another with the utilities.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the ASUS HD 5850 TOP DirectCu

A Closer Look at the ASUS HD 5850 TOP DirectCu


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As with most of their other custom designed cards, the HD 5850 TOP CU looks simply stunning with an all-black PCB as well as a large heatsink to disperse its heat.


The DirectCu cooler that is mounted on this card gets its name from the fact that it uses two direct-contact copper heatpipes which touch the GPU core and should provide some excellent temperature performance. These two heatpipes then move the heat away from the core towards the aluminum fin array and the lone 80mm fan.

Due to the length of the PCB coupled with the limited mounting footprint of the cooler, ASUS has decided to use a full-length aluminum reinforcement piece in order to prevent any unwanted flex.

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Under the oversized heatsink shroud sits a secondary heatsink over the card’s VRM modules. This is passively cooled by a combination of airflow from the main 80mm fan and your case’s fans as well.

Interestingly, even though this card is slightly longer that the reference version it keeps the rear-mounted power connectors. This will actually increase its overall length by about 1” to about 11 1/4” which may be too long for some enclosures. Speaking of the power connectors, ASUS has equipped this card with an 8-pin / 6-pin combination which is able to provide more power to the card than the stock version.

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ASUS has used a completely custom PCB which is quite a bit simpler than the reference version but it also allows for expanded VRM and power distribution sections. The only issue with this change is that it adds about an inch to the PCB which results in 10 ¼” of length.

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The output connectors are cut down a bit form what we are used to seeing so a slightly larger exhaust grille could be installed. Instead of two DVI outputs, there is only a single one along with connectors for both HDMI and DisplayPort. In case you were wondering, the TOP still supports Eyefinity.
 
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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 5850 1GB TOP DirectCU
NVIDIA GTX 480 (Reference)
NVIDIA GTX 470 (Reference)
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (Reference)
Sapphire HD 5870 1GB
Sapphire HD 5850 1GB
XFX HD 5830 1GB (Custom Cooled)


Drivers:

NVIDIA 258.96
ATI 10.6 WHQL


Applications Used:

Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
Far Cry 2
Just Cause 2
Metro 2033
Unigine: Heaven


*Notes:

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT OUR BENCHMARKING PROCESS PLEASE SEE THIS ARTICLE

- 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 3 benchmark runs

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

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
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
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
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
12,857
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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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Far Cry 2 (DX10)

Far Cry 2 (DX10)


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Even though Far Cry 2 has its own built-in benchmarking tool with some flythroughs and “action scenes”, we decided to record our own timedemo consisting of about 5 minutes of game time. It involves everything from run-and-gun fights to fire effects. The built-in benchmarking too was then set up to replay the timedemo and record framerates


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
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Just Cause 2 (DX10)

Just Cause 2 (DX10)


Just Cause 2 has quickly become known as one of the best-looking games on the market and while it doesn’t include DX11 support, it uses the full stable of DX10 features to deliver a truly awe-inspiring visual experience. For this benchmark we used the car chase scene directly following the Casino Assault level. This scene includes perfectly scripted events, some of the most GPU-strenuous effects and lasts a little less than four minutes. We chose to not use the in-game benchmarking tool due to its inaccuracy when it comes to depicting actual gameplay performance.


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
12,857
Location
Montreal
Metro 2033 (DX11)

Metro 2033 (DX11)


There has been a lot of buzz about Metro 2033 which has mostly centered on its amazing graphics coupled with absolutely brutal framerates on even the best GPUs on the market. For this test we use a walkthrough and combat scene from The Bridge level which starts at the beginning of the level and lasts for about 5 minutes of walking, running and combat. Famerates are measured with FRAPS and Advanced PhysX is turned off.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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