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Gigabyte HD 5870 1GB Super Overclock Review

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SKYMTL

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With competition in the graphics card market as fierce as it currently is, both ATI’s and NVIDIA’s board partners are constantly looking for ways to distinguish their products from those of the competition. Even though the HD 5870 has been out for quite a while, it is still one of the most popular cards on the market and as such, we have seen numerous custom designs based off of it. Products like the PowerColor PCS+, ASUS Matrix, Sapphire Toxic, MSI’s Lightning series and HIS’ Turbo X have all shown that extra performance can easily be squeezed out of the HD 5870’s frame if you are willing to pay for it. There have even been 2GB versions released like the aforementioned Sapphire Toxic Edition. However, all of these players know that another major vendor is about to enter their cozy little corner of the market and want to make sure all their cards are on the table before any announcement is made.

Gigabyte is joining the ranks of these board partners with their own eagerly anticipated HD 5870: the Super Overclock Edition. We have already looked at two previous Super Overclock cards in the form of the GTX 275 SoC and the GTX 260 216 Soc and both times we came away extremely impressed. Not only were those cards capable of equalling the performance of significantly high-end products but they were also priced quite well. Availability of highly overclocked cards usually leaves much to be desired and Gigabyte is committed to offering sufficient stock this time around. Interestingly enough, the HD 5870 SoC can already be found at several retailers throughout North America and Europe.

When we previewed Gigabyte’s flagship card, quite a few interesting technologies were put on the table and discussed. Not much has changed since then other than the clock speeds which were predicted. Unfortunately, Gigabyte wasn’t quite able to hit their target 1Ghz core speed even with their stringent GPU Gauntlet sorting process. In our conversations with them it was stated again and again that the yields of cores capable of running 1Ghz with the stability needed for a retail product were too small. As such, the speed had to be dialled back to a more pedestrian 950Mhz.

Naturally, pricing for any non-reference card is going to run the usual gamut: it will either be priced surprisingly well or it will command a significant premium over the cookie-cutter version. The Super Overclock lands firmly on the “they want how much!?” side of the fence at around $500 USD. With many HD 5870 1GB cards costing between $400 and $420, this will probably be a bitter pill to swallow for prospective owners. However, if the Super Overclock’s performance can live up to expectations, it may well be worth the investment.

 
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SKYMTL

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Gigabyte's GPU Gauntlet

Gigabyte's GPU Gauntlet



In the enthusiast and extreme overclocking community, hand-picking components which ensure the best possible overclock and durability are regular occurrences. World record holding overclockers can go through dozens of processors before they find the one that suits their needs. Graphics card manufacturers do the same thing when it comes to picking GPUs for their highly overclocked cards since they have to ensure the chips they use will run the specified clock frequencies. The rejected chips are usually used for reference-clocked products.

Gigabyte has taken things to the next level by running the cores through what they call the GPU Gauntlet before they are deemed acceptable for their Super Overclock cards. Due to the clock speeds these chips have to maintain, the binning process is really meant to find the diamonds in the rough. Here is how Gigabyte explains the way their binning system works:

Only the strongest processors survive the GPU Gauntlet.

First, our database analysis system evaluates the GPU core engine, shader engine, and
memory. If a processor doesn’t meet the pre-defined standard, it will not qualify for the Super
Overclock Series.

Then, our proprietary testing toolkit allows us to inspect and select the GPUs with the highest frequency. This program operates for 30 minutes and provides important data on the maximum overclocking ability compared to a stock GPU. Once the Super OC point has been determined, our engineers will boost the frequency to offer the highest factory default clock setting in the market.

Next, each Super Overclock Series GPU faces the Graphics benchmarks, Furmark and 3Dmark Vantage, to measure performance and stability under an intense graphics load. A GPU that passes this stage will perform at a lower temperature and fan speed compared to a standard GPU. By choosing the cream of the crop, we ensure rich rendering of intricate 3D scenes and realistic physical effects (water, gas, steam, fire, etc) for a lifelike gaming adventure.

Lastly, we test the power switching and stability. The GPUs with the best power efficiency and lowest power consumption are qualified for the Super Overclock Series. And we understand that premium graphics cards should not sound like a cement truck rolling down the freeway, so a large cooling fan provides for a quiet computing environment.

So the question remains…will your graphics card make it through the Gauntlet?
 

SKYMTL

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Ultra Durable VGA Under the Microscope

Ultra Durable VGA Under the Microscope



Gigabyte’s Ultra Durable VGA has been used for quite a while now and it involves a number of high-quality component choices which are made to increase efficiency, decrease temperatures and even have a positive effect on the overclocking potential of a GPU. Having a Gigabyte UDV card means that you are guaranteed the best possible component choices rather than bargain-basement components that some manufacturers use to cut costs.

(From Gigabyte)

2 oz Copper PCB

2 oz copper PCB board doubles the copper inner layer of PCB board and provides unrivaled performance compared with traditional 1 oz PCB board.


Tier 1 Samsung and Hynix Memory

Ultra Durable VGA promises 1st tier Samsung/Hynix memory built with 100% fully testing.


Japanese Solid Capacity

Solid capacitors contain a solid organic polymer, while electrolytic capacitors use a common liquid electrolyte. Our cards use Japanese solid capacitors made by leading Japanese manufactures and offer better electronic conductivity for unrivaled performance.


Ferrite Core (Met ) Chokes

Ferrite core chokes are comprised of a compound of iron-oxide whose properties hold energymuch longer than common iron-core chokes at high frequency. They are able to store energy longer and prevent rapid energy loss at high frequency.


Low RDS (on) MOSFET

Lower RDS (on) MOSFETs are specially designed to produce lower switching resistance for faster electric current charging and discharging.
 

SKYMTL

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Specifications / Packaging & Accessories

Gigabyte HD 5870 1GB Super Overclock Specifications



Gigabyte’s HD 5870 Super Overclock almost lives up to the name of past SoC cards but not quite. We say this because both the GTX 275 and GTX 260 models sported stunningly high clock speeds but while the 950Mhz core speed of this card is impressive, it is still a far cry from the 1Ghz many were expecting. As we mentioned in the introduction, this isn’t any fault of Gigabyte’s since even with careful binning, the number of new production HD 5870 cores that can hit 1Ghz without a is next to none.

Nonetheless, 100Mhz more on the core coupled with 200Mhz (QDR) on the memory should get us some decent enough gains at lower resolutions and there is always the possibility of manually overclocking the card to reach even higher speeds.


Packaging & Accessories



The predominantly black packaging this card comes in is virtually identical to that of past Super Overclock cards. Not only does it convey most of the features which take center stage but it is also relatively compact which will in turn cut down on shipping costs. Unfortunately, like most other cards on the market there is no mention of clock speeds at all.


Within the exterior cardboard sleeve is the box within which the Super Overclock resides. The card is protected by a large amount of form-fitting high density foam and an anti static bag while the accessories are pushed off to a side compartment in order to stop them from sliding around.


Gigabyte’s flagship HD 5870 comes with a basic accessory package that doesn’t include any games or interesting utilities (other than Gigabyte-specific software that is). You get a pair of Molex to 6-pin PCI-E adaptors, a DVI to VGA dongle, a Crossfire bridge and finally an instruction manual.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 5870 1GB SoC

A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 5870 1GB Super Overclock



Gigabyte’s HD 5870 Super Overclock card is simply dominated by a high performance, dual fan heatsink which is supposed to keep the overclocked core as cool as possible. Unfortunately, this design also leads to the vast majority of heat staying within the immediate vicinity of the card instead of being exhausted outside of your case.

Even though these pictures above make the card look extremely long, it actually sticks to the ATI reference length of 10 ½” for the PCB. However, due to the fact that Gigabyte has used a bare PCB instead of a heatsink shroud that overhands the edge of the PCB, the Super Overclock will take up about 1/2" less room in your case.


In the past, SoC series cards used the reference heatsink but Gigabyte decided to take a fundamentally different approach this time around. In the reference heatsink’s place is a massive dual fan affair that is obviously bred for performance with a quartet of large copper heatpipes to whisk heat away from the core and an aluminum fin array that is capped with a unique shroud. The two 80mm fans are slightly angled in order to direct their airflow with greater force through the fins but this could also cause slightly erratic airflow as well. We will see how this setup performs a bit later on in the review.


On the very back edge of the card are a number of multimeter read points which can be used to monitor everything from the memory and core voltage to the voltage of the card’s PCI-E interface. Even though most users won’t use these points, they will definitely come in handy for overclockers who push their cards beyond normal boundies.

Interestingly, Gigabyte decided to go with a pair of 6-pin PCI-E connectors instead of the 6+8 setup most of ATI’s board partners are using for their overclocked HD 5870 cards. Whether or not this layout will hamper the SoC’s upper end overclocking limits is anyone’s guess but we would much rather have the overhead granted by the 6+8 combination than go without it when overclocking.
 
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SKYMTL

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Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 5870 1GB SoC pg.2

A Closer Look at the Gigabyte HD 5870 1GB SoC pg.2



The low-slung nature of the heatsink used on this card means Gigabyte couldn’t install ramsinks onto the GDDR5 memory modules. Granted, the actual benefit of ramsinks has yet to be proven but once again we would have preferred if Gigabyte had erred on the side of caution.


The back of the Super Overclock’s totally custom PCB holds a wealth of interesting design features that are unique to this card. To begin with, there are six green LEDs which light up in tune with the number of power phases in use once Gigabyte's OC Guru software is installed. There are also five black squares that look a lot like memory ICs but are actually Prodalizer film capacitors made by NEC’s subsidiary Tokin. This 4+1 setup (four capacitors for the core and one for the memory) is supposed to provide high switching frequency and current capacity with lower ESR which results in extremely clean power delivered to all of this card’s components. In addition, these “supercapactiors” can also eliminate the high pitched “whine” that characterizes some high-end graphics cards.


Gigabyte has decided to keep the reference card’s backplate which means it packs a pair of DVI connectors as well as outputs for both HDMI and DisplayPort.
 
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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:

Gigabyte HD 5870 1GB Super Overclock
NVIDIA GTX 480
NVIDIA GTX 470
ATI HD 5970 2GB (Stock)
Sapphire HD 5870 1GB (Stock)
Sapphire HD 5850 1GB (Stock)
EVGA GTX 285 (Stock)
GTX 275 896MB (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





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

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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





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

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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





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 
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