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XFX Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Review

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SKYMTL

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XFX Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Review





Manufacturer's Part Number: HD-585A-ZNFC
Price: Click here to compare prices
Manufacturer's Product Page: XFX HD 5850 1GB
Warranty: Double Lifetime



A few weeks ago, the world’s love affair with ATI’s new 5000-series started with the release of the HD 5870 amid a swarm of positive reviews. Even though there were some small hitches in performance versus the best of the best from the previous generation, ATI’s new product showed itself to be one of the best currently on the market while including some killer features to boot. However, ATI didn’t stop there and went ahead and soft launched the HD 5870’s little brother as well. Today we look at the card that is perhaps making a larger splash in the GPU market pool than any single chip flagship: the HD 5850.

Even though the official launch of the HD 5850 1GB was pushed back a few days, it is still highly anticipated considering on paper it seems to bring most of the performance of a HD 5870 but with a palatable price point. To be honest with you, its present street price of around $269USD / $299CAD could make it an amazing value within its intended market segment which isn’t something we have come to expect from newly launched products. The only issue at this point is availability since the HD 5850 is still hard to find regardless of how many cards are being produced.

Speaking of value, the goal of bringing the best price to performance ratio and performance per watt cards to consumers has been central to the way ATI has done business for their last two product generations. It is this focus that has allowed them to concentrate on specific price segments with higher than expected performance in order to keep the competition on its toes. We have seen the effects of this again and again with NVIDIA’s constant price cutting in a desperate bid to keep their previously high performance cards relevant in a changing climate.

Even though availability may still be a bit spotty and this review is going up a bit later than we may have liked, XFX provided one of their standard-clocked HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 cards. We are particularly excited about this one due to the fact that XFX is currently the only ATI board partner which can boast full North American-based tech support and RMA service along with a Double Lifetime Warranty. These are things no other ATI board partner can attest to and as such pushes XFX to a preeminent position among ATI’s chosen AIBs.

There are very few times when we actually get excited about what a graphics card can bring to the table but this time things are different. Considering the performance of the HD 5870, it should definitely be interesting to see how close the HD 5850 can come to its big brother.


 
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SKYMTL

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A Look at the ATI 5000-series

A Look at the ATI 5000-series



As you can probably tell by the chart above, both the HD 5870 and the HD 5850 fit perfectly into ATI’s current lineup. In essence, The HD 5870 takes the place of the expensive-to-produce and comparably inefficient dual GPU HD 4870X2 as the top dog for the time being. Judging from paper specifications alone, the HD 5870 is a technological marvel considering it packs all of the rendering potential of ATI’s past flagship card and then some while not being saddled by an inefficient dual processor design. The fact that this new card could effectively double the performance of a HD 4890 just a few months after that card’s release is nothing short of stunning.


The HD 5850 on the other hand looks to be the purebred price / performance leader of the new ATI lineup. Barring slightly lower clock speeds for both the core and memory along with eight disabled texture units (totaling 160 stream processors), it is basically a clone of the HD 5870. This is the card ATI hopes will compete directly with the GTX 285 for the near future and then come into its own when DX11 games make their way into the market. We believe this card will appeal to the majority of early adopters since it allows them to buy class-leading DX9 and DX10 performance now without gambling $400 on unproven DX11 potential.

We can also see that ATI did some careful price cutting prior to launch since even though the HD 4890 looks to offer about half the HD 5870’s performance, it is actually priced accordingly. As such, this previously high end card will stick around for the next few months in the $200 price bracket but that isn’t to say that it will stay there indefinitely...


In short order, ATI will have a full range of DX11 cards on the market; all of which have been talked about in rumours over the last quarter. To begin with we will see the two “Cypress” series cards which are the HD 5870 and HD 5850 followed before the new year by the dual GPU Hemlock card which will make use of two Cypress processors. The Hemlock sticks to ATI’s mantra of never releasing a card that retails for above $500 but it will nonetheless take over the premier position of this DX11 lineup.

The $199 Juniper card will rear its head right before the year is up and should take the place of the HD 4890 and will give consumers a perfectly affordable card to put on their parents’ Christmas shopping list. Finally, the first months of 2010 will herald the Redwood and Cedar mainstream cards.

So there you have it. In the high stakes game of poker that is the GPU industry, ATI has shown its hand. All that is left is for the competition to respond.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Focus on DX11

A Focus on DX11


It has been a hair under three years since the release of Windows Vista and with it the DirectX 10 API. In that amount of time, a mere 33 DX10 games were released. That isn’t exactly a resounding success considering the hundreds of titles released in that same time. Let’s hope DX11 does a bit better than that.


DX11 is focused on taking the lessons learned from the somewhat inefficient DX10 and shaping them into a much more efficient API which will demand less system resources while being easier to develop for. In addition to the usual 3D acceleration, it will also be used to speed up other applications which in the past have not been associated with the DirectX runtime. This may be a tall order but with the features we will be discussing here, developers have already started using DX11 to expand the PC gaming experience. It is an integral component in Windows 7 and according to Microsoft, will also be adopted into Windows Vista through a software update.

Let’s scratch the surface of what DX11 can bring to the table.


Unlike past DirectX versions, DX11 endeavours to move past the purely graphics-based uses of the API and push it towards being the lynchpin of an entire processing ecosystem. This all begins with the power which DirectX Compute will bring into the fold. Not only can it increase the efficiency of physics processing and in-game NPC intelligence within games by transferring those operations to the GPU but it can also be used to accelerate non-3D applications.




Through the use of Compute Shader programs in Shader Model 5.0, developers are able to use additional graphical features such as order independent transparency, ray tracing, and advanced post-processing effects. This should add a new depth of realism to tomorrow’s games and as mentioned before, also allow for programs requiring parallel processing to be accelerated on the GPU.


For the majority of you reading this review, it is the advances in graphics processing and quality that will interest you the most. As games move slowly towards photo-realistic rendering quality, new technologies must be developed in order to improve efficiency while adding new effects.


Some of the technologies that ATI is championing are DX11’s new Depth of Field, OIT (or Order Independent Transparency) and Detail Tessellation. While the pictures above do a good job of showing you how each of these works, it is tessellation which ATI seems most excited about. They have been including hardware tessellation units in their GPUs for years now and finally with the dawn of DX11 will these units be finally put to their full use. OIT on the other hand allows for true transparency to be added to an object in a way that will be more efficient resource-wise than the standard alpha blending method currently used.


Let’s talk about DX11 games. As you would expect, due to the ease of programming for this new API and the advanced tools it gives developers, many studios have been quite vocal in their support. Even though some of the titles listed above may not be high on your list of must have games, A-list titles like the upcoming Aliens vs. Predator from Rebellion and DiRT 2 are sure to get people interested. What we like see is at least three DX11 games being available before the Christmas buying season even though BattleForge is already available and will have DX11 support added through a patch.

Another exciting addition to the list is EA DICE’s FrostBite 2 Engine which will power upcoming Battlefield games. Considering the popularity of this series, the inclusion of DX11 should open up this API to a huge market.

 

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OpenCL: The Next Big Thing?

OpenCL: The Next Big Thing?



As consumers, we have all heard of the inroads GPUs have been making towards offering stunning performance in compute-intensive applications. There have been attempts to harness this power by engines such as Nvidia’s Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA) and ATI’s Stream SDK (which in v2.0 supports OpenCL).


“Build it and the will come” says the old mantra but industry adoption of CUDA and Stream was anything but quick since there were two standards being pushed for the same market. CUDA in particular is having a hard time of it since it is vendor-specific without hardware support from any other vendor. The industry needed a language that was universal and available across multiple platforms. That’s were OpenCL (Open Computing Language) along with DirectX Compute come into play. It is completely open-source and managed by a non-profit organization called the Khronos Group which also has control over OpenGL and OpenAL


At its most basic level, OpenCL is able to be executed across multiple mediums such as GPUs, CPUs and other types of processors. This makes it possible to prioritize workloads to the processor that will handle them most efficiently. For example, a GPU is extremely good at crunching through data-heavy parallel workloads while an x86 CPU is much more efficient at serial and task-specific This also allows developers to write their programs for heterogeneous platforms instead of making them specific to one type of processor.


So what does this mean for gamers? First of all, AMD has teamed up with Bullet and PixeLux in order to achieve more realistic environments for players. The Bullet Physics is an open-source physics engine which has an ever-expanding library for soft body, 3D collision detection and other calculations. Meanwhile, PixeLux uses their DMM (Digital Molecular Matter) engine which uses the Finite Element Analysis Method of calculating physics within a game. In past applications, it has been used to calculate actions which have an impact on the game’s environment such as tumbling rubble or debris movement.


With Stream moving to OpenCL, ATI is truly moving towards an open platform for developers which they are hoping will lead to broader developer and market adoption than the competition’s solutions. At this point it looks like we will soon see ATI’s GPUs accelerating engines from Havok, PixeLux and Bullet through the use of OpenCL. Considering these are three of the most popular physics engines on the market, ATI is well placed to make PhysX a thing of the past.
 

SKYMTL

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ATI’s Eyefinity Technology

ATI’s Eyefinity Technology



The term Surround Gaming may not mean much to many of you who are reading this article but with the advent of ATI’s new Eyefinity technology, now is a good time to educate yourself. Basically, Eyefinity will give users the ability to use multiple monitors all running from the same graphics card. In the past, simple dual monitor setups have been used by many graphics, CAD or other industry professionals in order to increase their productivity but gaming on more than one monitor was always a bit of a clunky affair. Granted, some products like Matrox’s TripleHead2Go were able to move multi monitor setups into the public’s perception but there were always limitations (resolution and otherwise) associated with them. ATI is aiming to make the implementation of two or even more monitors as seamless as possible within games and productivity environments while offering the ability to use extreme resolutions.


While the price of two or even three new monitors may be a bit daunting at first for many of you, but good 20” and even 22” LCDs have come down in price to the point where some are retailing below the $200 mark. ATI figures that less than $600 for three monitors will allow plenty of people to make the jump into a true surround gaming setup. Indeed, with three or even six monitors, the level of immersion could be out of this world.


The reason that main in the professional field are familiar with multi monitor setups is for one simple matter: they increase productivity exponentially. Imagine watching a dozen stocks without having to minimize windows all the time or using Photoshop on one screen while watching a sports broadcast on another and using the third screen for Photoshop’s tooltips. The possibilities are virtually limitless if it is implemented properly.


When it comes to a purely gaming perspective, the thought of a massive view of the battlefield or the ability to see additional enemies in your peripheral vision is enough to make most gamers go weak in the knees. Unfortunately, the additional monitors will naturally mean decreased performance considering the massive amount of real-estate that would need rendering. This will mean tradeoffs may have to be made in terms of image quality if you want to use Eyefinity.


According to ATI, all of the new HD 5800-series graphics cards will have the ability to run up to three monitors simultaneously. This is done by having a pair of DVI connectors as well as a DisplayPort and HDMI connector located on the back of the card. It should be noted that ATI will be releasing a special Eyefinity version of the HD 5870 in the coming months which features six DisplayPort connectors for those of you who want to drive six monitors from a single card.


This technology is all made possible through the use of DisplayPort connectors but this also provides a bit of a limitation as well. Above we can see that a number of 3-screen output combinations which the current HD5800-series support and one thing is constant: you will need at least one monitor which supports DisplayPort. Unfortunately, at this time DP-supporting monitors tend to carry a price premium over standard screens which will increase the overall cost of an Eyefinity setup. Luckily the other two monitors can either use DVI or a combination of DVI and HDMI for connectivity.
 

SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



In what is becoming a constant occurrence for XFX cards based on ATI GPUs, the box of their HD 5850 1GB is long and narrow but this shouldn’t adversely affect the volumetric weight for shipping. Other than its size, the box is quite unique with a highly industrialized motif with a few mentions of XFX’s 5-star warranty.


The back of the box doesn’t hold anything of interest other than a quick rundown of the features found on a HD 5850, more talk about the warranty and finally all of the logos ATI / AMD have been throwing around as of late. Meanwhile, within the exterior sleeve lies the box that holds all the goodies including the card as well as the accessories.


The card itself is well protected within the confines of the case by cardboard padding on all four sides which is more than enough to stop life’s bumps and bruises from getting through. In addition, there is the usual anti-static bag protecting the HD 5850 from ESD.


The accessory package is generous to say the least with a coupon code for a free download of the upcoming DiRT DX11 game as well as the usual, power adaptors, DVI to VGA dongle and Crossfire connector. There are also manuals, a quick start guide and a door sign with XFX’s “Don’t Disturb me, I’m Gaming” statement on it.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the XFX HD 5850 1GB

A Closer Look at the XFX HD 5850 1GB



When comparing the HD 5850 to the high-end HD 5870, there really isn’t much to differentiate them from one another. To be honest, the HD 5850 looks like nothing more than a smaller version of its bigger brother. It has the same black PCB and its heatsink shroud is the same design even though its length has been modified to fit this smaller card.


The sticker design XFX has chosen reflects the design of the exterior packaging and it complements the red accents on the card very well. To be honest, we find the black and red color scheme of the HD 5850 1GB looks great in a unique way, especially how the single red line down the center of the card carries the red accent color from the fan.


The side of the card has a red plastic insert that holds the ATI Radeon logo as well as a number of vents. The front vent is strategically placed to exhaust any excess airflow that the backplate’s opening can’t take care of. Granted, this allows hot air to escape into the case but it’s location is close enough to the back of an enclosure that the additional heat should be quickly dissipated.


The back of the heatsink shroud has a pair of holes that are somewhat gaudily dressed up in red. These allow some additional air to enter from under the fan in addition to making the necessary space for the HD 5850’s two PCI-E 6-pin connectors.

Meanwhile, the backplate is a mirror image of the one found on the HD 5870. There are a pair of DVI connectors as well as outputs for both HDMI and Displayport which are directly the main exhaust grille. This setup can be used for ATI’s Eyefinity technology if you wanted to use this card to display across a trio of monitors.


The back of the HD 5850 shows us a PCB devoid of the full-length backplate that was installed onto the HD 5870. Instead, we get a look at the black PCB as well as the heatsink mounting bracket.


The overall length of this card is only about 9.5” which makes it much more compact than the HD 5870 and equal to the length of a HD 4890. It should also be noted that any case that is a standard size, shouldn’t have an issue with this card since its length means it doesn’t pass the edge of an ATX motherboard.
 
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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
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

XFX HD 5850 1GB (Stock)
Sapphire HD 5870 1GB (Stock)
Palit HD 4870X2
Gigabyte GTX 260 216 Super Overclock
EVGA GTX 285 (Stock)
GTX 275 896MB (Stock)
GTX 295 (Stock)
EVGA GTX 260 216 (Stock)


Drivers:

ATI 8.66 RC6 Beta (HD 5870)
ATI 9.9 WHQL
Nvidia 190.62 WHQL (w/ SLI V2 Patch)


Applications Used:

Call of Duty: World at War
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Crysis: Warhead
Dawn of War II
Fallout 3
Far Cry 2
Left 4 Dead
Tom Clancy’s HawX


*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 4 benchmark runs

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

SKYMTL

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Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War



To benchmark this game, we played through 10 minutes of the third mission (Hard Landing) starting from when the player first enters the swamp, through the first bunker until the final push onto the airfield. This was benchmarked using FRAPS.


1680 x 1050





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600





After we had finished testing the cards for this review, we were told by a concerned reader that there was a way to eliminate the CPU bottleneck in low resolution tests. Once we retest the cards yet again when new WHQL drivers are released from NVIDIA and ATI, we will make sure to implement this in future reviews.

Unfortunately, our first taste of HD 5850 performance isn’t a good one. Whether it is driver immaturity or something else, the HD 5850 ends up struggling to find framerates that equal those of the GTX 285 and at one point is even passed by the GTX 275. Ouch.
 
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SKYMTL

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Call of Juarez II: Bound in Blood

Call of Juarez II: Bound in Blood



CoJ is a bit of an oddity without any in-game AA options but nonetheless, it looks incredible. For this benchmark we used a 10 minute gameplay sequence which included panoramic views of a town and gun battles. FRAPS was used to record the framerates.

1680 x 1050



1920 x 1200



2560 x 1600



When compared to the Call of Duty results, these are much more in line with what we were expecting. It is hard to deny this is an ATI-friendly game but with minimum framerates that nearly equal the average framerates of other cards, the HD 5850 seems to be a pint-sized powerhouse
 
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