AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5870 Video Card Review

AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 5800 series debuts today and the new ATI Radeon HD 5870 is now available. We will give you all the gritty details of the HD 5800 Series, and show you just how well the new flagship ATI Radeon HD 5870 accelerates games. Can you say, “I like twice as much performance in the same power envelope.”



Note: These overclocking results may not represent the abilities of retail video cards. As we noted, memory modules and ratings may be different.

To overclock the Radeon HD 5870 it is quite simple, use AMD’s built in Overdrive in Catalyst Control Center. However, it is quite limiting. Right now, the maximum possible setting for GPU frequency is 900MHz. With the Radeon HD 5870 already clocked at 850MHz there isn’t any more room in Overdrive to really take it to its limits.

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We weren’t shocked when the GPU easily hit 900MHz without breaking a sweat. The Radeon HD 5870 performed just fine at 900MHz. If only Overdrive allowed higher frequency settings we could really test overclocking. We will have to wait until third party utilities support the HD 5800 series, or AMD provides us with more room for overclocking, at least up to 1GHz would be nice.

On the memory side of things we managed to get our video card up to 5GHz. Anything above this would lose performance, and did actually crash to a blank black screen for us. It is possible that retail video cards might achieve higher overclocks on memory. In-house, AMD has been able to overclock memories up to 5.5GHz on test cards. We might see several flavors of memory, some rated up to 5.5GHz giving us plenty of room to overclock. This is something we will just have to test on each and every video card.

Power Testing

We tested the power utilization at the wall of the entire system without a video card, and with each video card at idle and full load. For full load power and temperature testing we used FurMark version 1.7.0 to stress each video card at the highest load. We found 2560x1600 to be the sweet spot for stressing the GPUs without bottlenecking them. The power supply used in testing is a PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 1200W. Our system is very lean with only one optical drive and one hard drive being powered. Total system wattage at idle without video card is 161W.

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Power utilization made us take a double take. AMD wasn’t kidding about the power savings effort put into the Radeon HD 5800 series. The total system idle wattage was 192W with the Radeon HD 5870. The total system wattage without the video card was 161W, so adding the HD 5870 added around 31W of power. This is very close to the specified 27W idle power consumption. It is close enough to call this a win. The idle wattage is much lower than the Radeon HD 4890 at 231W total system wattage.

At full load the power consumption of the system was 383W with the Radeon HD 5870. This is only 5W higher than what the Radeon HD 4890 was pulling, at half the performance. That is right, the Radeon HD 5870 is performing near twice as fast as the Radeon HD 4890 and only consuming 5 more Watts in doing so! THAT is what we call power saving folks, and that is the definition of the best performance to Watt ratio. The GTX 285 pulls in a hefty 431W at full load. When we overclocked the HD 5870 the wattage rose to 391W, still much less than the GTX 285.

Temperature Testing

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The idle temperatures were also the lowest encountered here. The GPU idled at 40c, which is a full 17 degrees cooler than the Radeon HD 4890’s GPU. Subsequently, the back of the GPU and the exhaust being ported out of the video card were also the lowest at Idle, performing much cooler than the Radeon HD 4890.

When we ramped the video card up to full load the GPU rose to a high 88c. This is hotter than the Radeon HD 4890 and GTX 285. The air being exhausted out the back was also the hottest of both video cards. We would suggest making sure the back of your PC isn’t cramped up against the wall with little room to breathe with the HD 5870; it does throw out a lot of heat when you are really pushing it.

When we overclocked the HD 5870 we saw it rise to a very hot 90c GPU temperature.

Talking to AMD about GPU temperature it was related to us that the GPU should start to throttle itself at close to 95C degrees. It will be interesting to see what kind of overclocked results we find in the future on 5870 cards with special cooling configurations. While the cooler on the 5870 reference card is doing the job it needs to do, there is no doubt in my mind that a more efficient cooling system could be implemented in the same space.

Other Hardware Characteristics

One way ATI has improved idle wattage is to lower clock speeds of GPU and memory. We found that at idle, the GPU frequency remains at 157MHz and the memory remains at 300MHz (1.2GHz GDDR5). The fan remained at 25% of its rotational speed.

We witnessed the Radeon HD 5870 correctly jumping up to 850MHz GPU frequency while playing 3D games in windowed mode.

During full load we never saw the fan go above 37% of its maximum rotational speed on automatic. Fan noise is not noticeable at idle or full load, especially inside a case up to 45% of its rotational speed. Once you raise the fan to 50% it becomes noticeable. When you set the fan to 75% you cannot deny that it is there, it overpowers all other fans. At 100% it is a tornado, but thankfully there is no silly whine!

When we set the fan to 50% the overclocked full load temp is kept at a much more tolerable 80c. At 100% the overclocked full load temp is kept at 71c.