AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5850 Video Card Review

The ATI Radeon HD 5850 is launching today! It is based on the same 5800 architecture as the HD 5870. We aim to find out how it compares to an HD 5870 in single GPU and 5850 CrossFireX configurations. The ATI Radeon HD 5850 is bringing with it an incredible PC gaming value.


AMD has shaken things up lately in the world of video cards with the launching of its next generation GPU, the ATI Radeon HD 5800 series. These next gen video cards support the latest DirectX 11 API and expand upon the previous generation’s architecture by upping the ante in gaming performance. Making no excuses that this generation was geared to play games well, AMD has delivered the best performance we have seen yet in a video card series.

On the flip side of this, many hardware enthusiasts are asking, where is NVIDIA? The fact is that NVIDIA has no products to immediately answer AMD’s 5800 series and it is our understanding that it will be late February at the earliest before we actually see a next-gen GPU show up from NVIDIA in the retail channel.

The New 5800 Product Stack

At the top of the stack, at least until we see the HD 5870 X2, is the ATI Radeon HD 5870. As we evaluated, this video card delivers the best performance in its price range currently. It allowed us to run at very high graphical quality settings in all our games and supplied a fully enjoyable gaming experience. Not only can it game well, but it can also push three displays in an Eyefinity display group quite well allowing for very high resolution gaming while dramatically improving gameplay immersion.

The ATI Radeon HD 5870 is AMD’s highest-end video card at the moment, and the current retail price has settled at $379 on Newegg as of typing this. AMD knows it needs to cater to other market segments and so it has launched the ATI Radeon HD 5850 coming in at a mere $259. We would suggest that $259 is "Not so serious," given the performance and gaming value contained.

Article Image

ATI Radeon HD 5850 Specifications

Article Image Article Image

The Radeon HD 5850 GPU is based on the same ASIC as the ATI Radeon HD 5870. All AMD has done is to disable some streaming processor units and texture units. However, most uniquely, the Radeon HD 5850 retains the same 32 ROPs found in the ATI Radeon HD 5870. This means it should be a powerhouse in antialiasing and post processing performance for the price.

There are 1,440 streaming processor units in the Radeon HD 5850. This is down from the 1600 streaming processor units in the Radeon HD 5870. That is only a difference of 160 streaming processor units. The texture units have been reduced to 72 versus 80 in the Radeon HD 5870. Uniquely the ROP count stays the same between both the 5870 and 5850 models at 32 each. The clock speed operates at 725MHz versus 850MHz on the Radeon HD 5870. You will also notice that both GPUs have the exact same number of transistors.

The Radeon HD 5850 uses the same 256-bit bus and GDDR5 memory as the Radeon HD 5870, but runs the 5850’s clocks in at 4GHz. This means it has a memory bandwidth of 128GB/sec versus 153GB/sec. Obviously though, different manufacturers can use different memory models on retail cards, so don’t expect 5GHz spec memory on every card. AMD has maintained the 1GB framebuffer on the Radeon HD 5850! This should help at high resolutions with AA and with two cards with CrossFireX enabled.

The Radeon HD 5850 pulls in maximum board power wattage of 151W, versus 188W on the Radeon HD 5870. The idle power is still the same between the two at 27W with one display at 27W. Remember however that idle wattage is doubled when you have two or more displays supported by your single card.

CrossFireX is fully supported, and today we have two HD 5850 cards with CrossFireX enabled to evaluate. There have been no major changes to CrossFireX; it works just like it does on the previous generation, with the preferred method of rendering being Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR.) We are told that only one CrossFireX bridge connector is required atop the video card with this new series, however you can still install two if you wish. There might be some situations at high resolution with AA that two bridge connectors will provide a more stable experience in games. We will talk about this in the conclusion.

ATI Radeon HD 5850 CrossFireX in Pictures

Article Image Article Image

Article Image Article Image Article Image

The very first thing you will notice is that the ATI Radeon HD 5850 is thankfully shorter than the Radeon HD 5870. It is still double-slot, but it shouldn’t cause case clearance issues as it just came to the edge of our full size ATX motherboard. Length measures in at 9.5 inches right to the red "vents" sticking out. Length on the Radeon HD 5870 came to 10.75", so it is a big improvement in that area.

Other than that, the biggest change is that the power connectors are now at the very end of the card, right in one of the red vents. In the other vent is some circuitry and the fan header. Some people prefer the power connectors to be atop the video card, as it allows them room right in front of the cards. In this case however since the video cards are shorter, that should give most a little more wiggle room in that area to plug these in. We think however this is the one design mistake we can point out.

Article Image Article Image Article Image Article Image Article Image

Like a lot of CrossFireX setups, sometimes motherboards require you plug the video cards in right next to each other. In this situation the video card at the top has very little breathing room to intake air. Unfortunately the "Batman" vents on the HD 5850 do not allow air to be pulled in, since one has the power connectors occupying it, and the other is obstructed by circuitry. AMD admitted that the vents were there for looks alone. Therefore, that one card at the top may be starved for air in some situations. We highly recommend side panel case cooling in such a situation as ours shown above. Thankfully we operate out of a case, but inside a case we can see this getting very hot.

The display configuration that exists remains the same as the Radeon HD 5870. There are two Dual Link DVI ports, one HDMI, and one Display Port per video card. Each Radeon HD 5850 supports 3x 2560x1600 (3 displays.) Remember, Eyefinity currently does not support CrossFireX, therefore you will see no benefit with CrossFireX and multi-display at this time. That support is however forthcoming.