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.


Value Cometh

We think the ATI Radeon HD 5850 is going to be a wildly popular video card among hardware and gaming enthusiasts. It seems there might be room for hardware enthusiasts to tweak performance out of this video card to extreme levels. The Radeon HD 5850 is priced to sell; at $259 it packs the most punch in its class with no close contenders. It beats higher priced video cards that used to dominate the playing field. The GeForce GTX 285 can be found at Newegg, cheapest price with rebates, $295.99. From there, the GTX 285 cards jump to $330 levels very quickly.

The GeForce GTX 285 was the king of the hill at its price point, offering even better performance than the Radeon HD 4890 in many games. The GeForce GTX 285, NVIDIA’s fastest single-GPU video card can climb down and make room for the ATI Radeon HD 5850. The ATI Radeon HD 5850 is less expensive and provides a better gameplay experience than the GeForce GTX 285. And the 5850 isn't even the best performing of AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 5800 series! The ATI Radeon HD 5850 is a mighty impressive value.

Smart Engineering

The Radeon HD 4850 was very popular with gamers flocking to it since it was just a "slower" Radeon HD 4870 at a more manageable price. It seems AMD has hit the sweet spot again by using the same ASIC as the Radeon HD 5870 and making a "lesser" version. The 5850 may have fewer streaming processor units, fewer texture units, and lower clock speeds, but it retains the 32 ROPs found in the Radeon HD 5870. As our testing has shown, both in Crysis: Warhead and Need for Speed: Shift especially, there is only but a small difference between 4X and 8X AA at high resolutions. Combine this with the fact that AMD has chosen to equip the Radeon HD 5850 with a 1GB framebuffer means it has the capacity to use those ROPs!

The results speak for themselves; the Radeon HD 5850 is a powerful video card at antialiasing performance. The Radeon HD 4800 series was well known for its superior 8X MSAA performance, and AMD is not backing off from that stance. AMD still offer the best antialiasing performance using MSAA methods.

Radeon HD 5850 CrossFireX

We experienced exceptional CrossFireX scaling, better even than what we experienced on the previous Radeon HD 4800 series. We did not think we would see much improvement in Arma II for example, but we saw better scaling with that game then we have ever seen with the HD 4800 series. We hope this trend continues, but we are still very worried about driver profile support with CrossFireX. We are worried about new game releases not receiving CrossFireX profile support the day games hit the street, delaying the potential performance one may experience out of a CrossFireX setup. This is the current nature of all multi-GPU configurations unfortunately. However, when CrossFireX works, boy does it work!

AMD has informed us that only one CrossFireX bridge connector is now required on the Radeon HD 5800 series. We originally setup our two HD 5850’s with just one bridge connector. We had no problems running our games at 1920x1200 with high levels of AA like 8X and CFAA modes. However, when we tried some games at 2560x1600 with 8X AA we experienced a few glitches. For example, Crysis: Warhead would experience some flashing textures at 2560x1600 with 8X AA at all "Enthusiast" settings. AMD told us that one bridge connector is all that is required; but if we were to ever experience flashing textures, try installing both bridge connectors. To our enjoyment, installing both bridge connectors resolved the flashing textures in Crysis at 2560x1600 at 8X AA. From that moment on we continued to test with both bridge connectors connected and had no problems whatsoever.

It seems that if you ever see any broken geometry or flashing polygons in your games with CrossFireX, and you only have one connector installed, try installing two, this can possibly fix your issue. So while one is required, for the most stable experience, and to ensure the least amount of trouble, we still recommend installing both connectors on the Radeon HD 5800 series. We will be looking into this more as we start to test Radeon HD 5870 CrossFireX which can push even more pixels.

The Bottom Line

For $259 the ATI Radeon HD 5850 smacks the competition then laughs. AMD has engineered this series smartly, doing what worked for it with the Radeon HD 4800 series. The Radeon HD 5850 uses the same GPU as the Radeon HD 5870 with some streaming processor units and texture units disabled with lower clock speeds. In our gaming experience, the 5850 performed appropriately compared to the Radeon HD 5870. AMD was smart in keeping the 32 ROPs intact on the Radeon HD 5850 and equipping the video card with 1GB of GDDR5 memory. With this combination, dual-card 5850 CrossFireX performance is stellar. We were easily able to run at high resolutions with AA and high in-game settings.

If you are waiting for NVIDIA to jump out of the GPU closet with a 5800 killer and put the fear into you for making a 5800 series purchase for Halloween, we suggest paper dragons are not that scary. We feel as though it will be mid-to-late Q1’10 before we see anything pop out of NVIDIA’s sleeve besides its arm. We are seeing rumors of a Q4’09 soft launch of next-gen parts, but no hardware till next year and NVIDIA has given us no reason to believe otherwise.

The ATI Radeon HD 5850 currently provides the best performance and feature set at the sub-$275 price point. The entire 5800 series is forward looking as well, supporting DX11. We think the ATI Radeon HD 5850 is "THE" next-gen video card that gamers and hardware enthusiasts are going to flock to.

Now sit back and wait for CrossFireX support with Eyefinity Display Groups! If you have not seen Eyefinity in action, please check out our video review at the bottom of this page. Eyefinity is just one more reason to buy a 5800 series video card. Like you needed another excuse after seeing the performance anyway?

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ATI Radeon HD 5850

ATI Radeon HD 5850 Discussion

ATI Eyefinity Discussion