ASUS ARES HD 5970 4GB Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, July 8th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/ASUS_ARES_HD5970_4GB/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

If you are looking for the fastest graphics card around and don’t mind dropping $1200 to get it, ASUS has the fix for you. Their latest graphics card takes the reference design of the HD 5970 and increases the on-board GDDR5 memory up to 4GB, adds dual HD 5870 graphics cores each clocked at 850MHz, and a custom made cooling solution to create a product that will blow through any game with ease.

The new graphics card is part of the high-end R.O.G series and comes with the name ARES. If you know your Greek mythology, Ares was one of the twelve Olympians, son of Zeus and the god of war. Asus must have thought it only makes sense to name one of the most powerful graphics cards in the world after such a strong god.

This graphics card has been rumored for some time, and many have waited in anticipation to see exactly how it will perform. Today all the questions will be answered as we put the ASUS ARES HD 5970 graphics card through our testbed of games and benchmarks. So, will this limited edition ultra high-end graphics card be worth the $1200 asking price? Keep reading if you want to see how this beast will perform!

The design of the ASUS ARES is very sleek, and with the red and black color scheme it is easily recognized as part of the R.O.G lineup. The red and black panel that sits on top of the heatsink is a separate piece of plastic that is used mainly for aesthetics. Since this is the case it can easily be removed to allow access to the cooling solution below it.

You can also see that the ARES is a rather large graphics card that takes up more room than even the standard HD 5970. This is due to ASUS using a custom PCB that makes the card wider; the PCB actually extends about an inch past the end of the rear bracket. The width shouldn't be a problem for must users, but keep in mind the graphics card is 12" long so many cases will not support it.

The rear panel of the graphics card has a large back-plate installed on it. The back-plate extends throughout the top and has thin fins from top to bottom that can help improve the cooling. Towards the outer-middle portion of the card there is an opening in the back-plate that has three solder points which can be used with a multi-meter to get real-time voltage readings. On the side of the ARES is a single CrossFireX interconnect, so only dual CrossFireX is supported. At $2400 dollars for two cards I can't image many gamers will ever see two of these cards in one machine.

For connection options ASUS gave the ARES an HDMI port, DVI-D port and a DisplayPort. This does seem limited for such a high-end graphics card. Still, even with three different ports Eyefinity is supported, but it might be difficult to set up as each monitor will require different means of connectivity. Also, Eyefinity will require an active Display Port adapter, but unlike the 4GB Sapphire Toxic graphics card the necessary adapter is not included along with the accessories.

Outside the standard PCIe power connectors the ASUS ARES adds an additional 4-pin connector to the mix. With dual 4-pin connectors, a 3-pin connector and the PCIe slot this card will be able to draw up to 450W of power which is well beyond its max TDP of 349W. These are very high requirements for a graphics card and it would be wise to make sure your PSU is up to the task!

With great power comes great size and the ARES is a behemoth of a graphic card. As you can see from the image below, it is larger in both length and width than the NVIDIA GTX 480 and HD 5870 graphics cards. The ARES also occupies three opens slots, so again getting a CrossFireX setup with this bad boy will be no small task. When installed in my system for example, the ARES covered part of the second PCIe x16 slot. Also, with dual copper heatsinks this card weighs more than any other graphics cards I have tested to-date.

The custom cooling solution used by the ARES is by design very easy to remove and ASUS states this is so enthusiasts can easily upgrade the heatsinks with after-market options or apply their own thermal compound. Honestly though, the dual copper heatsinks that ASUS uses on each core really seem to be as good as any after-market option available. Additionally, there is a large heatspreader that extends throughout the graphics card in an "Z" shape that is used to cool the 4GB of on-board memory. Also attached to this heatspreader is a copper heatsink that is used to cool the VRM area.

The ASUS ARES uses two 40nm HD 5870 Cypress cores that run at 850MHz and 4GB of GDDR5 memory, which is double the standard used by HD 5970 graphics cards based on reference design. The GDDR5 memory runs at 1200MHz and each core can independently access 2GB worth of memory. These specifications alone would make the ARES an impressive gaming card, but add to this 3200 unified shaders, 64 ROPs and 4.3 billion transistors and we are looking at a monster of a graphics card!

To cool the on-board GDDR5 memory chips and VRM, ASUS uses a Z shaped heatspreader that makes contact with designated areas throughout the PCB. The large heatspreader makes direct contact with the chips below via a thermal pad on the bottom. The VRM, however uses a more efficient solution that sees it making contact with a copper heatsink utilizing thin copper fins to dispense heat. The VRM area is directly below the 100mm intake fan, so there will be plenty of direct airflow to the area. The heatspreader also makes contact with the ATI bridge chip.

 

The heatsinks used are solid copper and have four large heatpipes that travel from the core into the finned array. At the top of the cooler is a large copper plate that will prevent the air from freely escaping out of the array, while the air-pressure will push the heat out the back. The large plate at the top also prevents the fins from bending which appeared to be an issue with the cooler when the card was first demoed. The heatsinks are very heavy and should cool the GPUs efficiently, but the core that is furthest from the exhaust will dump hot air into the case.

The packaging for the ASUS ARES HD 5970 is large, very large and if I wasn't expecting it in the first place I would have thought a high-end motherboard just entered the lab. The dimensions for the box are actually 22 x 18 x 8 in, which is larger than the standard packaging most PC components.

Once the packaging is opened it is easy to see why the box containing the ARES is so large, as you are presented with a full sized security brief case. The case has dual combination locks on each side and with brief cases like this being a staple in many spy movies, it makes you feel as if the contents are top secret and very important.

The brief case opens after both security knobs are pushed out to release the latch. The graphics card and accessories are found sitting in the bottom compartment, surrounded by foam padding. The included accessories are an SLI Bridge, two PCIe power adapters, an HDMI to DVI converter and a R.O.G case badge. ASUS has also included a R.O.G gaming mouse with the graphics card.

 

Overclocking:

Since the ASUS ARES is already clocked higher than the standard HD 5970, I started raising the frequency in small increments until MSI Kombuster started showing errors or freezing. Once I reached the max threshold of the card I started raising the voltage and tested again. In the end I was able to overclock the core to 988MHz while the memory was friendly up to 5204MHz. In order for the core to remain stable at this speed, the voltage had to be set at 1.287V. After this mark I could reach higher clocks, though beyond this point it was freezing after just a few short minutes. Additionally, adjusting the voltage beyond 1.3V didn't seem to yield any additional clock increases. The fan speed was set at 70% rotation to keep the core nice and cool. ASUS states the core shouldn't exceed 75°C for maximum overclocking headroom.

Hardware Configuration:

Software:

All the ATI cards used the Catalyst 10.6 drivers, while the NVIDIA cards used Forceware 257.21 drivers.

Benchmarks:

All benchmarks were performed at resolutions of 1280x1024, 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Vsync is disabled in the control panel and AA is set to x4 with AF set to x16. The only benchmark performed with lower AA and AF is Street Fighter IV which showed better scaling when AA and AF were set to 0.

Usage:

3DMark Vantage is the stunning sequel to 3DMark 06. Futuremark's benchmarking programs have always been at the center of every bragging match. The best way to show that you've got the greatest gaming rig, is to show that you've got the highest 3DMark score. Vantage does just that. It puts your system through a series of strenuous tests, and provides you with a score to brag about!

Well, it looks as if the ARES is off to a very strong start as it out performs all the comparison cards in 3Dmark Vantage. Once the card is overclocked the difference becomes much more noticeable, and the ARES separates itself even further.

Street Fighter 4 doesn’t necessarily push a graphics card to the limits, but it is a good benchmark to gauge the overall performance. This test is run at default settings to show the best scaling possible.

Again, the ARES has very impressive perfromance and is faster than all the other cards.

Aliens vs Predators is a DX11 Benchmark that runs though a scene straight out of the classic 80’s movie, Aliens. Since it uses DX11, it can often be more than a graphics card can handle.

When it came to this benchmark the ARES was in another league and as you can see from the graphs, it left all the other cards in the dust.

Unigine Heaven became very popular very fast, because it was one of the first major DirectX 11 benchmarks. It makes great use of tesselation to create a visually stunning...heaven.

The ARES is again the top performer.

Metro 2033 puts you right in the middle of post apocalyptic Moscow, battling Mutants, rivals and ratio-active fallout. The game is very graphics intensive and utilizes DX11 technology, making it a good measure of how the latest generation of graphics cards performs under the new standard.

It appears as if a trend is forming as the ASUS ARES outperforms the other cards quite handily. Overclocking did little for the graphics card, but at 1900x1200 the increase helped put the ASUS HD 5970 near a very smooth frame rate.

Crysis Warhead is one of the most graphically intensive games on the mainstream market. It's graphically breathtaking, and can bring any system crashing to it's knees.

The ASUS ARES HD 5970 really shows off its gaming power in this benchmark as it puts even the NVIDIA GTX 480 to shame.

Call of Duty is one of the most successful game franchises of all time and Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration in the series. The games combine modern-day settings and locations with jaw-dropping graphics and explosions.

Once again, we see the ASUS ARES HD 5970 living up to the fastest graphics cards in the world title!

Darkest of Days puts the player in historic battles to ensure the survival of key figures from the past. It is a very interesting concept and the use of real life conflicts keeps the title engaging. The in-game options does not allow PhysX to be disabled, so it can often favor NVIDIA graphics cards over those from ATI.

Darkest of Days has never been able to properly utilize multiple graphics cards and the results for the ASUS ARES HD 5970 show that. Still, the HD 5970 is just under the performance level of the HD 5870 and it is the fastest card once overclocked.

Bioshock 2 is the sequel to the extremely popular Bioshock game, which was released back in 2007. The game uses the graphics friendly Unreal Engine.

The results in this title were a bit odd. The HD 5870 performed the best overall and the NVIDIA based cards both put up a rather weak showing. The NVIDIA performance could be an issue with the latest drivers as Bioshock 2 showed only good performance in the Control Panel. The ARES did, however, put up some impressive numbers.

Resident Evil V is the newest installment of the Resident Evil series. The game comes with a built in benchmark that features a bunch of zombies walking around the center of a village. Believe it or not this seemingly simple benchmark can push video cards way out of their comfort zone!

The ASUS ARES HD 5970 is back on top. This game seems to favor the graphics cards with more than one core, as the older GTX 295 is right behind the HD 5970.

Just Cause 2 places you in Panau, Southeast Asia as Agent Rico Rodriguez. The game is a third-person shooter that pits you against countless enemies with the opportunity for plenty of environment destruction. With explosions and gun fire galore, this game is perfect for testing out the latest hardware.

Just Cause 2 is yet another title that makes good use of graphics cards with multiple cores. Even though the GTX 295 puts up a good showing, the ARES is the clear victor.

Temperature

To measure core GPU temperature, MSI's Kombustor was used. The idle temperature was taken after leaving nothing running for up to 15 minutes. The load temperature was taken 15 minutes after starting Kombuster for Multi-Core graphics cards.

The large cooling solution used by ASUS really seems to have paid off as the card remains cool even during extreme usage. The overclocked cooling performance was also very impressive, but to achieve these results the fan rotation had to be set at 75%, which makes it rather loud.

Power Usage

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. Note that the above numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we took the sustained peak power drain readings at the end of a 30 minute Kombustor run.

Wow! The power requirement for this card is huge! Honestly this is to be expected though, so If you are planning on picking this card up make sure you have an adequate power supply.

Conclusion

Any doubts you had about the ASUS ARES HD 5970 should be put to rest, as this is hands down the fastest graphics card that has made its way to the Neoseeker testing labs. Every game with the exception of Darkest of Days had the ARES performing beyond all the comparison cards. This is no small feat as we had many of the fastest graphics cards for comparison; even the NVIDIA GTX 480 was no match for the ARES.

The custom made cooling solution used on the ARES was equally amazing! It kept both cores very cool and even during the most demanding applications the card was always under the 80°C mark. This is of course due to the dual copper heatsinks that are found on each core, the 100mm case fan and the heatspreader placed over the memory and VRM. However, the cooling solution is very heavy and as a result and the card weighs in at around 5 pounds, so this is one graphics card that must be secured firmly into place.

The biggest issues with the graphics card are its amazingly high power consumption and an equally astronomical asking price. The power requirement is understandable as this is a lot of card, and most enthusiasts are running high wattage power supplies these days anyway. The $1200 dollar retail price on the other hand might be a harder pill to swallow, ensuring that only a few very select people will ever have this graphics card in their system. Still, with the performance level and just how cool this card is, if you ever feel the urge to splurge, I say don't hesitate!

So, in the end this graphics card lives up to all expectations. Its fast, it's powerful and even though I won't claim it to be the fastest graphics card in the world, I won`t stop ASUS for making that claim.

»Neoseeker.com

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