PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, October 5th, 2009
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/hd5870launch/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

If there is one constant in life, it is that there will always be change. Sometimes these changes are for the better; sometimes for the worse. However, when it comes to the world of computer hardware, far more often than not, things just keep on getting better and better; and always, faster and faster. Sometimes there is a step back -- but they only come with about every ten steps forward. In these closing months of 2009, you'll be hard-pressed to find any better examples of the break-neck pace of the hardware industry progress than with latest generations of video cards. 

Today we'll be taking a look at the PowerColor Radeon HD 5870. Just when you might have thought a HD 4890, or a HD 4870 X2 was fast, ATI was put something together that is going to change your whole perspective on what fast is all about.

The HD 4000 series surprised many gamers, hardware enthusiasts, and stock-market speculators. Delivering great performance right of the bat, the HD 4870 certainly shook things up, forcing Nvidia to react quickly, initially cutting the price of the GTX 280, and adding more horsepower to the GTX 260. This time around, it is ATI who is getting things underway first. In fact, it still seems like Nvidia's next gen is a few months away. By all accounts, it is certainly looking like we are in for another interesting round in the Great GPU Wars.

Before we take a look at our HD 5870, let's go over some changes brought with this new generation first, on the next page. 

Next-gen nomenclature

Let's start off this look at what ATI has in store for us this generation with a recap of all the names and products involved.

As everyone expected, following the naming conventions solidified in the HD 3000 series, ATI has launched things off this new generation with the HD 5870, followed shortly by the HD 5850. The initial suggested retail price of the HD 5870 will be $400 USD, and $300 USD for the HD 5850.

As certain as everyone was to see the arrival of the HD 5870 before it manifested itself, virtually everyone also presumes that a HD 5870 X2 monster will be coming out (within two months, seems the rumor). A bit further down the road (three to four months), also quite likely is the arrival of a more budget-friendly HD 5000 gaming card -- presumably named the HD 5830, or possibly a HD 5770. From there, lower cost parts will continue to come out, and then we can expect mobile parts to surface.

AMD has been keeping with a tree theme for codenames for these products. Here is the deciphering key:

Cypress: GPU powering the HD 5870 and HD 5850.

Hemlock: Dual GPU configuration powering the HD 5870 X2.

Juniper: The first 'mainstream' offering of the HD 5000 series, that will eventually replace the HD 4870 and HD 4850.

Redwood and Cedar: Lower-cost, entry level offerings of the HD 5000 series.

And of course -- this is just for starters. AMD was able to offer a video card for virtually every conceivable price-point with the HD 4000 series, so we can expect this to happen again. Some rearrangement in the product line will probably take place after everyone is able to see what Nvidia is up to as well.

DirectX 11 has arrived

Poor DirectX 10 -- did we even have good chance to get acquainted? 

DirectX 11 is here and it looks, by all accounts, that it'll have a much greater impact for gamers than DX10 did (or DX10.1 for that matter.) Check out the these screen shots from the upcoming STALKER: Call of Pripyat:

We expect that DirectX 9 support will continue for a long while to come, for PC gaming. On the other hand though, early indicators point towards DirectX 11 bringing substantial new tools for game developers. 

Let's go over the primary new features brought with DirectX 11. There are five big ones: we have Tessellation (bringing two new types of shaders: hull shaders and domain shaders, and more detail to more polygons); we have Shader Model 5.0 (a big update, which brings an object-orientated program model and new instruction set to be taken advantage of); we have Multi-Threading (improving parallel processing performance and other optimizations); then we have Texture Compression (stretching the limits of how many 16-bit HDR textures can be used), and finally, we have DirectCompute 11 (which is somewhat analogous to Nvidia's CUDA: it allows for the GPU to be used for non-graphics related routines, such as handling physics, AI, or image filtering.) 

One of the benefits of AMD launching the HD 5000 series now is that they'll be able to get going with DirectX 11, from the ground up, with the release of Windows 7. Drivers should be well-polished in time for Windows 7 late October launch, as they have already been around for awhile now, in beta form.


Announced a few weeks ago, Eyefinity allows for some very extreme resolutions to be reached through the use of multiple monitors. One HD 5870 will be able to handle up to three monitors -- but a special Eyefinity Edition HD 5870 will be coming out that can handle six displays. Furthermore, Crossfiring HD 5000 cards together will allow for even more potential displays (all the way up to 24 monitors, if you feel so inclined, to a max resolution of 8192x8192!)

While this seems like a feature not that many people will probably be in position to take advantage of, it is still nonetheless quite the impressive feat.


While transistors in new GPUs may be getting smaller and smaller, the video cards themselves just get larger and larger. The HD 5870 is quite the beast. It looks as if it could swallow 3 or 4 HD 4850's or 8800 GT's, and still have a bit room for more. Coming in at just under a full foot long (11 inches to be exact), the HD 5870 has greater dimensions than pretty much any other video card yet made -- only the GTX 285, HD 4870 X2, GTX 295 and some other heavy-weights come similar in size. This video card will hang off the end of your motherboard, and for anyone with particularly large hard drive trays, or a smaller case in general, may have trouble accommodating this monster.

    Just from the heavy weight of the card alone (close to a kilogram), you can get a sense of how much metal is necessary to keep the RV870 cool underneath the plastic shroud. Four copper heat pipes attach to a bank of 36 aluminum heat fins that run most the length of the card. Air is inhaled from the two ducts at the end of the card via a big pushed in from a high-RPM fan that is surprisingly quiet, in normal operation (perhaps because most games don't stress the GPU much, as you'll see soon.) Hot air is vented out of a small area of the bracket.

    It looks like the standard of two DVI ports, that we have seen for the last couple of years now, perhaps might be changing this generation. The PowerColor HD 5870 features two DVI ports, but a additionally has also has a DisplayPort and HDMI option as well. (Keep in mind though, you'll only be able to output to three displays at once though tops, not four.)

Above and below you can see size comparisons with other video cards from the ATI (above) and Nvidia (below).


     At the heart of the PowerColor HD 5870 is the 40nm RV870 with whopping 2.5 billion transistors -- more than double the amount found in the HD 4870's RV770.  When it comes to stream processors, the HD 5870 again doubles what was found in the HD 4870 -- the HD 5870 has 1600. This kind of horsepower equates to around 2.72 TFLOPs of computational potential.
    Continuing the doubling trend, the HD 5870 has twice the amount of texture units and ROPS as well.  Both the texture fill rate, and the pixel fillrate is again, roughly doubled in this new generation of Radeon.




GTX 260

 GTX 285

GTX 295

HD 4850

HD 4850 X2  HD 4870 HD 4870 X2  HD 4890  HD 5870

Processing Cores





1600* 800 1600* 800 1600

Core Clock





625 750 750 850

Shader Clock





625 750 750 850

Memory Clock (effective) 

1998 2484



1986 3600 3600 3900

Memory Interface

448 bit

512 bit

896 bit*

256 bit

512 bit* 256 bit 512 bit*  256 bit 256 bit

Memory Type


1024MB GDDR3

1792MB GDDR3*


2048MB GDDR3* 512MB GDDR5 2048MB GDDR5* 1024MB GDDR5 1024MB GDDR5

Fabrication Process


55nm 55nm


55nm 55nm 55nm 55nm 40nm

  * denotes cumulative effective efforts coming from 2 GPU's (i.e GTX 295: two GPUs with 240 cores equal 480)

Now that we've gotten to know the PowerColor  HD 5870, let's take a look at some numbers.



Box and bundle


The PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 comes in an eye-catching red box with a well armed RPG-type guy on the front of the box.

The bundle is somewhat uninspiring for the price-tag of this package: it includes a CrossFire bridge, a manual, a driver CD, and VGA-to-DVI adapter.


Taking the fan to 100% we were interested to see what our HD 5870 could do. We found stability at 900 MHz for the core clock, and 1300 MHz for the memory clock. This is about a 6% increase --- which isn't arresting, but hey, it is better than no overclocking at all. We'll have to await on some better OC'ing tools before we see if we can push things to the limit.

Note that running this particular fan at 100% makes an incredible amount of noise. For many, they'll probably not want to bother with overclocking -- the gains don't seem to be worth it. Perhaps future models with stronger coolers, or when some new overclocking tools come out however...


Video cards used in the benchmarks include a pair of stock HD 4870 Crossfire'd (equivalent to a HD 4870 X2), a VisionTek HD 4890 OC, BFG GTX 295, a VisionTek HD 4870, BFG GTX 285, a pair of HD 4770's Crossfire'd, a MSI N275GTX, a MSI N260GTX, and a Nvidia GTX 280.


For the drivers, all the ATI cards used the Catalyst 9.6 drivers but the HD 5870, which used unreleased beta drivers, and all the Nvidia cards used Forceware 186.18 drivers.

Here is our current line-up of benchmarking programs:

3DMark06 and 3DMark Vantage: These popular synthetic benchmarking programs were used at a resolution of 1280x1024. Vantage was run in 'Performance' mode, and only the two GPU tests were used.

Bioshock: For this benchmark, all of the Detail settings were set to 'High'. All of the graphic option switches were set to 'On', with the exception of the following three settings: Vsync, Windowed mode, and Force Global Lighting. We used FRAPS to measure frame rate performance. The FRAPS run was 138 seconds, triggered from pulling the switch in the sub at game's beginning. The sub's dive involves many big models moving around, which should strain the GPUs and be a good measure of the game's engine.

Crysis: Warhead: Games don't get much more demanding than Crysis. We used the 'Gamer' pre-set level of details, which is the middle level setting out of 5 options. We ran the benchmark on the 'avalanche' map, using the FrameBuffer Crysis benchmarking tool, version 0.29, in DX10 mode.

Devil May Cry 4: This Capcom action game runs well on most systems; but at 'Super High' detail settings, even the fastest systems get taxed. This is built-in benchmark.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: We use this id FPS benchmark to test out higher resolutions. We used the highest possible detail settings. We tested the resolutions at 4x AA as well as at 8x AA. 16x AF was also used.  

Far Cry 2: This open-world FPS is great looking game that really puts the strain on a gaming rig. We used the built-in benchmarking tool, and the overall 'Very High' quality setting was used.

Furmark: This intensive, synthetic benchmark models a ring of fur. We benched at 1680x1050.

Street Fighter IV: You have probably heard of this famous fighting game. It has 3D graphics, but generally does not require much GPU horsepower to run well. We used Capcom's stand-alone PC benchmarking tool for our tests, and ran everything at its highest possible settings, using 4xAA, and the 'Watercolor' setting.

Unreal Tournament 3: We tested the game using a fly-through of the vehicle capture-the-flag map 'Suspense.'ShangriLa (map) running for 90 seconds. Details were set to 'High', and a AF setting of 16x was used.

World In Conflict: We used the built-in benchmark of the demo version of this game. We ran the benchmark in DX9 rendering mode, with a 'High' level of quality. For the AA testing, we used a setting of 4x, and a setting of 16x for AF.

If you would like any further information about our benchmark settings, feel free to ask us in the forums.

That's surprising -- Vantage puts the PowerColor HD 5870 around the same ball-park as the Crossfire pair of HD 4870's. As for single GPU competition though, of course nothing can keep up with the next-gen HD 5870. 

In our tests of Bioshock, the HD 5870 doesn't have much trouble beating out most of the competition -- but the GTX 295 does manage to get almost twice the framerates.

Here the PowerColor HD 5870 really kicks thing into high gear, and very nice scores in Crysis: Warhead. Both of Crossfire setups, the HD 4770 (x2) and the HD 4870 (x2) both seem to run into some driver troubles at the max resolution.

Having AA on didn't phase the HD 5870 here much at all. While the HD 5870 understandably seems to have trouble exceeding the dual-GPU GTX 295 and HD 4870 X2's performance, for a single-GPU video card,  it is putting in some great numbers.

You can expect sales of the GTX 285 and HD 4890 to start to suffer now that the HD 5870 has arrived. It handles Far Cry 2 like an old pro.

Furmark doesn't support dual-GPU setups, and Nvidia cards generally have a more difficult time on the test, so it is no surprise to see who is on top.

The PowerColor HD 5870 is easily fast enough to keep up with the F-22 and the F-18.

The Street Fighter IV benchmark just flew by when running on the HD 5870. The HD 4870 looks like a slow, budget card in comparison -- which is somewhat unsettling.

The BFG GTX 285 nips at the heels of the HD 5870 here.

Simulating World War III isn't a problem for the HD 5870.

Operating Temperatures

To measure core GPU temperature, we used the hardware monitoring program in RivaTuner 2.24. The idle temperature was taken after leaving nothing running, on Vista's desktop, for a minute. The load temperature was taken after a 100,000ms run of Furmark at 1680x1050 with no AA.

The idle power usage is quite nice, for the PowerColor HD 5870. However when the games get going, all those billions of transistors started to get things a bit hot underneath the shroud.

Power Usage

To measure power usage, we used a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter. 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 200,000ms run of Furmark at the maximum resolution.

When inactive, the HD 5870 cuts down its power needs, which is good for the environment and your power bill. That 40nm processor is very impressive: it has roughly twice the computational might of the HD 4870, yet uses about the same amount of power. Very nice to see.


As many expected, the HD 5870 is blisteringly fast. You of course expect it to be quick, being a new generation and all -- but then, seeing in action, cutting through the competition and the games, is really quite something.

Besides the game performance, in which the PowerColor HD 5870 had little difficulty beating the other single-GPU cards in our tests, the HD 5870 comes with a great feature set. It might be too early to tell, but from a gamer's perspective, it looks like DX11 might be everything that DX10 wasn't. Developers seem keen to exploit the new possibilities of DX11, and whereas running games in DX10 mode pretty much just meant you were going to lose frames in a game, with hardly any visual improvements at all, early indications point to DX11 offering enough potential to be worth upgrading for. So, while sticking with a 'last-gen' option might give you better bang for the buck (for now anyways), going with a card that can handle DX11 is a move that will pay-off in the long run.

While we remain skeptical that Eyefinity will be practical for more than a few of the more hardcore crowd, nonetheless it is a great development for ATI, and having that option of building a crazy resolution meta-display is a welcome new feature to add onto that growing list. That Radeon feature list sure is certainly getting long these days.

With a price tag around the $400 mark, the PowerColor HD 5870 impresses. Certainly the release of the HD 5870 puts a new tail-spin on the video card market -- you can expect prices to be dropping all over. We look forward to see what the future will bring, both from that other unmentionable company, and from the rest of the HD 5000 series line-up. But at least for now, the PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 is a top-dog on a giant pile of video cards, and if you are looking for some big firepower, you don't need to look much further.


Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc., 1999-2014.
All Rights Reserved.

Please do not redistribute or use this article in whole, or in part, for commercial purposes.