PowerColor Radeon HD 5850: Worth the Wait

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Gaming: Please check out gaming-oriented reviews of the HD 5850 at techPowerUp, HardwareCanucks, and The Tech Report. The general consensus is that the HD 5850 is the second fastest single GPU ATI video card currently on the market and is aptly suited for gaming at 1920x1200 resolution and above. It holds a sizable performance advantage over the HD 4890 and is only moderately slower than the HD 5870 which holds a $100 price premium. In most tests, the 5850 also beats Nvidia's closest competitor, the GTX 285, which retails for $70 to $100 more.

Cooling: The box style stock cooler adopted by ATI is too aggressive when idle. It is clearly audible and noticeably louder than previous generation ATI HD coolers. That being said, most users will find the noise level tolerable, though those used to a quiet PC will want to put a third party cooler on, place the system under a desk, or attempt to modify the fan behavior in the BIOS. On load, it is fairly quiet compared to most high-end graphics cards and the noise level is low enough that in-game volume will undoubtedly drown it out.

Power Consumption: By our estimates, the Radeon HD 5850 requires only 21W when idle which is extremely impressive for one of the fastest video cards available. By comparison the HD 4870 and 4890 use more than 3 times as much. The high idle power consumption penalty typically associated with a topnotch gaming cards does not apply to the HD 5850. On load, it uses slightly less than the HD 4870/4890 even though it offers stronger performance.

The biggest problem with the Radeon HD 5850 has been its high popularity. Plagued by low yields at first, it was near impossible to find a 5850 after the initial launch. The limited availability resulted in a rare price increase, but this did not reduce demand at all. As Nvidia attention has been focused elsewhere, ATI is the only game in town when it comes to high-end graphics cards, at least if you want good value. With the stock situation finally beginning to reach resolution we can say with confidence that the wait was worth it.

We have a few quibbles with the card, but none particularly significant. The DVI cover interferes with some third party coolers, though heatsinks like the Accelero series with malleable fins can be tweaked to avoid it. The stock cooler, while quiet enough for most, can certainly be improved, but this point of contention is far from notable as finding a reference heatsink we genuinely like seems impossible. The package provided by PowerColor is very basic with a CrossFire bridge and DVI to VGA adapter, but no 6-pin PCI-E power adapter cables. The card and cooler are basically the same as the reference design as are the majority of HD 5850's on the market, excluding the overclocked versions.

Its strengths are numerous and substantial. While energy efficiency is only slightly better than ATI's previous generation on load, its low idle draw is an amazing accomplishment. Using just a shade over 20W, gamers no longer have to feel guilt over their GPU sucking up copious amounts of energy just surfing the web or performing other mundane tasks. The EyeFinity feature is a landmark on its own; the HD 5000 is the first series of mainstream desktop graphics card that can drive triple display configurations without help from an IGP or a second discrete card. Audiophiles have a lot to cheer about, as the ability to bistream Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio has been added. And even if you judge the HD 5850 on gaming performance alone, it still offers a far better value than anything in its price bracket. Even the physical dimensions of the card are commendable — an inch shorter than Nvidia's GTX 200 series, making it compatible with more cases. It doesn't have the ultra-quiet acoustics we demand for an Editor's Choice product, but the PowerColor Radeon HD 5850 1GB clearly deserve a strong recommendation.

PowerColor Radeon HD 5850 1GB
PROS

* Excellent 3D Performance
* Well cooled
* Superb power consumption in idle
* Lower power consumption than HD 4870/4890 on load
* EyeFinity
* Bitsreams Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD audio
* Free copy of Dirt 2 (temp. promo)
* Fits in most ATX cases
CONS

* Stock cooler spins too fast when idle
* DVI cover interferes with some third party coolers
* No power adapters included
* High price

PowerColor Radeon HD 5850 1GB

Recommended by SPCR

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