PowerColor Radeon HD 5850: Worth the Wait

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PowerColor Radeon HD 5850: Worth the Wait

January 11, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

PowerColor Radeon HD 5850 1GB
PCI-E Graphics Card
Street Price

For PC gamers one of the biggest stories of 2009 was the launch of the Radeon HD 5000 series, most notably the higher-end HD 5870 and 5850. They received rave reviews, extolling their high levels of performance and excellent energy efficiency. As a result, they became massively popular and created a demand with which ATI/AMD was unable to cope. Their initial production runs had very poor yields, the same problem that plagued the release of their first 40nm GPU, the HD 4770. Cards trickled in slowly to distributors for most of the last quarter and the stock that did become available in stores were quickly gobbled up. The predicament was exacerbated by the allocation of a significant portion of 40nm chips for the release of the dual GPU HD 5970.

The PowerColor HD 5850 box.

This issue was so widespread that we weren't able to obtain a sample until recently through retail channels, a PowerColor Radeon HD 5850 1GB which current ships with a free Steam copy of Dirt 2. Other than that, this model is basically the same as most other HD 5850s, using the reference PCB and cooler. Our sample had only a CrossFire bridge and DVI to VGA adapter inside the box which wasn't too surprising as PowerColor has developed a reputation for being stingy with accessories.

Package contents.

Technical specifications according to GPU-Z.

Compared to the Radeon HD 4890, the fastest single GPU from ATI's last generation of graphics cards, the HD 5850 sports more than twice the transistor count (more than 2 billion), made possible by an 18% larger die and upgrading the fabrication process from 55nm to 40nm. The 5850 also has DirectX 11 support and an 80% increase in shader units (1440 vs. 800). With all the extra hardware it will be interesting to see whether how well they managed noise, cooling, and energy efficiency.

Gaming aside, the HD 5000 series has a couple of other benefits that can't be assigned an objective value. ATI's new EyeFinity multi-display technology allows users to output to three displays simultaneously without requiring the use of a second GPU. Using three monitors one could immerse themselves in a surreal gaming experience, or simply increase productivity with the extra screen real estate. Another improvement is the ability to bitstream Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio directly over HDMI without uncompressing the signal, a feature that until now has been available only on high-end sound cards.

Specifications: PowerColor Radeon HD 5850
(from the product web page)
Graphics Engine RADEON HD5850
Video Memory 1GB GDDR5
Engine Clock 725 MHz
Memory Clock 1000MHz (4.0Gbps)
Memory Interface 256bit
DirectX Support 11
Bus Standard PCIE 2.1

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