ATI Radeon HD 5850 review

14 Oct 2009

Blistering pace that tops the best of the last generation – and at a palatable price, too

Price when reviewed 
199
5

After a period of offering peak performance at generous prices, ATI's latest graphics cards demonstrate just how difficult things have become for manufacturers. The HD 5870, for instance, launched at £261, compared to £170 for the HD 4870 when it first arrived. And the new HD 5850, at £180, is far more expensive than its predecessor, which cost an even £100 at launch.

Thankfully, the flagship HD 5870 proved fast enough to make parting with such a large sum of cash palatable. This leaves the HD 5850 in something of a predicament, though. The HD 4850 was priced perfectly to be the unexpected gem in the line-up; by contrast, the HD 5850's high price means it needs to blow us away with its performance to match that impact.

The card’s specification goes some way to appeasing the cost. Each of the 1,440 stream processors is clocked at 750MHz, the 1GB of GDDR5 memory runs at 1000MHz, and a mighty 2.15 billion are present – the same as the HD 5870.

As with the rest of the family, the HD 5850 supports DirectX 11 and Shader Model 5. While these don’t mean much at the moment, they should come into their own at the beginning of next year when the first true DirectX 11 games hit the shelves.

Performance was, thankfully, impressive. It coasted through our Crysis benchmarks, averaging 56fps in our 1,600 x 1,200 high quality test. The HD 4850, by contrast, managed only 34fps in the high quality benchmark – and both the HD 4890 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 275, which can now be bought for around £180, were nine frames slower than the new card.

We found Crysis was still playable at its very high quality settings, too, with the HD 5850 returning a score of 32fps at a resolution of 1,920 x 1,200. That’s 3fps faster than the old HD 4890, 4fps faster than the GTX 275 and, crucially, the right side of the fabled 30fps boundary that most use for playability.

The HD 5850 even managed to run Crysis, albeit only at high settings, at a massive 2,560 x 1,600. A 33fps average proves that there’s enough muscle for gaming on the largest 30in TFT monitors.

It does all this without hogging power. An idle power draw of 122W in our standard test rig is broadly similar to that of both the HD 5770 and HD 5870, and its peak draw of 231W is lower than the HD 5870’s demands as well as most other enthusiast GPUs. Like the HD 5870, the new card uses a pair of standard 6-pin power connecters, rather than any messy 8-pin arrangements.

Despite the price and the considerable noise from the cooler at full pelt, there’s plenty to like about the HD 5850. It’s far quicker than the HD 4890 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 275, and almost twice as fast as its predecessor. It's not quite the bargain the HD 4850 was, but in terms of performance, power efficiency and next-generation features, the future-proofed HD 5850 is an excellent high-end compromise.

Details

Price ex VAT £173
Price inc VAT £199
Performance 6
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 5
Overall rating 5

Core Specifications

Graphics card interface PCI Express
Cooling type Active
Graphics chipset ATI Radeon HD 5850
Core GPU frequency 750MHz
RAM capacity 1,024MB
Memory type GDDR5

Standards and compatibility

DirectX version support 11.0
Shader model support 5.0

Connectors

DVI-I outputs 2
DVI-D outputs 0
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
7-pin TV outputs 0
Graphics card power connectors 2 x 6-pin

Benchmarks

3D performance (crysis) low settings 144fps
3D performance (crysis), medium settings 88fps
3D performance (crysis) high settings 56fps