Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 CrossfireX Page: 1
Over one month on since the launch of ATi's latest generation of DirectX 11 solutions, the reign of the mighty Radeon HD 5870 remains prominent. As the fastest single gpu graphics card on the market, it hasn't got a lot of competition at it's retail price of around £300-320. On paper it doesn't sound so bad as right now, it offers respectable performance for it's price and gives users the opportunity to do more than they could otherwise do with the previous generation thanks to ATi Eyefinity technology and full DirectX 11 support and all of this in a package that doesn't eat a power station for breakfast and is quiet enough to run 24/7 without it being a nuisance. As time goes by however, the consumer wants to see price cuts and this is simply not going to happen until nVidia have responded with their upcoming "Fermi" codenamed graphics card. Until then, I'm sure that ATi has no intention of even touching their product's pricing as they will continue to sell by themselves just fine.
So what if you don't have £300 available to spend? Two options for you and the first one is to wait for a price drop. This might be the smart thing to do as competition should result in a price war but ultimately it will depend greatly on the quality of the competitor's product and when it arrives. In the context of nVidia's upcoming graphics card range, perhaps they might arrive by Christmas and stomp all over ATi's offerings. Perhaps it'll match ATi performance. Maybe the graphics card range will arrive late? Nothing is certain when it comes to a product that isn't available yet and as such playing the waiting game might be rewarding or it might be a waste of time.
The second option is to compromise. Today, ATi have four new graphics cards on the market. Two of them are likely to be inadequate for the high end customers and as already mentioned, the Radeon HD 5870 might be a little out of reach for some. This leaves us with the Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5. Priced at £200, it is considerably cheaper than it's bigger brother and as a consequence has decreased core and memory frequencies as well as 10% cut in Stream Processors. One can argue that the differences in the two graphics cards may mean that the HD 5870 isn't necessarily quick enough to justify it's added premium. Such a summary however opens a whole new can of worms but this time towards the prospective CrossfireX. Given a £100 saving per graphics card, might two Radeon HD 5850's be the sweetspot of Multi GPU solutions? Let's discuss.
Sapphire Radeon HD 5850
Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 Crossfire
Sapphire Radeon HD 5870
Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 Crossfire
Core Name Cypress
Cypress Cypress
Core Frequency 725MHz 725MHz 850MHz 850MHz
Stream Processors
1440 2 x 1440 1600 2 x 1600
Memory Frequency 4000MHz (1000MHz x 4)
(1000MHz x 4)
(1200MHz x 4)
(1200MHz x 4)
Memory Interface 256bit 256bit 256bit 256bit
ROP Count 32 2 x 32 32 2 x 32
TMU Count 72 2 x 80 80 2 x 80
Price £198.95 £397.90 £299.00 £598.00
Straight off the bat, a quick Google Shopping search reveals a 33% saving incurred in opting for Radeon HD 5850's in Single or Multi GPU format over the equivalent HD 5870 configuration. The most significant change to the Radeon HD 5850's technical specification is the cut of 8 x 5 way shading units, which translates to a decreased Stream Processor count from 1600 to 1440. It does however still sport the same Memory Interface width and ROP count. and is only further stunted by decreased core and memory frequencies. What does this mean in practice? There's only one way to find out. Today, we are graced with the presence of two Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 graphics cards.
Sapphire is no newbie to the graphics card market by any stretch of the imagination. As the largest supplier of ATi cards, Sapphire has extensive experience with all segments of the graphics card market. Touting both experience and great innovation, the brand has released a number of successful graphics cards including the world's first 1.00GHz factory overclocked unit. With this in mind, let's find out how Sapphire's latest offerings perform as we put not one, but two Radeon HD 5850's through their paces.

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Packaging and Initial Impressions
Our pair of Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 1GB graphics cards arrived in a standard glossy outer box that doesn't particularly deviate from the Add In Board partner's usual styling theme. On the box itelf, it has just about all you need to know about the graphics card if you were to decide to go and pick it up in a shop. This includes it's key features such as ATi Eyefinity, CrossfireX support, DirectX 11 compliance, System Requirements and so on.
As you may have noticed from the box, the package includes with a coupon that entitles the end user to download the well anticipated DiRT 2 Racing game, that will be among the first to take advantage of DirectX 11. Aside this, the accessory list is airly standard but more than acceptable. This includes an owners manual, DVI to VGA adapter, Driver CD, CrossfireX bridge, two 4pin molex to 6pin PCI-Express adapters and a Sapphire Sticker.
The graphics card itself looks very much like it's Radeon HD 5870 brother. It's PCB length however is down to a more respectable 9.5", which is directly comparable to the Radeon HD 4800 series and GeForce 8800/9800 series. This technically allows the graphics card to fit in cases which are less deep but do remember that you must factor in the size of your PCI-E 6pin cables as well because the sockets are situated on the back rather than the top.
After the removal of no less than 16 screws, the HD 5850's Heatsink was dismembered from the graphics card PCB. Following the removal of another couple of screws, the shroud could be removed, exposing it's blower fan and cooling block. Sporting two U shaped heatpipes, a copper base and tightly spaced Aluminium fins, it would seem as though ATi have specified the cooling solution well. Upon observing the spread of thermal paste on the Cypress core and the base of the heatsink, we were pleased with both core contact and the quantity of paste used. The craftmanship of the graphics card seems pretty good so far.
The installation of our Sapphire Radeon HD 5850's was trouble free. After the drivers were installed and the system had restarted, ATi's Catalyst Control Center had detected both cards and was then notified that CrossfireX had been enabled. From a noise point of view, the graphics cards were whisper quiet, very much like the HD 5870's that we have previously tested.

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Our testbed has been configured such to avoid any potential limiting factors that may otherwise stunt the performance of the graphics cards being tested. This in turn may produce an artificial result that implies that CrossfireX offers minimal performance gains when infact it might be quite the opposite. With an Intel Core i7, cycling at a rather frisky 3400MHz we are not particularly worried about a potential bottleneck. All games are tested at a resolution of 1920x1080 .
Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.40GHz
Gigabyte EX58 UD3R LGA1366 Motherboard
6GB Corsair PC3-12800 DDR3 RAM
2x Sapphire HD Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5
Antec Nine Hundred Two Gaming Case
Corsair HX750W ATX2.0 Power Supply Unit
500GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 SATA II HDD
LG 22x DVD+/-RW
Windows Vista Home Premium
During full GPU load, our Radeon HD 5850's had reached temperatures of 80*c. While this may seem high, it is well within operating temperatures. Furthermore, we are once again happy to report another quiet cooling solution on an ATi reference heatsink with Catalyst Control Center reporting Fan Duty speeds of just 33%.
Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
3DMark Vantage is an updated and more demanding evolution over the package that it succeeded. Our tests cover the "Performance" setting of the benchmark. The application will output three scores. The first two are CPU and GPU scores, which are formed from various tests that will focus on either of the two (or both). On the basis of those scores, a final "Overall" score is then outputted with a "P" prefix beforehand to denote that the "Performance" setting was applied.
In this Synthetic Benchmark, we see that the Radeon HD 5870 has a fair lead over it's stunted brother in both single and crossfire mode. The HD 5850's scores however are excellent for a £200 graphics card.

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Crysis Warhead
Crysis Warhead is without a doubt one hard nut to crack, especially at higher resolutions and a dash of Anti Aliasing and Anisotrophic Filtering. Typically, this game is heavy on both CPU and GPU however the limitation at high resolutions skews the dependancy towards the latter. Depending on how well the drivers are optimised, Multi GPU scaling could vary greatly. But anyway, given the game's "tough" characteristics, we were eager to find out the end result.
In single card mode, the Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 has a 4 frame per second deficit over the previously tested HD 5870. This may not seem like a lot but every little bit matters in the sub 25fps range as we steadily approach game play which could be described as choppy.
FarCry 2
Far Cry 2, a slightly older hit but based on a fairly demanding engine also has a fair level of GPU dependancy at least particularly so at higher resolutions. This particular game features a fabulous benchmarking tool, which loops an intensive Far Cry 2 scene and gatherers minimum, maximum and average framerates accordingly. This allows for a more accurate comparison from one test item to another. As mentioned, we have set all Quality Settings to the highest possible within the tool.
Unlike Crysis Warhead, all of our graphics card configurations played Far Cry 2 without so much as a stutter. This shouldn't detract from the fact that the scaling on both graphics cards in Multi GPU mode was excellent. The Radeon HD 5870 maintains a fair lead over the HD 5850 once again.
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
Microsoft Flight Simulator X is part of a handful of games that are heavily CPU reliant. If you thought that this was bad, at initial release this game did not have multicore cpu support. I need not say anymore on that front, but with this in mind, the results that followed were not too surprising.
The game's CPU dependancy is quite clear from the level set of results.
Call of Duty 4
Call of Duty 4 is one of the older games within our testing. Once again, all quality settings are set as high as possible and Dual Graphics Card support has been checked in game. Our particular CoD4 test is not terribly strenuous but the performance scaling is quite clear.
In both configurations, the Radeon HD 5870 outpaces the 5850 by considerable margins. Once again however, the HD 5850 plays the game flawlessly and the quality of game play would be no different to the other graphics card configurations.

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So it would seem that once again, Sapphire has presented us with yet another fantastic product. It should be mentioned of course that much of the credit really goes to ATi as unlike many of Sapphire's offerings, their Radeon HD 5850 is based entirely on the reference design specified by ATi. The graphics card has proven itself as a solid performer that is more than capable of hanging in there with it's bigger brother, despite it's lower clock speeds and cut shading units. Once you factor in it's considerably lower price tag, it surely seems as though the Radeon HD 5850 is a rather appetising proposition indeed. The performance itself appears to be different enough (stock vs stock) to distance the two sufficiently to make the top of the line HD 5870 worthwhile for those who can afford it but for the wide majority that are big on "Bang per Buck" factor, it would seem as though the 5850 prevails.
From an ATi Crossfire perspective, the Sapphire Radeon HD 5850's scaled very well indeed. With an overall outlay of just under £400, the end result is a graphics configuration that performs a little over midway between a single HD 5870 and two HD 5870's. Given that the 5850's in Crossfire was capable of playing everything that we threw at it, we're tempted to say that the £200 saving is well worth the performance deficit. This is especially true if the money that's been saved can be put to use towards a more capable Processor, Cooling, RAM or Motherboard for your brand new gaming setup as it should be remembered that it takes more than ordinary hardware to complement today's top end graphics cards. ATi Crossfire in this particular context has also proven to be reliable and practical throughout the testing process. We'd also like to reiterate that such a graphics card configuration does not command excessive Power Supply Units and the well designed Heatsink allows for quiet operation even under load.
I think the big question for many is how much more demanding will the upcoming generation of games be, but more importantly whether the Radeon HD 5850's technical shortcomings will be more apparent under such conditions. As noted from our example of Crysis where even a 4fps decrease between graphics cards can make a reasonable difference to overall gameplay, this can just as equally hold true for future games releases that may typically operate below a 40 frames per second average. This also ties in with that mythical phrase known as "future proofing"  as we should all know that preparing one's computer to withstand the test of time in terms of performance is nigh on futile. What's absolutely clear is that the Radeon HD 5850 will play pretty much anything you'd wish to throw at it and was next to no trouble at the same in Crossfire mode. For now, it doesn't appear as though these graphics cards will be brought to their knees in the immediate future and as such, we believe that the Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 (in both single and crossfire mode) is a fantastic choice of graphics card for those with performance orientated expectations as well as a tighter wallet.
The Good
- Excellent Performance for the Money
- Quiet Operation
- Shorter 9.5" Length
- Reasonable Accessory List (Inc DiRT 2 Coupon)
The Mediocre
- None
The Bad
- None
All at OC3D would Like to thank Sapphire for supplying the 5850's for review. You can discuss further in our forums