PowerColor 5770 PCS+ Vortex Review

RHKCommander959 - 2010-07-23 09:47:59 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: August 8, 2010
Price: $179.99

Introduction:

With the 5000 series from ATI having solidified itself in the market over time due to the performance leads over NVIDIA, manufacturers have come forth with more exotic video card designs and speeds. The 5700 cards are equipped with the second most powerful GPU core, Juniper, which targets the midrange market and is available on the 5770 and 5750. The strongest core is the Cypress, which power the 5970, 5870, and 5850 designs. Both cores are built on the 40nm fabrication process and share a similar design, although the Juniper is virtually half a Cypress with half the stream processing units, ROPs, memory bus, and close to half the amount of transistors, die size, and pixel/texture fill rates. However, both can come paired with 1GB of GDDR5 and have similar clock speeds. Half the size means that these cost ATI a whole lot less and should result in better binning and yields in comparison to the Cypress core, as more Juniper cores can be produced per wafer, not to mention a smaller design is also easier to produce.

New variants have been pumped out by many of the manufacturers supporting ATI for some time and PowerColor has just designed a new video card based off of the 5770 PCS+ that was reviewed here at OCC a few months ago. The new design is called the 5770 PCS+ Vortex and sports a new heat sink design and higher core overclock of 900 MHz. One of the things that stands out over most heat sinks is that this one has a movable fan that can possibly operate more efficiently if the system has enough room - with the fan in the normal position, the card only takes up two slots, while with the fan extended it protrudes into a third slot. Overclocking headroom could be limited from the decent factory overclock, but that will have to wait until later on in the review!

Closer Look:

PowerColor has reused its older HD 5770 box by using a sliding sleeve to cover the older box up and to show off the new features and contents, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. As is the norm for PowerColor, a car has been blended with the heat sink as the box art, giving some hints as to the general look of the video card, minus the wheels. With 1GB of GDDR5 memory, the video card is in the same range as most midrange and high level cards, memory-wise. Rotating to the back reveals some features of the HD 5770 - the video card is built on a 128-bit memory bus, connects through PCI Express 2.1, has a core built on 40nm fabrication technology, and supports Microsoft DirectX 11 and Shader Model 5.0, as well as some other features. Further along the back are thermal images of the card with the fan in its default position and again in the raised position. The raising of the fan creates a buffer, or shroud, effect that in turn allows air to more evenly distribute from the impeller. This is important because the motor hub generally overlaps the heat sink and thus inhibits airflow, usually right over or near the core where the heat sink is the warmest. To the right are seven translations of the basic features. Lastly, at the bottom of the backside, is a rating system for gaming, office, and entertainment performance with up to five stars for the best performance. They gave the HD 5770 PCS+ Vortex four stars in gaming, and five in entertainment and office performance. There is also an explanation of what the PCS acronym means.

 

 

 

 

 

Sliding the cover off shows the older HD 5770 box, which has a sticker saying that it contains a free copy of Dirt 2. Two free games would be nice, but I suspect that it is an error caused by reusing the prior material when Dirt 2 was given away for free on the 5770. The inside box art continues the common usage of cars, this time a different angle of another car heat sink.

 

 

Opening the main package yields the typical cardboard container, and opening it up immediately gives a sneak peek at the new heat sink design. Dirt 2 is not inside and neither is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - perhaps Modern Warfare 2 was removed for the review sample. Only a driver disk, DVI to VGA adapter, a CrossFireX connector, and a pair of user manuals were included. The standard translucent, grayish-blue anti-static bag protects the 5770 PCS+ Vortex and gives a small glimpse of what the new video card looks like.

 

 

 

Time to get a better look at the PowerColor Radeon HD 5770 PCS+ Vortex!

Closer Look:

The Juniper core has over a billion transistors on a die the size of 170 mm2. This is all created on 40nm fabrication technology and is paired up with a 128-bit memory bus along with 1GB of GDDR5 on the Radeon HD 5770 video card. The core packs in 800 stream processors, similar to the older 4800 cards from the prior generation. 40 texture, 16 ROP, and 64 Z/Stencil units pair up with the stream processors and memory to make up the backbone of the video card. Connectivity is through a PCI Express 2.1 x16 slot and two CrossFireX slots for multiple card configurations. The 5770 only requires one 6-pin PCI Express power connection and so, theoretically, can only use up to 150 watts of electricity, although it wont even reach those levels without a good overclocking since AMD claims a reference 5770 loaded draws 108 watts. ATI PowerPlay throttles power consumption by adjusting settings on the fly, such as core and memory speed, during idle. In 2D mode, the card only runs at 100 MHz and 300 MHz, respectively, so power consumption is minimal when the load is low - 18 watts on a reference 5770. PowerPlay also saves energy when idling with CrossfireX configurations. HDMI 1.3 with 7.1-channel surround sound is supported, as are dual-stream 1080p playback, H.264, VC-1, and MPEG-2 formats. ATI Eyefinity and 3D stereoscopic technologies are also supported, so users can game in 3D and on up to three screens. On the audio front, the card supports AC-3, AAC, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS Master Audio formats. ATI Stream technology supports OpenCL and DirectCompute for faster encoding and processing.

The PowerColor Radeon HD 5770 PCS+ Vortex is completely in AMD colors, red and black, and around 7.5", which is the normal length of the 5700 cards. The core is overclocked to 900 MHz and the memory is running at 1225 MHz - reference clock speeds are 850 MHz core and 1200 MHz memory, so we already have a decent overclock. The fan extends about half outwards an inch by pushing the three red tabs counter-clockwise. There is no backplate as seen on larger core video cards. Four memory chips are mounted on the back and four on the front underneath the heat sink. All the connections are protected by plastic pieces except for the PCI Express x16 slot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near the PCI Express slot are version number, memory installed, and core type. The heat sink fins do not run the length of the card, but instead comes up short by a couple inches on each side, while the fan mount extends beyond to help keep airflow traveling through the video card before being exhausted out. The three red tabs can be lifted up and then twisted by users to create more space between the impeller hub and armatures, thus alleviating the problem of dead zones in air flow. In the default position, the hub sits very close to the heat sink fins and makes it difficult for the impeller to get air directly underneath. This is important because this dead zone also sits above the GPU core that generates the heat that must be dissipated, and if air can't reach the area, the heat must build up and radiate outward to where the airflow is. This buffer could be effective for up to a few degrees difference in performance.

 

 

The expansion slot plate is the same as found on all the other 5700 video cards with split grilles surrounding stacked DVI ports and sitting atop a HDMI port and DisplayPort. The grilles don’t actively pass much air by the fan itself, but if the video card is installed into a case with positive air pressure, it can help ventilate hot case air out. Though less likely, if there is negative air pressure (vacuum), it could pull in fresh air. The backside has some chokes and capacitors sitting under the heat sink fins, with the 6-pin power connector near the corner that is opposite the PCI Express x16 slot. The fan cable is sheathed and sneaks through to the PCB from the back. The two CrossFireX slots sit opposite of the 6-pin power connection near the expansion slot. These can be used to run multiple 5700-series cards for more performance.

 

 

The heat sink has no trouble clearing all the components of the PCB. The first photo shows the default position of the fan - in this configuration, it only requires two slots worth of space. Lifting up slightly on each tab and then twisting counter-clockwise until the fan clicks raises the fan around half an inch away from the heat sink. The fan housing is thin enough that with very slight torque one can push it past the clicking incidentally and make the fan fall out. Not to worry though, as re-installation is easy - there is a groove to reinstall the fan, as shown further down the page.

 

 

The rubber tabs provide the same service as a shim might, but cost less and are reminiscent of the Socket A days. The positioning is not even, but that is how PowerColor has them installed. The core is a decent size, similar to the memory chips. As usual, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TMSC) rendered the GPU core. Hynix produced the eight GDDR5 memory ICs that are soldered onto the video card. The memory runs off the 1.5V and is rated for 1250 MHz operation, which means it shouldn't be hard at all to match the speed since the memory is clocked slightly slower. Another similar batch with 1.6V is rated for 1500 MHz operation, so with proper cooling and voltage, this card could possibly overclock very nicely on the memory. There are four ICs on each side of the 5770.

 

 

The heat sink design is identical to the other PowerColor 5770 reviewed a while ago, other than the fan and fan mount design. The 5750 used the same design as well, but without the copper plate that helps dissipate heat from the core to the fins. To hold the heat sink on the card, spring-mounted nuts are screwed into standoffs attached to the heat sink. Plastic washers keep the PCB from getting scratched and also allow the springs to rotate as they spin for a more even dispersion and to keep them from warping.

 

 

The fan sits in the lowest hole when it is in the default position. With a light pull up on each tab, the fan can then be rotated through the long divot until the ball reaches the end and makes a click noise. It is then locked into place. To uninstall the fan, rather than twisting counter-clockwise, continue pulling up and give it a very slight clockwise turn, then continue pulling up. To reinstall the fan, it is the same method, just in reverse. There are three balls on the fan housing that ride along three matching groove patterns to raise and lower the fan. The fan has the dimensions 92mm by 15mm and is made by Power Logic, another company founded in Taiwan. The fan uses a sleeve bearing and requires 0.55A at 12V - it only has two power wires, so RPM reporting is not possible. The impeller sits slightly above the housing and thus can more effectively scavenge nearby air to the heat sink.

 

 

Once the drivers are done, it is time to test the new video card out!

Specifications:

Graphics Engine
Radeon 5770
GPU Clock MHz
900 MHz
Memory Clock MHz
1225 MHz (4.9Gbps)
Memory Interface Bus
128-bit
Memory Type
GDDR5
Memory Size (MB)
1024 MB
Bus Standard
PCIE 2.1
Microsoft® DirectX®
11

 

Features:

 

 

 

 

All Information courtesy of PowerColor@ www.powercolor.com/Global/products_features.asp?id=2537

Testing:

The PowerColor HD 5770 PCS+ Vortex is tested in a standardized method where the video card is first run through nine gaming benchmarks and three synthetic benchmarks. The results are recorded and then the testing is repeated at an overclocked speed to see how much of an improvement can be expected from overclocking. All the test results are tallied up and placed into graphs on pages dedicated to each benchmark. The results can then be compared to other video cards with performance similar to the 5770. Settings used in the testing do not change for any of the graphics cards, so results can truly be compared to each other, and all testing is done on systems with similar hardware running the 64-bit versions of Windows 7.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Overclocking the PowerColor Vortex card was very easy - ATI Catalyst was able to handle clock speeds and fan adjustment without a hitch and with 100% fan speed, the card was able to run at 970 MHz core and 1360 MHz memory completely stable. There wasn’t much more headroom and 1 GHz core was unachievable as it caused freezing during 3D load. Memory had more room left, but was running pretty hot already, so I didn’t pursue higher speeds. Voltage control through software doesn’t appear possible, as GPU-Z or any other video card software I tried didn’t report voltage levels or real fan speed, only set speed so the fan likely is only a two-wired fan (no RPM wire). Considering reference clock speeds are 850 MHz core and 1200 MHz memory, these are great overclocks.

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Each card has been tested for its maximum stable clock speeds using MSI's Kombuster utility. So far, my testing has shown that higher clock speeds may be stable in games where GPU usage does not reach 100%, but will crash within a few minutes using this utility. The reported clock speeds are those that proved stable over a 15 minute test at 1920x1200 8x AA.

 

 

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  5. Darkest of Days
  6. Bioshock 2
  7. Just Cause 2
  8. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0
  9. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  10. Resident Evil 5
  11. 3DMark 06 Professional
  12. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature

Testing:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main story line of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

All the other video cards are higher models, but the Vortex still put out great numbers for being only a mid-range card. All resolutions, except for the highest, had solid frame rates, especially when considering how high the settings were.

Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA Physx and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied - in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots, and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses - chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows, just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

With the settings so high, it wouldn't be very enjoyable playing Metro 2033 - the 5770 does manage to come close to some of the lower powered high end cards though. As the resolution climbs, the whole group begins lugging to dismal numbers.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The results in Crysis Warhead are similar to Far Cry 2 - all the resolutions have low frame rates and the next closest card is the GTX 465 from ASUS. The results are natural considering how much more the other cards cost. Nevertheless, two of these in CrossFireX could be very promising for high end performance.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration of the venerable first-person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking. You start off the single player missions playing as Private Allen and jump right into a serious firefight. This is the point where testing will begin. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Modern Warfare 2 has the 5770 showing playable scores again - not bad for high end settings on a mid-range card.

Testing:

What would testing be if you did not show both sides of the fence? In this test, PhysX was set to low, while leaving the remaining settings intact. You have seen time and again where the ATI cards suffer when PhysX is enabled. Mirror's Edge and Cryostasis are two prime examples. Darkest of Days is no different. What happens in this test shows that, although the game can be played by cards from the red team, the video effects and quality are diminished.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The first three resolutions show the best gaming experience with these settings.

Testing:

BioShock 2 is the sequel to a game that won more than 50 game of the year awards and sold more than 2.5 million units worldwide. Though a first-person shooter at its core, BioShock 2 blends that with RPG elements and drops you into an environment like no other - the underwater dystopian city of Rapture. Set approximately ten years after the events of the original, BioShock 2 allows the player to be one of the most iconic video game characters of recent years, a Big Daddy. Powered by the Unreal Engine 2.5 and featuring Havok Physics, BioShock 2 also adds multiplayer to the mix, filling in the one hole prevalent in the first game. There are seven different multiplayer game modes that take place in 1959, before the events of the original BioShock.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The PowerColor 5770 shows great results in BioShock 2. It even manages to beat out some of the 400-series cards from NVIDIA, which exerted odd performance.

Testing:

Just Cause 2 is a third-person shooter that takes place on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. In this sequel to 2006's Just Cause, you return as Agent Rico Rodriguez to overthrow an evil dictator and confront your former boss. When you don't feel like following the main storyline, you're free to roam the island, pulling off crazy stunts and causing massive destruction in your wake, all beautifully rendered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0. In the end, that's what the game basically boils down to; crazy stunts and blowing things up. In fact, blowing things up and wreaking havoc is actually necessary to unlock new missions and items.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Just Cause 2 is playable at the low resolution, but gets steadily less playable as the resolution climbs. The 5770 puts up a good fight with the much bigger cards.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes; Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and OpenGL. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Performance in the Heaven benchmark would lead to the assumption that the 5770 did poorly, but you must take into consideration that it has half the power of a 5870 card and the scores reflect that. Not bad at all, and those scores are what should be expected from a 5770. These are just some of the most powerful offerings right now from AMD and NVIDIA.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum brings together two bitter rivals, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to become the Dark Knight.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Batman: Arkham Asylum is plenty playable, but as the resolution climbs up to 2560x1600, the FPS takes a dive. Resolutions of 1920x1200 or less seems to be optimal for gaming with these settings across the board.

Testing:

Resident Evil 5 is the sequel to one of the best selling video games of all time. You play the game as Chris Redfield, a survivor of the events at Raccoon City, who now works for the BSAA. Sent to Africa to find the genesis of the latest Bio Organic agents, you meet up with another BSAA operative and work together to solve the problem. The game offers incredible 3D effects and co-op multiplayer.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Resident Evil 5 reinforces the idea that resolutions at or under 1920x1200 are better suited to the 5770 with 4x AA and 16x AF. The game is playable up through the highest resolution, where it starts nearing the borderline for a smooth experience.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest begins. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

At default 3DMark 06 settings, the 5770 manages to score 17910 at stock and 18947 overclocked. 19K from a mid-range card is impressive. The new GTX 460 doesn't cost too much more than the 5770 and shows much more performance, so the 5770 may see some price cuts to keep it competitive.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. "Entry" is 1024x768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

As in the 3DMark06 testing, the HD 5770 performs at a level lower than the GTX 460.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using MSI Kombuster, which is paired with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using the stability test set to a resolution of 1920x1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 15 minute time frame to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the first test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for overclocking. The idle test will be a 20 minute cool down with the fan speeds left on automatic.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

 

Two runs were done for each test of the Vortex, once with the fan in the default position and again with the fan raised - this is labeled Vortex 2. With the gap between the fan and heat sink, performance improved in three out of four tests by one to two degrees. The overclocked tests force the fan to run at 100%, while the stock testing lets the software control the fan. The highest I saw the fan ramp up to was 40%, so I believe that at load, without forcing an increase of fan speed, the back pressure of air trying to pass the heat sink fins, combined with having to traverse the gap, is what actually made the performance worse in stock load testing. When forced to 100%, there is a measurable gain - not a huge difference, but an improvement nonetheless. If the fan was forced to run higher at stock speeds, then there should be an improvement at stock load testing as well.

Conclusion:

Nothing major has been changed with the PowerColor Radeon HD 5770 PCS+ Vortex in comparison to its other 5770s. The main differences are slightly better performance, a different fan setup and a free copy of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 game. The core has been overclocked slightly more as well, but the other cards could easily reach 900 MHz, though may not be warrantied to that level - something you get from a factory-overclocked card. The core was overclocked nearly 6% over reference 5770 speeds, and only 2% on the memory side. Without effort, 970 MHz core and 1360 MHz memory was easy to attain using only ATI Overdrive setting clock rates and fan speed. The gains equate to 8% more speed on the core from factory clocks and 11% more on the memory - not bad at all. Temperatures peaked in the high seventies, but often were in the sixties, especially with direct fan control. The automated profile is targeted more for silence, although even with temperatures into the seventies, the video card is plenty safe to operate. Voltage modification is not possible with software and can only be done through hard modification.

Price will be the main factor on how well this card sells, especially with new pressures from NVIDIA. The game could entice people to buy the video card too since Modern Warfare 2 is popular. Most companies bundle games that are not nearly as popular (or sometimes valuable), so this may be a selling point. The only real con that sticks out is that the only real difference between this and the older PowerColor Radeon HD 5770 PCS+ is a new BIOS and fan/shroud, and of course, a different bundle. The card operated flawlessly.

Ultimately, pricing will decide if the market favors the 5770 versus alternative cards. This new cooling design does work, but doesn't change things tremendously but does keep a good thing going.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: