PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 PCS+ Review

RHKCommander959 - 2010-02-09 17:06:52 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: March 7, 2010
Price: $409.99+

Introduction:

PowerColor has a full lineup of all the ATI GPU's available, in stock and overclocked variants. The card here is the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ - an overclocked 5870 Cypress core and memory, packing in 1600 stream processors at 875 MHz and 1GB of GDDR5 at 1225 MHz. The move of AMD/ATI to 40nm allowed more transistor count to be packed into similar area on the silicon substrate – translating (generally speaking) to increased efficiency on both cost, power, and productivity. The PCB is made for the 256-bit bus. Adding in the GDDR5 along with the smaller bus, allows AMD/ATI to produce the card cheaper since GDDR5 costs less than GDDR3 and smaller buses are cheaper and bandwidth isn't sacrificed because the high speed GDDR5 makes up for the smaller bus to put it most simply. Combine that with the die shrink from 55nm on 4-series AMD/ATI cards to 40nm on 5-series and this card should be budget friendly for manufacturers and make room for price cuts. The heat sink on the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ is a custom job with four heat pipes and massive core cooling while offering no active RAM cooling. The card also supports native Microsoft DirectX 11, as do the rest of the 5-series cards. ATI Eyefinity and PowerPlay are more supported technologies for multiple monitor spanning and power adjustments.

Overclocking will be a surprise – if the graphics card can have the voltage raised with software and if the heat sink can handle the heat it should do great. The memory probably won't fare as well, but the airflow across the chips might be enough to give a decent boost.

Closer Look:

The box and box art or the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ is the same as the other PCS+ 5-series cards thus far, except larger than the 5770 PCS+ reviewed prior, in order to fit the larger 5870 graphics card. The center of the box art is a car with tire tread marks left around it, and wispy particles/wind floating around it. The car itself has a giant impeller in the roof and the back and fan both resemble the shroud/fan assembly on the PCS+ cards. PowerColor heads the top of the box and is angled on the rear trunk area of the car, PCS+ Radeon HD 5870 sitting bold nearby underneath. The bottom right has the ATI Radeon graphics card sticker and a Colin McRae: Dirt 2 sticker indicating that this box also contains a certificate to get a free copy of Dirt 2 online. The top right corner of the box displays the supported memory and video outputs - 1GB GDDR5 memory and dual DVI, HDMI, and a DisplayPort for output. The side of the box has Radeon HD 5870 boldly placed along the majority of the length of the side. Underneath, some basic system requirements that are needed to enjoy this graphics card are listed: PCI Express based PC with one x16 lane graphics slot available on the motherboard, 500 Watt or greater power supply with two 75W 6-pin PCI Express power connections recommended (600 Watt and four 6-pin connectors for ATI CrossFireX technology in dual mode), certified power supplies are recommended, minimum 1GB of system memory, installation software requires DVD drive, DVD playback requires DVD drive, Blu Ray playback requires a Blu Ray drive, and for an ATI CrossFireX system, a second ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics card, an ATI CrossFireX Ready motherboard and one ATI CrossFireX Bridge Interconnect cable are required. Underneath these requirements is another PowerColor branding. The whole box has a general background that looks similar to carbon fiber weaving.

 

 

 

Switching to the back, we find some generic specifications and features in eight languages. Most important is the explanation of the PCS acronym - Professional Cooling System. "With unique cooling technology and attractive cover design, this fantastic cooling solution can decrease operating environment temperature effectively, and enhance headroom for overclocking capabilities. All of these advantages will provide more flexibility for all gamers to take control and tune their rig for maximum performance." This graphics card should be equipped with a heat sink that leaves plenty of overclocking headroom past the factory overclock. The general specifications lay underneath the PowerColor name and are: Powered by ATI Radeon HD 5870, 256-bit memory interface, PCI Express 2.1 support, 40nm process technology, DirectX 11 / Shader Model 5.0 support, ATI Stream technology, ATI CrossFireX multi-GPU support for highly scalable performance, ATI Avivo HD video and display technology, Enhanced Unified Video Decoder 2 (UVD2) for Blu Ray and HD content, and built-in HDMI with 7.1 surround sound. Five snippets underneath explain some of these features in further detail, followed by a chart with three categories and five stars to rank the graphics card capabilities in gaming, video, and office use. The 5870 got all five stars in the three categories meaning that it is proficient at gaming, video content, and office usage. The other side just has a serial and model number. Opening the box shows that a folding corrugated cardboard box encases around the video card. The card is protected by a standard anti-static bag. Underneath all of this are the accessories!

 

 

With the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ out of the box we can sneak a peek at it through the anti-static bag, a large fan and two large copper heat pipes can be readily seen in the center and top. The right-side looks similar to the trunk of the car on the box art. The accessories included are an installation manual, Colin McRae Dirt 2 game voucher, driver disk, DVI to VGA adapter, and CrossFireX ribbon cable.

 

 

With the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ out of the box, it's time to get some shots of it!

Closer Look:

Proving to look similar to the box art car picture, the heat sink fan assembly/shroud boasts vent holes at the rear and a large impeller in the center. Directly underneath is the quad heat-piped heat sink. A pair of stickers to the left say PCS+ and Radeon HD 5870 - both are dark and shiny. The heat pipes stick out a fair distance making this card wider than the reference design by approximately an inch. The back is empty of anything spectacular - the heat sink bolts on with spring retention from the rear. If the heat sink is tweaked too much during installation, the bond of thermal paste between the core and base of the heat sink could be disturbed from being mounted this way. The CrossFireX slots and video output area have been capped off to help keep them safe from possibly dust and oxidation. Two six-pin power connections are mounted at the rear of the card, and also near the rear is a heat sink for the voltage regulation circuits that uses spring loaded plastic hooks. The core runs at 875 MHz while the memory runs at 1225 MHz. The core has extensive cooling provided by the quad-piped heat sink while the memory gets passing air across their bare surfaces. Hopefully the card will allow software voltage modification to best make use of the massive core cooling!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The side shot shows the staggered heat pies and capped-off CrossFireX slot well, and also gives a glimpse at the smaller heat sink that lays near the power plugs behind a wall of capacitors - this area provides power to the memory and core. The shroud sits high above the PCB and allows hot air to easily be exhausted back into the case - users who purchase this will want good airflow, or they could find their case to get hot easily.

 

 

The expansion slot bracket is the default design used on the reference 5870 design - a half-width exhaust grill and stacked DVI ports give it away. The card also has HDMI and a DisplayPort - all of these can be used together with ATI Eyefinity technology to span multiple monitors for massive resolutions! Three bolts and our hex-head standoffs, bolt the bracket to the card. The rear has many vents and openings to allow airflow dissipation from the fan. Capacitors are spaced far apart allowing air to glide between them from the heat sinks. Sitting together are two 6-pin PCI Express power connections opposite the fan header.

 

 

Time to play with the drivers!

Closer Look:

This time around we will just be focusing on the ATI Catalyst Control Center features, which has options for overclocking the video card and adjusting fan speed through the ATI Overdrive tab, as well as options for adjusting desktop and monitor controls for the perfect setup. Users can also adjust game, video, and photo qualities by either forcing certain features or by letting the application use its own settings. To install the drivers, I suggest using the express option – it installs to the default location quickly and easily. Users will be prompted to install extras at their will, such as the Folding@Home client. Overclockers Club has its own folding team where anyone is welcome to join; our team number is #12772. When overclocking with the ATI Overdrive feature, users are likely to hit a brick wall. The new drivers allow for manual fan speed control, but otherwise the only other capabilities of the program are running a rudimentary stability test, basic monitoring, and using sliders with limited ranges to adjust speed. Once the drivers are installed, a quick system restart will get things on the right path and allow the Advanced ATI Catalyst Control Center to be used. The first page to open with ATI Catalyst Control Center is the Welcome page, which has quick hyperlinks to check for driver updates, get in contact with customer care, to give feedback, visit the AMD website, or to join the Folding@Home cause. The next page is the Information Center; the Information center is split into two tabs – one for Graphics Software information and the other for 'Graphics Hardware information'. These two tabs can be very handy for troubleshooting any problems a person may run into.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Graphics Hardware tab of the information center contains information about the video card including BIOS version and date, chipset, memory, vendor code, and so on. Most people shouldn’t need the Graphics Hardware and Software information, but it's definitely handy when a problem may occur. The next page is the Desktops & Displays page – this page is for the basic settings of the monitor(s) and desktop. Users can figure out which monitor is which and rotate the outputted image. Clicking the properties or moving along brings us to the Desktop Properties page.

 

 

The Desktop Properties page has much more control over the desktop with settings such as desktop area, color quality, refresh rate, and again rotation. The next tab in the Desktop Properties page adjusts the color, contrast, brightness, and gamma output. This can be handy on monitors that need some help putting out the appropriate colors. Back when I used a CRT, a long time ago, it helped keep the colors closer to reality when the monitor would get a gray or yellowish tint.

 

 

The Display Options page is very short and is used just for one option – Display Detection Option. The options are automatic or manual detection of displays. The 3D page has several tabs that allow users the ability to define a custom scheme for their games. There are previews for the effects or users can power through all of the settings on the 'All' tab at the end.

 

 

The Avivo Video page has five tabs dedicated to performance and quality adjustments for video output. A preview is included of a woman with flowers and fruit. Again, just as with the 3D page, there is an 'All' tab that can adjust all of the settings for the Avivo Video at once.

 

 

The last page on the graphics menu is the ATI Overdrive. To first use this feature, users must click the lock to ‘unlock’ the program, after agreeing to some terms. The software is capable of automatically overclocking the video card through Auto-Tune, but I prefer using the manual settings. Users can test their settings using the Test Custom Clocks button. Fan speed control is relatively new to ATI Overdrive and allows users to define what speed the fan or blower runs at. Underneath and to the right of this are gauges and readouts of some of the more important data for this card – temperature, usage activity, fan speed, GPU clock speed, and memory clock speed. The test feature brings up a full-screen image that is pretty basic – greenish reddish with an AMD logo in the bottom left.

 

 

The new additional menu is the HydraVision menu. The first page is the HydraGrid page, which allows users to define a grid-like component to lock applications to a certain chunk of desktop real estate. Options such as showing the grids when moving a window and showing an icon in the tray are able to be configured at the bottom, while adjusting the grid is near the top. The grid can be previewed, as the default layout is seen with white bars representing the grids. Users can customize the grid layout to whatever they desire, the keyboard shortcuts are listed out in the image while the red bar means it is the selected grid component to be adjusted.

 

 

The next page is the Desktop Manager, which does exactly what the name implies – it manages the desktop. The desktop manager can keep track of application position and size, and allow spanning across multiple displays. The last page is the Multi Desktop. This name is also suggestive to its use – this program allows users to have multiple desktops ranging from two up to nine. Users can rotate between desktops with the scroll wheel, preserve display settings, and enable another tray icon. This can be useful for those who have a ton of desktop icons as a means to separate them out. One could, for instance, even make a desktop for each category of their own choosing even – gaming, work, school, and whatever else.

 

 

Now we can go test out the new video card!

Specifications:

Graphics Engine
Radeon HD 5870
Video Memory
1GB GDDR5
Engine Clock
875 MHz
Memory Clock
1225 MHz (4.9 Gbps)
Memory Interface
256bit
DirectX Support
11
Bus Standard
PCIE 2.1

 

Features:

 

 

 

 

All Information courtesy of PowerColor

Testing:

To test the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ graphics card it will be stress tested with a barrage of benchmarks that is standard for OCC graphics card testing. The games are Far Cry 2, Crysis Warhead, Darkest of Days, Call of Duty: World at War, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Resident Evil 5, and Left 4 Dead, and the synthetic benchmark tests are 3DMark 06 and 3DMark Vantage. All of the settings remain the same from card to card with the exception of disabling PhysX when applicable. After testing the graphics card at factory settings I will then push it to its limits or near - overclocking while remaining as stable as possible. The tests are then repeated and results recorded and displayed next to other graphics cards that have been tested.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

960 MHz without a voltage increase was very nice, the card pushed higher but wouldn't achieve complete stability. It went as high as 1000 MHz and 1400 MHz but was not stable enough for testing so it got cut back a bit to ensure stability. Oddly, the memory was not very willing to overclock at first and wouldn't go very high. After a few days of pushing, the card was more willing and hit 1320 MHz. Nearly 10% and 8% gains on both core and memory respectively just with ATI Overdrive - not to mention that the card is already overclocked 25 MHz on both the core and memory from factory. Voltage programs such as MSI Afterburner were unable to adjust the voltage and thus the card had to do with what it was set with. Temperatures were great, as the highest temperatures loaded with benchmarking and gaming were low 50's and high 40's Celsius anywhere on the card and at full speed the fan is definitely audible but not ear piercing. Next are the benchmark results!

 

 

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. Darkest of Days
  4. Call of Duty: World at War
  5. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
  6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  7. Resident Evil 5
  8. Left 4 Dead
  9. 3DMark 06 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

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 storyline 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:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At stock, the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ came in second or tied with the Sapphire HD 5870 - overclocked it was number one, of course. Decent frame-rate gain was experienced with Far Cry 2.

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.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Crysis Warhead the Sapphire and PowerColor 5870's battle it out - the PowerColor matched or came in under 1 FPS of the Sapphire variant. Overclocking gains here weren't as high, but still gave a couple of frames extra.

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.

Game Settings:

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Oddly, the Sapphire HD 5850 Toxic leaps out ahead of all the other cards except the overclocked PowerColor results - beating the 5870 from Sapphire by four frames at the lowest resolution. The 5870's battle on like they have in the prior tests.

Testing:

Activision's Call of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought CoD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a high resolution. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare the performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

  

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

With Call of Duty World at War, the factory overclocked PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ matches or beats the Sapphire HD 5870. Overclocking yielded significant gains up until 2560x1600, where only five frames per second were added.

Testing:

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is a Real Time Strategy game that is significantly different than its predecessor, with improved AI and an improved physics engine. You can play either as a single player in campaign mode, or in a multiplayer game where Microsoft's Live ranking system can be used.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn of War II is always an interesting test. At 1920x1200 the high-end ATI cards seem to plateau as do the mid-range Nvidia/ATI cards. The 5870's match well up until the largest resolution, where the PowerColor graphics card leads by four.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to reign the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of Physx technology to create a rich environment for you to play your trade.

Game Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lowest resolution repeatedly had a lower score for the default clocks of the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ oddly. Overclocked, it gained ground but all three other resolutions it led - overclocking increasing the distance.

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 a Co-Op gaming style.

Game Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The PowerColor card comes out in first again in Resident Evil 5, and overclocking yielded decent gains.

Testing:

Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!

Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

With Left 4 Dead the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ lost to the Sapphire HD 5870 in the lower two resolutions, while beating it in the higher two. Overclocking here gave a nice boost to all of the scores.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

  

 

 

 

 

Although the graphs may be hard to read, the 5800 cards did great in the lower resolutions of 3DMark 06, with the 5850's dropping off as the resolution grows. The Sapphire came ahead a few hundred points each resolution, while overclocking pushed the PowerColor card far ahead.

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:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All four settings were won here again by the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+. Overclocking furthered the distance.

Conclusion:

In all of the benchmark testing, the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ did great! Usually in the top two, it got first place many times as well thanks to the factory overclock. The massive quad heat-piped heat sink also kept the core and card running cool under load even when overclocked. The graphics card easily clocked to 950 MHz core and 1320 MHz memory. After that, 100% stability was not possible, although in some games I was able to play for hours up with the settings at 1000 MHz on the core and 1400 MHz memory - a small voltage bump and this card could reach high frequencies! Voltage control was not possible with any software at the time of testing. The free Dirt 2 game is always a nice bonus but does require internet to download it, although most people shouldn't have a problem with that. All of the features that the 5-series cards share are a great bonus too - such as ATI Eyefinity that allows a resolution to span multiple monitors for impressive gaming and work capabilities, and ATI PowerPlay which allows this card and others to idle at a very cool temperature while using far less power than a card without the throttling would consume. The accessories in the box were enough to get the graphics card installed and running although it could have had a few more items such as a Molex to 6-pin power cable adapter, or other such items. The box was very nice looking and easy to read and understand. Another nice thing was that the card came with protective caps on the CrossFireX connectors and video output options - attention to detail is always a good thing!

It's too bad voltage adjustment wasn't possible with software, as it would have been fun to push the card further. The fan defaults at 50% and runs very quietly, but when set to full speed it could be very annoying in a quiet environment. During game play however, it was easily drowned out by speakers. The card ran cool enough that 100% fan speed wasn't even really needed when overclocked. Other then that, all that was really missing was maybe a Molex to 6-pin power connection for those users who might not have a pair of 6-pins on their power supply handy. Usually customers who purchase a high-end card would have a power supply that could oblige the physical power requirements though.

The PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ did not disappoint! The cooler worked very well and the card overclocked solidly even without voltage adjustments. And it comes with a free copy of Dirt 2!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: