Sapphire HD 5850 Review

ccokeman - 2009-10-05 20:15:23 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: October 15, 2009
Price: $259.99


ATI dropped a bomb on the graphics card world with the Sapphire HD 5870 so it would only be a short while before the follow-up came out in the form of the Sapphire HD 5850. Based on the same "Cypress" RV870 core the HD 5850 should offer performance that scales well in games and some much needed shoring up of the performance in the $250 price range. The Sapphire HD 5850 is built using the same 40nm process and comes equipped with the same 2.15 Billion transistors and 1GB of GDDR5 memory as the HD 5870. Clock speeds come in at a reasonable 1000MHz on the memory and 725MHz on the core giving up a hefty amount of speed to the 5870 in the clock speed department. As the second DX 11 video card to market ATI is ramping up a full DX 11 lineup for the future of gaming even though the DX 11 titles have not made it to market yet. The HD 5850 has more in store as ATI is making the move to compete with Nvidia in the GPU compute market while offering improved graphics performance in DX9/10/10.1 titles.

Let's find out if the Sapphire HD 5850 has the same thoroughbred heritage as the HD 5870 and how well it competes against the latest video cards from Nvidia and the last generation of ATI video cards. If performance is close to that delivered by the 5870, then ATI and its partners including the biggest of them all, Sapphire, has delivered a one / two punch that currently puts the cards at the top of the performance ladder! Let's get to it!










Closer Look:

Sapphire's packing has had different iterations of Ruby as the focal point of its packaging for sometime now. Each one is appealing in its own way and draws in its core customer. The background on the HD5850 has a violet hue instead of the gold background on the 5870 that made a statement. Features of the HD5850 are listed on the front panel and include ATI Eyefinity capability, on-board HDMI and DisplayPort connections, two Teraflops of computing power, DirectX 11 and CrossfireX readiness. The back panel lists the contents of the package, several product highlights and a short description of the latest technologies the HD 5850 is capable of using. A couple of things most people don't take into account are the environmental factors associated with their products. On the bottom right-hand side you can see that the HD 5850 is ROHS compliant and that the packaging materials, both the inner and outer packaging, are 100% recyclable.



The inner package is a plain recyclable cardboard box that contains the Sapphire HD 5850 and bundle. When you open the box it is nice to see that the recyclable materials are used so that Sapphire is not adding to the environmental woes of the world with the packaging they use. The HD 5850 is encased in bubble wrap to protect it from the stress of travel with the bundle on top of and segregated in its own compartment.



The bundle included with the Sapphire HD 5850 includes the documentation in the form of the manual, a driver disk that contains the driver for this latest offering from ATI and Sapphire, a Crossfire Bridge connection, D-sub to DVI adapter, and two power connections in case your power supply does not have 6 pin PCIe connections. There are no other video adapters needed for this card since it does not have a HDTV out port - what it does include are a DisplayPort and HDMI connection onboard.


Let's get a little more intimate with the little brother to the HD 5870 and see if it has the same pedigree.


Closer Look:

The 5850, much like its bigger sibling, is built around the RV 870 "Cypress" core. The core is chock full of 2.15 Billion transistors and slightly fewer stream processors to the tune of 1440, down from the 1600 on the HD 5870. Likewise there are 8 fewer texture units at 72 while the ROP count stays the same at 32. The Sapphire HD5850 is noticeably shorter in length than the HD 5870, which relieves some of the concerns about the 11 inch length on the 5870. This ought to make fitting this card into a mid-tower case a less challenging proposition. The steam processor and texture units are not the only thing to be reduced. The clock speeds have been reduced to 725MHz on the core and 1000MHz on the 1GB of GDDR5 memory causing a reduction in memory bandwidth and overall processing power. The top of the card has a red plastic cover that like the 5870, but does not light up. For the cost of a few LED's you could bring the bling with the performance. The back side of the card is bare instead of having a back plate like the 5870 but really does not need it as there are no memory modules to cool down on the backside of the PCB.














On the front end of the card you have a total of four outputs in which three can be used at one time and support a resolution of 3x2560x1600. Yes 3x2560x1600! This way you can use a series of three monitors in an Eyefinity setup for full immersion gaming. You have two Dual Link DVI ports, a single DisplayPort and an HDMI output for HD gaming. The rear of the card has a set of air intakes with the top one filled up with the two 6 pin PCIe power connections. The Sapphire HD 5850 is CrossfireX capable with the bridge connections on the top of the card so you can with a supporting motherboard run up to four of these beauties at a time.


Cooling is always a priority on a high performance video card and ATI's cards have taken a lot of heat (no pun intended) for the cooling performance of their reference cooling solutions. When you have the stickers melting off the back of the cards, something is wrong. With this generation it looks like they may have gotten it sorted out. While you still have the blower noise, the cooling performance is miles better than it has been before. At idle I would get temperatures in the low 30 Celsius range in part due to the low power consumption in 2D mode at 27 watts. Load temperatures were not out of the ordinary, either at 66 Celsius under load with the fan controlled by the driver, or even lower when overclocked with the fan speed at 75%. The cooling solution is a hybrid design with a plate covering the voltage circuits and and a copper/aluminum two heatpipe design covering the RV870 core.


On the left side of the PCB you can see that the DVI ports are shielded to reduce interference. To the right side of the RV870 core and memory is where you have the voltage regulating components of the HD 5850. The core has a total of 2.15 Billion transistors 72 texture units and 32ROP's. The RV 870 Cypress core is built upon the 40nm process and runs with clock speeds of 725MHz on the core and 1000MHz on the 1GB of GDDR5 Samsung memory. The core has a shim around it to keep the copper heatsink from crushing it.




With a pretty hefty set of specs the HD 5850 looks to perform, at least on paper, as well as the current Nvidia crop of cards.


Closer Look:

You know you just can't wait to get the Sapphire HD 5850 installed in your rig to enjoy some righteous gaming. But firstly, you have to install the drivers so that you don't sit there utterly disappointed by the graphics performance of this shiny new card. Thankfully Sapphire has included a disk to get you started, although the manufacturer website is a great alternative. I will browse through the disk to see what is included.

After you insert the disk and allow the autorun to start the process you end up with the Sapphire GUI on the desktop. There are three options to choose from, ATI Easy Install, Online Manual and Adobe Reader. Of course the ATI Easy Install is for installing the drivers and proprietary software to gain the most functionality from your new purchase. You have a choice of operating systems to choose from so just choose the appropriate OS and you get to start the ATI driver install wizard. The Online Manual is a link to download the manual while Adobe Reader links to Adobe's web site to so you can download the latest version of Adobe Reader.












When you choose to install the drivers from the disk just move forward through the process, checking the options best suited for your needs. You have two options to choose from, either the Express Install that manages the whole process for you or the Custom Install that allows you to choose which software you will install from a list.  To finish the installation, agree to the EULA and let the wizard finish and do the customary reboot.





Now it's almost fraggin' time!


Closer Look:

The ATI Catalyst Control Center got a new look with the introduction of the 9.7 drivers so it's about time to take an in-depth look at the options and the interface.  We will see how well the GUI is setup and how easy it is to navigate through. Since the basic view is well ... basic, I will look through the Advanced panel. 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, give feedback, visit the AMD website, or join the [email protected] 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 that crop up while using the Sapphire HD 5850.












The Graphics Hardware tab of the Information Center contains information about the Sapphire HD 5850 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 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 true when the monitor would get aged and 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 then 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 settable 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 and 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 that the Catalyst Control Center has been configured we can get to some gaming or take a rest and let the Sapphire 5850 crunch for the good of humanity!


2.15 Billion
Engine Clock
Stream Processors
Compute performance
Texture Units
Texture Fillrate
53.2 Gtexel/s
Pixel Fillrate
23.2 Gpixel/s
Memory Type
Memory Clock
Memory Data Rate
4.0 GB/s
Memory bandwidth
128.0 GB/s
Naximum Board Power
Idle Board Power




Testing the Sapphire HD 5850 will consist of running the card through the suite of games and synthetic benchmarks to test the performance of the HD 5850 against many popular competitors. The games used are some of today's popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to each other. The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing where PhysX will be disabled in the nVidia control panel. Clock speeds on each card are left at stock speeds. I will test the Sapphire HD5850 at both stock speeds and then overclocked to see how much additional performance is available when you choose to overclock the card, to see if it can run with, or faster than, the current fastest single GPU cards on the market. I have also changed up the benchmark suite to include some of the newest titles to market including Batman: Arkham Asylum, Resident Evil 5 and Darkest of Days. Of course, all settings are left at defaults in the control panels of each respective manufacturer except where noted. I will be using the latest drivers from each manufacturer at the time of this review. Catalyst 9.9 for all ATI cards save the 5800 series that require the 8.66 RC and the 192.00 for the Nvidia cards


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

While I will admit I ran into a few problems with the 5870 overclocking, I did not run into the same problems with the Sapphire HD 5850. THe HD 5850 did well when it came to overclocking but it took a couple different programs to get everything to go off without a hitch. Overclocking in the control panel is ridiculously easy but the limits are set to a level that the card easily is able to achieve. Maybe this is by design! Let the masses overclock and not kill the card with limits set low enough so that even less than capable cards can reach the limits! No problem! CCC Maxed out, Check! Next is where it gets a little more complex, but not overly so. You can download AMD GPU Clock tool and MSI AfterBurner to make sure you get all the functionality you can. The reason for the two utility approach is that when you set the clock speeds in AMD GPU Clock Tool and apply the setting you default the fan speed to auto. If you go back into the CCC to change the fan speed, you lose the clock speeds you set in the GPU Clock Tool. Goofy, but it's what happens. Enter MSI Afterburner - this application was written by the same person responsible for Riva Tuner over at Guru3d and is an easy to use interface that is already able to work with the 5800 series. Now set your clocks in AMD GPU Clock tool and then set the fan speed in Afterburner and you get the fan speed back allowing you to push a bit higher on the overclock. This is exactly what I did and ended up with clock speeds of 870 on the RV 870 core and 1225MHz on the Samsung GDDR5 memory. Independently, the clock speeds could be run up higher, but these clocks were the max I could pull from the card when run up together. An increase of 145MHz on the core and 225MHz on the memory are a pretty strong selling point, if all of them can push to this level. When overclocked, you can see substantial increases in performance across the board. With the fan speed set in the 75 to 80 % range, the card stayed in the high 50's Celsius under load when overclocked so it seems that the two heatpipe cooler is doing its job. You still get the blower noise when you crank up the fan speed manually but you either live with it or tone it down to where both the clock speeds and and noise level work for you.


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



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.













The Sapphire HD 5850 takes on the best single GPU cards from both the green and red camp and out performs both ATI's last gen 4890 and what was the fastest single GPU card on the market until two weeks ago when the HD 5870 debuted! If this trend continues the green team will be in a lurch until they drop the GT300!




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.















The Sapphire HD 5850 cannot compete with the dual GPU cards but easily gives the GTX 285 a run for its money outperforming it in three out of four resolutions. Overclocking the 5850 showed gains in performance are possible with a little bit of tweaking, as the card performs almost at the level of the Multi-GPU cards.



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


The HD 5850 performs above the GTX 285 in all four resolutions but the advantage shrinks to 2 FPS at 2560x1600. The advantage over ATI's and Nvidia's last gen cards is evident through all the resolutions tested.


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.















The Sapphire HD 5850 falls in between the GTX 285 and the GTX 275 in half the tests and pulls ahead of the GTX285 in two resolutions. At the top end the GTX 285 holds a 6 FPS advantage over the HD 5850. Still, 54 FPS at 2560x1600 with the eye candy on is pretty nice and is quite playable.



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.














The only resolution that the Sapphire HD 5850 falls behind the GTX 285 or 275 is at 1280x1024. The rest of the resolutions show how well the card is by comparison.



Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum Gothams home for the criminally insane. You 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 ply your trade.

Game Settings:












When you compare the performance of the Sapphire HD 5850 you find that it matches up favorably with the GTX 275, not the GTX 285. The comparison of these two cards show an almost identical FPS throughout the 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 MATRIX GTX285 out-performs the Sapphire HD 5850 in Resident Evil 5 in three out of four resolutions. What's interesting is that the spot that they perform almost identically is at 2560x1600 with only 1 FPS separating them. The Sapphire 5850 does out-perform the GTX275 in all four resolutions by a maximum of 5 FPS again at 2560x1600.


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!















The Sapphire HD5850 does not flirt with the numbers delivered by the GTX 285, but consistently delivers a performance close to that delivered by the GTX 275. If you can't kill all the zombies you can at the max resolution of 2560x1600 at 69 FPS it's time to step away from the keyboard!



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.















Whereas the Sapphire 5870 beat up on all the cards in 3DMark06 except the 4870x2, the 5850 comes close to the performance delivered by it. The 5850 runs out of horsepower at the top end when compared to the Multi-GPU cards, but still lays a whipping on the MATRIX GTX285. A solid performance. The Sapphire 5850 is only about 11% slower than its more capable cousin the 5870.



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.













The Sapphire HD 5850 out-performs the Matrix 285 in all four resolutions with only the HD 5870 and GTX 295 showing significant performance margins above it. The 4870x2 has a hard time staying ahead of the 5850 at all four resolutions. Now that is a scary proposition when a single GPU card priced significantly lower throws up that kind of performance. Although you can overclock the HD4870x2, the fact that a there is a $150 price difference for similar performance with the 5850 means there really is no need to pay that $150 penalty anymore.



The Sapphire HD 5850 does not disappoint. It's one step down the performance ladder and it gives the GTX285 a run for its money. It does not always come out on top in that contest, but in 26 out of 40 tests the results show the HD 5850 to score higher either in frames per second or total score. That's better than 50% of the tests! When you consider the fact that this card retails for 260 bucks or 100 dollars less than the GTX 285, the former heavyweight single GPU champ takes a beating in the price vs. performance battle. At this price point and level of performance its hard to argue against this card as a good upgrade choice from the 4XXX series if cost is a concern. You get great performance in current DX9/10/10.1 games as well as being the second DX11 card out to market. But with only 1 game out that is patched for DX11 that I know of, you will have to wait a little while longer to reap the benefits of this capability.

With the Cypress GPUs you have the ability to run what is called "Eyefinity", a multi-monitor setup with just a single video card. Just imagine a three monitor wrap-around setup to really get deep into the gameplay. You can use up to three monitors in a variety of configurations with a single card or a total of six monitors with an Eyefinity card that uses six display port connections to the monitors. While I see this as great for office work, it will be limited until the borders of the monitors are shrunk enough to render them non-visible to the casual glance. Flight sims or racing games might not be that bad though since you do have pillars in the vehicles that could be renders on the edges of the monitors. The jury is out on how many people will pony up the dough for a three or six monitor setup, although I am sure some will take the plunge.

The HD 5850 is a bit smaller than its big brother the HD 5870. Its smaller stature in no way is a reflection on the performance that is delivered by this card - it just eases the minds of those who have a smaller chassis and are looking for an upgrade path. The only down side I have on the 5800 series is the fact that while the 5850 has much improved cooling with its two heatpipe equipped heatsink, the fan noise is still there. But you do not have to peg the fan either so that is some small consolation.

The temperatures the Sapphire HD 5850 produced under load were actually quite low for a card with this kind of horsepower. When I ran the card through its stock load testing it would idle at 36/37 degrees Celsius and load at 66 with the fan speed controlled by the driver. The fan speed stayed low enough to not be heard at this level. Once I overclocked the card and manually set the fan speed to 70% I got idle temperatures of 33 Celsius and a load temperature of 50 degrees Celsius. Not bad when you consider the bad rap that ATI has taken for the cooling solutions on their cards over the past two generations. Sapphire's HD 5850 was able to produce excellent overclocking results by posting a core clock increase from 725Mhz to 870MHz and and increase on the Samsung GDDR5 memory to 1225Mhz from 1000MHz, increases of 20%+ on both counts. When tested, the overclocks yielded significant gains throughout the entire suite of games and benchmarks almost reaching the level of the HD 5870! If you want great performance in the 250 dollar price range you would be hard pressed to make a choice other than the Sapphire HD 5850 at this point.