Sapphire HD 5870 Review

ccokeman - 2009-09-18 21:34:52 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: September 22, 2009
Price: $379.99


Video card technology continues its march forward. Most times the introduction of a new series of video cards is eagerly anticipated. The online buzz leading up to the introduction often contains reference to leaked slides from the manufacturer's presentations that most likely are controlled leaks to hype up the masses. Well today is the day for another launch with the introduction of the Sapphire HD5870. The HD5870 is not just about increasing gaming performance but the whole package. ATI has a phrase for this launch! "Expand" with Eyefinity the newest multi-monitor technology that creates an immersive environment. "Accelerate" with DX 11 technology. The HD5870 is the first and only DirectX 11 video card to market. Last, but not least, "Dominate" with ATI's Stream computing.

The Sapphire HD5870 is built upon the DirectX11 capable 40nm RV870 core with clock speeds of 850MHz on the GPU core and 1200MHz on the 1GB frame buffer. The core sees a huge increase in the number of transistors, texture units and stream processors. By huge I mean double the size or more from the last generation HD48XX series from ATI. Will this translate into a like increase performance or will it just be another big step in tech without the rewards?

Closer Look:

Sapphire has gone for the gold on this one. The gold theme strikes a bold statement. Gold signifies the number one finisher in a sporting event. The top dog! A pretty bold statement! The front panel features yet another buxom beauty, this one made her first appearance on the Atomic Series cards. Information that can be taken from the front panel includes the following features, DirectX 11, Crossfire ready, ATI Eyefinity Multi-Display capability, built in HDMI and DisplayPort connectivity and that the HD5870 carries over two TeraFlops of processing power. The game Battle Stations Pacific is included along with a Steam activation for the game Dirt 2. The rear panel goes into a bit more detail on the features listed on the front panel. One thing that stood out was the fact that Sapphire is doing its part to go "green" by using recyclable materials for the packaging. On the left is a snapshot of the awards that Sapphire's product portfolio has earned. The list is quite extensive.









The "Green" nature of the packaging is clearly evident when you pull the box from the sleeve. The card is tucked away in a formed cardboard shell while the accessories are stored in a separate box below the HD5870.


Sapphire is not a company that skimps on the accessories and always sends its cards out with a great bundle. This one is no exception. The bundle includes the manual, driver disc, DVI to D-Sub adapter, Crossfire bridge connection, two 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCI-E power connectors and last, but not least, the two games that add value to the bundle. Dirt 2 comes as a Steam download key that is good once the game drops in early December.

Let's see what the card looks like out of its confines!


Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD5870 is the latest video card from Sapphire and ATI. It is a full size card that measures eleven inches in length, slightly larger than its contemporaries. In the theme of going bigger, ATI has more than doubled the transistor count to 2.15 billion on the 40nm RV870 core, while doubling the number of Stream processors from 800 on the 48XX series to 1600 on the HD 5870. The RV870 core measures 334mm2 in size, or about 1.25 times the size of the HD4870, with a 100% bump in the number of Texture units from 40 on the HD4870 to 80 on the HD5870. While many things have doubled, the 1GB frame buffer remains. What does all this mean you ask? It means that the HD5870 has 2.7TFLOPS of computing power in a pretty compact package. The HD5870 uses a full cover design much the way the GTX 285 does with the whole of the electronics on the backside of the PCB covered minus the GPU heatsink retention bracket.
















Connectivity on the Sapphire HD 5870 comes in the form of two DUAL link DVI ports as well as a single DisplayPort and HDMI port. With ATI's EyeFinity Multimonitor technology it looks as though DisplayPort has found a permanent home as a standard. The back end end of the HD5870 features two intakes for the blower fan assembly and with the racing stripe down the center of the card could be mistaken for the front end of a car!



The HD5870 is Crossfire capable with the addition of a second HD5870 and motherboard that supports Crossfire technology. Power is routed to the Sapphire HD5870 via two 6-pin PCI-E connections on the top of the board rather than on the end of the PCB. The HD5870 is said to use 188 watts of power under load and a miserly 27 watts at idle. One thing I did notice was that the GPU core clock dropped to 150MHz when in an idle state versus the 300MHz seen on the HD4890. Lower clock speeds equate to lower power consumption.



Let's see if this baby lives up to the promise of doubled performance!



2.15 Billion
Engine Clock
Stream Processors
Compute performance
Texture Units
Texture Fillrate
68.0 Gtexel/s
Pixel Fillrate
Memory Type
Memory Clock
Memory Data Rate
4.8 GB/s
Memory bandwidth
153.6 GB/s
Naximum Board Power
Idle Board Power




Testing the Sapphire HD 5870 will consist of running the card through the suite of games and synthetic benchmarks to test the performance of the HD 5870 against many popular competitors to gauge its performance. 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 HD5870 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 this card can unseat the current single GPU fastest card 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.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

Normally I like to take the time to get the overclock on a video card as high as i can using whatever tools are available to the average enthusiast and most of the time I can get good, solid clocks out of a card. Unfortunately, this time I have had this card in my hands for a scant six hours leading up to the review, so for now the overclocked testing will need to wait but here is a quick and dirty sreenshot. I used the Catalyst Control panel for overclocking with the fan speed set to 100% to keep the temperatures in check. Of course, the usual blower fan noise was present above 70%. The limits in the CCC were 900MHz on the core and 1300MHz on the memory. I was able to hit 895MHz and 1290MHz on the core and memory, respectively. With more time the results should be better as I just clipped the low hanging fruit.***Follow up! After haveing some time to play with the Sapphire Hd5870 I was able to hit the max clock speeds in the CCC. The traditional overclocking utilities just are not ready yet for the 5870. Riva Tuner and GPU OCtool are not there yet and AMD GPU Overclock tool was less than friendly in my case. Once installed I could not overclock at all on the 5870 and would end up with a crash. I have used this tool before but this is the first result like this. Even uninstalling it did not help with the loss of overclocking ability. I went ahead and reimaged another drive and installed the games not on the image and went to work and the 900/1300 clock speeds were stable!


  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.














What a start to the testing. The Sapphire HD5870 is miles ahead of the GTX285 and delivers numbers that the dual GPU cards are delivering. The 5870 is 14 frames faster at 2560 than the vaunted GTX285. I can see the winds shifting!




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.
















If this comparison was of only single GPU cards the Sapphire HD5870 would be head and shoulders above its peers. 5 FPS higher than the GTX285 MATRIX at 2560x1600 is huge. This card plays against the dual GPU cards and comes out on top or equal to the aging HD4870x2 but falls just short of the GTX295 by a maximum of 3 FPS.



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 5870 performs above the GTX 285 in all four resolutions and only loses out to the GTX 295. The margin between the two cards is only 3 FPS at 2560x1600.


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. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. 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.















There is not a single resolution that the GTX 285 wins in Call of Duty WaW.



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.














At the lower resolutions the difference between the GTX 285 are almost nonexistent but as the resolution increases so does the performance differential.



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 rein 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:













This benchmark provides the closest results of the entire review when comparing the GTX285 MATRIX and the HD5870. The HD5870 stays ahead but not by much.



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 genisis of the latest Bio Organic agents you meet up with another BSAA operaticve and work together to solve the problem. The game offers incredible 3d effects and a CO Op gaming style.

Game Settings:













The HD5870 is ahead of the GTX285 MATRIX in all four resolutions with the same 9 FPS margin. Against the dual GPU cards it falls a bit short but at 2560x1600 this amounts to 3 and 7 FPS.


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 scores again line up under the ATI banner when comparing the performance of the GTX 285 and HD5870. 8 FPS is close to a 10% improvement.



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.

















In 3DMark06 the HD5870 runs faster than both multi GPU cards. It beats the best nVidia is currently offering both single and multi GPU in all four resolutions while it is just slightly slower than the 4870x2 at 2560x1600. This is a strong showing from a single GPU card.



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 HD 5870 gives the GTX295 a run for its money while outperforming every other comparison card. These include cards that have been at the top of the heap for a while now. This is the fastest single GPU card in this comparison.



I didn't think ATI had it in them to step up the performance on a video card this much in one fell swoop. The disappointing small jumps in performance from the 3 series to the 4 series are laid to rest with the massive performance increase over the previous ATI king of the single GPU hill, the HD4890. When you look at the performance you can tell that the level of performance delivered by the GTX285 was just a jumping off point for the performance expectations. After running the first bench with the Sapphire HD5870, the first thought in my head when I saw the result was "Damn, ATI is back." The Sapphire HD5870 even compared favorable to the dual GPU giants the HD4870x2 and the GTX295 in more than a few of the benchmarks. The overclocking limits set in the CCC were quite low and overclocking to them was a simple "push the slider up and see what sticks affair." Having only a few hours to test this card I am sure with a little more diligence the card can reach higher than what I was able to pull from it in fifteen minutes. The fan noise when you push the fan to 100% is the same but slightly different as you get more of an air movement type noise instead of the horrible whining that is so common on these coolers. This will be the first shot in the latest battle of the GPU giants that we can expect to heat up here with the next release from the green team. There is something to be said about firing the first shot. With the introduction of the HD58XX series ATI has launched new technologies such as Eyefinity, a multi monitor technology for more immersive gaming, not to mention giving you more desktop workspace with a theorectical maximum resolution of up to 8192 x 8192. The HD5870 is the first card that supports DirectX 11. I can't imagine playing my favorite flight sim with six LCD panels for a full panoramic view. Both offer great potential and upside but more will come on that later. With most game developers lining up behind the green team it looks like there may be a shift with the capabilities of the HD58xx series cards.











So what is this kind of performance going to cost you? Street price is going to run around $400 plus or minus some depending on where you shop but with the performance delivered you will need to pay for performance. With the HD5870 you have a video card that delivers almost 3TFLOPS of computing power or roughly the computing power of 177 IBM Deep Blue super computers in a package that fits in the palm of your hand. But what good is the power without the tools to use it? This card is built to fly and use the next gen DX11 titles but yet there are none currently on the market. Build it and they will come is the phrase that comes to mind. The titles will be out soon enough, you can be rest assured, with one of the titles being DIRT 2. All things told, this is the fastest single GPU video card you can buy right now, hands down!