XFX HD 5850 Review

RHKCommander959 - 2009-10-07 11:23:14 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: October 27, 2009
Price: $289


The XFX HD 5850 is the second line of cards to come out of the AMD 5-series cards. The die still has the same transistor count as the 5870 Cypress core, with a few processing units disabled to get 1440 stream processors while the ROPs were untouched at 32. The core speed is 725 MHz versus the 850 MHz reference clock of the HD 5870. The XFX HD 5850 also has 1GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit memory bus, these are running at 1000 MHz (4000MHz effectively). The smaller 40nm fabrication process allows more power to be packed into a chip, and generally equates to cooler running and less energy consumption on the GPU; the 4-series cards left off at 55nm for the most part. The heat sink and expansion slot ports are identical looking to the HD 5870 save for the shorter design - about an inch shorter. The 5-series cards such as the XFX HD 5850 being reviewed support the soon to be released DirectX 11. This card also supports the new ATI Eyefinity technology that allows multiple monitors to span games across them. With a similar Volterra VRM design, this card is also core volt-modifiable through software just like the XFX HD 5870 was.

As long as the petite XFX HD 5850 doesn't disappoint in the benchmarks, then there is a huge chance that this card will fit very well in the price-to-performance segment. With the only difference between it and a HD 5870 being some processing power and overall length, it will be interesting to see how different they are and if the 5850 can catch up in performance.

Closer Look:

The box art for the XFX HD 5850 is virtually the same as was found on the XFX HD 5870. The box is smaller however, more resembling the typically skinny XFX boxes. Red and black galore, as is fit with AMD/ATI products, a metallic-X sits in the background, while in the foreground prominently sits the title, Radeon HD 5850, underlined by caution stripes that enclose four features - Graphics Card, PCI Express 2.0 Bus, 1GB GDDR5 Memory, and HDMI Output. An XFX, ATI, and Dirt 2 logo make appearances near the edges of the box. 1GB and 5-star support stickers are also there. Switching to the back shows the key features of the card along with some of the specifications. Expand, Accelerate, Dominate is the new mantra from AMD for their new line of cards. XFX bolds these with green which stands out against the tide of red and black, they also do the same with the 5-star support and company website. The only information missing is the shader processor count - 1440, smaller than the 5870's but both are still CrossFire capable according to AMD.









One side of the XFX box has some information concerning the free game bundle - rated PG / 12 years of age, Teen, Mild Coarse Language, et cetera. The bottom has the usual XFX label with model, version, and part numbers, basic information on the video card - HD 5850, 1GB GDDR5, Display Port, HDMI, Dual DVI, and PCI-E connectivity. The serial and UPC is near the bottom. The next side has information about some of the features of the card - four white pictures at the top read "Vivid Photos", "Cinematic Video", "Immersive Gaming", and "High Performance". Powered by XFX Radeon HD 5850 sits above the other features - ATI Avivo HD Video and Display Technology, ATI Catalyst Software Suite, and ATI CrossFireX Technology Multi-GPU Ready.



The top is clean with a continuation of the background artwork which is on the rest of the box. In bold, bright letters, the top reads Radeon HD 5850, with two logos to the right - one for XFX and one for ATI. The bottom lists the minimum system requirements and the box contents. For card installation, a PCI-Express or PCI-Express 2.0 compatible motherboard with an open slot is the first requirement, a 500-Watt or better power supply is the next suggestion with preferably two 75W 6-pin PCI Express connections. Lastly, 1GB of system memory is suggested. The box contains the video card, Installation CD, Quick Installation Guide, Driver CD Installation Guide, XFX Serial Number Door Hanger, 6-pin to 4-pin Power Cable adapter, DVI to VGA adapter, and CrossFire bridge.



Opening the package gives access to the standard XFX black box. The box has an XFX logo to the left and the website address to the right. The box is rigid cardboard with a smooth feel to it - providing an elegant box to protect the valuables inside. Opening the box shows the tray underneath of the Dirt 2 voucher. The tray holds the accessories and driver disks for installation, and provide protection to the card from the top.



Opening the tab on the tray shows the hardware accessories - CrossFire ribbon cable, DVI to VGA adapter, and a pair of two 4-pin to 6-pin power cables. The door tag is tucked between the flap on both sides. Removing the tray gives access to the video card - protected by both the black box and a green cardboard support that fits the form of the XFX HD 5850 closely.



The XFX HD 5850 is protected in its anti-static bag from static, dust, and moisture. The included accessories are plentiful and should provide a good installation experience. The door hanger can come in handy when users need their serial number or other information, and the Dirt 2 game voucher will come in handy when the game is released. The installation guides should also come in handy for anyone needing help getting the video card in.



The XFX Radeon HD 5850 is unpacked so it's time to get a look at it!

Closer Look:

The XFX Radeon HD 5850 comes in after the 5870, packing in the same transistor count of approximately 2,154 million. The core is built on 40nm fabrication process technologies. The 5850 is shorter than the 5870, but otherwise looks identical. Two SIMD units were disabled - lowering the shader processor count from 1600 to 1440 - double the amount of the 5750's. Clock speed has also been lowered with the core at 725 MHz and the memory at 1000 MHz stock. The top is arched and should help the fan get air in a tight space with another card next to it. The red sides, back vents, and centerpiece all mesh well. The 5850 lacks the back plate that the 5870 featured. The blower motor still sounds like a vacuum cleaner when being ran at anything much over 40% - especially up at 100%. The back of the video card shows many screws - this should allow for a good third party cooler to work well, but should also mean that the stock cooler will have proper contact across the card on the VRM, memory, and GPU core.














The side is mostly red and reads ATI Radeon, imprinted in the center. There are vent slots notch the side at the front of the card near the expansion slot. Near the vents are the two CrossFireX capable connectors. The other side has two stickers - one showing a heat symbol while the other has another number. The PCI-Express x16 slot is exposed with AMD printed on the PCB in white.



The back of the video card has the two 6-pin PCI-Express power connections that were mounted on the side of the 5870. Moving these to the rear vent allowed some space to be shaved off. The other vent shows the fan cable and a capacitor. The front matches the 5870 exactly - with a vent, two stacked DVI connections, an HDMI, and a Display Port. Two screws also help mount the expansion slot to the video card, and another helps hold the HDMI connection to it too. A fourth screw on the PCB itself also anchors the piece of metal to the card, sitting next to the two CrossFireX slots.



With the card examined, let's get it and the drivers installed!

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 [email protected] 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 [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 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 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 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 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, 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!


Bus Type
PCI-E 2.0
GPU Clock MHz
725 MHz
Memory Interface Bus (bit)
Memory Type
Memory Size (MB)
1024 MB
Memory Clock (MHz)
4000 MHz
Microsoft® DirectX® Support
Shader Model Support
Open GL Optimization and Support
Minimum Power Requirement (Watt)
500W with two 6-pin power cable 
Cooling Fansink
ATI Radeon CrossFireX™ Technology
ATI Radeon PowerPlay™
ATI Radeon Stream Technology
Dimensions (Metric)
27.9 X 11 X 3.8
Max Resolution Analog
2048 x 1536 (Pixels)
Max Resolution Digital
2560 x 1600 (Pixels)
ATI Eyefinity Technology







All Information courtesy of XFX @ http://www.xfxforce.com/en-us/products/graphiccards/HD%205000series/5850.aspx


To test the XFX HD 5850, the card will be used in a range of games and benchmarks to see how well it performs against other competitive products. The games consist of Far Cry 2, Crysis Warhead, Darkest of Days, Call of Duty World at War, Warhammer 40,000 DOW II, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Resident Evil 5, Left 4 Dead, and the benchmarks are 3DMark 06 and 3DMark Vantage. After running the card normally through the testing phase, the video card will then be overclocked and then retested. The results of the overclocked and stock speed performance can then be compared to see how large of a gain (if any) is made. All of the system settings remain the same from card to card and test to test, with the exception of disabling PhysX for Nvidia cards on 3DMark Vantage.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

Overclocking the 5850 was easier than it was to overclock the XFX HD 5870. Voltage control was the same as with the XFX HD 5870, so the highest overclock I tried for was 1GHz on the GPU core and 1210 MHz on the GDDR5 memory. A relative overclock of about 38% on the GPU core and 21% on the memory - both fantastic overclocks. AMD GPU Tool did have some options for voltage, but just what was in the BIOS and not any over-voltage options. The card easily exceeded the ATI Catalyst Control Centers maximum values for both the GPU core and memory speeds, so, AMD GPU Tool and MSI Afterburner were used in conjunction - GPU Tool for overclocking and MSI Afterburner for fan speed control. GPU-Z was also useful for temperature and speed statistics, the average idle temperature was around the mid-thirties Celcius, load overclocked temperatures reached low and mid 60's. GPU-Z 0.3.6 supports the 5850 as well.



  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 overclocked results won three out of the four resolutions for Far Cry 2 - not bad at all. At stock, the XFX HD 5850 beat the GTX 285 in every resolution. Definitely strong results here.


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.















Building off of the success from Far Cry 2, the XFX Radeon HD 5850 fought and attained either first or second place in Crysis Warhead when overclocked. At stock, it put up a good fight with the 4870x2 and beat the GTX285 in testing, as well.


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


With Darkest of Days, the XFX HD 5850 smashed the 4870x2 and all of the Nvidia cards minus the GTX295. Overclocking brought it to the realm of the 5870.


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.














Similar to earlier, overclocking brought the 5850 to the 5870's performance level. The GTX295 won at all four resolutions, and the GTX260 did the worst. Across the board, these cards can handle Call of Duty World at War well.


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.














Dawn of War II shows that most of the cards performed well - all of the 5-series cards from the ATI side getting high scores, while the rest scored decently - until 2560x1600 where things got noticeably different.


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:













Batman Arkham Asylum is very playable at all of the resolutions with the XFX HD 5850. Overclocked results were slightly under the 5870's - the GTX295 had a good lead here with the 5870 and GTX285 fighting closely.


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:













Resident Evil 5 shows that both dual-GPU solutions scored strongly, with the GTX285 scoring between the 5870 and 5850. When overclocked, the XFX Radeon HD 5850 surpassed the 5870.


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!















Even at 2560x1600, the worst scoring cards still produce decent frame rates in Left 4 Dead. The GTX295 scored strongly, while the 5870 and 4870x2 chased behind. As the resolution grew, the 5-series cards got left in the dust by the dual-GPU cards, and overclocking brought the 5850 to the level of the 5870.


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.
















The best scores came from the 5870 and the overclocked XFX HD 5850. No matter the overclock, 20k was just not possible with the card, but the Nvidia crowd was far behind, as was the 4890.


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 GTX295 scored the highest, with the 5870 coming in second. Overclocking brought the 5850 above the 5870 though - making it truly second when overclocked. Gaining approximately 2,000 points in Extreme is a great gain.


Overall, the XFX 5850 did great in testing, overclockability was huge also - without going for the maximum overclock I easily reached 1 GHz on the GPU core, while remaining stable and running under 70C. The memory overclocked very well too, from 1GHz to 1.21GHz. For the price, this card can be overclocked to around 5870 performance, which is a steal considering the price of 5870's. The XFX box was small and sturdy as usual, and the packaged accessories were plentiful. The free game voucher is a nice touch for users to get a hold of a free DirectX 11 game when they become available. ATI Catalyst Control Suite worked just fine in overclocking through Overdrive as well - although this card can go much further with third party software. Overall, the XFX Radeon HD 5850 brought great performance for a price point slightly higher than its competitors.

The only downsides are the fact that the fan can get a bit noisy when set to above 40% mark, something still needs to remedied. But if the majority of people don't play with the fan speeds, there is no concern. While there are not any true DirectX 11 games out yet to allow the HD 5800 series to take advantage of the technology, it means that we are still playing a waiting game. One more thing is the availability of the 40nm 5800 series - the same problem that ATI had with the HD 4770. Currently, there is only one 5800 series card in stock at the online retailer Newegg: no 5870 and only one 5850 SKU. It seems like ATI is missing the golden goose on this launch. Otherwise, this card is awesome!

The 5850 overclocked extremely well, brought high-end performance in benchmarks, operated smoothly at a modest temperature, and came with a code to get a free copy of Dirt 2 when released - XFX has brought another winner to to the table.