Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card Page: 1
Introduction
 
There are a lot of things that we want in life. It's human nature to want something, although of course some of us may take this a step further and replace want with “need”. These “things” could be anything. A glamorous holiday in a place that's always warm and is always sunny when you want it to be. That new BMW coupe that you saw on the streets the other day maybe... Or a really big house, that can cater for all your nearest and dearest. All of this is probably a tad irrelevant for a tech based website... Perhaps we don't care for extravagant holidays. A new sports car? Not at all, that's what Racedriver GRID is for. That big house...all our friends are accessible via Skype! I'm going to stop trying to get myself killed by means of stereotyping and turn one's attention to the release of the Radeon HD 5800 series of graphics cards codenamed “Cypress”. There are some things in life which can't be had because they're a little out of one's reach at a given point in time. However, in this case (thanks to ATi and TSMC) would seem that whether you have the money or not, you can't have any high end Direct X 11 goodness in your life because there is a pitiful quantity in distribution relative to the current demand for them. To make things worse, it seems ATi may take it upon themselves to raise the value of these products. As these graphics cards trickle through the supply chain and relevant Add in Board Partners, Wholesalers and Retailers profiteer on these highly demanded graphics cards, this will in turn affect pricing greatly. As shown below, the trend of Radeon HD 5850 pricing over the last two months hasn't been particularly promising.
 

It's not too great on nVidia's side either as they appear to have cut production of their GT200 based graphics cards (GTX 260, 275, 285 and 295) and thus the price gauging continues. We shall not let this affect our view on the products themselves but it should be mentioned that these graphics cards are as good as gold dust right now. We were however very grateful that Asus were able to supply us with today's review item, the Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card.
 
Asus shouldn't need any introduction, offering product solutions to all ends of the market from systems components for the retail and OEM as well as their own laptops/netbooks and desktops. The brand has been in the graphics card business for a very long time and have brought a number of memorable products to market including the Asus GTX 295 MARS graphics card. With that in mind, we have very high expectations from the product that we're about to review.
 
Specifications
 
Name
Asus Radeon HD 5850
Asus Radeon HD 5870
Core Name Cypress Cypress
Core Frequency 725MHz 850MHz
Stream Processors
1440 1600
Memory Frequency 4000MHz (1000MHz x 4)
4800MHz
(1200MHz x 4)
Memory Interface 256bit 256bit
ROP Count 32 32
TMU Count 72
80
Original Retail Price £199.99 £299.99
 
Unlike a number of Asus' enthusiast graphics cards, the Asus Radeon HD 5850 operates at reference clock speeds of 725MHz Core and 4000MHz Memory. Aside the clock speed differences, the 5850 is kept away from it's bigger brother by it's reduced Stream Processor count. Regardless, it's specifications on paper look very promising.
 
Let's continue to the next page to have a look at Asus' new Direct X 11 graphics card in the flesh!


Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card Page: 2
Packaging & Initial Impressions
 
Our Asus Radeon HD 5850 sample arrived in a well styled box with contrasting colours of black and orange. The use of a warrior on a slightly narcotic looking horse draped in armour should indicate that this is no tame product. Let's open it up to see what we find...hopefully not a horses head anyway...
 
 
 The detailed outer box slid right off, revealing a far more solid and thick cardboard box. After opening the top of this box, I was greeted with yet another box, containing CD's, Drivers, Molex Adapters, a DiRT2 Game coupon and a Manual. Only when I lifted this box did I find the Radeon HD 5850, packed in it's anti static bag and wrapped around cut out polystyrene.
 
 
 The graphics card is pretty much your run of the mill Radeon HD 5850. Asus have applied a small badge towards the I/O shield and another badge in the middle of the blower fan. If you are keen on having cartoon style graphics plastered on your graphics card's heatsink then prepare to be disappointed, however we aren't too fussed...
 
 
 Asus have also placed plastic covers on the main segment of the PCI-Express 16x slot connector and DVI ports. Nice touch.
 
 
 
Asus' overall presentation of the overall package really makes you feel as though you've bought a quality product. The packaging was also very practical by keeping everything out of harms way, regardless of how careless or clumsy your delivery provider may be.
 
The installation process was trouble free using the included installation CD. We do however recommend using the latest drivers from ATi's website, which is what we did after uninstalling the included drivers.


Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card Page: 3
Testbed
 
AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition @ 3.94GHz
4GB Corsair XMS3 DDR3 @ 1333MHz
Gigabyte MA770T UD3P Motherboard F4 BIOS
Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card 
Samsung Spinpoint F1 320GB SATA II HDD
LG 22x DVD+/-RW SATA
Arctic Freezer 64 Pro CPU Cooler
Windows Vista Home Premium
 
Temperatures
 
We used Furmark's stability test to record the Asus Radeon HD 5850's load temperatures. After 30 minutes of idle monitoring from a cold boot, the test was loaded and was ran until temperatures and fan speeds had appeared to have stabilised. The results were as follows.
 
 
Like all of our previous Radeon HD 5800 graphics cards, the load temperatures maxed out at 80*c with a fan duty speed of 35%. The noise levels even on our open test bed was tolerable. While the graphics card was obviously audible under load, the noise was the sound of airflow rather than motor noise. There's minimal buzzing and more importantly no whine. As said in previous reviews, this is to be expected given that Asus have not made any changes to the reference heatsink for their 5800 series graphcis cards.
 
 
Asus SmartDoctor & Overclocking
 
 
As you may or may not know, ATi's own Overdrive utility in the Catalyst Control Center offers overclocking support for the Radeon HD 5850. Aside an Auto Tune feature, it also offers manual overclocking support. The only real nuisance however is that it's maximum boundaries stand at a paltry 775MHz on the core and 1125MHz (4500MHz GDDR5 effective) on the memory. Understandable I suppose given that ATi need to keep the graphics card as far away from the current HD 5870 flagship as possible given the £100 price difference.
 
This is where Asus' own overclocking application comes into play. Not only does it offer frequency increases to insane heights, it is also meant to offer Voltage Increase support. The keyword however is meant as no matter what we did, we could not get the application to select a voltage higher than the HD 5850's default 1.088V.
 
We found our maximum stable frequency at around that of the Radeon HD 5870's defaults, at 854MHz core and 1240MHz (4960MHz effective) memory. A 129MHz / 240MHz increase shouldn't be frowned upon of course. The graphics card was returned to it's default clockspeeds for the testing that was to follow.


Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card Page: 4
3DMark06
 
As Futuremark's previous gaming benchmark application, it is getting a little old but remains to be a reliable means of testing a graphics card's capability
 
 
Topping out with an overall score of around 20000 shows the Radeon HD 5850 ploughing through 3DMark06 with absolute ease.
 
3DMark Vantage

 
3DMark Vantage is Futuremark's flagship gaming oriented benchmark at present and is considered to be a demanding one at that. Our tests were carried out under the "Performance" prefix.
 
 
 
An excellent score for the Radeon HD 5850. Scores of around P13000 should indicate that your system is more than capable for today's latest hits.
 
Crysis Warhead

Crysis Warhead is without a doubt one hard nut to crack, especially at higher resolutions and a dash of Anti Aliasing and Anisotrophic Filtering. Given it's level of GPU dependancy, this is an ideal playground for our Asus Radeon HD 5850.
 
 
 
On the whole, the Radeon HD 5850 played Crysis reasonably well given the 1920x1080 resolution and levels of AA/AF. Nearby explosions does drive framerates below 20, resulting in choppy game play. For most of the part, the performance was acceptable but I would be lying if I were to claim that this is the card to buy to play Warhead at high resolution with all the bells and whistles ticked.
 
Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2, a slightly older hit but based on a fairly demanding engine also has a fair level of GPU dependancy at least particularly so at higher resolutions. This particular game features a fabulous benchmarking tool, which loops an intensive Far Cry 2 scene and gatherers minimum, maximum and average framerates accordingly. This allows for a more accurate comparison from one test item to another. As mentioned, we have set all Quality Settings to the highest possible within the tool.
 
 
 
It would seem that this particular game was no match for even the little brother of the Cypress family of graphics cards.
 
Microsoft Flight Simulator X

Flight Simulator X remains to be a terribly demanding game for it's age. Known for being very demanding on the CPU but also requiring a level of GPU power in the process, we thought it'd be interesting to see how it faired.
 
 
 
Very well it would seem. At this particular stage however, the limit appears to be the processor rather than the graphics card.
 
Call of Duty 4
 
Call of Duty 4 is another popular hit however even with all of the eye candy set to full and the image quality raised up high, it doesn't particularly hurt today's latest and greatest.
 
 
Let's wind up our testing for today and conclude....


Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card Page: 5
Conclusion
 
The Asus Radeon HD 5850 has proven itself to be a stunning graphics card, offering performance that is very close to the range topping HD 5870 but with a more pleasant price tag. It should be noted that it sports many of the HD 5870's perks such as ATi Eyefinity Technology, sub 30W power consumption during idle operation and relatively low noise. When you finally factor in that the graphics card was capable of overclocking to the same speeds as the Radeon  HD 5870 and is over an inch shorter allowing for compatability in smaller cases, it seems like a great purchase. 
 
Asus haven't done all that much to separate their product from the rest from a "hard product" point of view, but then again neither has anyone else. Like a number of other brands, Asus have thrown in a coupon of the upcoming DirectX 11 compliant race driving game, DiRT 2 and has a fairly standard accessory list. The only real Asus exclusive extras was the SmartDoctor Overclocking tool, which in all fairness allowed us to overclock past the realms of ATi Overdrive but sadly we were unable to adjust the graphics card's operational voltage. Asus as a brand does stand out from an aftersales support point of view by offering 3 years of warranty on their graphics cards, which is higher than the likes of HIS, Gigabyte, XFX, Sapphire and VTX that offer either 1 or 2 years instead. As it is not uncommon for graphics cards to fail, this could be considered to be a strong plus point for opting for the Asus Radeon HD 5850 over other brands.
 
So the overall verdict? If you're in the market for a graphics card around the £200 mark, then take a long hard look at the Asus Radeon HD 5850...but good look trying to find one. Given the stock shortage of these graphics cards, you will have to join a preorder queue in order to buy one. Patience is the key but you should be prepared to wait for a certain amount of time that could be measurable in weeks to get your hands on one and this is regardless of the brand. In all honesty, today's circumstances are such that if you really want a Radeon HD 5800 series graphics card, then you should purchase whatever is available at the time for the cheapest price. With a lack of supply and an influx of demand will inevitably see further price increases. As the prices of these graphics cards creep higher and higher, it gets to a point where the product is no longer worth it. Some graphics card brand prices will rise more or less than each other and because of this, it's tough to recommend any particular brand of Radeon HD 5850 over another, especially when you strip away accessories, duration of warranty and any decorations they are all exactly the same.
 
Without starting another rant over stock shortage, I must stress that the Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB is an excellent product and is unlikely to disappoint. Given a sensible retail price, I would have no quarms in recommending it as a future graphics card purchase. Well done Asus.
 
The Good
 
- Solid Performance
- Overclocked to HD 5870 frequencies
- Quiet
- Excellent Packaging
- Three Year Warranty
 
The Mediocre
 
- Voltage Adjustment in SmartDoctor not operative
 
The Bad
 
- None
 
 
All at OC3D would Like to Asus for supplying a Radeon HD 5850 for review. You can discuss further in our forums.