Gigabyte Radeon HD 5870 1GB Crossfire Page: 1
Introduction
 
Gigabyte LogoOkay, so over the last few weeks we have established (see here and here) that ATi's brand new Radeon HD 5870's are somewhat competent. In a nutshell, Team Red has successfully taken the crown of “fastest single GPU graphics card” and won the race for DX11 compliance (erm, DX11 games, feel free to arrive by the dozen if you could...). Most importantly, this has all been rolled into a ~170W TDP package that is almost as quiet as the mouse that's raiding my packs of McCoys in the cupboards. Ho hum, perhaps somewhat competent is a bit of an understatement after all. For the first of it's generation, ATi seem to have done a rather good job especially when one compares previous graphics card generations and think about the times when it wasn't until the graphics card in question was "refreshed" as an improved solution that an initially half baked product was now just right. We can actually take a page straight out of ATi's books as far as that one is concerned and it wasn't particularly long ago. Think Radeon HD 2900XT followed by the HD 3850/3870 that soon followed. Very much the same core architecture, but improved core clocks and a die shrink that finally made it a sensible option. Let's not dwell on the past however as we're meant to be complementing Team red for releasing a quality product that depending on how nVidia's "Fermi" DX11 graphics card pans out may send them back to the glory days of the performance leading Radeon 9700 Pro and also the infamous GeForce FX 5000's....that were infamous for all the wrong reasons...
 
I'm not here to brown nose ATi till the cows come home however and as the title may suggest we are not talking about just one Radeon HD 5870. We're revisiting ATi CrossfireX but now with a pair of their finest sitting on our table. I wish to cast your mind back to 2004, which saw the introduction of Multi GPU technology for the gaming masses. It went by the name of nVidia SLI technology. ATi followed suit with it's own "Crossfire" technology that worked by means of a slave card and a complex “crossfire edition” card, where both were then linked externally and outside of the case. Truth be told, Crossfire was somewhat unpopular because of this but this soon changed just over a year later when they brought out their value for money Radeon X1950 Pro graphics card, which took inspiration from nVidia's SLI Bridge. Since then, Crossfire had gained much needed attention and popularity and a couple of generations later, here we are with the technology embedded in our Radeon HD 5870 samples and so this brings me back to the review. Why settle for just one HD 5870 when you can have two? Is such a monstrous pairing the answer to a truly fluid gaming experience in just about everything? With a pair of 1600 stream processor cores ploughing away with two dedicated banks of 1GB GDDR5, we believe that this could be very interesting indeed.
 
Name
ATi Radeon HD 4890ATi Radeon HD 4890 CrossfireATi Radeon HD 5870
ATi Radeon HD 5870 Crossfire
Core NameRV770RV770RV870RV870
Core Frequency850MHz850MHz850MHz850MHz
Stream Processors
8002 x 80016002 x 1600
Memory Frequency3800MHz3800MHz4800MHz4800MHz
Memory Interface256bit256bit256bit256bit
ROP Count162 x 16322 x 32
TMU Count402 x 40802 x 80
 
 
It goes without saying but Gigabyte need no introduction thanks to a wide range of motherboards, coolers and obviously as a top tier graphics card partner as well. The brand is an add in board partner for both ATi and nVidia based video cards and has sold both reference based cards and their own derivatives of the same that feature custom PCB's, Heatsinks and varying Memory IC's. With years of experience under their belt, one would be tempted to feel optimistic about the quality of this particular product. Let's turn over to examine the Gigabyte Radeon HD 5870 1GB.


Gigabyte Radeon HD 5870 1GB Crossfire Page: 2
In the flesh...
 

 
 
The Gigabyte Radeon HD 5870 arrived in a standard but well packaged box. Included was a single dual 4pin molex to PCI-Express 6pin adapter, Crossfire Bridge, Driver CD and of course the graphics card itself. There isn't much in particular that differentiates this Gigabyte HD 5870 with the HIS HD 5870 that we previously tested or infact the ATi Engineering Sample that we first previewed. At this stage, you can expect these graphics cards to be based on the same PCB's, have the same I/O combinations, the same Memory IC's and most notably the same cooling solution. Due to this, all that separates the graphics cards from brand to brand lies with aftersales support in the even that it goes up in smoke, additional software such as overclocking tools (which the Gigabyte doesn't seem to include) and of course, the shiny sticker on the top of the heatsink shroud.
 
 

As previously mentioned in other reviews, the HD 5870 is a particularly long graphics card at around 10.5". It may not necessarily fit in all system chassis however, the Aux Power connectors are conveniently placed on the top. The cooler itself by design is more of a small evolution of the previous generation solutions rather than an entire redesign. Beyond that box shapped shroud lies the all too common blower style fan, that ducts air towards a heatpipe cooler and out towards open vents at the rear of the I/O panel. In theory it should all work rather well and unless Gigabyte have incorporated a more aggressive fan speed table on their HD 5870's, our previous experiences with these graphics cards indicate that they should be very quiet...Silence being a quality that we like to see in even the warmest of graphics cards.
 


Gigabyte Radeon HD 5870 1GB Crossfire Page: 3
Testbed
 
Our testbed has been configured with the intention of avoiding any potential CPU bottlenecking, which may have otherwise stunted a graphics cards capabilities. This in turn may give us an artificial result that implies that CrossfireX offers minimal performance gains when infact it might be quite the opposite. With an Intel Core i7, cycling at a rather frisky 3400MHz we are not particularly worried about a potential bottleneck. All games are operating at a resolution of 1920x1080 for a number of reasons. First of all, the idea is to focus on the graphics cards and providing our GPUs with a juicy slab of pixel area is exactly what achieves that. Finally, the vast majority that intend on spending £600+ on graphics cards alone are unlikely to be using that beige 1024x768 CRT sat in the corner gathering dust, but rather a newer LCD which have steadily been operating at higher native resolutions and at increasingly affordable prices. With all due respect, anyone that plans on doing the former really need to set their priorities straight...
 
Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.40GHz
Gigabyte EX58 UD3R LGA1366 Motherboard
6GB Corsair PC3-12800 DDR3 RAM
2x Gigabyte HD Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5
2x Asus HD Radeon HD 4890 1GB GDDR5
Antec Nine Hundred Two Gaming Case
Corsair HX750W ATX2.0 Power Supply Unit
500GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 SATA II HDD
LG 22x DVD+/-RW
Windows Vista Home Premium
 
 
The testing methods are relatively simple but effective. The plan is to run a synthetic benchmark tool as well as a number of games in order to find out how much faster two Radeon HD 5870's are, compared to a single card configuration and whether the performance gains are worth the financial outlay. Along the way, we also hope to comment on the usability of ATi's CrossfireX and also practicalities such as noise levels. Further, to make thing's more interesting, we thought we'd add another pair of graphics cards into the mix...they're the previous generation...they were quick...you know it...Two ATi Radeon HD 4890 1GB Graphics Cards. The intention is to find out what £290 worth of last year has on £300 of this year. Can two Radeon HD 4890's beat out a single HD 5870? Is a HD 5870 CrossfireX setup THE solution to have for today's hits and beyond? 


Gigabyte Radeon HD 5870 1GB Crossfire Page: 4
Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
 
3DMark Vantage is an updated and more demanding evolution over the package that it succeeded. Our tests cover the "Performance" setting of the benchmark. The application will output three scores. The first two are CPU and GPU scores, which are formed from various tests that will focus on either of the two (or both). On the basis of those scores, a final "Overall" score is then outputted with a "P" prefix beforehand to denote that the "Performance" setting was applied.
 
 
 
The results are quite interesting, showing the HD 4890 crossfire setup sitting in between a single HD 5870 and the HD 5870 Crossfire score. At any rate, the previous generation isn't struggling to hold it's own. It should be mentioned however that the end result of a synthetic benchmark does not always translate to similar outcomes in real games, so on that bomb shell let's have a play with...
 
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. Typically, this game is heavy on both CPU and GPU however the limitation at high resolutions skews the dependancy towards the latter. Depending on how well the drivers are optimised, Multi GPU scaling could vary greatly. But anyway, given the game's "tough" characteristics, we were eager to find out the end result.
 
 
Wow. Dare I say it? Has Crysis Warhead been defeated? Thanks to superb crossfire scaling, there was not even so much as a stutter even in denser scenery with plenty of explosions. Quite notably, the HD 4890 CrossfireX setup performs about as fast as a single HD 5870 and two of the latter offers considerable increases on top of that.
 
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.
 
 
Once again, CrossfireX scaling appears to be very reasonable. Far Cry 2 however doesn't appear to require it's horsepower in this particular scenario. Perhaps it may be of interest for 2560x1600 users?
 
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
 
Microsoft Flight Simulator X is part of a handful of games that are heavily CPU reliant. If you thought that this was bad, at initial release this game did not have multicore cpu support. I need not say anymore on that front, but with this in mind, the results that followed were not too surprising.
 
 
So if you're a Flight Simmer, do yourself a favour and opt for a single card solution and spend some of your savings on overclocking that Core i7 of yours to 4.0GHz and beyond
 
Call of Duty 4
 
Call of Duty 4 is one of the older games within our testing. Once again, all quality settings are set as high as possible and Dual Graphics Card support has been checked in game. Our particular CoD4 test is not terribly strenuous but the performance scaling is quite clear.
 
 
So it would seem that two HD 5870's in CrossfireX aren't exactly justifiable for CoD4 alone,


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Conclusion
 
Gigabyte 5870So what do we have to say? It would seem that ATi are on the road to success with their new Radeon HD 5870 graphics cards. With two Radeon HD 4890 graphics cards performing similarly to a single HD 5870, the ideal pattern of GPU progression seems quite apparent. What's more is that with the exception of the heavily CPU bound Microsoft FSX game, ATi's CrossfireX technology seems to scale very well in all of the games tested. They are far from impractical too, thanks to low idle power consumption as well as respectable load power consumption, which has resulted in low noise levels. You will naturally require a quick processor to complement the pairing and if you're the oddball that plays Flight Simulator X, I think you'll find that elaborate CrossfireX setups will do you no favours.
 
While it's fair to say that the vast majority of games really do not command so much GPU power in most situations, we have at least established that two HD 5870's still scale admirably well. Such power however is acquired at a considerable price too. Around 600-620 of your finest pound sterling to be exact, so it stands to reason that you will certainly have to think quite hard before biting the bullet. Whether, one can justify the cost is another matter as it will naturally depend on the rest of your system configuration and as previously mentioned, whether one plans on following the multiple monitor route. Till then, you could even buy one HD 5870 and consider the purchase of another at a later stage as the prices of these products can only drop...that is when nVidia pulls a finger out and unleash their supposed monster.
 
Speaking of competition, I'd like to return to ATi's “sweetspot” strategy, which usually entails the release of three graphics card ranges within the first quarter of a new generation release. In the case of the “5” series, it commenced with the “Cypress” range of graphics cards, consisting of the £200 and £300 HD 5850/5870's. Next and most recently was the arrival of “Juniper”, dubbed the HD 5750 and 5770 range which sits at a more pallatable £115-135. What about #3? Well, you may have been looking at it...ish. The third graphics card of the RV8xx core iteration is infact a dual GPU, “X2” style graphics card and assuming it's core and memory clocks are similar, it should perform very much like our CrossfireX setup. The near future is indeed looking rather interesting and from what we have gathered, the future is also looking rather speedy. Is it worth waiting for HD 5870 CrossfireX performance in a single package? It's debatable as of course, it will depend on pricing and what implications it may have on how much a single gpu variant will cost in the near future but for now, it's hard to say that you would go terribly wrong by emptying your wallet on these.
 
All in all, the Gigabyte HD 5870 CrossfireX has achieved exactly what previous Multi GPU offerings have in the past. Unbeatable performance at a just as unbeatable pricetag, As the configuration worked without hassle, delivered within games and did not turn the test machine into a GE90-115B powerplant, there isn't a lot that's going against opting for such a pairing. Really, so long as money permits, it appears to be a very good proposition. What the likes of upcoming DX11 hits have to say about it however remains to be seen.
 
The Good
- Unbeatable performance at the time of writing
- Quiet Operation
- Triple Monitor Support
- Reasonable Power Consumption
- Relatively Hassle Free Configuration
 
The Mediocre
- Pricing due to a lack of competition
 
 The Bad
- None
 
 
  
 
We would like to thank Gigabyte for supplying their Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5 for review. You can discuss your thoughts about this system in our forums