It's been too long since we've had one of PowerColors cards gracing our pages. As it has been a while let's refresh your memory about them, courtesy of a paraphrased version of their own "about us".
PowerColor, established by Tul Corporation in 1997, is a graphics industry leading brand name now and well known for its outstanding performance and innovative technology. As a leading provider of graphics card, PowerColor offers powerful, reliable and cost-effective solutions to customers worldwide.
PowerColor graphics cards won at least 10 awards every month in 2004 from the worlds most respected IT media and organizations. Furthermore, several PowerColor products also received 2005 Taiwan Symbol of Excellence Award from the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the R.O.C. according to the following criteria: Design and Innovation, Quality System, Market, and Brand Awareness. This award represents some of the most revolutionary, high tech, high quality, and high value products in the market.
So now we know who they are, why are we interested? Well if you haven't been keeping up with technology they produce mainly pre-overclocked variants of ATI cards, more often than not with non-reference cooling. This is either via the PCS range, or the even higher model of pre-overclocked is the PCS+.
Now we know what we're looking at, let's take a look at the technical specifications before moving on to some photos.
|Graphics Engine||RADEON HD5850|
|Video Memory||1GB GDDR5|
|Memory Clock||1050MHz (4.2Gbps)|
|Bus Standard||PCIE 2.1|
|Standard Display Connectors||DL-DVI/DL-DVI/HDMI/DisplayPort|
|ATI Stream Technology||Support|
|ATI Eyefinity Technology||Support|
With reference HD5850s having a 725MHz core speed we can see that the PCS+ has a 35MHz increase over stock. Let's grab a shuftie at it then.
A Closer Look
One of the cool things about reviewing something from a company that you don't see every day is you aren't sure what to expect when it arrives. Definitely subscribing to the "clean and simple" look the PowerColor has all you could want to know in a nicely compact box.
The design on the front makes a nice nod towards the design of the card itself. Good to see that little detail as often the packaging design could be interchangable with anything. Here the cards looks are an integral part.
Speaking of the card, PowerColor have done an excellent job in beefing up the cooler without looking like they've played too much. It's like a reference cooler on steroids and that's most definitely a good thing. A large centrally mounted fan mounted above the heatpipe-equipped heat-sink should ensure good cooling performance.
Of course we always have to look at the whole PC when dealing with heat, so it's wonderful to see PowerColor retaining a full shroud cooling solution so that the hot air will be expelled out the rear of the case rather than circulate over your other components.
You can also see the large heatpipes that help dissipate the heat from the core to the main heat-sink before being cooled by the fan.
Finally moving round the back we have the normal display interfaces we expect on a Eyefinity capable ATI HD card, with two DVI ports, a DisplayPort and HDMI.
ASUS Maximus III Extreme
Intel Core i7 870 @ 3.6GHz
4GB Corsair Dominator @ 1800MHz
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
PowerColor PCS+ 5850 1GB using Catalyst 10.4
Overclocking and Temperatures
With such a superb cooling solution on a chip we know is good for 800MHz we should see some good results, and sure enough the PowerColor easily overclocked, happily on past 900MHz to a stable 925MHz, which will be the speeds we'll run our overclocked tests at.
Also great to see is that, thanks to cooling that is focused on keeping the whole card cool and not just the core, that we got an extra 75MHz out of the GDDR5 too. It's been a while since we've been able to clock memory so successfully, and so we need to give kudos to PowerColor for thinking of more than just the GPU in their cooling design.
Despite the weather being spectacularly warm lately we tested using our standard OC3D formula of 50% fans and Furmark. Under our hefty overclock the temperature never rose above 86°C. Definitely warm, but not beyond the capabilities of the card, and you need to remember that we're only running at 50% fans.
Time to run the battery of tests..
3D Mark Vantage
The extra oomph provided by the extra 35MHz shows up nicely in the performance test, and in the high test we find it close enough to the reference 5850 to allow for differences between runs. Using our overclock we find the card responding well with a huge score boost across the board.
Unigine uses every trick in the DirectX 11 book to give a visually lush display that is so sweet your dentist would complain. It really pushes your whole system hard as evidenced by the frame-rates around the 50 mark.
With Anti-aliasing off we get a good score from the PCS+ out the box, and in keeping with the 3D Mark result the overclock really lets the PCS+ get into its stride.
With the addition of anti-aliasing, albeit only in 2x form due to the already stressful nature of the test, we don't take too much of a frame-rate hit. Showing how well the PowerColor scales we get the same loss of performance from the stock result as we do from our overclock. Good all around performance.
The main point of interest for a card like this though isn't if it can render pretend things, it's all about gaming. With that in mind let's crack on with our tests.
Blimey. Clearly demonstrating the old adage that there is no testing like real-world testing, the PowerColor PCS+ 5850 completely spanks a reference design model. Even with the stock PowerColor settings we see an average of over sixty frames per second, and this nicely increases with our overclock as we'd expect.
Just Cause 2
Just Cause is an open world type game which has all the familiar hallmarks of this style. The main thing being huge draw distances and complex scenery to replicate cities and things.
This is clearly visible in our results with the average rate following the GPU clock speed fairly clearly. The reference at the bottom, then the PCS+ followed by the overclocked PCS+.
Need For Speed Shift
Shift is very good at handling ATI cards, in a similar manner to how GRiD used to be. Both stock and overclocked the PCS+ give very similar results, which are nicely above a reference design.
Warhead most certainly rewards any amount of graphical horsepower you can pump in its direction. With minimum and maximum frame-rates being fairly variable, as you can see from our graph, it's important to focus on average frame-rates. The PCS+ unquestionably steals a march over a reference card, and when overclocked really gives us good performance of over 50fps.
Wrapping up a card such as this is one of the easier jobs. After all I certainly don't have to go over the details of a ATI HD5850 again because by now you all know it's probably the best value single card for good gaming at sensible resolutions.
The main question is, if you are in the market for a 5850 series ATI card, should you send your money to PowerColor?
Starting with the performance it is clear that the extra 35MHz over and above a reference design card does actually make a difference in both our synthetic and real-world tests. Dirt 2 in particular absolutely loved the PCS+ and Crysis Warhead showed nice gains throughout the frame range.
Perhaps more importantly is how well the card overclocks even further. Whilst not hitting the 1GHz mark that we've seen from some 5850 variants, nonetheless the PowerColor PCS+ definitely responds well to bump in the GPU core speed. Even better is the ability of the GDDR5 RAM to run faster than stock too, enabling the whole card to run faster rather than suffer from the "only as good as its weakest link" thing.
Of course extra performance is undesirable if it requires much faster, and therefore louder, fans to keep the temperatures in check. Although the reference design isn't poor by any means, everything can be improved upon. Most third-party coolers focus on providing a large fan directly over the heat-sink. The PowerColor solution takes all the best elements of the reference design (enclosed shroud to ensure the hot air exhausts out the back, quiet operation) and maximises them. A much larger GPU heat-sink replete with heat-pipes that helps keep GPU temperatures down, whilst also having enough surface area to keep the memory and power cool too. Best of all it does this very quietly, allowing the card to not deafen you while it makes your eyes widen.
The best part about this PowerColor PCS+ 5850 though is, relative to competitors models, the price. At around £240 it's not much more expensive than a reference 5850, and yet offers so much more. We often see manufacturers specialist cards having a price to match, but not PowerColor. When their products are this good we wonder why we haven't had more of them pass through our testing lab, and I certainly look forward to their next piece of hardware for review.
To have good performance, a fabulous cooler and a sensible price, the PowerColor PCS+ 5850 1GB is absolutely worthy of the OC3D Gamers Choice award.
Thanks to PowerColor for providing the PCS+ for todays review. Discuss in our forums.