Value. If ever a word has a singular definition but multiple meanings it's value.
I can't imagine many of us would consider spending the price of a used car on an item of clothing, but when you consider the work that goes into a Saville Row suit, the quality of the cloth, the cut, the personalisation and how it will last a lifetime, suddenly it becomes "good value".
Alternatively it can be very pejorative. "Value Beans" doesn't tend to make us think we're in for a tasty treat.
By and large though, in PC Hardware terms, its mainly used to define something that gives unexpected performance at a sensible price point. It doesn't always mean it's the best available, merely that you wont be disappointed. When you're young you want nothing but the best regardless of cost. As you move into normal life with all the expenses and responsibilities that entails you tend to seek out those nuggets, that hardware that is good value.
Last generation the Radeon HD4870 was an exceptional card but for those who wanted blazing performance, at a price that wont leave them sleeping on the sofa, there was only one choice. A HD4770 Crossfire setup. It was cheap, fast, didn't cause the electric meter to generate its own gravity by spinning so fast and was, to continue the theme, exceptional value.
Now we're on the 5000 series, have ATI kept up this performance or nerfed it to get us to splash out on the main event?
Sapphire HD5770 Crossfire
Sapphire are probably best known for their amazing Vapor-X cooling solution. Probably the best graphics cooler available on an out-the-box GPU. They have got three different models of the HD5770 available. The HD5770 we're looking at today that uses the original reference cooler, the HD5770 New Edition that uses the modern ATI Reference cooler that expels air into the case rather than out the back, and the HD5770 Vapor-X.
Because we're looking at value we didn't want to look at a card that comes with a premium cooler, nor one that is already a little overclocked. We want to start at the absolute bargain basement HD5770 and see exactly how much performance can be tempted out of its silicon.
Graphics cards are fairly simple beasts and so we thankfully have only a small table today listing the specifications. Taken, as always, from the manufacturer website. The main thing of note is that the HD5770 supports Eyefinity and so has the requisite multiple display outputs.
|Output||2 x Dual-Link DVI|
1 x HDMI
1 x DisplayPort
|GPU||850 MHz Core Clock|
40 nm Process Technology
800 x Stream Processors
|Memory||1024 MB Size|
128 -bit GDDR5
4800 Mbps Clock Effective
Would Sir like one or two?
As todays review is performance focussed rather than a specific review of the product and packaging etc, our resident photographer had a much easier time of it and you've much less detail to wade through.
Not that we ever tire of seeing two graphics cards together. It always just looks so decadent.
The cards themselves are the standard reference design, with the obligatory fantasy lady adorning the top.
Onwards to todays test setup.
When testing a GPU it's always important to make sure that you have a setup capable of delivering all the data the cards can cope with. CPU limitation is difficult to overcome as you start having plentiful cards, but we're confident our i7 920 overclocked should be able to handle the pressure.
Motherboard : ASUS Rampage II Extreme
CPU : Intel i7 920 @ 3.6GHz
RAM : 6GB Corsair Platinum @1333mhz
PSU : OCZ 1000w Gold PSU
HDD : 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F1
Monitor : Samsung 2433 24" @ 1920x1200
OS : Windows 7 Ultimate 64
GPU : Sapphire HD5770 x2, ATI HD5850, ATI HD5870
We're putting the HD5770 Crossfire setup against its two main rivals. On cost terms it is the HD5850, and from our experience with the HD4870 we're including a HD5870 for performance testing. That's a steep challenge indeed as the HD5870 is an exceptional card.
The standard Sapphire HD5770 comes with a core speed of 850MHz and a GDDR5 speed of 1200MHz (4800MHz effective). Of course we always enjoy testing the product you can purchase and play without mucking about, but we're hardware nuts first and foremost so we're also going to see if the HD5770 can overclock as well as the HD5850 does.
The most important thing to remember about overclocking is that pure numbers are meaningless if the heat generated is too much, or if we run into stability issues. Because the Sapphire HD5770 already nearly maxes the overclocking sliders on the Catalyst Control Center, we turned to MSI Kombuster for our overclocking and stability testing. This is a neat combination of RivaTuner and Furmark, in that we can increase speeds, check temperatures and stability, obtain a benchmark and go again, all within a single program.
Firstly we wanted to see what temperatures we had at stock and therefore how much headroom the cooler allowed us in our quest for absolute performance. Running the test at 1900x1200 with no anti-aliasing gave us 71°C maximum, which should give us quite a bit of room to play with. Upping the anti-aliasing to 8xMSAA and we still obtained 71°C. Nice.
By using the tried and tested method of upping the core speed a little at a time and endlessly testing until we reached breaking point, we got to 960MHz core clock and the GPU was still only producing 75°C in the very demanding benchmark regardless of if we had no AA or 8xMSAA.
We'd love to have gone on further but sadly that's as far as our slider goes. Nonetheless 110MHz should see a nice little performance boost. We then turned our attention to the GDDR5 and managed an increase from 1200MHz to 1400MHz before we started to get artifacting. Normally manufacturers run the RAM as hard as they can get away with, so it was great to see Sapphire giving us so much headroom.
Does all this power equate to good value?
The proof of the pudding, so the old adage goes, is in the eating. It would be almost as wise to state that the proof of performance is in the benchmarks.
3D Mark Vantage
The acid test. Whilst normally I berate 3D Mark Vantage for being totally incapable of providing a baseline for the performance we can expect to see, if nothing else it absolutely loves power. The more the merrier. It can eat everything you can throw at it and come back asking "Please Sir, can I have some more?".
Straight away you can see that our HD5770 Crossfire setup slaughters the HD5850, easily keeps up with a HD5870 and, in overclocked trim, beats it. It seems like ATI haven't nerfed the HD5770 after all.
Codemasters Dirt 2 is a very pretty DX11 race game that is very well optimised providing playable framerates on even average systems. The slight downside is that we don't get those obscene numbers we do with other games, but past 60FPS it's fairly academic anyway.
We see the Vantage results well replicated here with the 5850 comfortably last, the 5770xf keeping up with the 5870 and the OC 5770xf managing to win out again.
Need For Speed Shift
EA rejuvinated the flagging Need For Speed series with Shift, that nicely combined the NFS upgrade mechanics with a much more realistic racing experience. We were so sick of drifting around nighttime streets that it was a breath of fresh air and we still adore it as much as we ever did.
Testing gave us the result we're almost expecting now and the only real thing of note is how low the 5870 Maximum is. Of course when you're benchmarking in "live" play rather than a fixed set there will always be variances.
So much for driving round a track. Can we shoot people in the head now?
Ah Crysis Warhead how I hate thee. Every time we get some new hardware we hope one day to find the combination that Warhead enjoys, and everytime we come away more and more disappointed with how abysmally Crytek optimised it. Ho hum.
The 5850 still brings up the rear, the 5770xf isn't as far ahead as it was, and this time the 5870 noses ahead of our overclocked setup. Still very good performance though for two little cards.
Modern Warfare 2
Finally Modern Warfare 2. Although strictly speaking it should be called Future Warfare (unless we are fighting in space?). Here the 5850 gives a much better account of itself although still behind the near standard order of things.
Although the 5870 wins in maximum FPS, the 5770xf overclock provides the higher average framerate. All the cards on test though give great performance throughout and any of them would be a great choice.
Time to wrap this exciting test up.
Wow. That almost left us breathless.
Back at the start we wondered if the speed to which the community latched on to the performance that a HD4770 Crossfire setup had, would ATI deliberately detune the HD5770 so that the HD5870 still was the weapon of choice for extreme framerates.
Clearly, and comprehensively, they didn't.
Sapphire have produced a card that gave us enough headroom for a 110MHz core and 200MHz GDDR5 overclock. Probably the most surprising aspect is that the little HD5770 easily kept up with its bigger brothers even in standard trim. Once they were run in an overclocked state it sprang into the lead and, barring one test, never relinquished it.
Given the relative performance levels of the £350 HD5870 and £250 HD5850 in our HD5000 series roundup, we expected that two HD5770s, costing around £250 for the pair, would give us around HD5850 performance or maybe a little more. How foolish preconceptions can appear in hindsight.
So at the start we set out to see if a good value choice was still a HD5850 or if a pair of HD5770s in Crossfire could soothe your gaming ache without upsetting your significant other. And the answer has to be neither. HD5770s in Crossfire aren't merely a good value choice, they are a great performance choice regardless of budget.
Sure if you've won the lottery, are the Chairmen of a bank or maybe even Bernie Ecclestone then for bleeding edge performance you still have to splash the cash on a couple of HD5870s.
For us mere mortals we can get 5870 performance, for 5850 money. And that definitely is good value, in the best meaning of the term and for this reason we have no qualms about giving it our Editors Choice award.
Many thanks to Sapphire for providing the HD5770s for todays review. Discuss in our forums.