Packaging & Appearance
We first saw the 'X' packaging from XFX with the 4000 series of graphics cards and despite looking the business, I find the packaging excessive. I'll grant you, some may think that it is impossible to have excessive packaging but what bothers me most is that when the exterior card is removed from the box, you are left with one empty box and one much smaller box which contains the card and accessories. Were graphics cards available in your local supermarket, packaging is something that may determine which product you buy but with PC components this is not the case. That said, XFX are in a class of their own in this department and should be applauded for the extra effort they have put in to presenting the HD5850, my only hope is that this new box design does not add to the cost of the product.
Once the exterior card is removed we are left with two boxes, one which contains the goodies and the other which is empty, serving as a frame for the 'X' theme. The included accessories are what we have come to expect from XFX, 2x6 pin to Molex adaptors, installation and quick guide instruction booklets, driver CD, Crossfire bridge, a do not disturb door hanger and a free copy of Dirt2, down-loadable from steam (Dec 2009). I would have liked to have a full copy of the game included as waiting until December for Dirt2 is asking a bit much but this is levied as the first DX11 title due to be released and as such it makes sense to make use of this feature.
The HD5850 is somewhat smaller than the HD5870 we reviewed previously and as such users should have no issues fitting the card in anything but the smallest of PC enclosures. Being a reference design, the only difference you will find with this card and that of other manufacturers is the stickers placed on top of the plastic cooler. Flipping the card over we see that ATI have this time not covered the static sensitive, exposed PCB with a backplate with only the GPU bracket affording any sort of protection.
Below you can see the difference in size with the GTX280 and the HD5850 which is easily an inch shorter, measuring 9.5 inches long. I must say I do like the red plastic inserts of the new ATI design which will make the card stand out in any windowed PC case.
The inlets for the redesigned cooler are also trimmed with the same red plastic inserts, following the theme of the cards aesthetics. In contrast to the HD5870 though, this HD5850 has the 2x6 pin power ports snuggled inside one of the inlets. XFX recommend a minimum of a 500w PSU to power the card which should be plenty unless you intend on creating a fire breathing monster of a PC which will demand a larger power source.
The Backplate are is identical to the HD5870 in that there are 2xDVI ports, an HDMI 1.3a port and a DisplayPort. Using these ports in conjunction with one another will enable you to run three monitors at once courtesy of AMD's EyeInfinity. This will certainly appeal to gamers as one screen can stretch across three displays making for the ultimate eye popping visuals every gamers craves.
Removing the cooling shroud was straightforward enough as there are no hidden clips of screws, everything is exposed and easy to get at. The main section of the cooler is a copper base attached to an aluminium fin array courtesy of heatpipe technology. The memory and VRM's transfer heat produced via thermal tape with only the exposed GPU core having the luxury of thermal paste. The contact area was very good as was the paste used so I see little reason to replace the stock gunk unless you prefer an alternative cooling method.
Here we see the same 40nm Cypress core of the HD5870. AMD have however made a few little adjustments of the core to coincide with the HD5850's price tag. 2 of the 20 SIMD arrays along with 2 of the texture units of those SIMD arrays have been disabled. Whether this change is physical or software based remains to be seen (BIOS flash anybody?). The clockspeed of the core has also been reduced from 850MHz of the HD5870 to 750MHz on the HD5850. The same 1GB of GDDR5 Samsung memory (HC04) chips are used on the card which bodes well however, this memory is also clocked slightly lower from 1200MHz to 1000MHz (4 GBps). How these changes affect the performance I can only guess at this stage but I would wage both the core and the memory will clock to the same levels as the stock 5870 which may make up some of the lost ground.
The overall package of the XFX HD5850 is very hard to fault. Everything is there to get you started (that is unless you don't mind waiting until December for Dirt2). I am not so keen on the X packaging as while it looks great, upon opening you will have to be very good with Chinese puzzles to get it looking like new again should you wish to sell it on in the future. That said, with the promise of ultimate performance I see no reason why anyone would want to!
Before we crack on with the benchmarks, let's take a look at our test setup and overclocking results...