Power Consumption and Conclusions
AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB Review - Cyprus gets a bit cheaper - Graphics Cards  1

AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB Review - Cyprus gets a bit cheaper - Graphics Cards  2

Again the new Cyprus series of GPUs make impressive headway in the world of power efficiency.  The Radeon HD 5850 uses the least power out of all of the four cards tested in our first graph yet is often either first or second in terms of overall gaming performance.  That will give it the obvious edge in terms of performance/watt, without a doubt. 

When we compare it to the HD 5870, the HD 5850 doesn’t actually use much less power than its bigger brother – 6% less power under a full load though is often 15%+ slower in terms of performance at the higher resolutions.  We are actually used to this being the other way around – seeing a smaller performance boost for higher power consumption requirements on the high end components.  This is a very interesting trend that we will be keeping an eye on going forward and how AMD plans to utilize this unique quality.

Performance

For a $259 graphics card, the Radeon HD 5850 is a hell of a performer.  In our series of gaming tests the Evergreen GPUs are proving to be highly competitive and the HD 5850 is no exception.  With its pricing schedule it rests between the GTX 275 and the GTX 285 from NVIDIA and it actually fell into that price segment pretty well in terms of overall performance.  In Batman, for example, the GTX 275 was actually slightly faster than the Radeon HD 5850 though in Far Cry 2 the HD 5850 was able to beat even the GTX 285. 

Both HAWX and World in Conflict I would give a tie result to between the HD 5850 and the GTX 285 though in Resident Evil 5 the lead again returned to the NVIDIA solutions.  Just as we saw with the original Radeon HD 5870 review, AMD was able to make solid contact with ball but just couldn’t (or chose to not) put enough weight behind the swing to hit it out of the park.

If we look at the HD 5850 and the HD 5870 side by side, there is an average of about 15-20% performance difference between the two cards depending on the application.  Keeping in mind the price difference between the two is about 46%, the price/performance ratio would go to the HD 5850 without a doubt though your gaming experience would be better on the HD 5870 especially if you plan on moving to the world of Eyefinity and multi-monitor gaming in to the near future.

Looking at multi-GPU performance, the CrossFire results with the HD 5850 proved to be pretty impressive once again with scaling as high as 80% in some games.  At the top resolution of 2560×1600 I never saw CrossFire dip below a 50% scaling rate or so on average frame rates – something that couldn’t be said for AMD’s products and drivers just a couple of years ago.

Features

There is a lot to be said for the Radeon HD 5850 in terms of features, but I’ll probably leave to my introduction and previous HD 5870 review to be wordy about it.

The HD 5000-series add support for DirectX 11 gaming and compute shaders, tessellation as well as new AA/AF algorithms and of course the magical Eyefinity technology.  Even you decide to not game across three displays having the option to power three desktops on a single card is a big improvement – you are no longer required to have two GPUs in your system to do this.  I know at least a couple of people that are very excited about this ability all on its own.

AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB Review - Cyprus gets a bit cheaper - Graphics Cards  3
Still looks yummy…

Again, I’ll point you towards my HD 5870 article for all details on the architectural changes and feature updates on the Evergreen series of GPUs and how they will improve your computing and gaming experience.  

Pricing and Availability

As of this writing, AMD is assuring us that the Radeon HD 5850 will be available in the market today or tomorrow for the price of $259.  Though there were some 1-2 day issues with availability of the HD 5870, it was resolved relatively easily so I see no reason to not trust AMD will pull it off again.  My only fear is that they will underestimate the desire for the HD 5850 and try to up-sell consumers to the HD 5870 instead.  As I said above, with the HD 5870 coming in at 46% more expensive than the HD 5850, the HD 5850 looks like a better overall deal in terms of gaming performance if you aren’t going to, or plan to, run at 2560×1600 or higher any time soon.

With the GTX 285 priced at $325 or so when this testing was completed (likely to see a drop very soon though), the HD 5850 is the obvious winner.  With performance equal to (or maybe just SLIGHTLY behind) NVIDIA’s highest speed single-GPU configuration, features like Eyefinity and DX11 all the while running $60+ LESS expensive, you’d be crazy to think otherwise.  The GTX 275 is a much closer debate in terms of pricing and gaming performance but I would still give the nod to AMD’s graphics cards with the killer feature set.

NVIDIA’s only option is drop prices hard and fast – something AMD’s CPU team is well versed in doing.  For users that value the future-proof DX11 support and triple-head gaming, even a price drop to $200 might not be enough to sway them from the HD 5850 to the GTX 285.  Yes, we know that NVIDIA has 3D Vision and PhysX technology (only one of which is really worth paying extra for, you guess) but for MY money it’s hard to beat what AMD has put together with the Radeon HD 5800-series.

Final Thoughts

AMD has built a product that truly stands out from the competition with the Radeon HD 5800-series of cards.  Though we have already reviewed the HD 5870, it and the new HD 5850 are really going to put NVIDIA in a bad position this coming holiday if they can’t somehow magically deliver a new architecture by years-end.  The only good news for NVIDIA is that AMD decided to not simply slam the door shut on them by releasing these cards at $50 less – the GTX 285 is still a viable option against the HD 5870 and the GTX 275 against the HD 5850 if you don’t care about DX11 or Eyefinity. 

But, unfortunately for NVIDIA, I think most of you DO care about one or both of those features.  And that was AMD’s design from the outset – to make a card that performs great with DX9/DX10 titles today but has a feature set that helps it to stand out from the NVIDIA monster and gain not only performance crowns but consumer hearts.  The new Radeon HD 5850 is definitely the best card you can get in the $250 price range today and I think is my best overall pick for all gamers.  Even if you are running a 2560×1600 display or plan on using 3 monitors for gaming then I think a pair of these cards will be your best bet, once AMD has gotten its act together and enabled CrossFire for Eyefinity (or once Lucid’s HYDRA technology is released). 

Let the PC gaming commence!  We are eagerly awaiting your reply NVIDIA…

AMD Radeon HD 5850 1GB Review - Cyprus gets a bit cheaper - Graphics Cards  4

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