Power Consumption and Closing Thoughts
AMD Radeon HD 5870 Triple CrossFireX Performance Testing - Graphics Cards  1

While power consumption obviously increases quite a bit with our CrossFireX configuration, going from a peak consumption of 311 watts to 444 watts and then to 577 watts, it scales perfectly as we add in each card – the dual card configuration uses 133 watts more than the single card configuration and the CrossFireX combo uses 133 watts more than the dual card option.  What is more impressive to me here is the idle power consumption: three Radeon HD 5870s are actually using less power at the Windows desktop than a single GeForce GTX 295 card!

Performance

We were hoping to see never before witnessed performance numbers out of a gaming PC using a set of three Radeon HD 5870 graphics cards and I think I met that goal!  Some of the newest titles in the world of PC gaming crumbled to the will of this CrossFireX gaming configuration including seeing games like Batman: Arkham Asylum run at 165 FPS, Far Cry 2 at 155 FPS and HAWX at 178 FPS all while running top IQ settings and 4xAA on a 2560×1600 screen!  To say I was impressed would be putting it mildly…

Getting past the pure joy of seeing these games run this fast, we need to decide how valuable all of this scaling is to gamers in terms of cost, etc.  In all of my testing (with one exception) the benefits of moving from single Radeon HD 5870 to a pair of cards in CrossFire outweighed the move from two cards to three in terms of price/performance results.  In other words, the value of the second card was higher than the third in terms of increasing the performance of the gaming system as a whole.  Take HAWX as an example: at 2560×1600 the 1->2 card scaling was over 70% while the 2->3 card scaling was about 53%.  While that is still a nice bump in performance (in many cases seeing 50% scaling on any multi-GPU configuration would be good news) obviously the third card follows the laws of diminishing returns.

This should go without saying, but I think I’ll put it in here just to be clear: you should only even be thinking about running a third Radeon HD 5870 card if you have (or are going to buy) a 2560×1600 30-in panel for your gaming PC.  Resolutions lower than that just don’t NEED the power that this configuration can provide and in my view you will only be throwing away your money. 

Now if only there was a way that consumers could expand their gaming to a larger resolution in a more affordable way…

Eyefinity – PLEASE!!!

…oh wait, that’s right, maybe you have heard of a little thing called AMD Eyefinity?  This little feature gives the Radeon HD 5870 the ability to support three displays on a single card and create a single virtual panel out of them and thus can support gaming at resolutions like 5670×1200 or 7680×1600 using an array of monitors.  If you haven’t seen this feature in action, you should really give our Eyefinity articles a try to see what you are missing out on. 

AMD Radeon HD 5870 Triple CrossFireX Performance Testing - Graphics Cards  2
Damn, only one monitor attached.

Eyefinity would seem to create the perfect usage model for multi-GPU gaming; here a user can expand their one single 1920×1200 monitor (of only 2.3M Pixels) to three of the identical monitor and have a really cool display with a resolution of 5760×1200 (6.9 MPixels).  What better way could there be to tell PC gamers that there is a reason to upgrade their systems to more powerful graphics cards, or even CrossFire configurations, than with a feature like this?  It is really a perfect match with one flaw.

It doesn’t work yet.

At this time, CrossFire configurations do NOT have the ability to accelerate the graphics on an Eyefinity display which means that you are required to only utilize a single GPU to power the three monitors you have connected to your new card.  Bah humbug I say.  I know that AMD has told me on several occasions that they are working on adding support for this into the AMD driver but I am not a patient person (and in general, neither is the enthusiast) and would like to see this match made in heaven a reality sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, as of what I am hearing today, it looks like it will be a stretch to get support for CrossFire and Eyefinity to users by the end of the year.

Pricing and Availability

The Radeon HD 5870 card is available today and sells for around $379 depending on where you look.  They have been in slightly tight supply since their release last month, but overall I would say the inventory levels are pretty good all thing considering.  That puts our triple Radeon HD 5870 configuration at an $1137 graphics setup for gaming – obviously quite a bit of money for anyone to swallow.  The ability to buy a single card now and upgrade down the road is one of the great features of multi-GPU technology, you just can’t wait TOO long and have the card disappear from the shelves before you are ready to buy again.

And as I said above, even though the power of a trio of these cards is hella-impressive, it might make more sense to just get a couple of them instead; that’s only a $758 investment, amiright?  Okay, okay, that is still a lot of money, but the amount of scaling you can get out of that second card is damn impressive.  But again, you should really only be making that plunge if you have the 30-in panel to back it up.

Closing Thoughts

Let me just say it: running triple Radeon HD 5870s in CrossFireX was a gaming experience that puts just about everything else to shame.  I say “just about” because what I really still NEED to have is this power combined with three of these 2560×1600 panels to find the true gaming nirvana of legend.  Once we are there, you can probably just shut down PC Perspective for a while…

Back on track, the truth is that AMD’s team has done a hell of a job getting both two-card and three-card CrossFire scaling impressively this early into the GPUs life.  Even better is that this CrossFire goodness can be found on less expensive cards – in our recent HD 5770 testing CrossFire scaled nearly as well.  So while many of you might think that running a pair of HD 5870s today is overkill, I would imagine everyone is more receptive to the idea of buying a $160 graphics card today and upgrading again in a few months to see 50-75% improvements in performance.  AMD definitely has a great thing going with its Evergreen line of GPUs.

And, as I keep repeating, once Eyefinity and CrossFire can function simultaneously, triple Radeon HD 5870s may not seem like such overkill anymore.

Further Reading:

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