A Closer Look
As I mentioned, I called the Radeon HD 4850 the most significant product to enter the market in 2008. The HD 4850 took the midrange gaming video card to a completely new level due to the awesome power of AMD/ATI’s awesome RV770 GPU, with its 800 stream processors. Prior to that you really couldn’t expect to be able to run antialiasing on a video card costing less than $400 or so at its release, AA and “High” graphics settings were something only those buying high-end cards could enjoy. The HD 4850 changed all that, for about $250, you could enjoy AA and “High” goodness, and still get respectable FPS. Personally, I think that nVidia is still reeling from that blow.
So let’s compare the 4850 to the 5850. First, the RV770 used the 55nm manufacture process, the new RV870 uses the 40nm process. The earlier GPU had 970 million transistors, the new RV870 has more than twice that amount, 2.15 billion of them. The RV770 had a whopping 800 Stream Processing Units, the HD 5850 sports 1440 of them! (the new HD 4870 doubles the RV770 with 1600 Stream Processors) The reference version of the HD 4850 had 512MB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 900mHz, the reference version of the HD 5850 received 1 full gig of GDDR5 memory clocked at 1000mHz.
So what is the performance difference between the RV770 and the new RV870? Compute performance of the earlier GPU was a very respectable 1.2 TFLOPS. The HD 5850 nearly doubles that at 2.09 TFLOPS. (the compute performance of the HD 5870 is 2.77 TFLOPS) We should definitely see increased performance in the HD 5850.
The Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 is packaged in a sharp looking box with a reflective background. The back of the box notes features of the card, a blurb about the card, and notes nearly 30 awards given to Sapphire cards, including one by yours truly.
The card inside is protected by a compartmented cardboard tray. Both the box and tray are made of 100% recycled cardboard. The card is in one of Sapphire’s high quality static-proof bags, and as all Sapphire cards using PCI-E power connectors, a warning that power must be connected to this video card.
The Sapphire HD 5850 is a reference version of the AMD/ATI card, complete with reference cooler. The fan shroud is black, and the graphics look great. At 9.5” from PCI bracket to the rear of the PCB, it is a little shorter than a full-sized 10.5” card.
The cooling fan is AMD’s typical 80mm upper-end “hair dryer” fan, the intake is at the front of the card, it blows air through a large heatsink, and exhausts out the rear of the card via an opening in the PCI bracket and another on the side of the shroud.
Besides the exhaust opening, we also look at the card’s ports, which include a pair of DVI ports, an HDMI port, and a DisplayPort. Yes, DisplayPort is here, maybe someday I’ll get a monitor that supports it so I can check it out.
To be so powerful, the GPU itself is deceptively small, thanks to the 40nm process. The gig of GDDR5 memory surrounding makes it look that much smaller.
The cooler is about half the length of the card. Though it doesn’t look like much, it sports a pair of heatpipes and a huge chunk of copper. The heatsink is most of the card’s 1lb 14oz weight.
The pair of 6-pin PCI-E power connectors are on the front of the card, adding about an inch to the card’s length. Depending on the case configuration, this will make it a tight fit in many midtowers, including the one I will be using today. Sapphire usually comes up with their own card design, and they usually have side-mounted power connectors, so I would assume that later versions of Sappire HD 5850s will likely have side mounted connectors.
Besides the installation booklet and driver disk, the bundle includes a DVI/Sub-15 adapter, a pair of Molex/PCI-E power adapters, and a CrossFire bridge. Also bundled is a coupon with a serial key for Codemaster’s upcoming DX11 racing game, Colin McRae Dirt-2. Download it via Steam, and use the key to activate. The game is scheduled for release on Dec 11th.