Review: All hail the new performance king
AMD has launched most of its Evergreen family cards, including the toughest of the lot – the Radeon HD 5970. Evergreen is AMD's DirectX 11 supporting family of graphics cards, with which AMD returned to the winning ways, at least in the field of graphics. Apart form the speed and the muscle, Evergreen brings a couple of other things to the table, most notably Eyefinity, which is support for more than two monitors on one card. In case you don't recall, about a month ago we talked about Radeon HD 5870 graphics card, which is the first Evergreen card to hit the market and still is the single-GPU king of the market. A few slower Evergreen single-GPU offerings followed – the HD 5850, HD 5770, HD 5750, but enthusiasts have anxiously waited on AMD's dual GPU card codenamed Hemlock, a.k.a. Radeon HD 5970.
Today we have Radeon HD 5970, currently the world's fastest graphics card, and we've received it from our friends in Sapphire, unique and one of the most famous AMD partners. Radeon 5970 comes with two GPUs, and we've come to expect such solutions when maximum muscle is the aim of the game.
Unlike traditional Crossfire, where two single-Gpu cards are in separate PCI-Express slots, AMD's dual-GPU card can at a glance be compared to one single-GPU card. Don't be fooled by the looks though, as Hemlock's hood hides two GPUs and one on-board PLX bridge chip (PEX 8647 switch commanding 48 PCI-Lanes), which is in charge of internal GPU communication. In theory, this should allow for matching the card's performance to the performance of two single-GPU cards in Crossfire.
Physically comparing the HD 5970 with other graphics cards reveals that the new dual-GPU Radeon measuring 31cm in length, is easily the longest graphics card on the market. Of course, dual-GPU cards present somewhat of a cooling challenge, and thus they usually arrive with hefty cooling solutions. On the other hand, the size has been compensated with cooling efficiency and silent operation, which is commendable. AMD opted on using Vapor Chamber technology, so those who feared less than optimum cooling solutions can breathe a sigh of relief.
If you're wondering whether Radeon HD 5970 will fit in your case, there is a simple test – take an A4 sheet of paper and try to put it where the graphics card should be located, but bear in mind that it will take 1cm more than the A4 sheet measures. Of course, those who await on HD 5970 will surely have plenty of room to welcome this €500+ beast.
Interestingly enough, the operating clocks on the HD 5970 are lower than on Radeon HD 5870 cards, despite the fact that they're based on the same, Cypress core. The HD 5970's clocks actually match those on the HD 5850. The HD 5970's core runs at 725MHz, as opposed to the HD 5870's 850MHz. Hemlock's GDDR5 is slower as well and it runs at 1000MHz (4000MHz effectively), compared to the HD 5870s 1200MHz (4800MHz effectively). The reason was to keep the card within the PCIe 2.0 specification which states at most 300W at load. Of course, Sapphire had the final say by pushing the clocks further, but this time only by 10MHz.
We must admit that up until the launch day, we expected the card to come with the X2 suffix, which was the case with the previous generation's HD 4870 X2. However, as you can see for yourself, lower clocks do not allow for such a name.
Radeon HD 5970 offers 1600 stream processors per Cypress core, 80 texture units (which can address and texture one pixel per clock) as well as 32 ROP units per core. The GPU is built in 40nm and measures 334mm square. The card has a total of 2GB of GDDR5 memory at its disposal, where each GPU has its own 1GB on a 256-bit memory interface.
Compared to the previous generation, improvements are obvious and you'll notice that almost everything got doubled up. 800 shaders on the HD 4890 became 1600 on the HD 5870, courtesy of the added batch of transistors. The Cypress GPU features complex architecture with 2.15 billion transistors, as opposed to 959 million on the HD 4890. The ROPs also got an overhaul, and have been doubled from the HD 4870's 32 to HD 5870's 32. The same goes for texture units as well as computing power which jumped from 1.2 TFLOPs to 2.72 TFLOPs.
An important piece of the puzzle is that despite the doubled performance, consumption didn't suffer much. We already said that the HD 5970 consumes up to 294W, which is nice if you consider that one HD 5870 consumes 188W or that HD 4870 draws up to 160W. AMD finally addressed idle consumption, and the company claims HD 5870 will draw only 27W whereas the HD 5970 will draw 51W when idle.
Despite the size, the HD 5970 is an attractive graphics card. The picture below shows that Sapphire stuck to using reference cooling.
We received the HD 5970 OverClock Edition in a large box, which is perfect for this card. The front of the box features all the interesting info, and you can see that you'll get two games as a gift – Dirt 2 and Battleforge. We must admit though that Sapphire was always nice to its customers, and almost always rewards the customers' allegiance to the company with some kind of gift. Apart from the games we found the coupon for Red Line Overclocking / Tweak Utility, and you can use it in case you want to push the card even further.
The card is pretty safe within the box. Upon opening, you'll see the Red Line Utility coupon, as well as a warning that a card will require additional power connectors. Basically, you'll need one 6-pin and one 8-pin connectors. If you don't have an 8-pin connector, the card will not run, and the lowest recommended PSU is 650W. In case your PSU doesn't feature the aforementioned connector, don't worry as Sapphire ships the required adapter.
Since Radeon HD 5970 runs pretty hot, AMD made sure that plenty of space on the I/O panel is used for air outlets, and thus hasn't used all the possible connectors. While the HD 5870 has two DVI outs as well as native HDMI and DisplayPort outs, the HD 5970 comes with two dual-link DVIs and a mini DisplayPort.
Still, thanks to the powerful display output logic, this is just one of possible combinations on the card. Sapphire also ships a mini-DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort adapter, which you can see on the picture below.
Sapphire HD 5970 card comes with reference dual slot cooling and closely resembles Radeon HD 5870, except that it's a couple of cm longer. Let us remind you, the HD 5870 is one centimeter longer than the AMD's previously fastest and longest card – the HD 4870 X2.
The cooler covers the entire front of the card, with a large metal block on the back. This block is used to cool the memory on that side but its main use is to keep the heavy cooling on its place. Sapphire's card features 2GB of Hynix H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C GDDR5 memory rated at 1250MHz (5000MHz GDDR5 effectively). As you can see, this card is a looker, and there isn't a spot which AMD didn't polish to perfection.
We liked the combination of black plastic with no rough edges hiding the cooling solution and other components. We already mentioned that the card closely resembles the HD 5870 which can be seen on the picture below.
The air outlets have a charm of their own as well as the upper side of the card with engraved ATI logo, which will always be visible when inside the case.
The entire length of the card features little holes, most probably left with airflow in mind.
The card is loud but not overly loud and you can easily bear it during intensive gaming scenarios. Idle operation is pretty quiet and you can always regulate the fan rpm manually.
The card requires one 6-pin and one 8-pin power connectors. Maximum consumption goes up to 294W whereas idle consumption is at 54W.
Motherboard: MSI P45D3 Platinum ( Provided by: MSI );
Processor: Intel Core 2 QX9770 Extreme edition at 3.6GHz ( Provided by: Intel );
Memory: Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24 ( Provided by: Corsair);
HDD: WD VelociRaptor 300G 10,000RPM ( Provided by: SmoothCreation );
Driver: ForceWare 195.50, Catalyst CCC 9.11 Vista 32 SP1
3DMark Vantage Extreme reports that Sapphire HD 5970 OC is a so far unprecedentedly fast dual-GPU card which is 26% faster than the previous "performance king" – the GTX 295. Even the single-GPU HD 5870 card with a score of 8300 comes close to the GTX 295, and it ran faster than HD 4870 X2.
Far Cry 2
FarCry 2 Ultra settings and a resolution at 1920x1200 don't mean a thing to the new Sapphire HD 5970 OC, and it beats the GTX 295 by about 20%. Interestingly enough, it runs only slightly better than the one year old 4870 X2.
After turning on 4X antialiasing at 1920x1200, the situation changes somewhat. Sapphire HD 5970 OC still tops the chart and beats the GTX 295 by 20% with ease. Radeon HD 4870 X2's performance however drops significantly and runs by about 40% slower than the HD 5970 OC. The single-GPU HD 5870 is only slightly slower than the HD 4870 X2, and more than 45% slower than Sapphire HD 5970 OC 2GB card.
We see "similar" performance difference at 2560x1600 without AA and Sapphire HD 5970 OC runs about 25% faster than the GTX 295. The HD 4870 X2 runs slightly slower than the GTX 295. Just for comparison's sake, the HD 5970 OC is four times faster than Geforce 9800GT and almost four times faster than the HD 4850.
Sapphire HD 5970 OC churns out 70fps in FarCry 2 at 2560x1600 and 4xAA, which is more than enough for smooth gaming. The GTX 295 scores 57fps, which is about 20% slower. This proves that Sapphire's HD 5970 OC card is more than enough to chew up anything you throw at it and spit out a so far unprecedented fps count.
Left 4 Dead
It's official - Sapphire HD 5970 OC is the king of Left 4 Dead benchmarks. Sky is the limit here and the card scores as much as 130fps at 2560x1600 with 4xAA. The same resolution sees the GTX 295 run slower by about 27%, Radeon HD 4870 X2 runs about 55% slower whereas Sapphire HD 5870 is about 49% slower.
World in Conflict
In this game, as well as other games mind you, we see that at lower resolutions, Sapphire HD 5970 OC is limited by the CPU power. It might sound strange, but we're calling 1920x1200 a "lower resolution" as the HD 5970's optimum resolution is 2560x1600.
Geforce GTX 295 still fares well in all the tests and is only 10-15% slower than Sapphire's HD 5970 OC card in World in Conflict. Single-GPU HD 5870 is slower by about 40% at the highest resolution and antialiasing on.
HAWX shows that Crossfire runs just fine on the older HD 4870 X2 card, which runs about 15% slower than the HD 5970. The HD 5870 ran about 40% slower than Sapphire HD 5970 OC. Nvidia's top model trails Sapphire's card by about 10%, whereas the highest resolution with AA on results in HD 5970 beating it by about 30%.
Batman - Arkham Asylum
Batman: Arkham Asylum features effects which require Nvidia PhysX compatible hardware. If you have a Radeon card you can turn all these effects off, or to be more precise you must turn them off if you want to play. Not even the HD 5970 could handle PhysX effects so we'll show you results with PhysX off.
Although Radeon HD 5970 is up to 26% better than the GTX 295, we'd rather play this game with Geforce PhysX-supporting cards. Not turning on PhysX effects would be a waste as they greatly contribute to the gaming experience.
Nvidia Geforce GTX 295 holds up nicely versus the HD 5970 and almost manages to catch up – it runs only 7% slower at 2560x1600 and 4xAA. At 2560x1600 and no antialiasing, Crysis is a lot easier to play, and that's where the HD 5970 wins by 25%.
BattleForge features DirectX 11 support and we tested it using Windows 7. Although the difference is not what we'd call drastic, the quality of graphics is discernably better under DirectX 11. As you can see from the following results, Sapphire HD 5970 OC scores better than the GTX 295 by as much as 100% (You don't see such results very often, do you? Sub.ed).
Overclocking, Thermals and Consumption
Sapphire is the first company to come out with an overclocked HD 5970 card, although the overclock is only slight 10MHz more than reference 735MHz. GDDR5 memory runs at 1010MHz or (4040Mhz effectively) compared to the reference 1000MHz. Of course, HD 5970 will take even higher clocks, and as a proof of that AMD ships OverVolt Utility tools with overclockers in mind, whereas Sapphire ships it under the name of RedLine Overclocking/Tweak Utility as they use a different interface.
It's a simple set of tools which, as the name suggests, is used to increase GPU and memory voltages. Below you see a snapshot of RedLine tool and we moved the sliders all the way just to show you how far you can go. It's best to use it combined with Catalyst Control Center Overdrive where you can alter clocks as well as the fan's rpm. Pushing the card to 850MHz and the memory to 1250MHz is a piece of cake and it results in 17% better gaming results.
The following picture shows GPU-Z, which reads reference clocks and those used by Sapphire's HD 5970 OC.
Idle temperatures are pretty good and the card runs at about 60 degrees Celsius. During operation, the new Vapor Chamber-based cooling shows why it got the job and cools the core to below 90 degrees Celsius. Interestingly enough, this didn't significantly reflect on temperatures (only a few degrees Celsius), but the card was much louder, almost unbearably loud.
Regardless of the improved performance, power consumption didn't go much higher compared to the previous generation. We've said that HD 5970 draws up to 294W, which is great when considering that one HD 5870 consumes 188W or that one HD 4870 will draw 160W. AMD finally addressed idle consumption and AMD claims the HD 5870 will draw only 27W and the HD 5970 will draw 51W.
The HD 5970's idle consumption is excellent. The core downclocks to 157MHz and the memory to 300MHz. Our testbed drew up to 487W, which isn't much considering the performance, but is still 100W higher than when we use the GTX 295. The HD 5870 required up to 335W, which is pretty close to the HD 4890, which is significantly slower.
Idle operation in our test rig consuming about 115W, whereas the same setup with the GTX 295 resulted in consumption of about 90W.
Sapphire Radeon HD 5970 OC is currently the fastest gaming card you can find. Let us recap –Radeon 5970 is a dual-GPU card with two Cypres GPUs, which Sapphire overclocked by 10MHz from the reference 725MHz. The card packs 2GB of GDDR5 memory, also overclocked by 10MHz from the reference 1000MHz (4000MHz effectively). The Cypress GPU comes from AMD's Evergreen family of products and features DirectX 11 support, which makes such an investment pretty much future-proof and users who buy it won't need to upgrade their graphics for a couple of years at least.
This card will take anything and any game and always provide enviable performance, even at the highest resolutions. Catalyst driver support is excellent and there are no major problems with this dual GPU Card, so the closest you'll get to a problem is when buying a game that doesn't support Crossfire. If you have the means to buy this card, and you're scared of any notion of setting up Crossfire, don't worry as Crossfire is enabled by default and all you need to do is stick it in the PCI-Express x16 slot and install the driver. System compatibility is not an issue as the two GPUs communicate internally via a Crossfire link. Furthermore, the card is 31cm long, so you might want to check that you've got sufficient room in your case.
The Sapphire HD 5970's fierce rendering capabilities make even more sense with the new Eyefinity technology, which allows for three monitors on one graphics card, and note that the number of Eyefinity-supporting games is on the rise.
As far as noise, consumption and thermals go, Sapphire Radeon HD 5970 passes all the test with pretty nice grades. The card isn't too loud during gaming, and although it occasionally can get a bit loud, it's understandable as two Cypress chips are no easy task for one cooler.
Once again in this everlasting game, AMD dethrones Nvidia on the "king of perfomance" seat, but it seems like Nvidia won't fight back anytime soon. In case your holiday shopping list includes Sapphire HD 5970, you should know that you'll also receive two additional gifts – Battleforge and Dirt2 games.
The only reason not to buy this card, if there is one, would probably be the saucy price of over €600. Unfortunately, the cards are pretty limited and it instantly shows on the prices, but as soon as availability issues are solved, expect to see it priced more towards the €500 mark.
Sapphire HD 5970 OC is a card one instantly falls in love with, and we have no doubts that you will too if you buy it. Yes, the price is a bit steep but don't forget that you're buying the world's fastest graphics card, and such cards are never cheap. With that in mind, and the fact that this card will have you set for a long time, we welcome the new performance king to the market with the "Fudzilla Recommended" award.