HIS Digital – HD 5870 1GB review

super-fast DirectX 11 graphics card
Photo of HIS Digital – HD 5870 1GB

ATi has timed the launch of its new Evergreen graphics chip with military precision. It’s the world’s first DirectX 11 chip so it is no coincidence that it was launched just in time for Windows 7.

The first versions of Evergreen to hit the streets are the high-end HD 5850 and HD 5870 which, as the model codes suggest, are replacements for the DirectX 10.1 HD 4850 and HD 4890. The HIS Digital HD 5870 that we’re reviewing is a reference design with an HIS sticker on the cooler and a voucher to activate a copy of Colin McRae Dirt 2 on Steam when the game is released later this year.

The graphics card (and the PCI Express power adapters that allow you to connect a legacy power supply to the two PCI Express connectors) are typical of HD 5870 graphics cards that you will also see from Gigabyte, PowerColor, Sapphire, XFX and others. Give it a month or so and we will see updated designs with custom coolers and increased clock speeds.

HD 5870 supports DirectX 11 which is a significant step forward from DirectX 10.1 but the new chip has another trick up its sleeve. HD 5870 uses the same 40nm fabrication process that was introduced with HD 4770. Reducing the size of each transistor has allowed ATi to double the number of Stream Processors or Unified Shaders with only a slight increase in the size of the chip.

The 55nm HD 4870 and HD 4890 had 800 Stream Processors and required a die size of 263mm2 to house the 956 million transistors. By contrast the new 40nm HD 5870 has 1,600 Shaders and 2.15 billion transistors (2.25x more) in a die area of 334mm2 which is an increase in area of 27 percent. The not-quite-king-of-the heap HD 5850 has 1,440 Shaders in a chip that is the same size as HD 5870 so we can deduce that one block of Shaders has been disabled.

The core speed of HD 5870 is 850MHz, which is the same as HD 4890, while the 1GB of GDDR5 memory has been increased to an effective speed of 4,800MHz.

We generally associate an increase in die size and transistor count with extra power draw and heat production but the fully loaded power draw of the HD 5870 card is 188W which is almost identical to the HD 4890 figure of 190W. At idle ATi has reduced the power draw of the HD 5870 to 27W compared to the 60W figure for HD 4890, which is impressive.

The reference design for the new graphics card measures 11 inches/280mm in length which is considerably more bulky than the 9.5 inch/240mm HD 4890. This increase in the size of the cooler has enabled ATi to keep the HD 5870 incredibly quiet even when it is working flat out playing games.

ATi has made an interesting change with the HD 5000 series of graphics cards as they have dual DVI outputs as well as one HDMI and one DisplayPort, and support triple displays that each have a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. Move over dual displays, triple screen desktops are here.

We tested the HIS HD 5870 on a Core i7 PC and found the performance was absolutely superb. If you replace your HD 4890 with the HD 5870 you’ll save 35W of power draw at idle while the performance increases by 50 percent in hardcore games such as Far Cry 2.

You have the option of overclocking from the stock speeds of 850MHz/4800MHz to 890MHz/5000MHz but the extra performance only amounts to two frames per second and the power draw increases by 20W, which looks like a poor deal.

Company: HIS Digital

Contact: 00 852 2796 3788

The HIS HD 5870 delivers a huge amount of DirectX 11 power that gets you ready for Windows 7 and the next generation of gaming. It currently looks rather expensive at £299 but this new graphics card takes a massive step forward and makes the competition look silly by comparison.