With the recent release of the GeForce GTX 480, ATi’s Radeon 5870 has finally been toppled from its long-standing position at the pinnacle of single-GPU graphics cards. The differences are certainly not all we were expecting, however, with some industry analysts suggesting that much of NVIDIA’s advantage was down to its card’s extra half-gigabyte of memory.
With this Toxic Edition Sapphire has doubled the Radeon’s allocation to 2GB and also increased the GPU and GDDR5 clocks by 75 and 100MHz respectively. The firm’s Vapor X cooler also makes a welcome return, promising more effective cooling and quieter operation.
The card certainly looks the part thanks to a much larger, centrally-position fan and aggressive, angular styling. The card is significantly shorter than most other 5870s as Sapphire has deviated from the reference PCB for the Toxic. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can fit it into smaller cases, however, as the power connectors are situated at the end of the card rather than at the side as they were on the reference PCB.
Otherwise things are mostly unchanged. A pair of DVI connectors, one DisplayPort and a single HDMI interface provide screen connectivity while you get a pair of Crossfire connectors for combining up to two other 5870s in Crossfire X. Considering this is an expensive special edition card we were disappointed by a lack of bundled software, particularly as the standard Sapphire 5870 comes with a full version of Dirt 2.
Our initial impressions of the card itself were much more positive. The cooler is indeed quieter than the standard model, with the fan sounding smoother at idle and significantly less jarring once the going gets tough. It’s much more effective as well, with temperature drops of up to 13 degrees at full load.
Power consumption is a little higher than the reference card, as you’d expect for an overclocked GPU with double the memory, but it’s still well below the competing GeForces. This extra power requires that an 8+6 PCI Express connector configuration is used rather than the 6+6 of the reference model, but either way we’d recommend a quality 600W PSU at least.
In our benchmarks the 2GB Radeon performed only marginally quicker than the reference card. We largely attribute this advantage to the overclock of this Toxic edition rather than the larger memory count, though we did see a noticeable gain in the minimum frame rates of certain titles. If you are a GTA IV fan you’ll also appreciate being able to max out the detail sliders, as 2GB of memory finally allows us to run at both full texture resolution and 2560 x 1600.
Although welcome, the extra memory and clock speed is not enough to change the standings of the top performing GPUs. The GeForce GTX 480 still wins more tests than it loses, though the Radeon chalks up victories of its own in Aliens Vs Predator, Stalker: Call of Pripyat and, most impressively, Crysis Warhead. The 2GB card stretches its feet a little once Eyefinity mode is enabled on three 24-inch screens, though in the vast majority of games the 1GB version performs just as well. Only texture-heavy titles like Crysis and Stalker really stretch the frame buffer, otherwise the bottleneck seems to be down to raw GPU horsepower rather than the amount of RAM installed.
When looking at the overall spread of frame rates there isn’t a noticeably different gameplay experience between either the GeForce or this Sapphire card. Both allow incredible performance even at the highest resolutions and detail settings, so either will do hardcore gamers proud.
Where the Radeon significantly increases its desirability is in its power consumption and noise output figures. It uses almost 80W less than the GTX 480 at full pelt and nearly 30W less at idle. The GTX 480 is also extremely warm-running and will require far more airflow to prevent throttling. You also get the ability to run three screens from a single 5870; a nice feature both for gamers wanting to play in Eyefinity mode and those just wanting to increase their 2D desktop real estate.
While this Toxic edition doesn’t really change the order of play, we still feel it is a more desirable card than the GTX 480. Unless you run tessellation demos or Folding @ Home all day it performs on a par in the majority of real games and costs broadly the same as well. With the extra memory and an even quieter cooler, Sapphire has made the most desirable version of ATi’s wonder card yet.