History tends to repeat itself at newer levels. Not so long ago AMD focused on rather simple and inexpensive GPUs and was right: Nvidia with its monstrous G200 had to assume a defensive position after a series of marketing blows from the former ATI Technologies. In the sector of top-end solutions AMD offered dual-chip models and was right once again because the Radeon HD 4870 X2 has remained an unrivalled performance leader for a long time. And what do we have now?
Ironically, ATI actually went Nvidia’s way in developing its new-generation GPU and has created a chip consisting of over 2 billion transistors. But while Nvidia’s G200 was based on rather inappropriate 65nm technology, the RV870 Cypress is manufactured on advanced 40nm tech process. Nvidia’s solution was too progressive for its time and brought a lot of problems to its developer whereas the RV870 is most appropriate. It comes when the production of such complex chips has become not only possible but also economically justifiable. Being 50% more complex than the Nvidia G200, the new GPU from AMD is 1.4 times smaller even than the 55nm version of the G200! As we also know now, the RV870 Cypress is the world’s first GPU to support new DirectX 11 graphics standard, while Nvidia’s products do not offer such support as yet. So, instead of steady evolution of the Radeon HD series, the new card is a revolutionary breakthrough that has no counterparts in the industry at the moment.
The first sample of the graphics card based on ATI new GPU leaves a very positive impression. The Radeon HD 5870 is economical and has good acoustic specs. And it is indeed capable of competing with the previous-generation flagship, the dual-chip Radeon HD 4870 X2, and even beating it in real-life applications. Let’s look at the detailed picture.
There is usually no point in comparing such top-end graphics cards at 1280x1024, yet the Radeon HD 5870 is ahead of the Radeon HD 4870 X2 by an average 3%, being much slower in two tests only, Street Fighter IV and BattleForge. The new card from AMD is also good against the GeForce GTX 295, scoring 4 wins and one draw against 8 losses among which only two are serious losses. However, the loss in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars makes no practical difference while in Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. you can just turn off Adaptive AA and boost the frame rate.
The maximum lead over the Radeon HD 4870 X2 is 75% and can be observed in NFS: Shift where the Radeon HD 4870 shows the highs of classic single-chip architecture that does not depend on software optimizations. The new card is slower than the GeForce GTX 295 by an average 3%, Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. being the only test where the gap is really large.
The picture does not change much at 1920x1200: the Radeon HD 5870 still beats the Radeon HD 4870 X2 in most of our tests. But it also beats the GeForce GTX 295 in six tests and loses seriously in Clancy’s H.A.W.X. only. And that loss is not due to any deficiencies of the Radeon HD architecture as we have explained above.
When it comes to 2560x1600, the Radeon HD 5870 is still good, but inferior in many tests to the Radeon HD 4870 X2 because of the lower memory subsystem bandwidth. The gap is not large, however, and the new card’s frame rate is still comfortable except in such demanding games as Crysis Warhead. The same goes for the comparison of the Radeon HD 5870 with the GeForce GTX 295. Anyway, the new ATI card seems to be a better buy. It is more economical than the dual-chip flagships of the previous generation and is free from their main drawback – the dependence on software support for multi-GPU technologies. The Radeon HD 5870 always delivers its full speed and unlike Radeon HD 4870 X2 it will never experience a situation when half of its computational capacities are idling. Moreover, the new solution supports DirectX 11, which is a great reserve for the future.