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ATI Radeon HD 5970: A Real Monster

The new graphics card is monstrous because it virtually doubles the already impressive specs of a single Radeon HD 5870. The choice of the Hemlock’s official model number is somewhat odd since the Radeon HD 5970 uses the same graphics chips as the Radeon HD 5800 series. For example, the Radeon HD 4890 used to have an RV790 processor, which was a greatly revised version of the RV770, but this only affected the third rather than second numeral in its model name. A model name like Radeon HD 5870 X2 would look reasonable enough, but ATI must be willing to finally unify and standardize its product nomenclature by getting rid of the numerous suffixes and additions in product names that used to confuse customers before.

Now, let’s take a look at the Radeon HD 5970’s specs:

Click to enlarge

ATI’s engineers could not repeat the same trick as with the Radeon HD 4870 X2, on which they had installed two RV770 cores and two sets of GDDR5 memory chips without lowering the clock rates. The trick did not work with the Radeon HD 5970. To keep the new card’s heat dissipation within reasonable limits, the GPU and memory clock rates have been reduced from 850 to 725MHz and from 1200 (4800) to 1000 (4000) MHz, respectively. We wouldn’t worry about that if CrossFire technology worked at all times. The reduced GPU frequencies would be made up for by the double amount of computing and texture-mapping resources whereas the graphics memory bandwidth is colossally high even at the reduced clock rate. But we know that every implementation of the multi-GPU concept available today depends on software support on the side of the driver and game engine. So, if a 3D application proves to be incompatible with ATI CrossFire technology, the Radeon HD 5970’s performance may fall below the level of the Radeon HD 5870 whose single processor is clocked at 850MHz and does not need any special software support. Considering that the Radeon HD 5970 comes at a recommended price of $599, this may be quite disappointing.

Anyway, the Radeon HD 5970 is indeed the highest-performance single graphics card on this planet. And it is going to enjoy this status for a long while. The official announcement of Nvidia’s GeForce 300 series is postponed to 2010. Nvidia’s new core codenamed Fermi is far more complex than the RV870 Juniper and dual-processor Fermi-based cards won’t come out soon (if such products will be released at all) while single-processor Fermi-based solutions are going to be inferior to the Radeon HD 5970 in performance. The new card is all about big numbers: 640 unified execution processors, 3200 ALUs, 160 texture-mapping modules and 64 RBEs. Such specs are going to entice even the most skeptically-minded gamer to shell out 6 hundred bucks. As a matter of fact, nothing – except for financial considerations – prevents you from purchasing two such cards and building a truly marvelous CrossFireX subsystem capable of delivering playable frame rates even at a resolution of 7680x1600 pixels!

Developing this graphics card was not easy for ATI’s people. Particularly, they had to renovate the cooling system of the Radeon HD 4870 X2 which had been criticized widely. Running a little ahead, we can say that the task has been solved well. The two RV870 are not just effectively cooled. The new cooler is good at overclocking and AMD puts an emphasis on that. We will discuss this issue later on. Right now, let’s take a closer look at the Radeon HD 5970 itself.

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