ATI Radeon 5850 & 5830 Review - Conclusions

Submitted by skipclarke on 25 April, 2010 - 16:17

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Initially, when I looked at the breadth of the ATI 5000-series product line, I wondered why so many different SKUs were needed. I could understand the the top end differentiations between the 5870 and the 5970, but did you really need two more SKUs in the 5800-series (much less the rest of the SKUs in the entire line)?

Our review of the HD 5870 Eyefinity6 (which also compared to the original 5870 and 5970) showed a real performance difference between the 5870 and the 5970. And the Eyefinity6 was realistically set to serve a new market (of greater than three screens), and possibly a hedge against faster technology turnover.

In looking at the rest of the 5800-series and the 5770, I do see the real differentiation between the products. There is enough performance difference between the products to warranty unique SKUs, but good enough overall performance in the entire 5800-series to provide a consistent overall performance.

The good news is that for many gamers you can save real money - $75 price difference between each step, and still get good performance with the lower cards in the 5800 range. This especially holds true if you play order titles (Half-Life 2), or titles based on older engines (Team Fortress 2, Left4Dead series). It also holds true if you're willing to play at something other than max settings - even in Eyefinity.

One thing I've noticed with the 5800-series is a stepping factor to the performance. If you hit Xfps at 1680x1050 with the 5830, then the 5850 will generally allow you to hit that same Xfps at 1920x1200. The same holds true for Eyefinity resolutions as well. The additional investment to take one step up will generally allow you to play at the next resolution at the same performance (with the same settings).

Widescreen Users

If you are a single widescreen user, the reality is that the 5830 is a solid performer and a great value. This $250 video card will get you 60fps (or better) at 1920x1200 in Batman, HAWX and Half-Life 2. You'll get close to 60fps in Dirt2, Far Cry 2 and GTA IV. All of these are at max settings. If you're willing to dial things back a bit, Battle Forge, Heaven (DX9) and STALKER could all hit 60fps (we only worked to find 60fps performance in Eyefinity).

The 5850 comes in about $75 more expensive at ~$325. With it you will hit 60fps (again at max settings) in Batman, Dirt2, Far Cry 2, HAWX, and Half-Life 2. It wasn't too long ago that an dual-GPU setup costing well more than double the 5850 was needed for 60fps in Far Cry 2. Dialing things back a bit would put 60fps within reach for Battle Forge, Heaven (DX9) and STALKER.

While 60fps is a nice "magic number" (and it's what we shoot for here), both of these cards only failed to break 30fps in the synthetic Heaven demo (DX10 and DX11) and the STALKER demo maxed out with DX11.

If you're planning to move up to Eyefinity, then I would recommend the 5850. It offers clearly better performance in those environments, and there are some instances where it performs much closer to the 5870 than the 5830. Additionally, adding 5-10fps means a lot more when you're starting at 20-30fps (in Eyefinity), than when you're already close to 60fps (in widescreen).

While I wasn't able to put the 5850 or 5830 through any tests in CFX (I only had one of each), a CFX upgrade wouldn't be a bad option once prices start to fall. Pick up the first card now while it's a good value, and then get the 2nd when it's a steal.

Eyefinity Users

The HD 5870 has been the "go-to" card for most Eyefinity users. Somewhat surprisingly (at least for me), both the 5850 and the 5830 can offer enjoyable experiences. With the 5850, you can only reach 60fps (at max settings) in Half-Life 2. This means most titles will require tweaking to hit 60fps (which we have outlined in the review), or the player would "settle" for a 30fps+ experience.

On the other hand, it means that perennial favorites such as Team Fortress 2 and the Left4Dead series (both based on the Source Engine) would be perfectly playable on an Eyefinity system built around a single 5850. We don't have a benchmark for TF2 or L4D, but I would suspect that even a 5830 would push either came to 60fps - if not damn close.

The 5850 hits 30fps in Dirt2 and Far Cry 2, in Eyefinity at 5760x1200. With a bit of tweaking you can get 60fps in Batman, Far Cry 2, Far Cry 2, and HAWX; and you can get 30fps in almost any game. The only areas we failed to hit 30fps were the Heaven demo and STALKER benchmark.

One of the key tweaks to improve performance was to drop the resolution from 5760x1200 to 5040x1050. Thus, if you're a gamer on a budget and looking at the 5850 or 5830, I would recommend using 1600x900 resolutions monitors. This will allow you to offset costs (and target the 5850 for your GPU, it possible) and run your monitors at their native resolution.

What's Next?

I have actually now completed all of the benchmarking for my initial reviews. I would still like to get an RTS and MMO to benchmark, and I might turn my sights to some overclocked benchmarking at some point. At this point my focus will be on writing reviews for the Performance and Mainstream segments in the 5000-series.

Once all the reviews are done, I am going to take a look at panel technology and Eyefinity. After we compile all of our benchmarks and reviews, a look at panel technology and an Eyefinity FAQ, I believe we will have a the makings of a complete Eyefinity Buyers Guide.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion the 5850 and 5830 are more than capable for single widescreen gaming. I believe that both the 5850 and the 5830 can serve as the backbone of a solidly performing single screen system. Unless you are starting with a single screen, with plans for a high-end Eyefinity setup (1080p monitors and higher), or you are planning to max out every new DX11 game (as best as you can) on a single screen, I find that the 5870 is really overkill.

The 5850 and the 5830 can serve well in pushing an Eyefinity setup, though you do need to have realistic expectations and be prepared for trade-offs. This should be expected and acceptable at the $325 and $250 price points of the two cards. If you play games in the vein of TF2 and L4D, then you're all set. If you play games based on more demanding engines, then you will need to tweak settings down to hit constant playable frame rates.

ATI touts both Eyefinity and DX11 support in the 5000-series. The 5870 will allow you to have both at solidly playable frame rates - in most circumstances. The 5850 and 5830 begin to require some trade-off. You can certainly experience DX11 and all that it has to offer in a single screen. When moving to an Eyefinity setup you will have to dial back the DX11 effects.