ATI Radeon 5870 1GB Eyefinity Review - Installation & Configuration

Submitted by skipclarke on 24 December, 2009 - 04:20

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The basic installation of the card is easy. Like all other graphics cards it plugs cleanly into the PCI-e socket. It requires two 6-pin connections off the power supply. They were easy to access and install. By the time I was able to set up my EF rig, newer drivers had been released. I downloaded and installed the 9.10 drivers without problem. I have spent time and benchmarked on both the 9.10 and 9.11 drivers.

This review comes right on the heels of the 9.12 release, which enables CrossFire. There have been some bugs and issues reported in the forums. Due to do these issues, and uncertainly on how many games have CrossFire support enabled, this review will assume that CF support is not yet widespread or enabled on the hardware.

Cabling & Connections

As mentioned before, the user is required to "mix and match" their output connections from the Radeon 5870. The 5870 offers one DisplayPort, one HDMI and two Dual-Link DVI connection. You cannot run the HDMI with the first DVI port, as the card runs out of resources. So, only three active connections on the Radeon 5870 are possible. The possible configurations would be: 1DP + 2DVI or 1DP + 1HDMI + 1DVI. A DVI>VGA converter is shipped with the product, so a few more variations are actually possible.

I do happen to be rather "anal-retentive" and like for things to be consistent and orderly. I want my Eyefinity setup to be connected via the DisplayPort connection on my three monitors. This would allow for consistent usage of my monitors inputs. It would also allow for consistent color profiles and settings on the monitors. To that end, I purchased one DP cable and two DVI>DP cables from MonoPrice. Only after receiving the cables and attempting the installation did I find that you cannot convert the DVI signal to the DP connection.

Also, note that the maximum resolution on the HDMI connection is 1920x1080. If you intend to use the 1DP + 1HDMI + 1DVI connection method, your max resolution will be 3x1920x1080. To ensure proper aspect ratio, all of your monitors will need to be 16:9 or offer Aspect Scaling within the hardware.

None of this is a barrier to entry, just something that annoys me and my anal-retentive ways. It may not have any impact on you or your experience. Just ensure that you choose monitors that have both a DP and DVI port, to ensure you get a matched set.

Catalyst Control Panel

ATI Control PanelLet me start off my saying that I hate the Catalyst Control Center (CCC). I don't like its layout, and I think that the descriptions given to the different sections are obtuse at best. I very much prefer the NVIDIA control panel. This isn't unique to the 5870, and isn't unique to Eyefinity. This is an issue with the overall design of the CCC. Now, this is totally a preference thing, and some people out there will have an opinion 180 degrees off mine.

However, I find doing something as a simple as changing the resolution quickly becomes frustrating. Click the graphic to the right. Notice the tree structure in the left pane of the NVIDIA control panel. It's very easy to see which option to select to change resolution. On the ATI side, you have to click the "Graphics" tab to get the first set of options. From there, which option do you choose? Is it "Desktops & Displays," or "Desktop Properties," or "Display Options," or maybe one of the others. It is "Desktop Properties," but to this day I forget that every time and have to click my way through the list.

Win7 made it a bit easier by putting a "Screen resolution" option in the right-click menu off the desktop. Under Windows Vista, you have to go into properties, and then go into the Control Panel and pick the right option from that menu. Additionally the CCC has a drop-down option for "HydraVision" next to the "Graphics" option under Vista, creating even more confusion.

Do you notice what is missing from the CCC? That's right - any mention of Eyefinity. I figured that ATI would have been using any and every opportunity to evangelize Eyefinity. And, I would have figured they would have made it dead-easy to setup. Now, this may have been covered in a manual, but my review sample was a bare card. And, do any of us really RTFM anyway? At best, I would have expected a setup wizard to pop-up if the card detected three displays connected. At least, I would have expected a branded and labeled section of the CCC to be in the drop-down list that provided step-by-step guidance on how to set up Eyefinity.

Considering that such a feature is not available, here is an overview of how you setup Eyefinity along with screenshots. First, you right click on one of the monitors shown in the "Desktops & Displays" section. You then select "Display Group" and "Create Group." In all honesty, I wonder how is expected to equate "Eyefinity" with "Creating Groups." You then receive a screen that asks you to select your configuration. I select a 3x1 configuration, running horizontally. Finally, the CCC asks if the screens are showing in the right order. If not, you select "No," and it will take you through a sequence to identify the screen positions.

Now, these software issues are far from a deal-breaker. The average user will only need to deal with them a handful of times at most, and more likely just once on the initial setup. This initial inconvenience is far outstripped by the Eyefinity experience, and the improvements that Eyefinity brings to the multi-monitor experience. I just think the CCC could be vastly improved for all ATI users.

Eyefinity Setup

Intermediate Resolutions

As mentioned earlier, the Catalyst drivers lack a proper widescreen setting for the "middle mode" while in Eyefinity configuration. This means that users are basically locked into gaming at the native resolution of their panels (i.e., you cannot run 3x1680x1050 on a 3x1920x1200 setup).

Most gamers are using either 3x22" (3x1680x1050 - 5040x1050) or 3x24" (3x1920x1200 - 5760x1200) for their EF rigs. I'm not aware of anyone using 3x30" (3x2560x1600). The 5040x1050 native resolution allows those users to run almost anything (even Far Cry 2 or Dirt 2) at basically any quality/AA configuration they want. For truly demanding games, the user can turn down in-game options to get something playable.

For users with 5760x1200, some games like Far Cry 2 or Dirt 2 can still be unplayable (or close to unplayable) even with settings turned down. These users need the 5040x1050 option, but are instead left only with 3840x1024. This option isn't feasible as it is the wrong aspect ratio (1280x1024 is 5:4) to display on a widescreen panel.

Additionally, being locked into 5760x1200 provides challenges for benchmarking and gameplay videos. Without 5040x1050 as an option, we are unable to perform direct comparisons of the Radeon 5870 and NVIDIA hardware with the TH2Go. Also, recording with FRAPS places a large strain on your system and fps. In most cases, recording at 5760x1200 won't be feasible as it will be too taxing for the system (even when recorded at 1/2 size).

Even if a successful recording can be made, the file sizes will end up being too large to easily work with. My experiences with 5040x1050 videos at 1/2 size were already challenging. Attempting to record at 5760x1200 will simply add complications without adding any value, as videos are edited and exported at 1280x720 (720p HD).

There were some detailed and heated discussions in this forum thread on the subject. Our ATI rep stated that they were considering making the "middle mode" user selectable, but it was technically a huge undertaking and was still in very early discussions. At this point, the community would be happy to simply have the hard-coded option changed from 3840x1024 to 5040x1050.