ATI Radeon HD 5850
Great performance, image quality and API support at an almost tempting price
Price £209 Manufacturer Asus GPU Clock 725MHz Unified Shaders 1,440 Memory 1GB GDDR5 1,000MHz, Memory bus 256-bit Requires 500W PSU
As its name implies, the 5850 is a slightly cut-down rendition of the 5870, most likely down to binning of the chips to squeeze more value out of the line. This core, codenamed the Cypress Pro, has a 75MHz slower core clock speed of 725MHz, and manages only 1,440 unified shaders (an eyebrow raising 10% less than the 1,600 to be found in the 5870).
The 256-bit memory interface is a little slower as well, rolling in 200MHz under the 1.2GHz of its marginally older brother; equating to an overall memory bandwidth of 128GB/s as opposed to 153.6GB/s.
Given that this card is £100 cheaper than the 5870, these sacrifices seem reasonable on paper at least. When it comes to real world performance, these cuts do affect the raw grunt of the GPU, but it's still an incredible piece of technology.
Far Cry 2 produced simply stunning results, making for a silky smooth 65fps at 1,680 x 1,050. This card is capable of driving higher resolutions too – hitting a thoroughly respectable 40fps at 2,560 x 1,600 at high quality settings. The latest Resident Evil also turned in great performance at this resolution, managing 54fps.
These are incredible frame rates for a card costing only £200.
There is a small fly in the ointment for the Radeon HD 5850 though, and that's the outgoing DX10 cards both from Nvidia and AMD itself.
The GeForce GTX275 in particular puts in almost identical figures at similar settings and resolutions in World in Conflict and Resident Evil.
Far Cry 2 is a different story, and obviously the GTX275 can't handle the DX11 games of tomorrow, but at a saving of £30, it still feels that AMD hasn't quite got the pricing of these cards right just yet.
It's still a case of this card being early-adopter fodder over the next few months – or at least until Nvidia enters the DX11 market and forces AMD's hand. See our benchmarks on the last page.