ATI Radeon HD 5850 review

Less is more with AMD's second-ranking 3D graphics chipset

ATI Radeon HD 5850
Great performance, image quality and API support at an almost tempting price

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If the Radeon HD 5850 looks good on paper, it's even better plugged into your PC. Our test subjects here are Asus's EAH5850 and Sapphire's Radeon HD 5850 Toxic 2GB. The first is a vanilla 5850 board save for the facility to tweak the operating voltage. The second is a little more exotic thanks to a mammoth 2GB helping of graphics memory and clockspeeds cranked to 765MHz core and 4.GHz for core and memory.

The toughest test for any graphics card is Crysis, Crytek's impossibly gorgeous 3D frag fest. That's remarkable when you remember that even in updated Crysis: Warhead trim, it's getting on for 18 months old. Somehow, it's still the most visually stunning game yet conceived.

What has yet to be conceived, however, is a graphics card that can cope with everything Crysis can throw at it. But the 5850 does better than most. At any resolution you care to mention right up to 2,560 x 1,600, Asus's nearly-boggo board comfortably has the measure of old timers such as the GeForce GTX 275 or Radeon HD 4890.

Even better, it gives the GeForce GTX 470 a pretty good run for its money. As for Sapphire's 2GB board, it comes into its own at ultra-high settings and resolution. Wind things up to 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing enabled and the Sapphire board nearly matches the mighty GTX 480. Impressive.

Turn your attention to less demanding titles and it's a similar story. Just Cause 2 is one of our favourite action adventure games of the moment. It's also pretty typical of modern games in terms of the load it places on your graphics card.

The good news is that both 5850s are up to the job of running Just Cause 2 smoothly almost regardless of the resolution and detail setting. That's even more true for the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The 5850 chews it up and spits it out. Even at 2,560 x 1,600 with anti-aliasing, the slower of the two 5850s averages 50 frames per second.

[in attached spreadsheet]


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