ATI Radeon HD 5870 Performance Preview
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
These quotes, lifted from The Art of War -- ancient Chinese text written by Chinese general Sun Tzu thousands of years ago yet still required reading for military theorists and some business schools -- aptly describe ATI’s cunning gambit with Radeon HD 4000 series just over a year ago. Just when everyone was counting ATI out of the high-end graphics space, NVIDIA included, they delivered a homerun product with the Radeon 4850 and Radeon 4870 that stunned the world. You could make an argument that the ramifications were perhaps as significant as ATI’s first DirectX 9 product, R300 (Radeon 9700) was over seven years ago.
Think about it. As any hardware enthusiast who’s followed the industry can tell you, before the Radeon 4800 series cards arrived on the scene, graphics card prices were going nowhere but up. While it may seem hard to believe now, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 280 launched just two weeks before the Radeon 4870 at a staggering price tag of $649 MSRP. Its less powerful sibling, the GeForce GTX 260 carried an MSRP of $399.
That’s a steep climb up from the days when 3dfx’s original Voodoo Graphics card sold for $300. NVIDIA’s prior products, the GeForce 8800 Ultra and GeForce 8800 GTX sold for $829 and $599 respectively on their launch day.
Now before you think we’re out to get NVIDIA, they did give the mainstream segment one gem of a product in the form of the GeForce 8800 GT, and we said so
when it debuted in back in October of 2007: just in time for Crysis. What ATI pulled off with the Radeon 4800 series though was even more significant than the debut of the 8800 GT.
If you rewind back to the days in early 2008 ahead of the Radeon 4800 and GeForce GTX 200’s debut, you’ll remember that all the early rumors indicated that the Radeon 4850 would fall somewhere between the 8800 GT and 9800 GTX in performance, with pricing similar to the 8800 GT, while the Radeon 4870 would outperform 9800 GTX. If you’re NVIDIA and you know you’ve got a performance behemoth like GT200 right around the corner, you’d be feeling pretty good about yourself and how your upcoming product will fare against your competitors. Some ATI fanboys were already blaming AMD for the supposed “death” of ATI’s high-end graphics and were ready to queue up Taps.
Ultimately what ATI ended up delivering with the Radeon 4850 and 4870 was completely different in a good way. Priced at $200 (the same price NVIDIA’s 8800 GT sold for at the time), the Radeon 4850 delivered performance that was greater than the 9800 GTX, forcing NVIDIA to concoct the 9800 GTX+ as a counter to the 4850. Meanwhile, the Radeon 4870 had its sights set on the GTX 260, yet it was priced $100 less. NVIDIA was forced to counter this GPU with GTX 260 price cuts and rebate checks for early adopters who picked up GTX 260 and 280 cards ahead of the arrival of the new Radeons.
To this day the 216-shader GeForce GTX 260 and Radeon 4870 1GB are still cutthroat competitors.
ATI’s “sweet spot” strategy of delivering smaller, more cost effective gaming GPUs for the performance segment and then scaling that tech up and down for the high-end and value markets was a real game changer for the industry, and their execution on this strategy was executed as if it was masterminded by Sun Tzu himself.
Enough about the past though. Now its time for the dawn of a new era of DirectX 11 gaming. Given the success of their Radeon 4800 series, ATI wouldn’t have the benefit of surprise this time around. Instead they’re essentially using lessons learned with GDDR5 memory, the development of DirectX 10.1 hardware, and TSMC’s 40-nm manufacturing process to give them a time to market advantage over the competition,
Being first to market didn’t help Sega’s Dreamcast, but it’s worked wonders for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 (I know, it’s a terrible analogy that oversimplifies things, but it’s the first gaming-related comparison I could come up with). Which scenario will ATI’s next-generation Radeon 5870 ultimately end up? We can’t answer that question today, but we can tell you how it looks and performs with today’s games…not to mention its breakthroughs in noise and power consumption…and don’t forget the OC’ing. Read on for the full details!