Summary: With prices ranging from $109-$159, ATI's Radeon 5700 series of cards bring DX11 gaming to mainstream price points and usher in new levels of energy efficiency. But are they powerful enough to dethrone ATI's Radeon 4800 series cards? Yes and no. Read today's article for more info!
DirectX 11: Sooner than you think
We’re borrowing the phrase above from ATI, as it’s fittingly accurate at describing the shift from DirectX 10 to DirectX 11. Unlike previous DirectX introductions where the API itself and supporting hardware preceded the games themselves by months, if not years, the DirectX 11 switch is moving at lightspeed. In fact, while you may not know it, the transition to DirectX 11 is already well underway.
By now you all know that a month after DirectX 11 was released, ATI introduced the world’s first DirectX 11 graphics card, the Radeon HD 5870. Boasting 1600 shaders and over 2 billion transistors, the Radeon 5870 is the fastest GPU you can buy today.
The very next day we saw the arrival of the world’s first DirectX 11 game, EA’s free to play RTS, BattleForge. BattleForge has actually been on the market since March of this year, in fact it was one of ATI’s launch titles for DirectX 10.1. The game was just patched to support DirectX 11, with BattleForge using the DX11 API to accelerate a form of screen space ambient occlusion (SSAO) known as high definition ambient occlusion. The texturing demands of enabling HDAO are pretty high, as you can imagine this can have a detrimental effect on your frame rate, even with the latest DX10 cards. To reduce the texture sampling burden, BattleForge uses DX11’s compute shader to store the depth and normal buffers on the chip’s local data store. With this tweak enabled, performance is improved nicely over DX10-based SSAO, and even delivers good improvements over ATI’s previous DX10.1 implementation. We’ve got benchmarks you’ll want to check out a little later in this article.
Besides BattleForge, in December we should see the arrival of the second DirectX 11 game, DiRT 2. Codemasters says DiRT 2 will leverage the tessellation unit to bring us dynamic water surfaces and cloth (basically flags that flap a little more in the wind, more water ripples, etc), as well as more animated crowds sitting in the stands near the race tracks. The developers are also using shader model 5.0 to enhance the game’s depth of field and shadow filtering, while the compute shader is used to optimize post-processing effects.
Moving into 2010, a trio of titles is tentatively scheduled for release in Q1 of 2010. GSC is working hard to bring STALKER: Call of Pripyat to market. We posted a few DX10.1 vs DX11 screenshots a few weeks ago. In the shots you can see Pripyat’s DX11 contact-hardened shadows, where shadow edges are sharp where they contact the object that's casting the shadow, and get blurrier further away from the object, while tessellation is used to add more detail to the character’s gas mask. These are subtle, but nice effects that mimic what you see in real life.
Also coming in Q1’2010 is Rebellion’s Aliens vs Predator. The DX11 version of the game will use the tessellation unit to provide more detailed characters and game environments, while the compute shader will also be used for HDAO. Also coming in Q1 is Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online.
Overall ATI says 20 DirectX 11 titles are currently in development, with more on the way. For instance, DICE showed off an experimental version of their Frostbite 2 game engine that used the compute shader to speed up deferred shading, but we don’t know if it will ultimately be used or not in the PC port of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 when it ships next year.
Basically though, developers definitely seem to be jumping onboard with DX11 faster than previous DirectX introductions, and like DX10, DX11 will be used to enhance image quality (with DX11 features like tessellation), improve performance, or both.
ATI’s Radeon 5700 series: DirectX 11 for the masses
With next generation content right around the corner, gamers hoping to play these games in their full glory are going to need a DX11 graphics card. ATI’s Radeon 5870 will obviously give you the best experience, but not everyone can afford to shell out nearly $400 for a new graphics card.
While rumors suggested that the Radeon 5700’s “Juniper” graphics core could support as many as 1120 stream processors and a 192-bit memory interface, unfortunately those rumors were untrue. Instead what ATI has essentially done is much simpler than that: take a Radeon 5870, slice it in half, and you’ve got a Radeon 5770. Take a 5850, slice it in half, and you’ve got a Radeon 5750.
As a result, the 5770 is equipped with 800 stream processors and 128-bit GDDR5 memory interface, while the 5750 gets by with 720 stream processors and also utilizes a 128-bit GDDR5 memory interface:
Those of you who were hoping for more shaders and a wider memory interface are likely going to be pretty disappointed by this at first, but thanks to high clock speeds, the 5700 series cards are still able to deliver more shading and texturing horsepower than ATI’s primary performance GPUs from last year, the Radeon 4850 and 4870:
As you can see in the chart above, ATI uses the same basic structure as RV770, with 10 SIMD cores for the 5770 and one texture unit per SIMD core. ATI disables one SIMD core for the Radeon 5750, leaving 720 active stream processors and 36 texture units.
Thanks to their high clock speeds, Radeon 5750 and 5770 compare well against the 4850 and 4870 in many aspects; the Radeon 5750 clearly outclasses the Radeon 4850 while also needing less power. The Radeon 5770 only falls short to the 4870 in memory bandwidth, where it’s limited to 76.8GB/sec of peak bandwidth versus the 4870’s 115.2GB/sec. That’s a difference of exactly 1.5X more bandwidth in favor of the Radeon 4870.
As such, the Radeon 5770 isn’t going to be able to keep up with the Radeon 4870 under any moderate or high resolutions, especially if you crank up the AA, but ATI’s banking on the 5770’s DX11 feature set to make up the difference.
As we’ve stated previously, besides potentially delivering improved image quality, game developers can leverage DX11 to also improve performance, this could potentially be used to close part of the gap separating the 5770 from the 4870. Now obviously this won’t help the 5770 perform any better than the 4870 with today’s DX9 and DX10 games, but it could play dividends down the road as more DX11 apps appear.
The Radeon 5700 cards completely outclass ATI’s previous mainstream GPU, the Radeon 4770.
ATI’s Radeon 5700 “Juniper” boards are the shortest DX11 cards ATI’s produced yet. The Radeon 5770 measures just a hair shy of 8.5” long, while the 5750 is approximately 7.25” long. Both cards require one PCI Express power connector, as the PCIe x16 interface can natively deliver up to 75W of juice to the graphics card.
As you can see in the photos, both cards are also dual-slot. Don’t worry too much about this though, as we were told by ATI this decision was made on the reference board design in order to ensure that their board partners would support the full array of display connections at launch: two dual-link DVIs, one DisplayPort, and one HDMI connector. All of the boards on the market today will be based on the reference design, but ATI will be allowing their board partners to go single-slot with their second-generation Radeon 5700 cards: presumably you’ll see some manufacturers drop one of the dual-link DVI connections in order to deliver a single-slot card with one DVI, one DisplayPort, and one HDMI on the back plate. These cards will be marketed towards the HTPC crowd, where the 5700’s support for HDMI 1.3a (DTS-Master Audio, Dolby True-HD) should make it popular among videophiles.
All of the 5700 boards shipping today will also rely on the reference clock speeds: no factory OC’ed boards today.
We’re huge fans of the new ducted cooling design ATI has employed on the Radeon 5870 and 5850, so we’re glad to see it’s also being implemented on the 5770. Dubbed “Phoenix” internally by ATI engineers, these ducted coolers do an excellent job of pulling heat off the GPU while thanks to a new fan, they also generate very little noise during use -- even when the board is OC’ed or multiple cards are paired together for CrossFire.
To reduce costs even further, the Radeon 5750 employs an even simpler cooler. A one-piece aluminum heatsink/fan unit is used, with no ducted enclosure. It’s a pretty plain cooler, but it gets the job done quite well thanks to the 5750’s reduced clock speeds. Here we observed an idle temp of just 41 degrees Celsius, while load temp was 65.
Both coolers run whisper quiet at idle, with the clock speeds reduced to 157MHz core/300MHz memory to conserve power and heat. Even under load though these boards run incredibly quiet.
ATI’s multi-display Eyefinity technology is fully supported by both Radeon 5700 GPUs. Both cards can drive up to three displays.
Retail boards, price and availability
Officially two Radeon 5750 SKUs will be offered on launch day: a 512MB board which will sell for $109, and a 1GB board which will be priced at an MSRP of $129. Both cards will ship at the same clock speeds, with the only difference being the frame buffer size. Obviously gamers stuck with 1600x1200 or lower displays will want to opt for the 512MB board, while gamers who would like to run resolutions of 1080p with AA will want to pick up the 1GB card.
3D Performance Testbed
Intel Core i7-920 OC’ed to 3.33GHz
Power Consumption Testbed
Intel Core i5-750
BattleForge DirectX 11
Crysis – DirectX 10
Crysis – DirectX 10
Far Cry 2 – DirectX 10
STALKER Clear Sky – DirectX 10
Left 4 Dead – DirectX9
Resident Evil – DirectX 10
Batman:AA – DirectX 9
Batman:AA – DirectX 9
HAWX – DirectX 10
Wolfenstein – OpenGL
While Overdrive officially tops out at speeds of 960MHz core/1455MHz memory for the Radeon 5770, we used AMD’s GPU Clock Tool to crank the speeds up even further on one of our reference boards. We managed to hit speeds of 982MHz core/1407MHz memory with card #1, while reference card #2 maxed out at 960MHz core/1365MHz memory.
Before we can judge the merits of today’s Radeon 5770 and 5750 cards, we first have to take a look at ATI’s holiday lineup for the end of this year. This is the latest info we just obtained hot off the presses from ATI’s sales team:
Radeon 4770: ~$109 (EOL)
Radeon 5750 512: $109
Radeon 4870 512MB: ~$125 (EOL)
Radeon 5750 1GB: $129
Radeon 4870 1GB: ~$149 (EOL)
Radeon 5770 1GB: $159
Radeon 4890 1GB: ~$189 – will phase out in Q4/Q1
Radeon 5850 1GB: $259
Radeon 5870 1GB: $379
Hemlock (5870 X2/5850 X2): $TBD
As you can see, a number of existing ATI Radeon products have now reached end of life (EOL) status. That means ATI’s no longer producing them, so once existing inventory is sold out, they’re gone for good. The Radeon 4850, which isn’t depicted here, sells for about $90 and up and is no longer in production. The same applies for the Radeon 4770 and 4870.
In the case of the Radeon 4850 and 4770, ATI’s 5750 512MB has been designated to replace them, while the 4870 SKUs are being phased out in favor of the 5750 1GB and 5770.
Clearly based on the benchmark results we presented today, the Radeon 5750 has no problems displacing both the 4850 and 4770, and to a lesser extent, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTS 250. Thanks to its 720-shader architecture, high clock speeds, and GDDR5 memory, the Radeon 5750 outruns the ATI cards in most situations, and while the GeForce GTS 250 generally outruns the 5750, when you also factor the 5750’s lower power consumption and feature set (DirectX 11, Eyefinity, HDMI 1.3 etc), it becomes more of a no-brainer: if you’ve got about $110 in your pocket and you’re looking for the best card money can buy, look no further than ATI’s Radeon 5750 512MB.
The 1GB Radeon 5750 board is nice as well, but it won’t offer you any performance improvements with today’s games at 1280x1024 or 1600x1200, which are still common gaming resolutions among users in this price bracket. As a result, its price/performance ratio isn’t as high as the 512MB board for most gamers.
Due to its higher pricing, the Radeon 5770 is in a tougher situation. It isn’t the no-brainer upgrade that the 5750 512MB is. This is because it’s priced to compete with the Radeon 4870 1GB – which is actually a little cheaper – yet it performs slower overall. Ditto for its other competitor, the GeForce GTX 260.
Depending on how often you upgrade your graphics card, the 5770 is either a good buy, or a pass in favor of the GeForce GTX 260 or Radeon 4870.
If you plan to upgrade again in 6-12 months, you’ll probably want to go with a Radeon 4870 1GB or GeForce GTX 260. Thanks to their superior memory bandwidth, these cards perform better than the 5770 in today’s games, which are largely based on DX9 or DX10.
As you saw in our BattleForge benchmarks though, the tables turn in DX11 apps. Here the 5770 is able to leverage DirectX 11 to gain a performance edge over the Radeon 4870, even though the 5770 is giving up significant amount of memory bandwidth to the 4870. Future DX11 titles like Aliens vs Predator and DiRT 2 will be using DX11 even more extensively than BattleForge, so it may be able to pull away even further from the 4870. Therefore if you plan to hold on to your card a little longer, say 2 or 3 years, you’ll definitely be better off in the long run going with Radeon 5770.
When the Juniper GPU was being developed, we doubt ATI’s engineers on the project foresaw that they’d be going up against the 4870 on launch day: ATI’s price cuts over the last 9 months have been unprecedented. Fortunately by arming the card with such high clock speeds, they’ve made it an interesting race with high-end cards from yesteryear like the GTX 260 and 4870. Once DX11 is more prevalent, the 5770 will pull even further away.
Basically the 5770 is a solid card and we think ATI’s done a good job with it given the circumstances. Sure, we’d like to see it at an even $150, but once board partners get rolling with their second generation cards we’re sure it will hit that price point pretty quickly, with factory OC’ed boards pushing it even closer to the 4870.
ATI’s pulled off a pretty impressive feat so far. In less than 30 days, we’ve got DX11 cards spanning price points from $109 to nearly $400. It took months for them to accomplish this last generation. Obviously they’ve left themselves room for a ~$200 Radeon 5830, but we don’t expect that card to appear before the 4890 hits EOL status, which should occur later this quarter or in Q1 of next year. And we’ll see Hemlock hopefully next month establish new levels of performance for the hardcore gaming crowd.
A lot of gamers shopping for a new card for Modern Warfare 2 this Christmas will likely be flocking to ATI’s latest DX11 cards, just as the 8800 GT was the must have upgrade for a lot of gamers for Crysis a few years back. NVIDIA needs to hurry up and offer something, anything, to counter this. Otherwise we anticipate ATI will gain a lot of share in the discrete graphics segment this quarter.
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