Computer Shopper: News: ATI launches world's first DirectX 11 graphics card: the Radeon HD 5870
Tuesday 22nd September 2009
ATI launches world's first DirectX 11 graphics card: the Radeon HD 5870 11:08PM, Tuesday 22nd September 2009
It's been a while since anything truly exciting happened in the world of PC graphics cards, but as Shopper sat in a sweaty London Bridge meeting room for five hours of briefings from AMD, we knew the 5870 was going to change all that.
This beast of a PCI Express card (it's 280mm long) packs an incredible punch, and takes the title of 'world's fastest graphics card' with ease. We tested a final production Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 and in Crysis it returned a stunning 56.4fps at 1,680x1,050 with 4x anti-aliasing and detail levels set to High.
That makes it faster than Nvidia's GTX 295 (44fps) and ATI's own 4870X2 (41fps), both of which have two graphics processors
. The GTX 295 costs roughly £20 more than the 5870, which goes on sale today for around £330 including VAT.
Nvidia's DirectX 11 graphics processor
is currently nowhere to be seen, and the company is likely to be fairly worried at the sheer power that ATI has managed to produce from a single GPU. Even more worrying for Nvidia is that ATI doesn't just have one new GPU but four. The HD 5870 will be joined by the HD 5700-series in October, using a GPU codenamed Juniper, and the fastest card is likely to cost below £170, but still be quicker than Nvidia's cards at the same price. Redwood is an even more cut-down GPU (models are likely to be the HD 5670 and HD 5650) for undemanding gamers, while Cedar is for the cheapest cards; both will surface in early 2010. The fearsome Hemlock is almost certain to be a dual-processor card with a pair of 5870 GPUs, and may even appear before Christmas and cost between £350 and £450.
With Vista came DirectX 10 (DX10), but few gamers were bothered by this as it offered almost no noticeable benefits. It's a different story with DirectX 11 (DX11), though. For a start, it won't be exclusive to Windows 7: Vista users will get it at some point in the near future. This means games developers should sit up and take more notice, and DirectX 11 games - in theory - will appear thick and fast. Currently though, there are only a handful of DX11 titles due out before Christmas, including Colin McRae: Dirt 2, Aliens vs Predator, BattleForge and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat.
DirectX 11 is an evolution of DirectX 10, and while it still lacks some of the features that games developers have been asking Microsoft for since the launch of Vista, it does have some highlights that are sure to bring big improvements to game effects.
One is tessellation. This has been around since 2001, but with the power of new graphics cards like the HD 5870, it can be put to use making objects and scenery in games look more lifelike. It automatically increases the complexity of an object as the player moves closer to it, adding extra triangles only when they're needed. Previously, developers would have to make several different versions of an object, and show the appropriate one depending on its distance to the player. Tessellation, therefore, is just one feature that makes the programmer's life easier, and is why they are more likely to produce games that take advantage of DirectX 11.DirectCompute is also new. It's main purpose isn't for gaming, but to allow the GPU to be used for other functions. GPUs are excellent at executing instructions in parallel, while CPUs excel at executing instructions in a serial fashion. Essentially, it means that applications which can take advantage of parallel processors can run much, much faster. Video transcoding is a good example. Often these days, you'll need to convert a video to a different format, perhaps to watch on a portable media player. This conversion can take a long time using a CPU, but a GPU can complete the job in a fraction of the time.
A third benefit of DirectX 11 is multithreaded rendering. Again, this simply means that the full power of a dual-, triple- or quad-core CPU can be used, avoiding the traditional bottleneck which slowed a fast graphics card down. In theory, it should lead to more frames per second in the latest games.
Not content with merely extra power, ATI has also innovated with features like Eyefinity. This may just be a marketing word for supporting multiple monitors, but it's good to see the HD 5870 supporting three monitors rather than the traditional two. We already covered the details of Eyefinity
two weeks ago, but suffice to say that the HD 5870 is more than powerful enough to drive three 1080p monitors when playing the latest games like Dirt 2.
Even if you're not interested in Eyefinity for gaming, it means you can have three monitors on your desk running at the same or different resolutions, horizontally or vertically and work even more efficiently than before. Soon, ATI says special Eyefinity6 cards will be available with six DisplayPort outputs for running six monitors from a single card.
The Radeon HD 5870 processor has 2.15 billion transistors inside it, compared with 956 million in the HD 4870. This partially explains why it's roughly twice as fast, but the good news is that it doesn't generate twice the heat or use twice the power. This is because ATI has used a smaller manufacturing process which reduces the GPU's size. While the 4870 used a maximum of 160W, the new card uses little more at 188W. Importantly, it uses just 27W when idle, compared to the 4870's 90W.
During our testing, we were impressed with the card's quiet fan, which was never noisy even when running benchmarks. While we haven't had enough time to fully test it's overclocking potential, we're certain that there's plenty of scope to get even better performance from this amazing GPU.
It's really too early to say whether the HD 5870 is the ultimate graphics card - much will depend on whether lots of awe-inspiring DirectX 11 games appear soon. It's fairly certain that the HD 5870 won't be the best-value card in the new 5000 range, but it will still inject life into your existing DirectX 9 and 10 games collection, thank to its astonishing power which should allow you to ramp all the graphical settings to the max, and enjoy your games again - the way the developers intended you to.
If your budget won't quite stretch to £270, fear not. There's a good chance that existing fast cards like the HD 4870 and 4890 will plummet in price, so you might be able to bag a bargain.