Being the king of the hill is such a fleeting thing most of the time. The battle to get there is often arduous, and the taste of victory is sweet, but it is usually short-lived, succumbing to the one behind you in their quest to reach the top. The Sapphire Radeon HD 5970 OC is a high-performance graphics card with overclocked speeds.
The one sitting atop the mountain these days is ATI, and with their DX11-capable 5800 series graphics cards, they’ve blown everything else off the peak and into the wasteland below. We’ve seen a few of these cards up close and have come away extremely impressed. But today’s examination is a bit different, with a rare treat: two 5870 GPUs packed onto one board, producing essentially top Crossfire performance on a single card.
In an evolution of its predecessor, the 4870 X2, today we look at the Sapphire Radeon HD 5970 OC. Yes, it has a new naming scheme. And yes, it is an overclocked version. For those who cannot satisfy their hunger for performance, this Sapphire card features software to let you tweak the voltages to push your overclock to the limit; no volt modding is required, and no voided warranty.
The Sapphire Radeon HD 5970 OC is an absolute behemoth, from its gaming horsepower to its size, weight, cooling technology, and price tag. It is big, it is brash, and it is entirely unapologetic.
Radeon 5800 Architecture
When AMD made the move from titanic clashes with Nvidia for framerate supremacy and instead towards better value for consumers’ money, it was a bold but ultimately smart move. It turns out that the market does not support the foolish pursuit of minimal gains for high costs, ones that users will not support from their hard-earned cash. AMD conceded the uber framerates at the top end, instead focusing on top performance for lower prices, and it paid off handsomely with their 4800 series cards at the time.
Continuing that trend, AMD has released its 5800 series cards on 40nm processing, bringing evolutionary development and progress to the masses. But what is most interesting, however, is that AMD has achieved the rare trifecta: top performance, the latest technological features, and value for the price.
In terms of technological advancements, the 5000 series cards bring DirectX 11 support to the table, along with a substantial increase in raw horsepower across the board. This is, in part, accomplished by GDDR5 memory continued from the previous generation, as well as shaders now coupled in pairs of shader compartments, so to speak, with 800 shaders each (1600 resulting).
However, since we have two chips on one board by means of a Gen2 PLX bridge, we end up with 3200 Stream Processors delivering almost 5 TFLOPs of computing power. The diagram below illustrates (admittedly difficult to see the detail) the RV870 Cypress chip essentially doubling the power of the previous RV770 generation chip,
As you can see from the spec chart below, the 5970 has an astounding 4.3 billion transistors on two small dies, each covering an area of only 334mm², larger than the previous generation but nowhere near the mammoth proportions of Nvidia chips. Lower power consumption and lower heat output are the results, two very important criteria, other than framerates when deciding what card to purchase for your system.
The Sapphire Radeon 5970 OC operates at a core of 735 MHz and memory of 1010 MHz (down from the 850/1200 of the 5870), delivering some astounding memory bandwidth. The 5970 OC is now considered to be the “flagship” high-end DX11 card by AMD, with the 5870, 5850, 5770, and 5750 each sitting respectively lower on the performance totem pole, with each of these cards are single-GPU products.
The 5970 OC’s closest competitor in Nvidia’s arsenal is the GTX 295, also a dual-GPU card, though it is not a next-gen DX11 card, nor a 40nm chip either. Nvidia’s Fermi cards aren’t expected for some time yet, with no official launch schedule yet confirmed, leaving AMD uncontested as the performance leader for the foreseeable future.
Our test system is designed to approximate what a serious gamer might use (or similar level). We use a quad-core CPU to take advantage of any games that may benefit from the additional cores. However, we’ve overclocked our quad to 3.8GHz which is fast enough not to become a bottleneck at “normal” gaming resolutions.
Our testing suite runs the gamut of synthetics and gaming engines that will help provide a more complete picture of a graphics card’s capabilities. The testing included the following software.
Gaming tests were run at 1280×1024 and 1680×1050. We normally also run all tests at 1920×1200 resolution but we ran into driver and BIOS flashing problems which prevented us from conducting tests at that resolution. When these issues are sorted out, we’ll look to update the results.
Faced with missing the launch and waiting for additional results, or publishing the information we have on time, we decided to hit the launch date and go with our best effort. Our apologies, we’re as disappointed as you.
ARMA 2 is a tactical shooter / military simulation developed by Bohemia Interactive Studio and uses the third-generation Real Virtuality game engine. It supports both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 graphics cards, featuring realistic day-night cycles, changing weather, fog, and visibility, and a view distance of up to 10 kilometers.
It is extremely taxing on graphics cards and can cripple even the most hardcore systems at higher resolutions when all the visual effects are enabled. In order to avoid a slideshow, we’ll only include test results for 1280 resolution.
In ARMA 2, we see that the 5970 OC struggles to keep playable framerates up at only 1280 resolution, as this game is an absolute card-killer like no other. In fact, all cards get thumped by ARMA 2, so no real disappointment here, although we were dismayed by the lack of performance improvements over the single GPU 5870.
We did also try 2 x 5870s in Crossfire to see if there was an issue with the single-board design here on the 5970 but wound up with nearly identical results to what is shown above. It would seem that ARMA 2 is no friend of Crossfire, either dual cards or dual GPU on a single card.
Call of Duty: World at War
Call of Duty: World at War is the “successor” to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and takes you back to World War II through the Pacific and Russian campaigns. Based on the CoD4 proprietary engine, the game is shader-intensive and features beautiful DX9 graphics, striking lighting and contrasts, dynamic shadows, and fast-paced action.
In this game, antialiasing is set to 4x, anisotropic filtering to 16x, and all lighting and texture settings are set to the highest level possible. Here we run a custom time demo recorded in a packed Deathmatch server and record the results.
This is a game that appears to favor Nvidia cards, though the Sapphire 5970 OC has more than enough grunt to eclipse the GTX 295 and produce excellent framerates
Temperature & Noise
To test temperatures, it is a simple matter of firing up FurMark and letting it run for a while until the temperatures level out. FurMark pushes GPU thermal loads extremely high and can be considered a worst-case scenario.
As far as temperatures go, the Sapphire 5970 OC packs some monster horsepower, and with the dual chips, even though they are only 40nm chips, we’re not expecting massive temperature drops. We left the fan on Auto for the testing. We had hoped to run it full blast to see what would happen but due to driver issues, we could not manually adjust the fan speed.
Posting an idle temperature of 53°C is very good, and while 88°C load isn’t anything to brag about, we must remember it is a result of Auto settings on the card-killing FurMark. Further, although the cooler cannot measure up to the impressive solution on the Sapphire 5870 Vapor-X card, we aren’t disappointed because the reference 5870 cooler runs at 87°C at load, so the vapor chamber technology here on the 5970 is keeping a dual-GPU card within only 1 degree Celcius of the single-GPU sibling. That is impressive.
As far as noise levels go, the 5970 OC is very quiet when running at the Auto fan setting and isn’t being taxed very hard. When you’re gaming the fan ramps up, it is audible but not offensive by any means and will be fine inside a case. Perhaps more surprising was even at 2000 RPM the fan pitch and noise levels weren’t nearly as bad as previous ATI cooling fans which tend to sound like hair dryers. Even with the monster horsepower packed into the 5970, the temperatures and noise levels are kept very reasonable.
Quite simply, the Sapphire HD 5970 OC is the fastest graphics card on the planet, offering shock-inducing performance that cannot be touched by any single or dual-GPU card out there. And with the ability to tweak the voltages to overclock this card even further, we’re left both shaking our heads in disbelief and grinning from ear to ear.
Though we were unable to test the overclocking capabilities, we don’t expect to see massive overclocks, but it is nice to know that voltage tweaks are availabel for diehard enthusiasts. This becomes particularly critical if you put the 5970 on liquid nitrogen and shoot for world records; you need those adjustments that this Sapphire card offers.
The Sapphire Radeon 5970 OC is an excellent graphics card, posting the best GPU results we’ve ever seen. While few people will have the deep pockets to afford this card, those that do are probably diehard enthusiasts; if you’re someone who craves top performance and doesn’t mind putting up with some hassle along the way, then the Sapphire HD 5970 OC is for you.