It’s not often we write about prices going up.

Last week there was a rumor going around that AMD intended to raise prices on the 5800 series. At the time we wrote this off as yet another highly-speculative rumor based on shaky evidence. Official price hikes are virtually unprecedented, after all.

Then things changed.

We’ve talked previously about TSMC – the foundry both NVIDIA and AMD GPUs are manufactured at – having yield issues with their 40nm process. This first surfaced with the Radeon 4770, which at the time of its introduction was being built while TSMC’s yields were below 40%, and this coupled with its popularity made for a significant shortage around its introduction. TSMC continued to improve their yields, and by the time of the Radeon 5000 series launch, AMD told us that they weren’t concerned with yields. As of this summer, TSMC was reporting yields of 60%.

On Friday the 30th, Digitimes broke the word that TSMC’s yields were back down to 40%. This we believe is due to issues TSMC is having ramping up overall 40nm production, but regardless of the reason it represents a 33% drop in usable chips per 40nm wafer. When you’re AMD and you’re rolling out a top-to-bottom 40nm product line in a 6 month period, this is a problem.


The 5870 and 5850: Out Of Stock Everywhere

When the 5800 series launched, we knew supplies would initially be tight, but we had been expecting them to pick up. With these yield problems, that has not happened. Instead 5800 cards continue to be out of stock near-universally, even with the fact that most OEMs have yet to start using these cards. AMD’s current 5800 supplies are being exhausted just by Dell and self-builders.

Meanwhile NVIDIA started the end-of-life process for the GTX 200 series some time ago, with production of the GT200 GPU ramping down. So NVIDIA doesn’t need to play pricing games with AMD, as they’ve already planned on selling out anyhow.

With low supplies, no (single-GPU) performance competition, and no price competition, you have the perfect storm for a price hike.

All of a sudden that rumor about an AMD price hike became far more realistic. Checking around, virtually none of the 5800 series cards are listed at their MSRP. Although they’ve continued to be in low supply since launch, it’s only recently that there’s been a breakaway from the $379 and $259 MSRP of the 5870 and 5850 respectively.

After our latest round of price checks, we talked with AMD about the situation and asked them if there was any truth to the rumor of an official price hike. The news is not good: 5850 prices are officially going up. AMD is citing supply issues of components (including memory) amidst the heavy demand for the 5850, and ultimately deciding to pass the cost on to the consumer. Meanwhile there is no official price hike for the 5870, although it’s going to be affected by any increased component costs just as much as the 5850.

  ATI Radeon HD 5870 ATI Radeon HD 5850 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285
Original MSRP $379 $259 x x
AMD Estimated MSRP $379 $279 x x
Our Estimated Prices $400 $300 $450 $350

Bear in mind that the 5850 is also a special case. AMD can’t keep the 5870 in stock, never mind the 5850. For every fully-functional Cypress die they get, the only reasonable option is to build a 5870 out of it. The only things that should be going in to the 5850 are dice with a defective functional unit, making them ineligible for use in a 5870. Without an idea of how many harvestable dice TSMC is spitting out, we can’t get any real numbers, but the most reasonable assumption is that most of them are either fully-functional or unsalvageable, so we expect AMD and their vendors to be producing many more 5870s than they will 5850s. In other words, the 5850 shortage is going to be worse than the 5870 shortage.

The result of all of this is, is that regardless of the reason, there’s a price hike across the entire 5800 series – an official hike for the 5850, and an unofficial hike for the 5870. AMD has not established a new MSRP for the 5850, but their best guess is $20; ultimately it’s up to vendors (and retailers) to determine pricing. It’s hard to get an idea of what the price is going to be on a card that’s always out of stock, but an MSRP of $279 is probably too low. $300 (or more) is a more realistic target for the 5850. As for the 5870, it seems to be settling around $400.

Our best guess is that these new prices will continue through the rest of the year, even if supplies pick up as TSMC gets their yields back in order. Without any serious competition from NVIDIA, these cards can be priced anywhere between $300 and $500 based on performance alone, and no one has any incentive to keep prices down so long as 5800 series cards keep flying off of the shelves. It’s Economics 101 in action.

We can’t say we’re happy with any of this, but we can’t accuse AMD and their vendors of acting irrationally here. It’s a lousy situation for consumers, but that’s a shortage for you. When has there ever been a good shortage?

Finally, with these price hikes, our product recommendations are changing some. The 5870 is still the card to get if money is no object, but the 5850 is far more situational since it’s no longer the great bargain it once was. We can get 1GB 4890s for $170 right now, which have become downright cheap compared to our projected $300 for a 5850. Certainly the 5850 whips the 4890 by upwards of 40%, not to mention DX11 and Eyefinity, but at that level it’s commanding a 75% price premium. It’s a $300 card and performs accordingly, but don’t break the bank in order to get a 5850 at these prices.

If you want a cheap 5800 series card, then it looks like you’re out of luck until 2010.


The Biggest 5850/4890 Performance Gap

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  • MonicaS - Thursday, November 12, 2009 - link

    Ok, sorry to ask a probably intelligent question, but arent these cards all but obsolete? I mean, I've had a PS3 now for as long as its been out and all the time have loved the graphics. I never felt like I needed any sort of upgrade, not that its possible with a console. I mean more rhetorically. As for PC, I have an old 8800 Gtx and that's more then enough for what I need. I actually have a friend that bought a nVidia 260 for Wow! Seriously!

    Are these cards even needed anymore? It seems like what was out a year ago is far more then enough.

    Monica S
    Los Angeles Computer Repair
    http://www.sebecomputercare.com/?p=1178">http://www.sebecomputercare.com/?p=1178
    Reply
  • arnavvdesai - Friday, November 13, 2009 - link

    No these cards are far from obsolete. Far from it, a really holy grail would be 60fps/ 4xAA 16xAF everything set to V.High @ 1080p. Most games which look good on consoles are really playing @ 30fps & that is one of the sacrifices game developers have to make to achieve good looking games @ 1080p. Also most if not all games are actually done @ 720p & converted to 1080p using the upconverter. This leads to some loss in fidelity.
    Also physics processing is being pushed more & more onto the graphics chipset. So while you think that it's 'good' enough I beg to differ & would argue that the 'HD' console generation has not yet been reached. While, we know for sure that the current console generation is not going to be replaced for another 3 years minimum, it does not mean we have reached gaming nirvana.
    Reply
  • Grandpa - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    I just got my order into NewEgg today. I put myself on their "Auto notify" list. The last time I got an e-mail notifying me it was available, when I went to apply for it, it was too late. This time, with an advertised expecxted date of 11-16 I didn't wait. I went to the card's page and visually looked to see if it was available every chance I got. Today it paid off. The order is in. 30 minutes after I put my order in I got a "Auto notify" for it. So I went to the order page and sure enough IT WAS OUT OF STOCK! The lucky time for me was 3:45 pm mtn time. Good luck. Don't give up. Reply
  • at80eighty - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    grabbed one off Amazon (I'm guessing via Tigerdirect) - in the 2 days that I was deciding to purchase, the price went from 129.99 to 135.99. Oh well

    Was looking forward to the 5970 in another 7-8 months, but looks like im going to have to wait much longer till the price is even remotely considerable
    Reply
  • marc1000 - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    at80, wich GPU did you have before the 5750??? I am planning to buy the 5750 too, but I'm not so sure if it will be a upgrade good enough over a 3870 (i have a 3850 at 3870 speeds). Reply
  • at80eighty - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    I have an XFX 7300 GS (stop laughing at me!) . so yeah to me this will be a HUGE upgrade. It's worth it alone since im running Win7 & the DX 11 compatibility is handy

    IMO you'll be happy enough with the 5750 difference over your 3870 too, as it's OC'able too
    Reply
  • austonia - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    the 5850 was a bargain at $260 so i don't blame them for raising the price in consideration of the demand. i got one a month after they came out by signing up for a newegg product alert. 2 days later i had an order. this thing clocks up to 900 core/1300 memory at stock voltage or 1000/1300 with slight bump to 1.2 volts. at top speed it's a couple of fps faster than a 5870 (stock) in Crysis at 1080p/DX10/very high options. here's a good review of 5850 OC performance:

    http://xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/radeon-...">http://xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/radeon-...
    Reply
  • Grandpa - Saturday, November 07, 2009 - link

    With millions of dollars at stake they come out with a new chip and they set a price without knowing the yields! So Anand and all the others write raving reviews and push the card based on price, THEN they raise the price! WoW, where have we seen this technique before?

    I was going to buy one of these too. I think I'll let the recession take it's due course and wait for things to calm down a little before I make any hasty decisions.
    Reply
  • tomcon - Friday, November 06, 2009 - link

    I'm glad to see that AMD's cards are being sold like hotcakes. Dont see why others who have commented seem to blame AMD for TSMC's problems..I dont know how the whole system works but I'm guessing they had a good system down but then this comes up. The whole shortage seems too convenient for other companies at the release of a great card. But then thats probably my bad speculation. GF is probably wishing they were making some of the new cards. Reply
  • CptTripps - Friday, November 06, 2009 - link

    I ordered one and was told a week later (after several phonecalls) it was out of stock, unhappy birthday to me eh. If I have to wait until 2010 I might as well see what Nvidia has up their sleeve. Sorry ATI but blaming someone else is not going to cut it, you wanted to beat Nvidia out the gate and it will probably bite you in the ass.

    Don't get me started on the price hike...
    Reply

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