Conclusion

There are two things that become very clear when looking at our data for the 5970

  1. It’s hands down the fastest single card on the market
  2. It’s so fast that it’s wasted on a single monitor

AMD made a good choice in enabling Crossfire Eyefinity for the 5970, as they have made a card so fast that it basically shoots past everything on the market that isn’t Crysis. All of our action games that aren’t CPU limited do better than 100fps at 2560x1600, and RTSs are doing just under 60fps. The 5970 is without a doubt Overkill (with a capital O) on a single monitor. This will likely change for future games (i.e. STALKER), but on today’s games it’s more power than is necessary to drive even the largest single monitor. The 5970 still offers a good performance boost over the 5870 even with a single monitor, but with the 5870’s outstanding performance, it’s not $200 better.

So that leaves us with Eyefinity. So long as GPUs are outpacing games, AMD needs something to burn up extra performance to give faster cards a purpose, and that’s Eyefinity. Eyefinity is a strain - even 3 smaller monitors can result in more pixels being pushed than a single 2560. Having Crossfire Eyefinity support gives an AMD card the breathing room it needs to offer Eyefinity at playable framerates across a wider spectrum of monitors and games. Given the price of 3 20”+ monitors is going to approach if not exceed the $600 price of the card, the 5970 is the perfect match for Eyefinity gaming at this time.

When AMD originally told us about this card, I was surprised to see that they slapped only a $600 price tag on it. As the fastest of the fast cards, AMD can basically charge up to 2x the price of a 5870 for it, and they didn’t. After seeing the performance data, I understand why. In our benchmarks the 5970 is practically tied with the 5850CF, and a pair of such cards would sell for $600 at this time. I still expect that we’re going to see a performance gap emerge between the cards (particularly if the 5970 is held back by drivers) but right now the $600 price tag is appropriate.

What this does call into question though is what’s better to have: a pair of 5800 series cards, or a 5970. If we assume that the 5970 is equal to a 5850CF in performance and in price, then the differences come down to 3 matters: Heat/noise, power, and Crossfire Eyefinity. The 5970 enjoys lower power usage and it doesn’t need a power supply with 4 PCIe plugs, but the cost is that by compacting this into one card it’s hotter and louder than a 5850CF (which really, is true for all dual-GPU cards). The biggest advantage to the 5970 right now is that it’s the only card to support Crossfire Eyefinity, which means it’s the only card to even consider if you are going to use Eyefinity right now. Ultimately if you can run 2 cards and only will be driving a single monitor, go with the 5850CF, otherwise go with the 5970. And if it’s 2010 and you’re reading this article, check and see if AMD has enabled Crossfire Eyefinity for the 5850CF.

Next, we’re left with the prospects of overclocking the 5970. Only one of our two cards even runs at 5870 speeds (850MHz/1200MHz), and while we're willing to entertain the idea that our 1 cranky card is a fluke, we can't ignore the fact that none of our cards can run a real application at 5870 speeds without throttling. Ultimately our experience with the working card has called into question whether the VRMs on the card are up to the task. Since this is a protection mechanism there’s no risk of damage, but it also means that the card is underperforming. Overclock your 5970 to 5870 speeds if you can bear the extra power/heat/noise, but don’t expect 5870CF results.

Last, that leaves us with the 5870CF, and the 5970CF. Thanks to VRM throttling, there’s still a place in this world for the 5870CF. For a 2-GPU setup, it’s still the best way to go, but keep in mind it comes at a $200 premium and lacks Crossfire Eyefinity support. Meanwhile with the 5970CF, while we didn’t get a chance to test it today, we can safely say that it’s entirely unnecessary for a single-monitor setup. There’s a market out there for $1200 in video cards, but you had better be running 3 30” monitors in Eyefinity mode to make use of it.

Power, Temperature, & Noise
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  • Lennie - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    If so, then one could suspect it's the same issue with games due to VRMs of this particular card getting heated up and throttling the card. Perhaps not enough contact between VRM and HSF or a complete lack of TIM on VRM by accident. I would have reseated the HSF if I owned that card. Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    I suspect it is VRM/heat related. The 'biggest' slaves Volterra currently supply are rated at 45 amps each afaik. Assuming ATI used the 45 amp slaves (which they must have), you've got around 135 amps on tap. Do the math for OCP or any related throttling effects kicking in. Essentially, 1.10VGPU puts you at 150w per GPU before things either shut down or need to be throttled (depends on how it's implemented as it nears peak). Any which way you look at it, ATI have used a high end VRM solution, but 4 slaves per GPU would have given a bit more leeway on some cards. I wonder what the variance is in terms of leakage from card to card as well. Seeing as there's not much current overhead in the VRM (or at least there does not appear to be), a small change in leakage would be enough to stop some cards from doing too much in terms of overclocking on the stock cooler.

    later
    Raja
    Reply
  • Silverforce11 - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    It could be your PSU, some "single rail" PSU arent in fact using a single rail but several rails with a max limit on AMPs. Its deceptive.

    Guru3D uses 1200W PSU and manages 900 core, which is typically what a 5870 OC to on air. Essentially the chips are higher quality cypress, maybe you should retry it again with a different PSU then conclusions can be drawn.
    Reply
  • Bolas - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Yep, there is certainly a market for 5970CF. Can't wait! Reply
  • tajmahal - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Big deal, another paper launch where only a tiny handful of people will be able to get one. Reply
  • LedHed - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 - link

    My question is why do the OC the 5970 but not the 295...

    We all know the 295 is memory bottlenecked at resolutions at/over 2560x1600

    But considering the GTX 295 is down below $450 and no one can find these cards in stock with a god awful price of $600 ($100 more than 295 at launch).
    Reply
  • mschira - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    newegg list 5 different models, they come and go quite fast.
    I managed to get one of them in my shopping card.
    All it would need now is pay. (which I don't want to...).
    So yea they are not exactly easy to get, but far from impossible.
    So not a paper launch.
    Be real, it's day two after the launch, and you CAN get them. That's not bad at all.
    M.
    Reply
  • MrPickins - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    At the moment, Newegg shows two different 5970's in stock. A HIS and a Powercolor. Reply
  • tajmahal - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Listed, but not available. I guess newegg sold both of the ones they had available, and the 5850 and 5870 ?......... not available either. Reply
  • Silverforce11 - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Plenty of 5870s around at retails and etailers, what do you mean by "another paper launch"?
    Reply

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