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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  • palladium - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Since AMD is binning their chips to get the 5970 within spec, I suppose it wouldn't make sense to make a 5950 SKU since a 5850 is simply a re-harvested 5870 (which failed the initial binning process), and 2x5850 would be out of the ATX spec anyway.

    Anyway, a great card for those who can afford it, and have the proper case and PSU to handle it.
    Reply
  • Paladin1211 - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    With 512 SP, 6.67% more than a GTX 295, I dont see Fermi has any chance of beating the 5970. nVidia will need a dual Fermi to dethrone the 5970, and thats not happening until Q3 or Q4 2010.

    nVidia has targeted a wrong, niche market rather than gamers. Sooner or later monitors without bezel will come out, and Eyefinity makes much more sense. Its really funny that the R770s aka HD 4870s are in 1 out of 5 fastest supercomputers and not Tesla.

    They have taken a long, deep sleep after the 8800GTX and now they're paying for it.
    Reply
  • cmdrdredd - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Unfortunately, PC gaming is almost dead. Look at Call of Duty's release. Look at Dragon Age which is also available on consoles. Sure the PC version might look a bit better, but when you spend as much on a video card as someone does on an entire system that can download movies, demos, act as a media box, and play Blu-Rays...you get the point. Reply
  • Lurker0 - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Unfortunately, PC gaming has been declared "nearly dead" for decades. It hasn't died, and as much as console fanboys will rage on hearing this, it isn't going to either.

    PC gaming is a niche industry, it always has been and always will be. Yes, console games do tend to be more profitable, which means that most games will be developed for consoles first and then ported to the PC. Doesn't mean there will never be games developed for the PC first(or even exclusivly), or that there's no profit to be had in PC games.

    Yes, it can be cheaper to get a console than a mid-level gaming PC, just like it can be cheaper to just buy some econobox off the lot than to buy or build your own hot rod. Sure, one market is much larger and more profitable than the other, but there's still money to be made off of PC games and gearheads alike, and so long as that's true neither will be going away.
    Reply
  • DominionSeraph - Thursday, November 19, 2009 - link

    PC gaming is no longer an isolated economy, though. That changes things. With most games being written with consoles in mind, there isn't the broad-based software push for hardware advance that there was at the dawn of 3d acceleration.
    I could give you dozens of great reasons to have upgraded from a NV4 to a NV15 back in the day, but the upgrade from a G80 to 5970 today? ~$800 when you factor in the PSU, and for what? Where's the must-have game that needs it? TNT to Geforce 2 was two years -- it's now been 3 since the release of the 8800, and there's been no equivalent to a Half Life, Quake 2, Deus Ex, Homeworld, Warcraft III, or WoW.
    Reply
  • GourdFreeMan - Thursday, November 19, 2009 - link

    Unfortunately, this is precisely the problem. When looking at AAA (large budget) games, six years ago PC game sales were predominantly PC exclusives, with some well known console ports (e.g. Halo, Morrowind). Twelve years ago PC game sales were almost entirely exclusives. Today the console ports are approaching the majority of high profile PC titles.

    Being multiplatform isn't necessarily a detriment for a console game. After all, having a larger budget allows more money to be spent on art and polishing the code to get the best performance on console hardware. In most cases, however, the PC version of a multiplatform title is almost always an afterthought. Little to no effort is spent redesigning the user interface and rebalancing game play because of the different controls. Shaders are almost never rewritten to take advantage of effects that could only be accomplished with the power of the graphic cards in modern PCs when porting. At most we seem to get better textures at somewhat higher resolutions.

    The biggest problem with multiplatform development, however, is that multiplatform games are almost always aimed at the lowest common denominator in terms of both technology and content. All this does is produce the same game over and over again -- the clichéd rail shooter in a narrow environment with a macho/reluctant superhuman protagonist thrown against hordes of respawning mooks.

    Based on the quarterly reports of sales revenue from the major publishers (EA, Activision and Ubisoft), PC games sales are comparable to PS3 game sales. The PS3, however, has several more exclusives because Sony owns several games studios and forces them to release exclusives. AMD and nVIDIA do not, much to PC gaming's detriment.
    Reply
  • mschira - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Hehe 5970CF to power three screens, now that sounds like a killer setup.
    Besides that one's burning 600+ watts for the graphic. What's the CPU supposed to live on? The BIOS-Battery?
    M.
    Reply
  • monomer - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Wouldn't it be possible to run six screens using a 5970 CF setup, or are there other limitations I'm unaware of? Reply
  • Fleeb - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    600W for the whole setup. :S Reply
  • maximusursus - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    It really seems weird...:( I've seen some reviews that had way better overclocking than the standard 5870 clocks and their tests seem to be ok without any "throttling" problems.

    For example:

    Techspot: 900/1250
    HotHardware: 860/1220
    Tom's Hardware: 900/1300
    HardOCP: 900/1350 (!)
    Guru3D: 900/1200

    HardwareZone however had a similar problem with you guys, could it really be the PSU?
    Reply

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