When you take the Cypress based Radeon HD 5870 and cut out 2 SIMDs and 15% of the clock speed to make a Radeon HD 5850, on paper you have a card 23% slower. In practice, that difference is only between 10% and 15% depending on the resolution. What’s not a theory is AMD’s pricing: they may have cut off 15% of the performance to make the 5850, but they have also cut the price by well more than 15%; 31% to be precise.

The result of this is clear: the 5870 is the fastest single-GPU card, and the 5850 is the value alternative. Couple that with the fact that it’s cooler running, quieter, shorter, and less power hungry, and you have a very interesting card. Design-wise the 5850 lets AMD get Cypress in to slightly smaller cases that can’t fit full 10.5” cards, something NVIDIA was never able to capitalize on with the reference GTX design (we actually had several comments on this; apparently a good number of people can’t fit 10.5” cards). The 5870/5850 situation ends up closely mirroring the 4870/4850 situation as a result; the 5870 is still the card to get when price (and size) is no object, but the 5850 is there to fill the gap if you won’t miss some of the performance.

One thing that’s very clear in these benchmarks is that as things currently stand, the 5850 has made the GTX 285 irrelevant (again). The 5850 is anywhere between 9% and 16% faster depending on the resolution, cheaper by at least $35 as of Tuesday morning (with everything besides a single BFG model going for +$70 or more), and features DirectX11. The 5850 is a card that manages to – if at times barely – outclass the GTX285 in performance. If you’ve been waiting for a price shakeup, this is what you’ve been waiting for.

Technically NVIDIA can get away with pricing the GTX285 anywhere under $260, but realistically its price needs to match its performance. With the 5850 having roughly 16% lead over the GTX 285 at 2560x1600, it doesn’t make much sense to pick up a GTX 285 unless prices fall a similar amount. This would be $225, which means lopping off at least $70 from the cheapest GTX285. If buyers believe that there’s any value in DX11, then NVIDIA would need to go even lower to offset that that gap, potentially as low at $200.

Meanwhile the $200-$225 range is the same price range the GTX 275 occupies. Cutting GTX 285 prices means cutting GTX 275 prices, which may require repricing the GTX 260, etc. NVIDIA’s response is going to bear watching if only to gauge what kind of cuts they can afford. Along the same lines we wouldn’t be surprised to see a GTX product retired due to price compression if NVIDIA can’t drop the price on the GTX 260 any further. Meanwhile vendor-overclocked cards will be the wildcard here; vendors can’t hope to completely close the gap, but the smaller performance gap will help them keep higher prices. Already we’re seeing fewer and fewer stock-clocked cards for sale compared to overclocked cards.

Update: We went window shopping again this afternoon to see if there were any GTX 285 price changes. There weren't. In fact GTX 285 supply seems pretty low; MWave, ZipZoomFly, and Newegg only have a few models in stock. We asked NVIDIA about this, but all they had to say was "demand remains strong". Given the timing, we're still suspicious that something may be afoot.

As for AMD, they’re in a much better pricing position. With the 4890 already priced under $200, the 5850 isn’t an immediate threat. If anything, the threat is a cheap GTX285 at the same price, which would outclass the 4890. It’s unlikely that the 5850 would be threatened on pricing, as we don’t expect NVIDIA to cut any more than they have to.

Moving on, we have the multi-GPU situation. While a pair of 5870s is the fastest dual-card setup out there, such a setup also pushes $760. A pair of 5850s won’t be as fast, but they also run for a far more palatable $520. Unfortunately Crossfire scaling just isn’t as good as SLI scaling in the tests we’ve seen; the performance gap varies wildly between games, and only averages 5% across all of them. If NVIDIA lowers the price on the GTX 285 enough, that 5% difference may end up a tossup. The 5850 still has better power performance and DX11, but it’s going to be easy to find the right price for the GTX 285 to nullify that. This is very close to being a draw.

Ultimately AMD is going to be spending at least the next few months in a very comfortable situation. They launched the world’s fastest single-GPU card last week, and they’re launching the world’s second-fastest single-GPU this week. Based on performance alone, from $220 up to the Radeon HD 5870’s price point, the Radeon HD 5850 is going to be the card to get. Meanwhile DirectX 11 is the icing on the cake that offers the 5800 series a greater lifespan and promise of future improvements in games.

For this fall, we're able to say something we haven't been able to say for quite some time: AMD has the high-end market locked up tight.

Power, Temperature, & Noise
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  • merin - Monday, October 12, 2009 - link

    Any idea what producer I should choose if I'm getting a 5850?
    Is there even any difference between them?
  • ambientmf - Sunday, December 6, 2009 - link

    At this point, I doubt there's much difference between vendors. Since the card is still relatively new and supply still low, I would think most vendors are sticking to the reference design.

    Warranties and support aside, they're all identical.
    I'd investigate the warranties offered, any trade-up programs (not that they'll be much to trade up from but still good to know) and any info like that.
  • hsew - Sunday, October 11, 2009 - link

    I find it rather peculiar that even though Crysis Warhead runs better on ATI single GPUs (4890 faster than GTX275, 4870 faster than GTX260, 4850 almost as fast as GTX 260) it scales well enough in SLI to take the performance lead from ATI, as shown by the 5850 CF losing to GTX285 SLI (SLI scaling almost 100%!!). It makes one wonder just what the heck all the hype is about ATI releasing a new driver once a month if they don't seem to do make much of a difference in the performance department.
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  • cosminliteanu - Tuesday, October 6, 2009 - link

    Thanks for this kind of article, I would also to see some Fallout 3
    Thank you ,again :)
  • bhougha10 - Monday, October 5, 2009 - link

    sorry the f-bomb quote was in the previous artical. But kinda adds to the point. Please no silly fan boy comments as I have stock in amd and nvidia :) (ya, in know probably silly to have stock in these two companies)
  • bhougha10 - Monday, October 5, 2009 - link

    Probably get locked out of the site for saying this. But it seems like there is always an agression toward NVIDIA. Kinda like ATI gives free samples and NVIDIA does not, or not in a timely manner. I mean why would an F-Bomb be quoted on a professional site. It's not just this one statement and not just this one artical that makes me wonder.
    otherwise, as usual, great artical, with great content.
  • Malachite - Monday, October 5, 2009 - link

    I wish you guys would put together Company of Heroes, World in Conflict and Supreme Commander so we could see clearly the differences between the cards. Today we see only reviews based on FPS, I like FPS, but my main games are all RTS.... I bought the HD4890 based on reviews but it didnt run as good as my GTX 275 for RTS titles....
  • merin - Monday, October 5, 2009 - link

    I'm wondering what the text that says "Floor @ 40.6dB" on the noise diagram means. Is it the background noise or something?

    I'm wondering if it can compete with the Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X in the noise-department...

    "The dual slot Vapor-Chamber Cooler has a noise level under 20 dbA in 2D operation and is still under 30 dbA in 3D operation before it reaches 85 degrees Celsius." ("> )
  • Pastuch - Monday, October 5, 2009 - link

    From what I've heard at other sites the Vapor-x 4890 is significantly quieter than the ATI cooler on the 5850. Thats not a knock on the 5850, it's just that the Vapor-x cooler on the 4890 is dead quiet. I love mine. It even has HDMI, VGA, Displayport and DVI on the back of the card!

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