AMD's new ATI Radeon HD 5800 3D cards first to market with DirectX 11 support

AMD announces new Radeon HD 5800 series 3D graphics cards.

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Update: Reviews from Anandtech, HardOCP, HotHardware, MaximumPC, and PC Perspective are all live. Nvidia's dual-chip GeForce GTX 295 card outperforms the Radeon HD 5870 on most tests by a noticeable margin, so AMD can't claim that the Radeon HD 5870 is the fastest single-card solution. The good news is that new Radeon does outperform Nvidia's best single-chip card, the GeForce GTX 285. The dual-chip GTX 295 is also a $499 card with no DirectX 11 support. The Radeon HD 5870 goes for a more reasonable $379.

AMD introduced its ATI Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850 desktop graphics cards Tuesday evening, beating rival Nvidia to the marketplace with the first DirectX 11-capable products. As DirectX 11 is the Windows 7 version of Microsoft's code for linking up hardware with, among other things, 3D game software, winning the race to launch is a significant boon to AMD's efforts to market its new cards. It also ensures that even if few games will actually use DirectX 11 at launch, Microsoft can claim that the graphics hardware is ready to support one of the major new features of its new OS.

Expect a whole family of Radeon HD 5000 series cards to come to market over the next few months, but for now we get two cards, the $399 Radeon HD 5870 and the $250 Radeon HD 5850. AMD says it plans to ship 500,000 chips in the fourth quarter, but it also anticipates high demand will strain retail supplies during the first few weeks after launch. On the system builder side, AMD said that one large OEM has claimed the majority of the first round of Radeon 5800s, so the cards will also be scarce from other system builders, at least early on.

AMD's new ATI Radeon HD 5800 series graphics card. AMD

Dropping its chip manufacturing process from 55 nanometers to 40 nanometers in the Radeon HD 5800 series has let AMD ramp up the speeds and feeds of its new chips impressively over those of the Radeon HD 4800 series. The transistor count in particular has jumped from 956 million on the old design to 2.15 billion in the new model. AMD also claims an uptick from 1.2 teraflops of processing power to between 2.09 and 2.72 in the each of the new cards.

Technical specs of the two new cards, in brief:

Radeon HD 5870

  • Number of GPUs: 1
  • Teraflops: 2.72
  • Memory: 1GB DDR5
  • Memory clock speed: 1.2GHz, 4.8 Gbps
  • Core clock speed: 850MHz
  • Stream processors: 1,600

    Radeon HD 5850

    • Number of GPUs: 1
    • Teraflops: 1.2
    • Memory: 1GB DDR5
    • Memory clock speed: 1GHz, 4.0Gpbs
    • Core clock speed: 725MHz
    • Stream processors: 1,440

      We'll check in with the enthusiast community once their reviews post to get an idea of the new Radeon's performance, but AMD claims an average performance advantage for the new cards between 30 and 50 percent over their price-competitive counterparts from Nvidia. Those raw performance gains also fail to account for the variety of new features that come with AMD's new chips.

      We've already reported on AMD's Eyefinity multimonitor technology. You'll need to wait for a special Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity card to come out "soon" before you can support six monitors as depicted earlier, but AMD says both the standard Radeon HD 5870 and the Radeon HD 5850 can support up to three monitors, each running at 2,560x1,600, a resolution common to 30-inch displays.

      We're unclear whether you can run four or more displays today via two Radeon HD 5800 cards in one system via AMD's CrossfireX multicard technology, but the single card option has six DisplayPort outputs, and will require either six DisplayPort-capable displays or a series of expensive DisplayPort adapters. To span a game across even a 7,680x1,600 (three displays at 2,560x1,600) setup, the game will have to support generous resolution and aspect ratio settings. AMD says it has confirmed more than 100 PC games that can support its Eyefinity technology (yes, including World of Warcraft), but it offered no performance data or sample configurations that would ensure smooth gameplay at its highest claimed resolution of 7,680x3,200.

      DirectX 11 support is the Radeon HD 5800 series' other major feature, which has implications for both 3D graphics and graphics chip computing, although perhaps not immediately. DirectX 11 comes with a variety of new 3D programming effects for game developers, and AMD points to its ATI Stream technology for how its cards will take advantage of the graphics computing component of DX11, called DirectCompute, for such tasks as game physics effects, video file transcoding, and other parallel processing chores for which graphics cards are well suited.

      The challenge for AMD is that it likely won't have DirectX 11 support as a unique advantage for long. Despite rumors of manufacturing difficulties, we give at least decent odds that Nvidia will announce its next-generation cards before long. Game developers will also have to put DirectX 11 features into their games in order for any vendors' DirectX 11 support to provide more than a marketing benefit.

      We expect PC games will adopt DirectX 11 features incrementally throughout the next several months. AMD cited games like Aliens vs. Predator, Dirt 2, and others adding DirectX 11 support soon. Even if the games are slow to come, we anticipate the new cards from AMD will have an immediate performance gain in current titles. The question for prospective card buyers will be how long to wait to see what Nvidia has in the works.