DirectX 11 graphics cards reviewed and rated
20th Nov 2009 | 13:00
Mid-range DX11 graphics power from £100 to £200
Affordable DX11 cards: Overview
AMD is on top of the graphics world right now. Its 48xx series has redefined gaming on a budget, while the brand new ATI Radeon HD 5870 is shredding all comers in the benchmarks stakes.
Is AMD unbeatable? Not quite. The Radeon HD 5870 may be an incredible force of silicon-backed nature, but it costs considerably more than AMD's previous offerings.
This is surprising given that AMD's recent successes have all been down to its tight focus on value.
Worry not, though. it's eager to populate those gaps before Nvidia can respond, and so has released three more-affordable spins off the same basic core: the 5850, 5770 and 5750.
But are these new chips any good? Time to find out...
All three new GPUs use the same 40nm production process and boast the same DX11-supporting engine of the all-singing all-dancing 5870.
The difference is these have all undergone differing levels of silicon pruning in order to hit certain price points.
It's not immediately obvious why AMD has picked these price points, but just to clarify: the top of the range 5870 is available for £300, the 5850 rolls in at the £200 mark, while the 5770 and 5750 are available for £130 and £100 respectively.
Annoyingly the 5750 should be a $100 offering, but this hasn't translated well as it crossed the channel.
All three cards need to be considered in the context of DirectX 11 and the potential it holds. It's difficult to say for certain at this point how big a step forward DX11 will be for gaming, but Microsoft has at least tried to make it as easy as possible for developers to code for the new API.
Even so, at the time of testing there are no compelling games that really show what DirectX 11 is capable of, or really push this hardware at all. Indeed while there are a few releases due any day now, it won't be until mid next year that we'll really see how support is shaping up.
This means that for now we have to see how these cards play out in the DirectX 10 world.
Affordable DX11 cards: ATI Radeon HD 5850
ATI Radeon HD 5850
Great performance, image quality and API support at an almost tempting price
Price £209 Manufacturer Asus GPU Clock 725MHz Unified Shaders 1,440 Memory 1GB GDDR5 1,000MHz, Memory bus 256-bit Requires 500W PSU
As its name implies, the 5850 is a slightly cut-down rendition of the 5870, most likely down to binning of the chips to squeeze more value out of the line. This core, codenamed the Cypress Pro, has a 75MHz slower core clock speed of 725MHz, and manages only 1,440 unified shaders (an eyebrow raising 10% less than the 1,600 to be found in the 5870).
The 256-bit memory interface is a little slower as well, rolling in 200MHz under the 1.2GHz of its marginally older brother; equating to an overall memory bandwidth of 128GB/s as opposed to 153.6GB/s.
Given that this card is £100 cheaper than the 5870, these sacrifices seem reasonable on paper at least. When it comes to real world performance, these cuts do affect the raw grunt of the GPU, but it's still an incredible piece of technology.
Far Cry 2 produced simply stunning results, making for a silky smooth 65fps at 1,680 x 1,050. This card is capable of driving higher resolutions too – hitting a thoroughly respectable 40fps at 2,560 x 1,600 at high quality settings. The latest Resident Evil also turned in great performance at this resolution, managing 54fps.
These are incredible frame rates for a card costing only £200.
There is a small fly in the ointment for the Radeon HD 5850 though, and that's the outgoing DX10 cards both from Nvidia and AMD itself.
The GeForce GTX275 in particular puts in almost identical figures at similar settings and resolutions in World in Conflict and Resident Evil.
Far Cry 2 is a different story, and obviously the GTX275 can't handle the DX11 games of tomorrow, but at a saving of £30, it still feels that AMD hasn't quite got the pricing of these cards right just yet.
It's still a case of this card being early-adopter fodder over the next few months – or at least until Nvidia enters the DX11 market and forces AMD's hand. See our benchmarks on the last page.
Affordable DX11 cards: ATI Radeon HD 5770
ATI Radeon HD 5770
Not as powerful as we'd hoped, and a little costly but great for low resolution screens
Price £127 Manufacturer HIS GPU Clock 850MHz Unified Shaders 800 Memory 1GB GDDR5 1,200MHz Memory bus 128-bit Requires 450W PSU
The ATI Radeon HD 5770 and 5750 have been pruned considerably harder than the 5850 in order to cater for the most affordable end of the market.
Each offers half the number of shaders of the 5870 and 5850 respectively, and manages a 128-bit GDDR5 memory interface too.
It's almost as if AMD gleefully took to the 58xx series with a chainsaw – producing twice the number of chips from the same wafer. This has resulted in far more palatable price points, but the obvious question is how has this hit the raw performance of both cards?
Easily the most interesting of the two chips, the Radeon HD 5770 operates at the same 850MHz core and 1.2GHz memory clocks as the family's fastest offering, but don't forget that it packs only half the Unified Shaders and ROPs.
Unfortunately, the rules of semiconductor design mean that half a chip going quickly is a lot worse than a full one going slowly.
In other words the 5770 takes a comprehensive hit from its lack of semiconductors when compared to the 58xx chips. That said, the chip still boasts over one billion of those little transistors, putting it ahead of the outgoing 4870 by some 84 million.
So surely that means that it's going to pound that in any head-to-head comparison? In a word, no.
This is because a huge chunk of this extra silicon is to make room for the DirectX 11 features, which may pay dividends in the future, but right now it needs to produce decent performance at a decent price point.
The 128- bit memory interface means that it just doesn't have the throughput of the 4870, equating to performance that can be found lagging in that outgoing card.
The fact is that cards based on the 4870 are dropping in price on an almost daily basis, and it's difficult to get too excited about the Radeon HD 5770 despite the fact that in many respects it's a decent slither of silicon.
In a continuing theme, it's just a bit too expensive given what can be picked up for the same sort of money – the 4870 is a little cheaper, while the 4890 is only a little more expensive. Which leads naturally enough to the runt of the litter – the Radeon HD 5750. See benchmarks on the last page.
Affordable DX11 cards: ATI Radeon HD 5750
ATI Radeon HD 5750
A lacklustre graphics card as a result of cutting back too far on the core technology
Price £97 Manufacturer Sapphire Technology GPU Clock 700MHz Unified Shaders 720 Memory 1GB GDDR5 1,200MHz Memory bus 128-bit Requires 450W PSU
The raw specification of this core is unexciting – contending as it does with a reduced unified shader count of 720 units, a 700MHz core clock and the same 128-bit memory interface of its sibling, the 5770.
From this specification alone you can guess that this isn't a card destined to outperform all comers but, even so, we were surprised at how poorly it faired when compared to the 512MB Radeon HD 4850 in pretty much every test.
You can get those 4850 cards for under £80 – that's up to £30 cheaper than this new card – and yet it's the older card that produces better performance.
Brave new world
To be fair to AMD, the Radeon 4850 is an incredible card to try and beat, but even so it should be able to match it better than it has managed here. So who should upgrade to this brave new world of graphics?
If you've bought a graphics card in the last 12 months, then the chances are you're not going to get that much out of the 57xx series.
The 5850 is a lot more tempting an option – boasting a serious performance boost for your current run of games, while at the same time upgrading your API support to DirectX 11. It will even drive larger screens, though, if you do have a 30-incher, we'd recommend going for the big boy of the family, the 5870.
The 5850 is a quality offering that makes the power of the 5870 available to more modest budgets.
Admittedly it does suffer quite a performance hit in doing so, but if you're looking for a DX11 card, this is where the sensible money is.
Things are a little trickier if you've haven't upgraded for a while. This is because, as we saw recently in the budget graphics roundup, there's an incredible amount of power to be had at the moment for not a lot of the folding stuff.
It's early days for the 5750 and 5770, and prices are currently inflated due to the lack of competition, so things should calm down a little over time.
Even so, exactly the same is true of the outgoing generation of cards, and while at some point in the foreseeable future these will start to disappear from production lines, if you're looking for a bargain, the graphics card you're looking for probably starts with a 4, not a 5. See benchmarks on the next page.
Affordable DX11 cards:Benchmarks
The AMD big-boy shows itself as the fastest in the test across the board.
Lower down it gets more complicated with the 5850 only outperforming the last-gen GTX 275 in Far Cry 2.
The ol' school 4850 once again shows its budget pedigree, too.