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Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 Toxic

Date: February 19, 2010
Author(s): Rob Williams

AMD’s Radeon HD 5850 may not be the company’s highest-end card, but it still packs a wicked punch. Plus, when overclocked, and overclocked well, it can come close to the peformance of the top-end HD 5870. With the design of Sapphire’s Toxic graphics card, hitting heights like this seem to be made all too simple.



Introduction

Over the course of the past month, we’ve taken a good look at a handful of budget graphics cards offerings. In the middle of January, we checked out AMD’s $100 Radeon HD 5670, and then we quickly followed-up with a look at NVIDIA’s three lowest-end offerings. Not too long after, AMD tossed even more models our way; the under-$100 Radeon HD 5450 and HD 5570. In case it isn’t obvious, that’s a lot of budget offerings to take a look at in a single month.

So what am I getting at? Well, when I received a package from Sapphire and found the Radeon HD 5850 Toxic inside, I had a major sigh of relief. After taking a look at all those budget graphics cards, here I had a special version of one of my current favorites. At around ~$300, the HD 5850 is one sweet card, able to power all of today’s games at the highest resolutions, even with anti-aliasing enabled. Ahh, the power!

After taking the Toxic card out of the box, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. With its “Toxic” moniker, it’s clearly a special edition, of sorts, but aesthetically, it didn’t look much different than a reference offering. The cooler design itself differs to a small degree, but the actual shape is almost spot-on. So what’s the deal?

Toxic is merely Sapphire’s term for its pre-overclocked line-up. Unlike the Vapor-X models, Toxic cards don’t have a major emphasis on cooling performance. This isn’t a problem, but for those using a graphics card in a tighter enclosure, the improved cooling performance of a Vapor-X is highly recommended by us. We’ve taken a look at several Vapor-X models over the past year, and each one has greatly impressed us with its performance.

With its 765MHz Core (+40MHz over reference) and 1125MHz Memory (+125MHz), it’s clear that the Toxic version can make a rather stark performance difference over the reference card. But as we’ll see later in the article, these pre-defined clocks are a little modest, as the card has quite a bit of breathing room, and almost has the ability to bring us close to HD 5870 territory.

Before we take a look at the Toxic, let’s review the current line-up from AMD. All of the models listed in the table below are current-gen, so all support the things we’ve come to like about the HD 5000-series, such as DirectX 11 and Eyefinity. Currently, the only model we can’t talk about much is the HD 5830, but you’ll learn a lot more about that next week. Also in the weeks to come, we’ll see an Eyefinity-edition HD 5870, but I probably don’t have to explain its purpose.

Model
Core MHz
Mem MHz
Memory
Bus Width
Processors
Radeon HD 5970
725
1000
2048MB
256-bit
1600 x 2
Radeon HD 5870
850
1200
1024MB
256-bit
1600
Radeon HD 5850
725
1000
1024MB
256-bit
1440
Radeon HD 5830
???
???
???MB
???-bit
???
Radeon HD 5770
850
1200
1024MB
128-bit
800
Radeon HD 5750
700
1150
512MB – 1GB
128-bit
720
Radeon HD 5670
775
1000
512MB – 1GB
128-bit
400
Radeon HD 5570
650
900
512MB – 1GB
128-bit
400
Radeon HD 5450
650
800
512MB – 1GB
64-bit
80

Although the Toxic card features an almost identical chassis design to the reference card, the big difference is that it uses a special fan, which happens to be exposed, for increased airflow. This cooler design isn’t what I’d consider fascinating, but it is a modest improvement over the reference, and should help us reach higher clocks when overclocking. I personally can’t say I’m a fan of the blue/black design going on here, but that’s more of a personal opinion, and matters little in the grand scheme of things.

Sapphire's Radeon HD 5850 1GB Toxic

Most HD 5000-series cards to date have included DisplayPort, HDMI and dual DVI-D connections, and the HD 5850 Toxic is no exception. Right out of the box, you can hook up to 3 displays with a 2560×1600 resolution on each. If you do go that route, I’d recommend not reading our site at 12 megapixel… it doesn’t look quite so good.

Sapphire's Radeon HD 5850 1GB Toxic

As a high-end card, you wouldn’t expect less than 2 x PCI-E power connectors, and that’s just what we see here. In this photo, you can see another small difference between this cooler and the reference. While the reference is mostly closed off at the end (with breathing holes), Sapphire’s Toxic is a bit more open.

Sapphire's Radeon HD 5850 1GB Toxic

Before we hit up our results, the next page will cover both our test system specs and our methodologies. If you’ve never looked through those before, I recommend it. After that, we’ll dive right into our look at Modern Warfare 2 performance.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing. For an exhaustive look at our methodologies, even down to the Windows Vista installation, please refer to this article.

Test Machine

The below table lists our testing machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all GPU testing, minus the graphics card. Each card used for comparison is also listed here, along with the driver version used. Each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective review of that product, or if a review doesn’t exist, it will bring you to the product on the manufacturer’s website.

Component
Model
Processor
Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition – Quad-Core, 3.33GHz, 1.33v
Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-EX58-EXTREME – X58-based, F7 BIOS (05/11/09)
Memory
Corsair DOMINATOR – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-24-1T, 1.60
ATI Graphics Radeon HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 9.10
Radeon HD 5850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic) – Catalyst 10.2
Radeon HD 5850 1GB (ASUS) – Catalyst 9.10
Radeon HD 5770 1GB (Reference) – Beta Catalyst (10/06/09)
Radeon HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 9.11
Radeon HD 5670 512MB (Reference) – Beta Catalyst (12/16/09)
Radeon HD 5570 1GB (Sapphire) – Beta Catalyst (12/11/09)
NVIDIA Graphics GeForce GTX 295 1792MB (Reference) – GeForce 186.18
GeForce GTX 285 1GB (EVGA) – GeForce 186.18
GeForce GTX 275 896MB (Reference) – GeForce 186.18
GeForce GTX 260 896MB (XFX) – GeForce 186.18
GeForce GTS 250 1GB (EVGA) – GeForce 186.18
GeForce GT 240 512MB (ASUS) – GeForce 196.21
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermalright TRUE Black 120
Et cetera
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows Vista from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing slightly inaccurate results. Disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.

For more robust information on how we tweak Windows, please refer once again to this article.

Game Titles

At this time, we currently benchmark all of our games using three popular resolutions: 1680×1050, 1920×1080 and also 2560×1600. 1680×1050 was chosen as it’s one of the most popular resolutions for gamers sporting ~20″ displays. 1920×1080 might stand out, since we’ve always used 1920×1200 in the past, but we didn’t make this change without some serious thought. After taking a look at the current landscape for desktop monitors around ~24″, we noticed that 1920×1200 is definitely on the way out, as more and more models are coming out as native 1080p. It’s for this reason that we chose it. Finally, for high-end gamers, we also benchmark using 2560×1600, a resolution that’s just about 2x 1080p.

For graphics cards that include less than 1GB of GDDR, we omit Grand Theft Auto IV from our testing, as our chosen detail settings require at least 800MB of available graphics memory. Also, if the card we’re benchmarking doesn’t offer the performance to handle 2560×1600 across most of our titles reliably, only 1680×1050 and 1920×1080 will be utilized.

Because we value results generated by real-world testing, we don’t utilize timedemos whatsoever. The possible exception might be Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage. Though it’s not a game, it essentially acts as a robust timedemo. We choose to use it as it’s a standard where GPU reviews are concerned, and we don’t want to rid our readers of results they expect to see.

All of our results are captured with the help of Beepa’s FRAPS 2.98, while stress-testing and temperature-monitoring is handled by OCCT 3.1.0 and GPU-Z, respectively.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

Crysis Warhead

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

Grand Theft Auto IV

Race Driver: GRID

World in Conflict: Soviet Assault

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

When the original Call of Duty game launched in 2003, Infinity Ward was an unknown. Naturally… it was the company’s first title. But since then, the series and company alike have become household names. Not only has the series delivered consistently incredible gameplay, it’s pushed the graphics envelope with each successive release, and where Modern Warfare is concerned, it’s also had a rich storyline.

The first two titles might have been built on the already-outdated Quake III engine, but since then, the games have been built with improved graphical features, capable of pushing the highest-end PCs out there. Modern Warfare 2 is the first such exception, as it’s more of a console port than a true PC title. Therefore, the game doesn’t push PC hardware as much as we’d like to see, but despite that, it still looks great, and lacks little in the graphics department. You can read our review of the game here.

Manual Run-through: The level chosen is the 10th mission in the game, “The Gulag”. Our teams fly in helicopters up to an old prison with the intention of getting closer to finding the game’s villain, Vladimir Makarov. Our saved game file begins us at the point when the level name comes on the screen, right before we reach the prison, and it ends after one minute of landing, following the normal progression of the level. The entire run takes around two-and-a-half minutes.

The performance gains seen here, I assume, must be a combination of both the pre-overclock, and also driver improvements that have been made since we originally reviewed the reference-clocked HD 5850. A simple 40MHz Core boost isn’t likely to cause a 6FPS increase, although the faster memory speed may play a role as well.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
ATI HD 5770 1GB CrossFireX
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
40
81.311
ATI HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
46
79.838
ATI HD 5850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
41
74.537
ATI HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
37
68.563
NVIDIA GTX 285 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
41
66.527
NVIDIA GTX 275 896MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
37
61.937
NVIDIA GTX 260 896MB (XFX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
33
53.314
ATI HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA
36
60.337
NVIDIA GTS 250 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA
30
53.253
ATI HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA
28
50.727
ATI HD 5670 512MB (Reference)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 4xAA
24
43.96
NVIDIA GT 240 512MB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 0xAA
30
53.139
ATI HD 5570 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 0xAA
27
45.841

When we’re seeing an average of 75 FPS at the game’s maxed-out settings, who on earth would want to lower them? Not us, so our top settings above of course become our best playable.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

When the original Call of Juarez was released, it brought forth something unique… a western-styled first-person shooter. That’s simply not something we see too often, so for fans of the genre, its release was a real treat. Although it didn’t really offer the best gameplay we’ve seen from a recent FPS title, its storyline and unique style made it well-worth testing.

After we retired the original title from our suite, we anxiously awaited for the sequel, Bound in Blood, in hopes that the series could be re-introduced into our testing once again. Thankfully, it could, thanks in part to its fantastic graphics, which are based around the Chrome Engine 4, and improved gameplay of the original. It was also well-received by game reviewers, which is always a good sign.

Manual Run-through: The level chosen here is Chapter I, and our starting point is about 15 minutes into the mission, where we stand atop a hill that overlooks a large river. We make our way across the hill and ultimately through a large trench, and we stop our benchmarking run shortly after we blow up a gas-filled barrel.

Once again, and not surprisingly, the Toxic version of the HD 5850 places comfortably above the reference-clocked version.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
ATI HD 5770 1GB CrossFireX
2560×1600 – Max Detail
59
87.583
ATI HD 5870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
58
81.945
NVIDIA GTX 295 1792MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
37
80.339
ATI HD 5850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
50
72.753
ATI HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
51
69.165
NVIDIA GTX 285 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
45
54.428
NVIDIA GTX 275 896MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
41
51.393
ATI HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
28
45.028
NVIDIA GTX 260 896MB (XFX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
35
44.023
ATI HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
27
38.686
NVIDIA GTX 250 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail
25
33.751
ATI HD 5670 512MB (Reference)
1920×1080 – Max Detail
38
47.23
NVIDIA GT 240 512MB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Max Detail
29
39.446
ATI HD 5570 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Max Detail
24
32.931

Is this much of a surprise? The game ran like a dream at the game’s top settings, so that becomes our “best playable” without a second thought.

Crysis Warhead

Like Call of Duty, Crysis is another series that doesn’t need much of an introduction. Thanks to the fact that almost any comments section for a PC performance-related article asks, “Can it run Crysis?”, even those who don’t play computer games no doubt know what Crysis is. When Crytek first released Far Cry, it delivered an incredible game engine with huge capabilities, and Crysis simply took things to the next level.

Although the sequel, Warhead, has been available for just about a year, it still manages to push the highest-end systems to their breaking-point. It wasn’t until this past January that we finally found a graphics solution to handle the game at 2560×1600 at its Enthusiast level, but even that was without AA! Something tells me Crysis will be de facto for GPU benchmarking for the next while.

Manual Run-through: Whenever we have a new game in-hand for benchmarking, we make every attempt to explore each level of the game to find out which is the most brutal towards our hardware. Ironically, after spending hours exploring this game’s levels, we found the first level in the game, “Ambush”, to be the hardest on the GPU, so we stuck with it for our testing. Our run starts from the beginning of the level and stops shortly after we reach the first bridge.

We’re seeing more of the same here, with the Toxic proving to be just a tad better than the reference model.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
NVIDIA GTX 295 1792MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Gamer, 0xAA
19
40.381
ATI HD 5870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Gamer, 0xAA
20
32.955
ATI HD 5850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic)
2560×1600 – Mainstream, 0xAA
32
55.779
ATI HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Mainstream, 0xAA
28
52.105
NVIDIA GTX 285 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Mainstream, 0xAA
27
50.073
NVIDIA GTX 275 896MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Mainstream, 0xAA
24
47.758
NVIDIA GTX 260 896MB (XFX)
2560×1600 – Mainstream, 0xAA
21
40.501
ATI HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Mainstream, 0xAA
20
35.256
NVIDIA GTX 250 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Mainstream, 0xAA
18
34.475
ATI HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Mainstream, 0xAA
21
47.545
ATI HD 5670 512MB (Reference)
1920×1080 – Mainstream, 0xAA
20
35.103
NVIDIA GT 240 512MB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Mainstream Detail, 0xAA
19
33.623
ATI HD 5570 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Mainstream Detail, 0xAA
17
29.732

The HD 5850 might be a stellar graphics card offering, but Crysis has the unique ability to make any PC component its slave. Decreasing our Gamer setting to Mainstream blew the doors off our performance, and we saw 55 FPS on average at 2560×1600, so that becomes our best playable.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

Five out of the seven current games we use for testing are either sequels, or titles in an established series. F.E.A.R. 2 is one of the former, following up on the very popular First Encounter Assault Recon, released in fall of 2005. This horror-based first-person shooter brought to the table fantastic graphics, ultra-smooth gameplay, the ability to blow massive chunks out of anything, and also a very fun multi-player mode.

Three-and-a-half years later, we saw the introduction of the game’s sequel, Project Origin. As we had hoped, this title improved on the original where gameplay and graphics were concerned, and it was a no-brainer to want to begin including it in our testing. The game is gorgeous, and there’s much destruction to be had (who doesn’t love blowing expensive vases to pieces?). The game is also rather heavily scripted, which aides in producing repeatable results in our benchmarking.

Manual Run-through: The level used for our testing here is the first in the game, about ten minutes in. The scene begins with a travel up an elevator, with a robust city landscape behind us. Our run-through begins with a quick look at this cityscape, and then we proceed through the level until the point when we reach the far door as seen in the above screenshot.

Toxic’s overclock really helps the HD 5850 shine here, although even without the higher clocks, the card can handle F.E.A.R. 2 as if it’s no challenge at all.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
NVIDIA GTX 295 1792MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
45
95.767
ATI HD 5870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
65
91.34
ATI HD 5770 1GB CrossFireX
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
57
87.194
ATI HD 5850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
48
80.234
ATI HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
51
73.647
NVIDIA GTX 285 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
39
62.014
NVIDIA GTX 275 896MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
37
57.266
NVIDIA GTX 260 896MB (XFX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
29
48.110
ATI HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
31
47.411
ATI HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 16xAF
27
39.563
NVIDIA GTX 250 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
24
36.331
ATI HD 5670 512MB (Reference)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
31
46.87
NVIDIA GT 240 512MB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 4xAF
30
45.039
ATI HD 5570 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 4xAF
22
40.430

With an 80 FPS average at the game’s top settings, our best playable was all too easy to choose here.

Grand Theft Auto: IV

If you look up the definition for “controversy”, Grand Theft Auto should be listed. If it’s not, then that should be a crime, because throughout GTA’s many titles, there’s been more of that than you can shake your fist at. At the series’ beginning, the games were rather simple, and didn’t stir up too much passion in certain opposers. But once GTA III and its successors came along, its developers enjoyed all the controversy that came their way, and why not? It helped spur incredible sales numbers.

Grand Theft Auto IV is yet another continuation in the series, though it follows no storyline from the previous titles. Liberty City, loosely based off of New York City, is absolutely huge, with much to explore. This is so much so the case, that you could literally spend hours just wandering around, ignoring the game’s missions, if you wanted to. It also happens to be incredibly stressful on today’s computer hardware, similar to Crysis.

Manual Run-through: After the first minor mission in the game, you reach an apartment. Our benchmarking run starts from within this room. From here, we run out the door, down the stairs and into an awaiting car. We then follow a specific path through the city, driving for about three minutes total.

Up until this point, the Toxic version of the card came well above the reference version, but that ends here. I think I have a reason, though. Back in November, a patch for the game was released, and as a result, I believe something caused the performance to decrease just a wee bit on these cards. Therefore, the Toxic, despite being faster, places below the reference card here.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
NVIDIA GTX 295 1792MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – H/H/VH/H/VH Detail
27
52.590
ATI HD 5770 1GB CrossFireX
2560×1600 – H/H/VH/H/VH Detail
30
51.813
ATI HD 5870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – H/H/VH/H/VH Detail
29
45.767
NVIDIA GTX 285 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – High Detail
32
45.573
NVIDIA GTX 275 896MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – High Detail
30
44.703
NVIDIA GTX 260 896MB (XFX)
2560×1600 – High Detail
24
38.492
ATI HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – High Detail
39
58.886
ATI HD 5850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic)
1920×1080 – High Detail
31
56.992
ATI HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
1920×1080 – High Detail
33
47.719
NVIDIA GTX 250 1GB (EVGA)
1920×1080 – High Detail
21
34.257
ATI HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – High Detail
27
39.904

In our original HD 5850 review, we mentioned that we had a stuttery experience with that card in particular with GTA IV at 2560×1600, and that’s something that hasn’t changed. It’s truly bizarre to me, because this is the only model HD 5000 that happens to do this at that resolution. So because of that, our best playable is forced to be 1080p. Fortunately, GTA IV isn’t exactly a “must have” title for the PC.

Race Driver: GRID

If you primarily play games on a console, your choices for quality racing games are plenty. On the PC, that’s not so much the case. While there are a good number, there aren’t enough for a given type of racing game, from sim, to arcade. So when Race Driver: GRID first saw its release, many gamers were excited, and for good reason. It’s not a sim in the truest sense of the word, but it’s certainly not arcade, either. It’s somewhere in between.

The game happens to be great fun, though, and similar to console games like Project Gotham Racing, you need a lot of skill to succeed at the game’s default difficulty level. And like most great racing games, GRID happens to look absolutely stellar, and each of the game’s locations look very similar to their real-world counterparts. All in all, no racing fan should ignore this one.

Manual Run-through: For our testing here, we choose the city where both Snoop Dogg and Sublime hit their fame, the LBC, also known as Long Beach City. We choose this level because it’s not overly difficult, and also because it’s simply nice to look at. Our run consists of an entire 2-lap race, with the cars behind us for almost the entire race.

We’re back on track here (no pun), with the Toxic placing just ahead of the reference-clocked HD 5850, as we’d expect.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
ATI HD 5870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
87
106.43
ATI HD 5770 1GB CrossFireX
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
81
104.32
NVIDIA GTX 295 1792MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
84
103.958
ATI HD 5850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
72
89.933
ATI HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
68
84.732
NVIDIA GTX 285 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
54
66.042
NVIDIA GTX 275 896MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
52
63.617
ATI HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
45
56.980
NVIDIA GTX 260 896MB (XFX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
45
54.809
ATI HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
39
47.05
NVIDIA GTX 250 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA
35
43.663
ATI HD 5670 512MB (Reference)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 4xAA
36
47.36
ATI HD 5570 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 0xAA
33
41.143
NVIDIA GT 240 512MB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 0xAA
33
51.071

Once again, GRID is one of those games that runs well on almost anything, and especially a higher-end card like the HD 5850. Therefore, 2560×1600 at maxed settings was no issue at all, so it naturally becomes our best playable setting.

World in Conflict: Soviet Assault

I admit that I’m not a huge fan of RTS titles, but World in Conflict intrigued me from the get go. After all, so many war-based games continue to follow the same story-lines we already know, and WiC was different. It counteracts the fall of the political and economic situation in the Soviet Union in the late 80’s, and instead provides a storyline that follows it as if the USSR had succeeded by proceeding with war in order to remain in power.

Many RTS games, with their advanced AI, tend to favor the CPU in order to deliver smooth gameplay, but WiC favors both the CPU and GPU, and the graphics prove it. Throughout the game’s missions, you’ll see gorgeous vistas and explore areas from deserts and snow-packed lands, to fields and cities. Overall, it’s a real visual treat for the eyes – especially since you’re able to zoom to the ground and see the action up-close.

Manual Run-through: The level we use for testing is the 7th campaign of the game, called Insurgents. Our saved game plants us towards the beginning of the mission with two squads of five, and two snipers. The run consists of bringing our men to action, and hovering the camera around throughout the duration. The entire run lasts between three and four minutes.

Finally, our results wind up just as they began, with the Toxic card pulling out ahead of the reference card by a comfortable margin.

Graphics Card
Best Playable
Min FPS
Avg. FPS
NVIDIA GTX 295 1792MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 8xAA, 16xAF
40
55.819
ATI HD 5770 1GB CrossFireX
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
38
49.335
ATI HD 5870 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
35
47.195
ATI HD 5850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
33
43.82
ATI HD 5850 1GB (ASUS)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 4xAA, 16xAF
29
40.581
NVIDIA GTX 285 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 16xAF
34
49.514
NVIDIA GTX 275 896MB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 16xAF
36
46.186
NVIDIA GTX 260 896MB (XFX)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 16xAF
23
39.365
ATI HD 5770 1GB (Reference)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 16xAF
28
37.389
NVIDIA GTX 250 1GB (EVGA)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 4xAF
24
32.453
ATI HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire)
2560×1600 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 4xAF
23
31.769
NVIDIA GT 240 512MB (ASUS)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 4xAF
22
33.788
ATI HD 5670 512MB (Reference)
1920×1080 – Max Detail, 0xAA, 16xAF
21
31.872
ATI HD 5570 1GB (Sapphire)
1920×1080 – Medium Detail, 0xAA, 4xAF
51
79.790

I admit that with top settings, World in Conflict isn’t as smooth as butter (something common with most RTS titles that have a lot going on at once), but it’s not until you get past 60 FPS that the game becomes really smooth. But, while it might not be buttery-smooth at ~40 and a bit above, we’re going with the settings above (2560×1600) as being our best playable, as we have no doubt anyone on this configuration would be more than content with that choice.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.

The company first started out as MadOnion and released a GPU-benchmarking tool called XLR8R, which was soon replaced with 3DMark 99. Since that time, we’ve seen seven different versions of the software, including two major updates (3DMark 99 Max, 3DMark 2001 SE). With each new release, the graphics get better, the capabilities get better and the sudden hit of ambition to get down and dirty with overclocking comes at you fast.

Similar to a real game, 3DMark Vantage offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, High and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test.

Performance is the stock mode that most use when benchmarking, but it only uses a resolution of 1280×1024, which isn’t representative of today’s gamers. Extreme is more appropriate, as it runs at 1920×1200 and does well to push any single or multi-GPU configuration currently on the market – and will do so for some time to come.

3DMark Vantage is a highly scalable benchmark, taking full advantage of all available shaders and literal GPU cores, along with copious amounts of memory. Given that, our results above fairly accurately scale each card with its real-world performance.

Overclocking Sapphire’s Radeon HD 5850 Toxic

Before tackling our overclocking results, let’s first clear up what we consider to be a real overclock and how we go about achieving it. If you read our processor reviews, you might already be aware that we don’t care too much for an unstable overclock. It might look good on paper, but if it’s not stable, then it won’t be used. Very few people purchase a new GPU for the sole purpose of finding the maximum overclock, which is why we focus on finding what’s stable and usable.

To find the max stable overclock on an ATI card, we stick to using ATI’s Catalyst Overdrive tool. Compared to what’s available on the NVIDIA side, it’s quite limited in the top-end, but it’s the most robust and simplest solution to use. For NVIDIA, we use EVGA’s Precision, which allows us to reach heights that are in no way sane – a good thing.

Once we find what we believe might be a stable overclock, the card is put through 30 minutes of torture with the help of OCCT 3.0’s GPU stress-test, which we find to push any graphics card harder than any other stress-tester we’ve ever used. If the card passes there, we then further verify by running the card through a 2x run of 3DMark Vantage’s Extreme setting. Finally, games are quickly loaded and tested out to assure we haven’t introduced any side-effects.

If all these tests pass without issue, we consider the overclock to be stable.

Overclocking Sapphire’s Radeon HD 5850 Toxic

Overclocking pre-overclocked cards is always interesting, because sometimes the card will overclock quite a bit further, and other times it might not overclock much further at all. In the case of our Toxic card here, the former is true, and I have to say, the results were impressive. The reference clocks for the HD 5850 are 725MHz Core and 1000MHz, and the pre-overclock on the Toxic bumps those to 765MHz and 1125MHz, respectively. After much tweaking, we managed to land a stable overclock of 870MHz and 1225MHz. That’s a 105MHz Core and 100MHz Memory boost, on an already-overclocked card!

Note that in order to achieve these clocks, we had to use AMD’s own GPU Clock Tool, as the Overdrive utility in the Catalyst driver only allowed us a mere 10MHz boost above the 765MHz Core, and no additional frequency on the memory, which I’m sure is why Sapphire didn’t go beyond the clocks it did.

Because our overclocks were so impressive, I’m not going to say that I believe them to be truly typical, but in our case, those clocks were absolutely stable, and I tried hard to break it. They passed everything, from our continuous OCCT run to our looped 3DMark run to our real-world gaming runs. The clocks we reached were undoubtedly impressive, but were they worth it?

For once, I can say “yes”, because the gains seen in our games and 3DMark runs above are without question notable. We saw a 6 FPS bump in Modern Warfare 2, 10 FPS increase in F.E.A.R. 2, and likewise, another 10 FPS increase in GRID. I of course wouldn’t heartily recommend anyone to overclock their GPU so high on a regular basis, but should you choose to, real performance gains can be seen.

Power & Temperatures

To test our graphics cards for both temperatures and power consumption, we utilize OCCT for the stress-testing, GPU-Z for the temperature monitoring, and a Kill-a-Watt for power monitoring. The Kill-a-Watt is plugged into its own socket, with only the PC connect to it.

As per our guidelines when benchmarking with Windows, when the room temperature is stable (and reasonable), the test machine is boot up and left to sit at the Windows desktop until things are completely idle. Once things are good to go, the idle wattage is noted, GPU-Z is started up to begin monitoring card temperatures, and OCCT is set up to begin stress-testing.

To push the cards we test to their absolute limit, we use OCCT in full-screen 2560×1600 mode, and allow it to run for 30 minutes, which includes a one minute lull at the start, and a three minute lull at the end. After about 10 minutes, we begin to monitor our Kill-a-Watt to record the max wattage.

I had to do a total double-take when I inputted our results for the Toxic card into the chart above, because by all coincidence, our temperatures for both the Toxic and reference HD 5850 were absolutely the same, both for the idle and load. Now, I say “coincidentally”, because while both cards are the same model, the Toxic has a slightly different cooler, and is pre-overclocked. So to hit the exact same numbers is neat.

It may seem immediately unimpressive that despite Sapphire’s interesting cooler modifications, the temperatures are the same, but bear in mind that the card is overclocked, so at least it isn’t worse.

The overclock may not have been noticeable in our temperature tests above, but for power consumption, the opposite is true, with a 27W increase at load, and 7W increase at idle.

Final Thoughts

When the term “Radeon” is uttered, “Sapphire” is another that seems to follow. While there are a great number of vendors who produce ATI-based graphics cards, such as PowerColor, XFX, Gigabyte, ASUS and so forth, its Sapphire who holds the dominant lead in the marketplace. In some cases, and markets, this could be considered a bad thing, but Sapphire is doing some great things, so it’s hard to not feel like it’s the competition that’s not trying hard enough to wow us (a lot of this also has to do with market penetration).

We’ve taken a look at numerous Sapphire cards in the past, and there have been none to come off as being non-impressive. Sure, some might just be based off of a reference design (at launch, at least), and others might just have a slight overclock, but when you look at the company’s Toxic and Vapor-X series, it’s hard to not like what they’re doing. Personally, I love the Vapor-X series, because the coolers manage to look good, cool well, and retain pleasant noise levels.

Along with this Toxic model, Sapphire also released a Vapor-X offering at the same time, although it wasn’t interested in having reviews done for it. Even stranger, there’s been no photos of it made available (even after I asked specifically for them), so I’m not sure of the story there. I’m guessing that over the next week, we’ll learn more about that offering, and I can pretty much already say that if you like the performance of the HD 5850, but want improved temperatures over what we saw with the Toxic, the Vapor-X variant is worth looking out for.

Sapphire's Radeon HD 5850 1GB Toxic

The current average retail price for reference-clocked (or at least close) cards is around ~$300 – $310, while Sapphire’s Toxic is currently selling for $340 at e-tailers I checked. Given the lack of a truly impressive GPU cooler being equipped here, $30+ is a bit high of a premium to ask for, but to be fair to Sapphire, other current pre-overclocked HD 5850’s retail for the exact same price, and have identical overclocks.

From that perspective, the Toxic is priced-right, and given that price, it performs well… noticeably better than a reference-clocked HD 5850. But, it’s the overclocking that really helps make this card shine, because we managed to achieve such a high stable overclock, that the performance we saw nearly matched (and in the case of 3DMark, surpassed) the performance of the HD 5870, which retails for $400. That’s great to see.

Given it’s interesting design, and superb overclocking-ability, I feel compelled to award Sapphire’s Toxic an Editor’s Choice award. I personally recommend waiting to see if a mail-in rebate ever becomes available, just to bring the price a tad lower, but as it stands, it’s a superb offering, and if overclocking is in the “cards”, then you’re going to have a fun OC’ing session with this one.


Sapphire’s Radeon HD 5850 Toxic

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