I was blown away by the speed of the ATI Radeon 5870 graphics card when I tested it six months ago but the 5970 shattered its earlier record.
The 5970 combines two 5870 graphic chips into one card but the clock speed of each graphics chip is slower than the single chip in the 5870.
It took a long time to test this card as I had to buy a new power supply unit (PSU). The 5970 needed one 6-pin and one 6+2 pin PCI-E power connector, which was a problem as my old PSU came with twin 6-pin connectors (see My Buy on page15).
The test AMD reference card did not ship with a 6-pin to 6+2pin converter. However, if you buy a retail 5970 card, it should come with one.
The first thing I noted was the length of this card. It was very long and it reached the metal casing which held the optical drive bays. It was a tight fit and I had to push cables aside to make room for the card. You should check the length of your casing before buying this card.
It also ran extremely hot and even though I shut down the PC after two hours of gaming benchmarks, it was still too hot to be removed. In fact, I had to wait a full 10 minutes more before I could touch the card.
I measured the power consumption of both cards with a power meter. When idle, both cards ran at about 125W to 130W. Then I ran the Dirt 2 benchmark.
With the game running, the power usage of the 5870 rose to about 260W to 270W while the 5970 hit 335W to 345W.
The 5970 costs about $300 more than the 5870, which is a lot of money for any PC component. So the question is whether the performance increase is worth the moolah.
To do that, I benchmarked the 5970 and the 5870 on my test machine which had an AMD Phenom II X4 940 processor with 4GB RAM and Catalyst 10.3 drivers for the graphics cards.
There was an increase of about 10 per cent in the synthetic benchmarks, 3DMark06 and 3DMark Vantage, when I tested the 5970.
When I tested the Direct X11 (DX11) games, I saw a significant jump in frame rates.
Surprisingly, there was no improvement when I ran the DX10 games, contrary to the results posted at expert sites like Anandtech.com and Tomshardware.com, which showed a significant improvement with the 5970.
The 5970 cranked up the frame rates but the 5870 was more than capable of running games smoothly at the highest settings. So the additional numbers from the 5970 may not be worth the additional $300 if you are just connecting the card to a single monitor.
Perhaps when powering multiple monitors, the increased frame rates will make a difference.
There is a price for power. In this case, it is almost $1,000.