Following in the only slightly larger footprints of the sizzling 5870 graphics card comes this downscaled version, the Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 1GB. Updated 12 August 2010.

The 5870 first showed us the joys of ATI’s DirectX 11.0 technology, but it was the 5850 that shoe-horned it into a package that offered real value for the fervent gamer. The HD 5850 falls into the middle of the price range, but its decent performance figures make it
a good-value alternative to the three £299-plus models.

Both graphics chips are manufactured using the 40nm process. The 5850 is a little shorter than the 5870, but it also runs cooler and consumes less power at 151W under maximum load. It requires a pair of six-pin power connectors. You get both HDMI and DVI ports, and the 5850 can support up to three screens. Eyefinity adds the ability to stretch some games across those three displays.

The basic architecture is based on a 256bit memory interface. The specifications have been trimmed slightly, so the 5870’s 850MHz core clock becomes 725MHz in the 5850. The memory clock speed has been turned down from 1.2GHz to 1GHz, and the number of stream processors is sliced from 1,600 to a still impressive 1,440. All this should give the 5850 the edge over both the GTX 470 and 480. Its floating point of 2.09TFlops is almost twice that of the GTX 470’s 1.09TFlops, while the fill rate sees it beat even the GTX 480 by more than 10.2GTps. This is due to a generous sampling of texture units.

But superiority on paper doesn’t always result in a commanding lead in real-world performance. The 5850 is a slower card than the GTX 470, but the difference wasn’t as great as the £60 price gap might suggest. In Hawx, it trailed by around 8 to 12fps, but in Aliens vs Predator the difference was less than 2fps as detail levels were raised. Our Crysis tests occasionally saw the 5850 beat its rival.

Of the £200-plus cards, the 5850 saw the greatest drop in performance when moving from DirectX 10.x to 11.0. We suspect this card will have few problems with future DirectX 11.0 games, however.

The 5850 is slower than the GTX 470 in most tests. But this card costs £60 less and runs cooler and quieter.

Pros: Excellent value for money; good performance

Cons: Only fourth fastest; less well-equipped for future use than more expensive cards

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

See also: Group test: what's the best budget graphics card?

Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 1GB: Specs

  • ATI Radeon HD 5850
  • 1GB GDDR5
  • 725MHz core clock
  • 1000MHz memory clock (4000MHz DDR effective)
  • 400MHz Ramdac
  • 256-bit memory interface
  • 1440 stream processors
  • PCI-E Interface
  • 2 x 6-pin power connectors
  • HDMI and DVI
  • S-video
  • DirectX 11.0
  • 2-year warranty
  • ATI Radeon HD 5850
  • 1GB GDDR5
  • 725MHz core clock
  • 1000MHz memory clock (4000MHz DDR effective)
  • 400MHz Ramdac
  • 256-bit memory interface
  • 1440 stream processors
  • PCI-E Interface
  • 2 x 6-pin power connectors
  • HDMI and DVI
  • S-video
  • DirectX 11.0
  • 2-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

While the 5870 is all about showcasing innovation, the Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 1GB also boasts plenty of power, with many of the same features. The clincher, though, is the price. Sub-£200 is fantastic for a card hard on the heels of a GTX 295 or HD 5870. If you’re shopping anywhere near to this price point, nothing tops the ATI HD 5850.

Find the best price