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AMD's Radeon HD 5830 graphics card

Cypress gets pruned to fit more budgets

AMD's line of DirectX 11 graphics cards has been fleshed out rather nicely since its inception late last year, with products spanning from well under a hundred bucks to somewhere north of $600. Yet that product line has always had a metaphorical gaping hole right in the center, between the $170-ish Radeon HD 5770 and the $300-ish Radeon HD 5850. That's huge. You could drive a metaphorical truck through it, metaphorically speaking. And a great many PC gamers like to buy their graphics cards precisely within that soft spot between 200 and 250 bucks, because a nice mix of price and performance traditionally can be had there.

At long last, AMD is endeavoring to address that vibrant segment of the market with its latest Radeon, the HD 5830. That's probably a good thing, too, since Nvidia's DX11 GPUs are later than closing time at Taco Bell—and, unlike Taco Bell, not really poised to address the more value-conscious segments of the market.

Now that we've successfully compared a GPU to an Enchirito, my work here is nearly done. All that remains is to evaluate the Radeon HD 5830's performance and value proposition versus the other offerings on the market—and, for potential upgraders, against some rather older graphics cards from the same price range.

Less stuff, more speed, say what?
As long as you've read our Radeon HD 5870 review, you can know everything you need to know about the Radeon HD 5830 in a few short paragraphs. The 5830 is based on the same "Cypress" GPU as the 5870, but it's had various internal bits and pieces deactivated in the name of product segmentation. Although that very fact itself may seem tragic, GPU makers have long engaged in these practices, in part because they can manage to make use of quite a few chips that may not entirely work perfectly. Heck, the Radeon HD 5850 has already followed that path, and the 5830 comes behind it.

The 5830 is a little strange, though. Not only have six of Cypress's 20 SIMD cores been disabled—leaving it with 1120 ALUs (or stream processors, as AMD calls them) and 56 texels per clock of filtering capacity—but fully half of the render back-ends or ROPs have been nixed, as well. That means the 5830 has considerably less pixel throughput and antialiasing power than its elder siblings. Yet AMD has left its four 64-bit memory interfaces entirely intact, so that its 1GB of 4Gbps GDDR5 memory yields just as much memory bandwidth as the Radeon HD 5850. Freaky! That makes for a very different balance of resources than other Cypress-based cards. The evil geniuses in AMD product planning have somewhat compensated for this mass deactivation of ROPs by giving the 5830 an 800MHz core clock speed—that's 75MHz higher than the 5850, believe it or not.

fill rate
arithmetic (GFLOPS)
Radeon HD 5770 13.6 34.0 76.8 1360
Radeon HD 5830 12.8 44.8 128.0 1792
Radeon HD 5850 23.2 52.2 128.0 2088
Radeon HD 5870 27.2 68.0 153.6 2720

The math pretty much works out in the end, though, with the 5830 nestled in between the 5770 and 5850 in key rates for texture filtering and shader arithmetic. So long as its relatively low ROP throughput balances out its beefy memory bandwidth, the 5830 shouldn't cause too many fights at the dinner table.

After deliberations that apparently continued right up until the eve of the 5830's introduction, AMD has chosen to set the 5830's suggested e-tail price almost equidistant between the 5770 and 5850 at $240, or in gas-station format, $239.9999.

We expect unusual variety from the Radeon HD 5830 on a number of fronts, in part because AMD hasn't produced a reference design for this product. Instead, it has suggested board makers might want to base their cards on the Radeon HD 5870 board design. Board vendors are free to do otherwise, though, and they'll have to come up with their own custom cooling solutions.

XFX's version of the 5830 will be based on the same relatively compact board design as the firm's 5850 card, with an angular custom cooler apparently intended to confuse radar systems. XFX expects these cards to hit online retailers later this week at a price around the $239 mark, bundled with a copy of Aliens vs. Predator, a new game fortified with DirectX 11 effects.

We don't have too much information yet about Gigabyte's offering, but it will apparently feature twin props for extra thrust, along with a much larger heatsink and longer PCB than the XFX card. Gigabyte looks to have used the 5870 reference board as its template, at least for this first attempt. The result appears to be a much longer card than even the standard Radeon HD 5850.

Sapphire has followed a similar path with its 5830, although it has stuck with a single, enormous fan for the cooler. This card is already listed at Newegg for $239.99, although it's not currently in stock. Another version bundled with Modern Warfare 2 is apparently available now for $264.99. You can probably expect to see MW2 bundled with 5830 cards from a number of AMD's partners, although we were kind of expecting to see cards priced right at $240 to include MW2. That $25 premium makes the game bundle less enticing.

I have to say that, at first glance, the selection of custom coolers above is a little bit disappointing. The reference coolers from both AMD and Nvidia these days use a blower situated at the end of the card. The blower pulls air in from the system, pushes it through a shroud across the heatsink and the GPU, and exhausts the heated air out the back of the case. This arrangement tends to work very well, even in cramped quarters and multi-GPU configurations. The cards pictured above might have spectacular thermals, amazingly low noise levels, and excellent adaptability—we don't know, since we haven't tested them yet. But we've had problems with similar coolers in the past, especially in multi-GPU configurations. Given the choice, I'd prefer a proper blower-and-shroud combo any day, especially since that sounds kinda racy.

Heck, we wound up with just such a combo, since the 5830 card we received from AMD for testing looks to be a Radeon HD 5870 with the appropriate clock speeds set and bits disabled. This card should do a fine job of representing the 5830's performance, but noise levels, GPU temperatures, and even power consumption may vary on the actual products. That hasn't stopped AMD from offering power consumption estimates of 125W at peak and 25W when idle, though.