AMD low end and mainstream graphics cards review
Author: Luka Rakamaric
Date: 24 May 2010

After NVIDIA released their competitors to the successful ATI's 4000 series lower end cards, finally bringing us DX10.1 and GDDR5 and native audio support over HDMI, ATI has upped the ante with its new 5000 series cards from the lower segment. Today we are reviewing three such cards, the ATI Radeon HD 5450, 5570 and 5670.

After the first release of the series 5000 cards last year, ATI has been the sole provider of DX11 cards for about 6 months. While NVIDIA was working on getting out their flagship, ATI has been preparing cards that would ship in large volumes. First, they introduced the Juniper (RV840) cards, HD 5770 and 5750, and a while ago they also announced the new GPUs, called Redwood (RV830), and Cedar (RV810). With their introduction, the whole Radeon 4000 series becomes obsolete. Well, except in AMD's 890GX chipset which features a 4000 series based GPU.

From a technological standpoint, there's nothing new on the lower series 5000 cards that we haven't already seen on their bigger brothers. ATI is still the only one offering full support for DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD bitstreaming over HDMI, for example. This makes them uniquely suited for HTPC use. They also have dual 1080p video decoders, which is a prerequisite for 3D MPEG4-MVC, or 3D on Blu-ray in marketing terms.

So, if we go top to bottom, the first card we have before us is the ATI Radeon HD 5670. Its RV830 GPU is exactly one half of the RV840 used on 5700 series cards. It has 400 shaders in a superscalar architecture, 20 TMUs and 8 ROPs. The bus width is still 128 bit, so with GDDR5 it doesn't lose too much memory throughput to the 5700 series.

The second one is the 5570. It uses DDR3 memory, but is otherwise identical to the 5670's architecture. With GDDR3 and its 28.8 GB/s you lose more than half of the memory throughput compared to 5670's 64 GB/s. This will cause a bigger performance drop than the drop in the GPU frequency, which came from 775 down to 650 MHz. Unlike the 5670, the 5570 is a low profile card, so it can be placed in slim cases that make the majority of the HTPC's market.

The last card uses a newest GPU, called Cedar, or RV810. It is really tiny, with its 292 million transistors and 59 square millimeters. It has only 80 of the superscalar shaders, which are comparable to NVIDIA's scalar 16 used in GT 210 card. It uses DDR2 or DDR3 memory, for a memory throughput of a 'whooping' 6.4 or 12.8 GB/s, respectively. The version we got was the 'fast' one, as it had DDR3 memory. One thing you do lose compared to the stronger cards is the second video decoder, so you won't be able to accelerate 3D Blurays when they become available. For all other purposes, it is an ideal card, because of its low consumption, heating, great multimedia capabilities and size. The one we got unfortunately had an active cooler, but we are certain that most manufacturers are going to go with passive versions not only on the 5450 but on the 5500 series as well.

Although none of the cards had a CrossFire connector, all three support CrossFire over PCI-E. Some manufacturers might go for the CF connector on the 5670 card, as they will be using their own PCBs.

The focus of all of these cards is multimedia. Their predecessors, the Radeon 4000 series have been a huge success for the HTPC market. The new 5000 series also brings us the Protected Audio Path system that allows 7.1 output, and supports the newest, lossless, HD audio codecs. They also support transferring those codecs in bitstream to an external receiver. All of the cards fully support HDMI 1.3a.

With the Flash wars on mobile devices in mind, we must say that all of the new GPUs support Adobe Flash 10.1 decoding acceleration.

The gaming performance of these cards ranges from bad to worse when trying to run modern titles, but for the previous generation of games you will be able to get decent performance out of the Redwood cards. The Cedar based 5450 should never really get to do anything with 3D in it.

From a multimedia point of view, you can run almost anything, and it will be hardware decoded. From Bluray discs, over H.264 content in .mkv containers, to latest lossless HD audio codecs. Even the S939 Athlon 64 3000+ doesn't get over 10% load when running a 20 GB x.264 coded fullHD movie, or its Bluray equivalent.

Testbed configuration
Intel Core i7 Extreme 980X
Gigabyte X58-UD5
OCZ PC3 1600 MHz 3x2GB
Western Digital Raptor 150 GB
PC Power & Cooling TurboCool 1KW-SR
HP LP3065 30'' LCD
Panasonic TX-P42G10E 42'' Plasma display

On a side note - we used a 20 GB x.264 encoded Transformers 2 Revenge of the Fallen .mkv file and measured the average CPU load for the x264 CPU load test. Since all of the cards have the same video engine, the results are almost identical, with the differences coming from other system activities.

 
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