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Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak Review

Asus ATI Radeon HD 5870 Review

Manufacturer: Asus
UK Price (as reviewed): £309.35 (inc. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $379.99(ex. Tax)

Core Clock: 850MHz
Memory Clock: 1.2GHz (4.8GHz effective)
Memory: 1GB GDDR5
Warranty: Three years

With the release of the new line of top end ATI GPUs has come the usual stream of partner graphics cards fighting for attention on the web pages of e-tailers everywhere. For now though there’s little to differentiate cards between different board partners; pre-overclocked versions are still a few months away and custom coolers have yet to be released to allow particular offerings to stand out from the crowd.

It’s all a bit boring really, with the key difference between the various Radeon HD 5870s at the moment being that crucial one of price, or whether or not they contain a voucher slip for Colin Mcrae Dirt 2, which in any case you won’t be able to play until December anyway!

Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak Review Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak 1GB Review Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak Review Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak 1GB Review
Click to enlarge

However, Asus has a trick up its sleeve when it comes to stock versions of cards, and that comes in the form of its Voltage Tweaking software, unique to Asus’ cards thanks to the use of a custom VBIOS. Using the software you’re able to manually increase the card’s Vcore, unlocking a truckload of extra overclocking potential that you wouldn’t be able to get at with any other partner card without risky manual volt-modding.

Apart from the custom software and VBIOS though, the Asus ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB is as stock a card as any other HD 5870 currently on the market. This means that it still packs the same monstrous Cypress GPU clocked at 850MHz, the same 1GB of GDDR5 running at 1.2GHz (4.8GHz effective) and the same batmobile-esque dual slot cooler as every other HD 5870 currently on the market.

The Asus HD 5870 also packs the same array of connectivity as any other HD 5870, with twin dual-link DVI connectors, HDMI and DisplayPort connectivity, and requires the same two six pin PCI-E power connectors plugged into the roof of the card to run – on every physical factor, it’s just another HD 5870.

As we saw with Asus’ HD 4890 Voltage Tweak though, looks can be deceiving. In that instance the supplied Asus Smart Doctor software allowed us to push the card to clock speeds in excess of 1GHz despite a stock clock of 850MHz and we’re hopeful that the HD 5870 will be able to match that extremely impressive feat.

Unfortunately though Asus hasn’t made any strides in the last five months in making the Smart Doctor overclocking software any easier to use. While GPU temperature and fan speed are clearly displayed, the actual act of upping clock speeds and, critically, the voltage is done with horribly inaccurate slider bars which you can’t manually tweak with the arrow keys. This makes setting target clock speeds a nightmare, with miniscule adjustments needing a very steady mouse hand.

Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak Review Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak 1GB Review Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak Review Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak 1GB Review
Click to enlarge - the Smart Doctor software allows you to adjust the Vcore, but it's frustratingly under featured

The software is, infuriatingly, also adverse to auto enabling an overclock on startup and despite offering some cool abilities like being able to manually set the temperatures at which the card’s fan spins up to a certain RPM, is ultimately very frustrating to actually use. Other graphics card partners have produced far superior offerings, with EVGA Precision being the highlight, and Smart Doctor is by no means in the same league and the Vcore adjustment feature is the only reason you’d want to use this software for any length of time. Needless to say that it’ll only work with cards using Asus’ VBIOS.

Bundle

Like many of the HD 5870 and HD 5850 cards currently on the market, the Asus Radeon HD 5870 Voltage Tweak comes with a Steam redemption code for Colin McRae Dirt 2, set to become the first DirectX 11 game when it’s released in December. Also included in the bundle is a single dual Molex to PCI-E connector for legacy PSU compatibility, a CrossFire bridge should you choose to add a second card at a later date, a DVI to VGA adapter and the usual driver disc and quick start guide. It’s a fairly standard bundle all things considered, although well presented in Asus’ excellent packaging.

Warranty

Asus provides a comprehensive three year warranty, that doesn’t require any form of registration or activation for you to take advantage of. While admittedly not as long a warranty as you’ll get from board partners such as BFG or EVGA, the advantage of not having to register your purchase is a big plus, and means that as long as you have proof of purchase, your warranty is safe.

Asus also have both USA, UK, and European RMA centres, so no matter where your card should go wrong, you won’t have to ship it back to Taiwan for a replacement.