GTX 480 (825/1100 MHZ) vs. HD 5870 (975/1300 MHz), Overclocked Performance Analysis, Part 2

NVIDIA has released its long awaited GeForce GTX based on its brand new Fermi DX11 GF100 architecture just over two weeks ago.  We were able to bring you Part One of our GTX 480 series, “NVIDIA’s GTX 480 Performance Testing” here.  We now have had two weeks hand’s on experience testing GTX 480 versus HD 5870 and we have learned quite a bit more that we would like to share with you.

In Part One, we learned that the GTX 480 does indeed overclock.   We were able to get it stably up from its stock clocks of 700/924 MHz to 825/1100!  So now, for Part Two, we will compare the performance of our overclocked GTX 480 (825/1100MHz) to our overclocked HD 5870 (975/1300MHz) and we have added one more benchmark.  In Part Three, we will look at the relative performance hit of 8xMSAA over 4xMSAA on each card, and we shall continue to add games as we progress through this series of GTX 480 vs. HD 5870 exploring the features of each video card on our adventure.


In Part One, we compared the relative performance of 5 GPUs – GTX 480, GTX 280, HD 5870, HD 4870-X2 and HD 4870.  GTX 480 won most of the benchmarks just over HD 5870, followed by HD-4870-X2.  HD 4870 and GTX 280 were left in the DX10 dust while the DX11 cards showed their advantages over a dual-GPU flagship card of the last generation.  This time, we will only be comparing HD 5870 to GTX 480 and we shall overclock them each as far as we can.  We do want to note that we did not overclock the GTX 480′s shader clocks for this review as they cannot be adjusted in the competing card.  However, you can expect even further performance improvement by doing so.  In a later part of this series and after we get WHQL drivers for GTX 480, we shall also overclock the shaders to further explore this new GF100 GeForce architecture in gaming.

We are also going to revisit the “Power Usage” section as befits overclocking in this review.  We have heard back from NVIDIA about the apparent discrepancy between the published TDP specification of 250 W “Maximum Board Power” and the near-300 W power draw that we observed with our own GTX 480 and what has been confirmed by other reviewers.  NVIDIA has finally clarified how they determine their published “Maximum Board Power” (TDP) specifications for their graphics cards!

AMD has already launched its entire 5000 DX11 series from top to bottom – $600 for their dual-GPU HD 5970 down to their passive-cooled HD 5450 for $60. To compete, NVIDIA has launched its new DX11 GeForce lineup with its GTX 480 flagship and second-fastest card, the GTX 470. The GTX 480 comes with a MSRP of $499 and the GTX470 retails for $349. We still need to answer the question: Is it worth the $100 premium over the $400 that one would currently spend for AMD’s top single-GPU video card – HD 5870?

That question is important because we expect that NVIDIA will shortly launch it’s own entire DX11 line-up based on their GF100 “Fermi” architecture.  We expect to see GTX 460 and 450 launch within a few months and we need to see what this new GF 100 Fermi architecture brings over their GT200b series besides DX11 and a smaller process. Overclocking our GTX 480 may give us some idea of future GF100 core scalability as NVIDIA refines their process to perhaps bringing out an “Ultra” version of GTX 480 with all 512 CUDA cores enabled and with perhaps a higher clock than what we achieved with our own 480-core GTX 480 for this review.

To properly bring you this review, we purchased a Diamond HD 5870 from NewEgg and put it through its paces with the very latest performance drivers – Catalyst 10-3a. AMD is quite proud of this driver set as it brings sold performance increases over Catalyst 10-2 and over even the latest WHQL drivers, Catalyst 10-3, which were released two weeks ago. The results would be more in NVIDIA’s favor if we used the last Catalyst 10-2 driver set or even the current WHQL Catalyst 10-3 drivers. Also, remember that AMD has had a long time to mature their drivers and that the release GTX 480 GeForce 197.17 drivers that we are still using are beta “release drivers” and they should leave some room for improvement by NVIDIA’s GeForce driver team in the months to come.

Today you will see us pit our Diamond reference design HD 5870 which is now overclocked from 850/1200 to 975/1300 MHz against the new GTX 480 which is overclocked to 825/1100 MHz from 700/924 MHz.  We continue to benchmark with 14 modern games and with 3 synthetic benchmarks ranging from 1680×1050 to 1920×1200 to 2560×1600 resolutions and with details fully maxed and with 4xAA/16xAF.


Is GTX 480 worth nearly $100 more than its rival, AMD’s HD 5870?

We were not able to fully answer that question in Part One of our GTX 480 performance evaluation even though we declared the GTX 480 the performance winner.  This review is continuing on as a series and we believe that we have a much clearer picture now. Part One analyzed and compared the stock GTX 480 to the stock HD 5870 performance and the performance winner was the GTX 480, but not overwhelmingly so. Later on, we will also look at the individual features of each video card to see what else the new NVIDIA GPU brings to the table and if it is worth the nearly $100 premium over its AMD counterpart. We learned that AMD is immediately going to respond to NVIDIA’s GTX 480/470 Fermi GF100 launch by allowing their partners to overclock the current HD 5870.

Here is AMD’s not-so-secret weapon and notice the free down-loadable copy of Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2 bundled in with the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ as an incentive.  PowerColor HD 5870+ is a mildly overclocked version of our reference HD 5870; 875/1225 MHz up +25 MHz on each the core and memory clock.  Worthy of note especially for smaller cases, the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ PCB is shorter and wider than reference and the cooling solution is both quieter and more effective than the reference cooling solution.


Widespread e-tail availability of both GeForce GTX 480 and GTX 470 will happen this coming week of April 12, 2010. So you still have a little time to decide what to do and this review is designed to help you with an important potential upgrade. NVIDIA says that they are building tens of thousands of units for initial availability, and this will ensure that their partners have ample volume for what is certainly one of the most anticipated GPU launches ever.

We already pointed out in Part 1 that it is practical to upgrade from HD 4870/GTX 280 class – which includes GTX 260, 275 and by extension, GTX 285. We also discovered that it is also logical to upgrade to DX11 from a HD 4870-X2 or HD 4870 CrossFire, or by extension, GTX 260 or 275 SLI or even a GTX 295 which is a bit more powerful than our HD 4870-X2. Since we do not want any chance of our CPU “bottlenecking” our graphics, we continue testing both of our graphics cards with our Intel Core i7 920 at 3.80 GHz (3.97 GHz effectively with the 21x multiplier in turbo mode), 6 GB Kingston DDR3 and a Gigabyte X58 full 16x + 16x PCIe CrossFire/SLI motherboard.

Later on we plan to also test our AMD DX11 video cards on AMD’s Dragon platform. We also acquired a brand new ECS black label A890GXM-A CrossFire motherboard which is a nice performance upgrade from our current Gigabyte 790X motherboard and we shall post that review early this week.


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Founder and Senior Editor of ABT.

  • tviceman

    Thanks for all the tests! This just confirms what I was already leaning towards doing – waiting for the next round of refresh cards from Nvidia vs. AMD’s next gen cards.

    OC’ing Fermi shows that with some tweaks and getting thermals to a lower level, this card has plenty of untapped potential.

  • tviceman

    Correction, this architecture has plenty of untapped potential.

  • Lord Xeb from OCN

    What a monster than GTX480 is… Too bad I cannot afford it nor a new PSU to for it D:

  • Electrofreak

    The HD 5870 is a 6-month-old card. While it’s good to see nVidia back to being competitive (performance-wise), I wonder how long it will last before ATI releases a GTX-480 killer?

    nVidia can keep its price point for now because of sales to benchmark enthusiasts and nVidia loyalists, but assuming ATI releases a new card soon (and prices reasonably), they’re going to have to make some significant price cuts.

    But, as I said before, it’s nice to see them back in the game. I’ve always been an AMD & ATI fan (worked out real well for me when they merged), but it’s never fun to see one side or the other sitting on top for too long.

  • james

    Why put these cards head to head?
    The 480GTX price is much close to the 5970 then the 5870 so why no comparison with the 5970?

    The 5870 is an old card now….

    As its been said nvidia Failed hard on this new card

  • apoppin

    Why? Because HD 5870 and GTX 480 are respectively the fastest single GPU video cards from AMD and NVIDIA. The HD 5970 have 2 GPUs in a single video card and it is also over $100 more expensive than GTX 480.

    By asking us to benchmark GTX 480 against HD 5970, you are basically asking us to test 2 x HD 5870 in CrossFire against a single-GPU GTX 480 video card. It may be unfair, but no worries, we shall do this test soon – putting HD 5870 CF which is a little faster than HD 5970 – against the stock GTX 480 and also overclocked.

    This is a *series* on GTX 480 performance and upcoming Part 3 shall use the new 197.41 WHQL drivers to test against the release Betas and we shall also compare the relative performance hit of 8xMSAA vs. 4xMSAA on HD 5870 vs. GTX 480. Expect this part of the review up next Monday.

    For Part 3, I am also returning about 8 games to my benching suite and I will also add Just Cause 2.

    As you may have noticed, I predicted that AMD would allow their partners bring out their highly overclocked HD 5870s – also priced about $500 – to compete with GTX 480. That is GTX 480′s competition, overclocked HD 5870 – not HD 5970. There will be no price war until NVIDIA brings out its “Ultra” and AMD responds with a “5890″.

  • Rollo

    “Why put these cards head to head?
    The 480GTX price is much close to the 5970 then the 5870 so why no comparison with the 5970?”

    Where do you shop? At newegg, the cheapest 5870 is $409.99. All the stock GTX 480s are $499.99.

    That is $90.00 difference.

    The cheapest 5970 is $699.99, that is $200. difference.

    The GTX480 and HD5870 are MUCH closer in price, but the GTX480 leads in performance and feature set.

  • zebani

    who cares how many gpus there are everybody put gtx 295 against 5870 and 7950gx2 against x1900 sure it was fair then but not now lol its about fastest graphic card right ? or may be you don’t want to upset nvidia ?

  • apoppin

    No. This series on GTX 480 performance has not been about the fastest video card. Other sites do that but we prefer to explore in far more depth through a *series* of reviews.

    Ours is an ongoing performance analysis of GTX 480 vs. HD 5870. So far, it compares AMD’s single fastest GPU against NVIDIA’s single fastest GPU.

    We also pointed out that the $500 GTX 480 is set against the overclocked versions of HD 5870 which are also about $500; not against a $700 dual-Radeon card.

    Later on in this series, we shall expand it to include comparing GTX 480 and perhaps GTX 480 SLI versus HD 5870 CrossFire. That will give you an idea of how GTX 480 performance compares to that of two Radeons.

  • kaneda

    If you ignore power consumption, heat and noise. nVidia wins this round(providing you’re willing to pay a little more in your price range). STFU about comparing a dual-gpu card to a single gpu card, as the guy before me said, when the GX2 came out against the X1950XTX i assure you the nvidia loyalists didnt argue it was unfair. (despite X1950XTX’s in CF outperforming the quad SLI(two GX2′s)). Pick whichever card you wish, personally, with soaring energy costs, a large scale economic recession every penny helps, in the long run ATi’s solutions are cheaper and offer more than enough performance, but if you want an extra couple of fps (along with extra heat and noise and a larger energy bill) fork out the extra for the green option. The companies don’t care about you just your money, side with whoever has the best product for your needs.

    PS: european prices on GPU’s arent the same as US ones, theyre way higher. Using a single website for a price comparison isnt really fair. even if it is newegg.

  • Mariosti

    About gtx480, 5870 and 5970…
    Here in Europe (precisely in Poland), those cards are priced around 474$ for 5870, 664$ for GTX480, and 804$ for the 5970 (yeah, who would have guest we’re so rich, I can’t see it in anything else than the prices). That gives 190$ difference between 5870 and gtx480, and 139$ diff between nv gtx and 5970. When we look at the difference as percents, we get 40% and 21% differences respectively. When we add to that the fact that the gtx uses as much energy as the 5970 witch means nvidia won’t be physically able to create a dual gpu card form their 480, so not comparing it to the 5970 is giving a handicap to nvidia actually.
    The 5870 competitor is the gtx470, at least price wise, because again the ati card uses less energy, produces less heat and so on. If nvidia will try to take on the 5970, their only chance is to create some down clocked dual 470 card, witch might not be able to do the trick, especially because stock 5970 has so much oc headroom.

    Anyway, great to see competitive cards from nvidia… although they didn’t pull ati prices down witch proves that they’re not much of a threat.

  • apoppin

    Well, as I pointed out in Part 1, three weeks ago, NVIDIA is not going affect ATI pricing for quite awhile. It appears to be intentional that the GTX 480 and GTX 470 do not compete in the same price slots as HD 5870 and HD 5850.

    It appears that both companies benefit by not engaging in a price war with each other now. ATI has instead decided to offer their partner-overclocked HD 5870s at about the same price as GTX 480 (US $500) as competition to it.

    HD 5970 is in a unique position until NVIDIA brings out their own dual-GPU card. And when we see regularly overclocked versions of GTX 480, then we will probably see an ATI refresh of 5870 – or their new architecture.

  • Someone

    You guys OCed the GTX480 that much? Did your computer shoot across the room when the fan ramped up? How did you avoid burning the lab down in a horrid flash fire?

    Worst thing about the Fermi is temps and power. It gets ludicrously close to the 105C throttle point when running under load. A hot summer day and some dust will be enough to piss off a lot of gamers.

  • apoppin

    Nope. Our GTX 480 has plenty of overclocking headroom and it never went near 100C in any game even with very warm ambient temperatures of 80 degrees F.

    The GTX 480′s fan at 90% is just as annoying as our reference Diamond HD 5870′s fan at 90%. Both of these video cards are simply intolerable without headphones and neither reference card was designed to have their fans running continuously at that speed for 24/7/365. You need to make a proper fan profile but the spin-up and loudness of either card is annoying in 3D gaming.

    For either a moderately or a highly overclocked GTX 480, I would definitely recommend a non-reference fan or else water-cooling. For reference clockspeeds or even for a mild overclock, you will be fine with a reference GTX 480.

  • hanny

    Yep untapped potential, if you are smart you will wait for the improved version of fermi which I am sure nv is working on. You can OC that even more . Wait for GTX485 with improved thermals / power consumption clockrates and possibly with up tp 512 CUDA cores and higher overclockability.

    Remember how fast GTX 280 became obsolete when 285 came out? same story here.

  • dbird

    Thanks for this article! I haven’t run a video card at stock speeds for almost 10 years… That pretty much makes most reviews somewhat meaningless since the overclocking headroom of each card can (and usually does) dramatically change the price/performance landscape.

    Since I usually aim for one-step below the top-of-the-line cards due to the large price premiums they carry, I would love to see the 470 and 5950 added to the mix. That would also paint a clearer picture of what the “real” difference in performance is between them and their bigger brothers…

  • hansmuff

    I know this seems silly, but where oh where have the 2D tests gone?
    I know that 2D is generally fast enough and just peachy. However, personally I get annoyed when a browser window filled with all kinds of junk does not scroll 100% smoothly.
    Bitblt, text rendering etc should be tested as part of your standard repertoire.

  • prpz

    I dont know what to say…I had the 5870 now got the 480 for testing purposes…..I gotta say your numbers look off….way off…favouring Nvidia…far cry 2 nvidia overclocked gets 20 more fps and ati only 3? with a bigger oc?????? come on guys who are we kidding here… real….

  • 7eki

    The results show that you should try out a 2GB 5870 @Unigine.

  • apoppin

    The 2 GB HD 5870 is currently a “specialty” card for Eyefinity-6. We’d certainly like to test it but we seriously doubt that the performance figures in any games would change by very much.

    As to the response by prpz about our Diamond reference HD 5870 not scaling very well at the extreme limit of its core and vRAM; we agree. It did not scale particularly well. And it brings us to “why?”

    We have just began testing our “new core” PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ against our reference “old core” Diamond HD 5870 at incremental overclocks to see if we can discover anything interesting. At any rate, expect a full review of the PowerColor HD 5870 PCS+ early next month.

    The very next part of this series – Part 3, GTX 480 vs. HD 5870, 8xMSAA Performance Analysis – is going up this week.

  • Robert

    GTX580 and FS2004? my FS 9 isn t running any more

  • apoppin

    Sorry, I don’t have FS series. I will be lucky to add a new game for benchmarking every month and I have to play it first to see how the game relates to the benchmark.

    I am running 23 game benchmarks now and H.A.W.X. 2 and Batman Arkham Asylum GotY edition are my latest games. F1 2010 is confirmed as my 24th benchmark game.