Fans of custom video cards have undoubtedly found themselves a bit disappointed with the Radeon HD 5800 series. Due to a perfect storm of low GPU yields from TSMC and NVIDIA’s late arrival with the GTX 400 series, the first 6 months for the 5800 series was nothing other than bonkers. AMD was selling GPUs to their partners as fast as they could come out of TSMC, and their partners were selling finished boards to OEMs and-end users alike as fast as they could be assembled. Even at prices over MSRP, the 5800 series flew off the shelves, leaving AMD’s partners with little-to-no supply of GPUs to tinker with. Custom 5800 series cards effectively took a 6 month vacation.

That wait finally came to an end in the Spring of 2010, as an increase in GPU supplies allowed AMD’s partners to catch their breathes and focus on their custom cards. With 6 months under their belts AMD’s partners were able to come up with a variety of designs for their custom cards, and today we’re going to be looking at a trio of custom Radeon HD 5870s: Sapphire’s Radeon HD 5870 Toxic 2GB, MSI’s Radeon HD 5870 Lightning, and Gigabyte’s Radeon HD 5870 Super Overclock.


  Sapphire 5870 Toxic 2GB MSI 5870 Lightning Gigabyte 5870 Super Overclock
Core Clock 925MHz 900MHz 950MHz
Memory Clock 1.225GHz (4.9GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.2GHz (4.8GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.25GHz (5GHz data rate) GDDR5
Frame Buffer 2GB 1GB 1GB
Voltage Control No Yes (1.35v) Yes (1.28v)
Price Point $499 $479 $499

Custom cards are almost always interesting for a few different reasons. Often it’s a chance to see what AMD’s partners learned about a GPU over the preceding months and are trying their hand at producing something cheaper. Other times it’s throwing cost-efficiency out the window in the name of better components and coolers. And yet in other times it’s about producing a card that fills a specific niche, such as hardcore overclockers or users with cramped cases.

Today we’re looking at 3 such cards, each taking a different approach in their custom design. MSI’s Lightning is the overclocker and Sapphire’s Toxic is the build-it-better card, while Gigabyte’s Super Overclock attempts to straddle the line between the two by doing both at once. Ultimately however all 3 shoot for the same goal even if they go about it in different ways: maximizing performance.

Finally it shouldn’t come as a surprise that with all 3 cards designed to be superior 5870s that they command a superior price. At $480-$500, all 3 cards are solidly in the luxury category.

Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 Toxic 2GB
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  • bobsmith1492 - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    As an electrical engineer, I wouldn't want to buy a card that is clocked so close to it usable limit. It's just begging for premature failures, especially at such high temperatures. A few months of dust build up and these cards will be pushing 120C, typically the level where components' lifespans are drastically reduced. I hope I'm wrong but I can't see video cards pushing much more horsepower without some serious form factor modifications.
  • The0ne - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Nope, most enthusiasts believe their system will run free of dirt and grime for years and years and temperatures will stay the same. Once a part is tainted it becomes harder and harder to have it stay cleaned :) Take CPU fan for example hahaha
  • iamezza - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    Old toothbrushes work brilliantly for cleaning dusty fans and heatsinks - to a 'good as new' state ;)
  • Folterknecht - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Hi Ryan!

    What BIOS did your GB HD5870 use? There are two availeble "F2" and "F3". From discussions in the german GB-Support-Forum regarding GB HD 5850 OC, which is using the same cooler as far as I can tell, new BIOS-Versions were created to deal with some issues including noise.
    There have been many angry posts, because GB advertised this cooler as "SUPER SILENT"!

    If your test sample used "F2" an update to "F3" and eventual changes in idle characteristics would be interesting, if the test sample is still available.

    Thanks for this interesting review

  • cactusdog - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Gigabyte cant make a decent OC card. Just like their 4870 with the one speed noisy zalman fan and no fan adjustment. They just dont get it.

    I had high hopes for this new 5870 version but looks like they screwed up again. Apparently they released the card with one clock mode (flat out) no 2D clocks, no UVD clocks, just max clocks. As the previous poster said ,maybe the card in this review has the original bios.

  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    We're using the F3 BIOS.
  • NinjaGnome - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    I wish they would offer a card that either included a waterblock or came with no heatsink at all so the user can choose a waterblock or aftermarket cooler. I dont want to pay for an expensive oc version just to throw the block away so I can throw a waterblock on it.
  • sirizak - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Here you go:

    Also if you want to add aftermarket cooling I would suggest buying a reference card (with the full shroud, fan at the rear and AMD printed above the PCIe Connnector) most aftermarket cooler manufacturers are only supporting the reference design.
  • sirizak - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Something I think this review missed was VRM cooling on these non-reference cards, the reference HD 5870 provides superior VRM cooling compared to most non-reference cards and allows for Voltage Control. I have managed 950Mhz Core Stable on my reference card without adding any voltage.

    I would have loved to see some VRM temps for each card under load, and perhaps a description of the type of VRM cooling they are offering.

    Other than that great review, I was tossing up about the MSI and Gigabyte when I was purchasing so I found this really interesting, if a little late for my decision making :)
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    Unfortunately none of these cards are using VRMs that our existing tools can read temperatures from. This was particularly frustrating with the Gigabyte card, as we could see it throttling but couldn't see the temperature that was triggering it.

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