AMD's Radeon HD 5870: Before And After A Year Of Driver Updates

Are you dutiful about keeping your drivers up-to-date? AMD does a pretty fantastic job about maintaining a monthly release schedule, after all. Today we look at how much performance you can expect from an old card in new games using four driver packages.

We update drivers for two reasons: stability and performance. When it comes to graphics, both are important, but it’s the latter we quantify using benchmarks.

Beyond making sure a game doesn’t crash, stability is difficult to measure. So, we make sure everything runs the way it should and move on.

On the other hand, performance is what built our industry. We want more frames per second. Sometimes, a performance boost necessitates an entirely new graphics card. But we’ve also seen examples of older boards picking up momentum thanks to focused driver development. If we can get extra speed via simple software updates, well, we’ll take it.

We’ll break down the evolution of an Nvidia-based card in our next instalment of this series. For now, we’re tracking the performance of AMD’s vaunted Radeon HD 5870 over the course of its still-useful life.

The Radeon HD 5870 was released in mid-September 2009. So let’s assume you waited for at least a month to see what Nvidia was offering and ended up buying the 5870 in November. That means you've owned it for about a year and a half. Since that time, we've seen 15 driver updates.

Catalyst 11.22/15/11
Catalyst 11.11/26/11
Catalyst 10.1212/13/10
Catalyst 10.1111/17/10
Catalyst 10.1010/22/10
Catalyst 10.99/15/10
Catalyst 10.88/25/10
Catalyst 10.77/26/10
Catalyst 10.66/16/10
Catalyst 10.55/26/10
Catalyst 10.44/28/10
Catalyst 10.33/24/10
Catalyst 10.22/17/10
Catalyst 10.11/27/10
Catalyst 9.1212/17/09
Catalyst 9.1111/17/09
Catalyst 9.1010/22/09

After sinking close to $400 on that once flagship Radeon HD 5870, there is a good chance you've been updating its driver on a consistent basis. Each installation was probably preceded by the following introduction in AMD's Catalyst release notes:

This article provides information on the latest posting of AMD’s software suite, AMD Catalyst 11.1. This particular software suite updates both the AMD display driver, and the AMD Catalyst Control Centre. This unified driver has been updated to provide an enhanced level of power, performance, and reliability.

But have we really seen enhanced “power, performance, and reliability”? We are accustomed to seeing very small improvements in performance from one software update to the next. If every driver provides a performance bump, there should be a big difference between the first driver that supported the 5870 and the one AMD blogged about last month, right? Have those updates really been worthwhile? We are selecting four update packages from the original 15 to examine exactly what it means to keep your driver up-to-date.

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  • dillyflump
    Thing is are you still testing / benchmarking WoW Cataclysm using the default DX9 profile? By adding the following tag ( "-d3d11" )to the end of your WoW.exe shortcut you can play and benchmark using the DX11 experimental engine. The performace increase if your GPU and OS support DX11 is pretty large, I fained nearly 40% performance increase over running DX9.
  • HEXiT
    as i get my drivers from guru3d i tend to notice the bumf that comes with, claiming this game will get this extra performance and that will get oh!!! 5 percent. as your tests show you may get 5 to 10 percent over the life of the card but amd promise that for every diver update they do, rarely do they mention stability or gamma correction (although they are important) they do tend to over hype what the cards and drivers are capable of.
    i to got my card in November and frankly haven't seen any great improvements and 10 percent should be noticeable across the board but it just isn't. the biggest improvements have come from the games companies themselves via patching. add to that the sheer amount of users i know personally that have sold there ati cards because of bad driversupport. gives the overall impression, ati need to do better.
  • Anonymous
    All of the drivers released after 10.10 cause my system to blue screen of death or simply freeze, so I tend to think that AMD have not done such a great job with the drivers.
  • tamati
    I am with anon on this, I have had no end of trouble with two previous rigs with ATI cards. The old rig had a 4850 and my current one has 2 x 5870s both have suffered similar fates updating drivers: freeze on driver installation (trying every method incl. driver sweeper etc), failed installs, unable to detect card and then being unable to roll back or even install previous - ARGGGHHHHHHHH!!! Absolute pain in the ass with many others experiencing similar problems on other forums, which AMD seem to ignore - forget a 5% increase in fps, just let me install the damn drivers!!!. Have always supported ATI/AMD because of the bang for buck value but I think I'll go with team green for my next rig.
  • swamprat
    What would be more interesting to me (as someone who isn't sinking lots of cash into keeping up to date with top end hardware) would be the position over a longer timeframe.
    Is there any point in upgrading drivers after more than a year, what about more than two years (I'm thinking about cards of the ATi 4xxx ilk, but you could look even older than that)? Especially as there's always the risk of cock-ups as noted by the previous two comments, at what point is it best to stop upgrading.
  • HEXiT

    i dont think they included it because there has been no specific driver updates for it so it would be pure chance if they got more performance...
  • gdilord
    Interesting point swamprat.

    Thanks HEXiT.
  • Zingam
    Where are 2D performance comparisons? 5% 3D graphics improvement isn't a big deal for 5870. What about 2D Windows, Linux, Photoshop, Browser etc. performance???
  • vexun11
    I think I have noticed a difference with my 5830 in some games, I have never had an issue until recently it usually only happens when I overclock my card but the drivers will crash then aero mode will get disabled then I will get a popup and any flash videos or youtube videos will go bad and I will have to close and re-open my browser, it doesn't happen all the time but it is annoying, It never happens in game though.

    I am happy with my 5830 however if I couldn't overclock this card I would hate it, it runs crysis 2 maxed out @ 1080p perfectly which is good enough for me!