Following a successful run with the codenamed R700 family of GPUs, which was originally released back in June 2008 as the Radeon HD 4000 series, AMD is launching the highly anticipated R800. Debuting to no one's surprise as the ATI Radeon HD 5000 series, on our test bed today we have a reference HD 5870 graphics card packing some 2150 million transistors and produced on a 40nm process.

The new Radeon HD 5000 series is said to deliver around 2x more performance than previous generation Radeon cards, and brings DirectX 11 support to desktops for the first time. Even while Nvidia is downplaying the latter, AMD sees it as a great advantage and expects DX11-capable games to start shipping before the end of the year.

Nvidia will also support DirectX 11 on future hardware of course, but the way things are going it looks as though we'll still have to wait a few months before their response to the new Radeon HD line arrives.

DirectX 11

AMD's pricing strategy with the Radeon HD 5000 series will be quite interesting too, as for the first time in a long while the company will be looking to take the performance crown from Nvidia. Previous generation ATI graphics cards have been unable to compete with the fastest Nvidia solutions, forcing AMD to heavily discount their products in an effort to deliver better value.

In the end the Radeon HD 4850 was competing with the much older GeForce 9800 GTX, while the Radeon HD 4870 ran somewhat unopposed at $299. At this price point the 4870 delivered an impressive level of performance, though it was overshadowed by improved GeForce GTX graphics cards over the next 12 months.

Radeon HD 5870 board

The new Radeon HD 5870 is in a very different position, though. This time around it looks like AMD is not going to be forced into a pricing war as easily -- at least not yet anyway. So for now the HD 5870 makes its debut with an MSRP of $380, while the Radeon HD 5850 is also arriving today priced at around $260.

This makes the Radeon HD 5870 roughly $120 cheaper than today's undisputable performance champ, the GeForce GTX 295. It also makes it almost twice as costly as the Radeon HD 4890, however, which begs the question: is the Radeon HD 5870 really that much faster? Today we finally get to find out, as we will be comparing AMD's latest and greatest against every single high-end graphics card released over the past year.