Before attempting to overclock PowerColor's reference design offering of the Radeon HD 7850, I wasn't sure what to expect. In its own Radeon HD 7850 lineup, PowerColor offers factory overclocked models, but they come with beefier coolers installed... especially compared to the little heatsink/fan that came on our test video card. Our initial target were the GPU and memory clocks of PowerColor's highest end offering of the Radeon HD 7850, model AX7850 2GBD5-2DHPP, with the GPU clocked at 1000MHz and memory at 1225MHz QDR (4900MHz). Easily accomplished.
In our numerous overclocking attempts, I was able to eventually settle at a GPU clock speed of 1110MHz and memory clock speed of 1437MHz QDR (5748MHz). This represents a gain of 29% and 20% on the stock GPU and memory clocks, respectively. For a barebones version of the video card like this, that's a huge speed bump... especially keeping in mind our overclock testing was conducted while installed inside of a case.
For Crysis, this means users can now play with maxed out settings at 1920x1080 resolution. Before the overclock, settings would have to be dropped down to achieve a playable framerate.
The gains are also large with Metro 2033 at a 19% boost, but it doesn't equal playability with a higher step in visual quality compared to the stock clocks.
Performance wise, PowerColor's Radeon HD 7850 was able to beat the last generation 6870 in all of our tests. The margin of the win ranged from less than 1fps higher up to 26% faster. In general, higher margins came from DirectX 11 tests with tessellation enabled. And with higher degrees of tessellation implemented, the higher the gains in performance. This should materialize in greater performance increases as new DirectX 11 games are released. Comparing the 7850 to the Radeon HD 6850, the difference in performance would be even greater.
As a mainstream performance (enthusiast) video card, PowerColor's Radeon HD 7850 succeeded in it's mission to provide playable, high image quality gaming at 1080p resolutions. Combining the ease of achieving high overclocks with the video card, the longevity of the Radeon HD 7850 should be pretty good.
Value wise, PowerColor's offering is the lowest priced Radeon HD 7850 based video card available at the time this article was published. Combined with it's overall great performance, that makes it very good buy in our books. For the enthusiast who is comfortable with basic video card overclocking, PowerColor's entry level Radeon HD 7850 should definitely be considered if you want a current generation HD gaming card on a budget.