MSI R6850 Cyclone PE Graphics Card Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, May 26th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/MSI_R6850_Cyclone_PE/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

 

It's hard to believe that AMD launched their Barts-based graphics cards over seven months ago, but even as we head into another quarter and eventually the launch of a new graphics card series, the Radeon HD 6870 and HD 6850 still represent excellent value in the GPU market. This is mainly due to both models effectively lowering the price of what was essentially AMD's first generation DirectX 11 flagship performance. At the sub-$200 price point, the Barts-based graphics cards were able to hit a sweet spot in the market.

Adding to the overall value even further, most of AMD's AIB partners took the reference card design and improved upon it by adding features such as custom thermal solutions, higher clock frequencies and even by giving users direct GPU voltage control Features such as these increased the overall performance of the graphics cards, but they also allowed the end-user to overclock the GPU to insane levels, which also improves the price to performance ratio.

The Barts-based card we are going to be looking at in this review is the HD R6850 Cyclone Power Edition from MSI. It includes all the aforementioned features to improve the value and performance as well as a few unique features to facilitate even higher overclocking potential. Essentially, what MSI has done is include their highly efficient Cyclone thermal design along with their Military Class II components, a 6+1 phase design and a triple overvoltage feature. MSI has also tweaked the clock speeds of the R6850 Cyclone PE, so this product will already have improved performance out-of-the-box.

It's easy to see that MSI has gone all out with the design of the R6850 Cyclone PE, so we are expecting to see excellent results in terms of performance, overclocking, cooling and acoustics.

Specifications
Graphics Engine
AMD Radeon HD 6850
Bus Standard

PCI Express x16 2.1

Memory Type GDDR5
Memory Size (MB)
1024
Memory Interface
256 bits
Core Clock Speed
860MHz
Memory Bandwidth NA
Texture Fill Rate
NA
DVI Output
2 (Single-Link DVI-D x1, Dual-Link DVI-I x1)
D-SUB Output
NA
TV-Output
NA
HDMI Output 1
Mini HDMI Output NA
VIVO (Video in/out)
NA
DisplayPort 1
Mini-DisplayPort NA
HDCP Support
Yes
Dual-Link DVI
Yes
HDTV Support
NA
HDMI Support
Yes
Display Output (Max Res)
2560x1600
RAMDACs
400
DirectX Version
11
OpenGL Version
4.1
CrossFire Support Yes
Card Dimension (mm)
217 x 120 x 38 mm

 

 

 

 

GPU Features

• Microsoft DirectX 11 Support
• AMD Eyefinity Technology
• AMD Advanced Parallel Processing technology
• 40 nm Process Technology
• Microsoft Windows 7 support
• 3rd Generation TeraScale Engine
• AMD CrossFireX™ Technology
• Accelerated Video Transcoding
• Display Flexibility
• HDMI 1.4a Support
• Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Support
• AMD PowerPlay™ Technology 4
• Enhanced Unified Video Decoder 3 (UVD 3)
• Enhanced Internet Browser Applications
• Microsoft Office 2010
• Advanced GDDR5 Memory Technology

The MSI Cyclone PE come packaged in a stylish box that predominantly highlights the use of the Cyclone thermal solution. The packaging also highlights the graphics card's three-year warranty, supported features and on-board components.

MSI also listed additional features on the inside of the front panel. There you'll find detailed descriptions of all the main features utilized by the R6850 Cyclone PE. The inner front panel also has a small rectangular opening that allows the user to view the graphics card prior to taking it out of the box.

Inside the packaging the graphics card comes wrapped in an anti-static bag that will prevent any damage caused by friction, and it is also surrounded by a thick styrofoam cushion. All the accessories comes packaged in the box with the card, but are located in a separate compartment. MSI has included a VGA to DVI adapter, a 6-pin power adapter, the driver CD, documentation and a single CrossFire interconnect.

The R6850 Cyclone PE uses a Barts PRO graphics processing unit built on a 40nm fabrication process at TSMC in Taiwan, and includes 960 Stream processors, 1.7 billion transistors, 32 ROPs and 56 Texture processing Units in a 255mm² die. These are all reference specifications for the GPU, but the rest of the board uses a custom design such as the 8.5 inch PCB that houses a robust dual-bay Cyclone thermal design, along with all "Military Class II" components.

Since this model is an overclocked version of the HD 6850, it comes with a GPU clock speed set to 860MHz, an increase of 85MHz over the reference design. Additionally, the 1GB GDDR5 frame buffer runs on a 256-bit bus and comes overclocked as well at 4.4Gb/sec, as opposed to the 4Gb/sec clock speed used on the reference models.

The back of the board shows off the sleek black PCB and from this side it is also noticeable that the R6850 utilizes a front mounted VRM along with an on-board voltage regulation chip that is positioned in close proximity to the VRM. The PCB the R6850 includes a single CrossFireX connection point that adds 2-way CrossFireX support and a PCIe x16 2.1 bus.

The reference HD 6850 has a maximum TDP of 127W, so it only required a single 6-pin PEG power connector. Despite this model having a slightly higher TDP than the reference boards thanks to the Barts Pro graphics processor with increased memory frequencies, the R6850 Cyclone PE still only requires a single 6-pin connector, as the total board power will remain well under the 150W threshold.

The video output options on the R6850 Cyclone PE saw a major overhaul from the Cypress based graphics cards, and now include a HDMI 1.4a port, a single DisplayPort, one SingleLink-DVI port, and a DualLink-DVI port. The DisplayPort connector uses the newer version 1.2 specifications, which gives the port a higher bandwidth and refresh rate that essentially allows it to support Stereoscopic 3D, A/V and up to three displays. The HDMI port is also updated to support the latest technologies; the 1.4a connection includes support for 3D Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

To ensure optimal acoustic levels, power efficiency and thermal performance, the R6850 utilizes MSI's highly efficient Cyclone thermal solution and "Military Class II" components. The Military Class II components include Super-Ferrite core Chokes (SFC), Hi-c tantalum capacitors, and solid capacitors. These on-board components allow the board to be more power efficient, reducing the heat of the VRM by evenly distributing the current across the 6+1 phase design.

The Cyclone thermal solution utilizes a hybrid design that includes a larger centralized aluminum heatsink connected to dual heatpipes. Each heatpipes extends from the base of the cooler and has an isolated fin array. The design also includes a large 90mm PWM fan that can supply upward of 30% more air than the reference design, yet remains virtually silent in the process. The Cyclone cooler also includes a large nickle plated base that that makes direct contact with the GPU and distributes the heat evenly between the heatsink and heatpipes. The Cyclone design will dramatically reduce both the heat and noise output in comparison to the reference cooler.

The R6850 Cyclone PE uses a custom board based on the Barts Pro specifications. Part of the custom design includes the "Military Class II" components that we have mentioned throughout the review. Again, the use of high-quality parts such as Super-Ferrite core Chokes, Hi-C tantalum capacitors and all solid caps improve the overall efficiency of the board, which in turn increases the stability, overclocking headroom and can even extend the life-span of the product. In addition to these components, the R6850 also includes a robust 6+1 phase design and a on-board voltage regulator that allows for tweaking of the memory, GPU and auxiliary voltage.

Another interesting feature found on the PCB is a manual fan controller, located a few inches to the left of the 6-pin power connector. This controller allows the user to set the fan speed profile to either a high performance or quiet setting. When the controller set to high performance mode, the fan provides the best possible thermal performance, while the silent mode balances the acoustics of the fan with the heat output of the GPU. Since the controller is located on the side of the PCB, this option can easily be accessed even while the card is in use.

 

Overclocking:

With the abilty to adjust the voltage of the memory, GPU and VDDCI, we expected the R6850 Cyclone to overclock quite well, and in the end we got even better results than we were expecting. We were able to boost the core clock speed to 1025MHz, an increase of 165MHz. This might not be impressive in itself, but take into account the R6850 Cyclone's GPU clock speed was already overclocked by 85MHz, and your looking at a 250MHz increase, an improvement of roughly 32% in comparison to the reference model.

The memory also overclocked higher than most HD 6850 graphics cards on the market. In our testing we were able to increase it to a stable speed of 1274MHz, which equates to an effective frequency rating of nearly 5.1Gb/sec. That's a very impressive overclock, and in conjunction with the high GPU clock speed we should be seeing the R6850 scale incredibly well at these speeds.

Hardware Configuration:

Drivers:

Benchmarks DX11:

Benchmarks DX10:

Test Settings:

All in game benchmarks were performed at resolutions of 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Vsync is disabled in the control panel, AA is set to x4 with AF set to x16 and all the in-game settings are turned up to high.

Usage:

 

 
(Note: All models might not be included in this review. The table below is to be used for comparison purposes)
AMD Specifications
Model
AMD Radeon HD 6870 AMD Radeon HD 6850 AMD Radeon HD 6750 AMD Radeon HD 6770 AMD Radeon HD 5830 AMD Radeon HD 5870 AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon 6970
Processing Cores
1120 960 720 800 1120 1600 1408 1536
Core Clock
900MHz 775MHz 700MHz 850MHz 800MHz 850MHz 800MHz 880MHz
Memory Clock
1050MHz 1000MHz 1150MHz 1200MHz 1150MHz 1200MHz 1250MHz 1375MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit 256-bit 128-bit 128-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm
NVIDIA Specifications
Model
Nvidia GTS 450 Nvidia GTX 460 Nvidia GTX 470 Nvidia GTX 480 Nvidia GTX 560 Nvidia GTX 560 Ti Nvidia GTX 570 Nvidia GTX 580
Processing Cores
192 336 448 480 336 384 480 512
Core Clock
783MHz 675MHz 607MHz 700MHz 810MHz 822MHz 742MHz 782MHz
Memory Clock
900MHz 1100MHz 837MHz 924MHz 1002MHz 10002MHz 1250MHz 1002MHz
Memory Interface
128-bit 256-bit 128-bit 320-bit 256-bit 256-bit 320-bit 384-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1.25GB GDDR5 1.5GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1.25GB GDDR5 1.5GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm

3DMark Vantage is the stunning sequel to 3DMark 06. Futuremark's benchmarking programs have always been at the center of every bragging match. The best way to show that you've got the greatest gaming rig, is to show that you've got the highest 3DMark score. Vantage does just that. It puts your system through a series of strenuous tests, and provides you with a score to brag about!

Right off the bat, you can see that the higher clock frequencies indeed improved the overall performance of the R6850 Cyclone PE in comparison to the reference model. The R6850 should overtake the reference model in all of our benchmarks. The high overcloking potential also appears to be paying off, as the R6850 put up performance rivaling that the HD 6870, and even managed to beat the GTX 460 quite easily.

Futuremark's latest 3DMark 2011 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

We are again seeing good stock performance from the R6850 Cyclone, but what really impresses is that it was able to outperform the reference HD 6870 once overclocked.

Unigine Heaven became very popular very fast, because it was one of the first major DirectX 11 benchmarks. It makes great use of tessellation to create a visually stunning...heaven.

Once again the performance of the R6850 beat that of the reference HD 6850 when running the benchmark at the stock speeds, and achieved higher marks than the HD 6870 when we run the same benchmark with the overclocked settings.

Aliens vs Predator is a DX11 Benchmark that runs though a scene straight out of the classic 80’s movie, Aliens. Since it uses DX11, it can often be more than a graphics card can handle.

In Aliens vs Predator, we see results that are consistent with our previous benchmarks. The R6850 is faster than the reference HD 6850 when running benchmarks at the stock level, but once overclocked the R6850 is faster than the HD 6870.

DiRT 2 is the sequel to Colin McRae: Dirt and it was one of the first games to incorporate DX11 features such as tessellation, accelerated high definition ambient occlusion and Full Floating point high dynamic range lighting. This makes it a perfect game to test the latest DX11 hardware.

Regardless of the benchmark we run, the results keep coming out the same. Mark this one down as yet another test where the overclocked R6850 yet again had a higher performance level than the more expensive HD 6870.

Lost Planet 2 is a sci-fi action-adventure game from CAPCOM that puts players on a fictional planet called E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. Like the other new games added to our reviews, Lost Planet 2 includes support for DX11 features to enhance the lighting, charters and environments.

Lost Planet 2 marks the first in-game benchmark where the overclocked R6850 was not able outperform the HD 6870, but to be sure it still matched it frame for frame.

Metro 2033 puts you right in the middle of post apocalyptic Moscow, battling Mutants, rivals and ratio-active fallout. The game is very graphics intensive and utilizes DX11 technology, making it a good measure of how the latest generation of graphics cards performs under the latest standard.

The results in Metro 2033 are similar to what we saw in Lost Planet 2, as the R6850 couldn't best the HD 6870, but it did still perform equal to it.

F1 2010 is a video game based on the 2010 season of the Formula One world championship and is a mutli-console port. It was developed by Codemasters and released released in September 2010 for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, with the PC version including DX11 features.

So far the 860MHz clock speed is boosting the stock performance of the R6850 to the point where it constantly outperforms the reference model. Here the overclocked R6850 is essentially on the same level as the HD 6870.

Dragon Age II is a role-playing video game created by Bioware's Edmonton studios and is a follow up to the highly successful original Dragon Age: Origins. In this game players take the role of Hawke, who has just fled fled the nation of Ferelden with his family after it was destroyed. The PC version of Dragon Age II includes DX11 features such as tessellation for enhanced geometric detail and Compute shader for post process rendering like blur, bloom film effects.

The R6850 achieves excellent results in Dragon Age II, especially when we ran the benchmark below the 2560x1600 resolution level.

Batman: Arkham Asylum mixes extraordinary visuals with great gameplay, in order to make an excellent benchmark. It's not a stressful as Crysis, but it can still push cards to their limits.

In Batman Arkham Asylum, the R6850 was able to outperform the HD 6870 even before we kicked in the overclocking,

Crysis Warhead is one of the most graphically intensive games on the mainstream market. It's graphically breathtaking, and can bring any system crashing to it's knees.

The R6850 posted good results in Crysis, but overcocking did little to improve its performance in-game.

Just Cause 2 places you in Panau, Southeast Asia as Agent Rico Rodriguez. The game is a third-person shooter that pits you against countless enemies with the opportunity for plenty of environment destruction. With explosions and gun fire galore, this game is perfect for testing out the latest hardware.

The R6850 finishes off our benchmarks in style here, as the overclocked performance was able to surpass the GTX 560 Ti in Just Cause 2.

Temperature:

To measure core GPU temperatures, we run three in-game benchmarks and record the idle and load temperature according to the min and max temperature readings recorded by MSI Afterburner. The games we test are Crysis 2, Lost Planet 2 and Metro 2033. We run these benchmarks for 15 minutes each. This way we can give the included thermal solution and GPU time to reach equilibrium.

Our new testing procedure to gauge the total temperature is a long process that really pushes the core to the maximum heat output typical in real-world scenarios. So, the fact that the Cyclone cooler was able to maintain a core temperature below 70°c was very impressive. Even more impressive though was the fact that the fan was virtually silent during our entire benchmarking process.

Power Usage:

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. Note that the numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we took the sustained peak power drain readings after running the system through the same in-game benchmarks we used for the temperature testing. This way we are list real-world power usage, as opposed to pushing a product to it's thermal threshold.

At the stock settings the HD 6850 utilized only 16W more juice than the reference model. However, once we starting adjusting the voltage, power requirements increased to the levels of a HD 6950.

 

Conclusion:

When testing the MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition graphics card, a few things were evident from the minute we starting running our benchmarking suite. The first was that at the factory overclocked settings of 860MHz, the R6850 was going to be faster than the reference model one hundred percent of the time. This in itself is not surprising, as higher clock frequencies translate into better overall performance, but what does make it impressive is that MSI has not tacked on an additional premium for the increased performance. So, for the end-user this essentially means a better in-game experience without having to pay more than the reference pricing.

Secondly, the R6850 was able overclock through the roof! During our short time with the R6850 PE, we were able to increase the GPU clock speed by an impressive 32%. This gave us a final core clock frequency of 1024MHz, which accelerated the overall performance to a level where it could either match or surpass the HD 6870 in all of our benchmarks. This is actually quite a feat for a graphics card that uses a scaled down version of the GPU found in the HD 6870.

Another aspect we really liked about the R6850 is the included feature set. MSI has included all high-quality components that utilize their "Military Class II" design, an on-board fan controller with two profiles, a 6+1 power design, triple over-voltage control and a highly efficient yet virtually silent thermal solution. So, in terms of included features the R6850 is nearly in a league of its own when comparing the features of similar graphics cards priced under $200.

The only real issue, or in this case recommendation, is that we would have like to have seen an additional 6-pin power connector added to the R6850. The reasoning is that the voltage would remain stable above 150W when pushing the triple voltage function to the max, which could yield even higher overlcoking headroom and ultimately allow the board to achieve a higher performance level. Of course adding an additional power connector could create more issues than it addresses (a la HD 6990 overclocking switch), but we just feel that it could have helped increase the total overclocking potential.

Ultimately, the MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition graphics card is just better than the reference design in every way. So, if you're looking for a new graphics card for your 1080p gaming system, the R6850 comes highly recommended.

»Neoseeker.com

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