PowerColor Radeon HD 6850 SCS 3 Graphics Card Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, July 6th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/PowerColor_HD_6850_SCS3/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Passively cooled graphics cards (all heatsink and heatpipes, no fans) are nothing new, but products that utilize passive thermal solutions are typically found in the entry-level segment and have a maximum thermal design power rating that is under 75 watts. The reason for this is simply because it is harder to maintain low enough tempratures on higher end graphics cards while not having at least some source of active cooling. PowerColor is about to change this however with their latest passively cooled graphics card, the Radeon HD 6850 SCS 3.

The PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 (Silent Cooling Solution) is a card that distinguishes itself from other HD 6850 cards by including a passively cooled thermal solution that utilizes five 6mm heatpipes and a 62-fin heatsink array for maximum yet completely silent thermal performance. In addition, the PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 utilizes a large cooling plate and independent memory heatsinks to ensure all the vital on-board components are adequately cooled. The thermal solution is very robust, and this could potentially be the most powerful graphics card on the market that utilizes a passive solution. However, the question is will the SCS 3 heatsink be enough to maintain low temperatures across the board, or will the heat ultimately win out?

The HD 6850 SCS 3 is a design we were first introduced to back in January of this year during our CES coverage. This means that PowerColor has been working meticulously on the design of the SCS 3 heatsink for over six months, so we are intrigued to see what the final results are.

Specifications
Graphics Engine
RADEON HD6850
Video Memory
1GB GDDR5
Engine Clock
775MHz
Memory Clock
1000MHz (4.4Gps)
Memory Interface
256-bit
DirectX® Support 11
Bus Standard
PCIE 2.1
Standard Display Connectors
DL-DVI-I/SL-DVI-D/HDMI/Display Port
Features Support
OpenGL
Support
CrossFireX™ Technology Support
ATI Stream Technology Support
ATI Eyefinity Technology Support
ATI Hypermemory Technology  
Display Support
VGA Output
Via Adapter
DVI Outuput
DL-DVI/ SL-DVI-D
DisplayPort
On-Board
HDMI
On-Board
TV Output
 
HDTV Output
 
HDCP Support
Support
Maximum Resolution
VGA
2048x1536
DVI
2560x1600
DisplayPort
2560x1600
HDMI
1920x1200
Power Specs Board Dimensions
Board Dimensions 223.3mmx111.2mmx62mm
Minimum System Power requirement (W) 500W
Extention Power Connector One 6-pin PCI Express

The PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 is packaged in a large box that shows the graphics card on the front panel, while the back panel is used to highlight the specifications and features of the card.

The inner packaging is a simple cardboard box that utilizes Styrofoam to secure the graphics card and accessories in place. In all, PowerColor has included a CrossFireX bridge, VGA to DVI adapter, the drivers DVD and a quick installation guide. PowerColor has started bundling DiRT 3 with this graphics card, but our review sample was sent to us prior to the this.

The PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 is essentially a standard Barts Pro graphics card, with one huge difference. This is of course the SCS (Silent Cooling Solution), which utilizes five 6mm black-nickel coated heatpipes that extend through a 62-fin array that is also coated in black-nickel plating. All the heatpipes are connected to a centrally mounted base that connects the heatsink to the GPU. Along with the large heatsink, Powercolor has also added eight individual heatsinks on each of the on-board memory chips to further improve the overall cooling performance. 

Since the HD 6850 SCS 3 is passively cooled, PowerColor has decided to stick with the reference Barts Pro clock speeds and specs, which gives this graphics card 960 stream processors, 32 ROPs, a core clock of 775MHz. All of this comes packaged in a 255mm² die built on a 40nm process, and requires 151 watt of power. The memory interface also uses the reference specifications, giving this model a 1GB of GDDR5 frame buffer rated at 1000MHz (4.0Gbps effective), running on a 256-bit bus.

The back of the PCB includes a large cooling plate that covers all the vital components at the back of the board. This plate will ensure all the transistors and circuitry are properly cooled even without an active cooling source. The cooling plate includes six rows of fins that each include 13 fins positioned to perform best with a front mounted case fan that can push air through the fins. In addition to the plate, PowerColor has also extended the GPU heatsink over the side of the PCB in an L shape, increasing the total surface area of the array.

To supply the graphics card with 151 watts of power there is a single 6-pin PEG power connector located at the end of the PCB. Even though this graphics card does not require substantial wattage to run, it is still recommended that a power supply with at least 500W capacity be used, featuring one 6-pin power connector. To ensure this model is as power efficient and stable as possible, PowerColor has included high quality components such as shielded alloy chokes, solid capacitors and a 3+1 phase design.

The video output options 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 supports 3D Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

Overclocking:

To overclock the PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3, we used the latest version of Afterburner released by MSI. For stability testing, we used the Unigine heaven 2.1 benchmark with the highest in-game settings, and only considered the clocks stable if it could run the benchmark in its entirety and without errors.

PowerColor Radeon HD 6850 SRS 3:

For being a passively cooled graphics card we were actually quite impressed with the total overclocking results. While the the final frequencies were slightly lower than those of other HD 6850 graphics cards we have tested, the SCS 3 was able to achieve these frequencies without any additional airflow, which was required by the other graphics cards we have tested. So, even though this model might not hit a GPU clock speed of 1000MHz, the final results are impressive nonetheless. As you can see from the image below, we were able to increase the GPU clock speed to 925MHz, which is a boost of over 20%, and the memory was capable of achieving an overclock in excess of 13%.

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:

Specifications:

(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!

The performance of the PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 is right where it should be for this benchmark. Seeing how 3DMark Vantage has a strong preference for Nvidia based graphics cards though, we should see the performance gap between the HD 6850 and GTX 460 narrow from here on out.

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.

During our 3DMark 11 testing, the HD 6850 SCS 3 was able to achieve higher scores than the GTX 460 throughout all of the pre-configured tests.  More impressive though was that fact that the HD 6850 was able to perform better than the GTX 560 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.

Unigine 2.1 has the GTX 460 and HD 6850 running neck and neck, but once overclocked the HD 6850 SCS 3 scaled very well and was able to achieve a higher frame rate than the HD 5870.

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, the benchmark can often be more than a graphics card can handle.

The PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 was able to perform well across the board, and again we are observing excellent scaling once overclocked.

DiRT 3 is the third installment in the DiRT series and like it's predecessor incorporates 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.

The PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 was able to run DiRT 3 up to 1920x1200, but the performance at 2560x1600 was below 30FPS, which is the minimum frame rate need for a smooth gaming experience. Overclocking did improve the performance level, but at 2560x1600 we were still below 30FPS.

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, characters and environments.

Lost Planet 2 is similar to games such as Crysis Warhead and Metro 2033 in that it needs substantial hardware to run at a smooth frame rate. During our testing the PowerColor HD 6850 did relatively well considering it's mid-level pricing, but ultimately the best results were achieved only after we overclocked the board.

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.

Graphics cards from AMD tend to perform better in Metro 2033 because of their larger memory bandwidth and the results above demonstrate this well. This is the first benchmark in which the HD 6850 SCS 3 was able to pefom better than the GTX 560 Ti at the stock speeds. Equally impressive was the fact that the HD 6850 was able to maintain an average frame rate above 30FPS during our testing at 1920x1200.

Total War: Shogun 2 is a game that creates a unique gameplay experience by combining both real-time and turn-based strategies. The game is set in 16th-century feudal Japan and gives the player control of a warlord battling various rival factions. Total War: Shogun 2 is the first in the series to feature DX11 technologies to enhance the look of the game, but with massive on-screen battles it can stress even highest-end graphics cards.

Once again we are seeing excellent performance up to 1920x1200, but to run a game above that setting will require more power than the HD 6850 can hope to muster.

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.

F1 2010 saw excellent performance across the board, even when we ran the benchmark at 2560x1600. For a graphics card that is priced around $200 this is great performance, especially considering this is a DX11 game.

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.

Once again we are observing excellent performance across all the tested resolutions, but the sweet spot for this card is really at or below 1920x1200.

Batman: Arkham Aslyum 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.

Batman Arkham Asylum is an aging game, but since it utilizes the popular Unreal 3 engine it remains in our benchmarks. There are still plenty of titles being released that use the Unreal engine, so this test is a good example of how the HD 6850 SRS 3 will perform in Unreal-based games.  In our testing the HD 6850 is able to achieve a smooth frame rate all the way up to 2560x1600.

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 overall results in Crysis Warhead are quite good, and like Metro 2033 the extra memory bandwidth goes a long way in improving the total performance level.

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 best results in Just Cause 2 were at and below 1920x1200, but once overclocked the HD 6850 SCS 3 was able to reach a frame rate of 36FPS at 2560x1600.

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.

The SCS 3 thermal solution managed to maintain a core temperature that was equal to that of the reference cooler. However, this was done with no active cooling, so the cooling performance of this design is far more efficient than the reference design. If a fan was to be added to the base of the SCS 3 heatsink, we believe the total efficiency level would be closer to those of the HD 6670 and GTX 560.

Power Consumption:

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.

The total power consumption is equal the reference design, and the overclocking only minimally increased the overall power draw. Since the HD 6850 uses less power than the GTX 460 it is really an excellent performing graphics card relative to the power consumption.

There are only a handful of graphics cards on the market that can play all the latest DirectX 11 games, but there are even fewer available that can do so with minimal noise levels. The PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 can not only play many games with ease, but it does so in compete silence, making it the fastest silent graphics card available. It is ideal for gamers that prefer silence above all else.

The excellent cooling performance of the PowerColor HD6850 can be attributed to the SCS 3 thermal solution, which is a heatsink that PowerColor has been working on since before January of this year. We were first introduced to the SCS 3 heatsink at CES, but at that point it was still a work in progress, and was not quite ready for release. Since then PowerColor has tweaked it into the five 6mm heatpipe, 62-fin design we see today, and obviously the time it spent in development was well worth it. In our testing the SCS 3 heatsink was able to maintain a thermal level below 80°C, even after we overclocked the HD 6850 GPU, which puts it right in line with the performance of the reference cooler, only wihout the noise.

With the SCS 3 thermal solution PowerColor was able to keep the reference specifications of the Barts Pro GPU intact, which gives this model 960 stream processors and 46 texture units packed into a GPU that is clocked at 775MHz. It also includes a 1GB GDDR 5 frame buffer that is clocked at 4000MHz QDR. So even while it creates no acoustics, the HD 6850 SCS 3 is still able to pack quite the punch when it comes to gaming performance. Additionally, this model supports the majority of features available in AMD's Northern Islands architecture, such a Eyefinity, HD3D, CrossFireX and Advanced Parallel Processing.

The only issue we have with the PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 is that it requires a case with substantial internal airflow to maintain the best thermal efficiency. For testing we used a Level 10 GT case that had 200mm intake fans positioned to supply ample airflow throughout the PCIe expansion slot area. This is the reasoning the HD 6850 was able to maintain excellent thermal performance during testing, but if the graphics card was used in a rig with limited airflow the overall performance may decrease. For the best results, PowerColor recommends the HD 6850 SCS 3 be used in a chassis that has a front intake fan and rear exhaust fan. Of course the more fans the better, but this means the product is designed more for gamers that prefer a quiet gaming experience as opposed to HTPC users.

In all the PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 is the fastest silent graphics card available, which makes it an ideal solution for anyone looking to reduce their computers overall acoustic level. Since it packs in all the performance of the Barts Pro graphics processor, it is able to play many of today's games, just as long as the resolution is set below 2560x1600 of course. The PowerColor HD 6850 SCS 3 currently has an MSRP of $204, which does make this model one of the more expensive Barts Pro based graphics cards on the market. However, the higher premium does get you a noise free Radeon HD 6850, and according to the PowerColor website some models come with a free DiRT 3 download code as well.

»Neoseeker.com

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