PowerColor Radeon HD 6850 PCS+ Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/powercolor_hd6850_pcs_plus/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The HD 6850 was released alongside the HD 6870 just over a month ago and was part of the first wave of Northern Islands-based graphics cards to hit the market. Both of these new products used the Barts graphics processing unit, and for the most part included the same built-in architecture. The HD 6870 is built on the Barts XT core, which includes 1120 Stream processors and has a core clock speed of 900MHz. The HD 6870 was the more high-end of the two models launched, as the HD 6850 has a reduced amount of Stream processors, is clocked 775MHz and uses the Barts Pro GPU. The HD 6870 generated more excitement at launch, because in this industry the buzz tends to be built up around the most powerful product available. However, shortly after the HD 6800 series entered our labs, we found the HD 6850 was capable of reaching clock speeds in excess of the HD 6870, and due to the increased frequencies was able to greatly narrow the performance gap.

The latest HD 6850 to show up at the Neoseeker lab is the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+. This model includes all of the features and specifications of the Barts Pro graphics processor, but since it is part of the PCS+ line it also includes improved cooling and a factory set overclock. The default speed for a reference HD 6850 is 775MHz, whereas the PowerColor model comes with a core clock of 820MHz. The memory speed has also been increased to 1100MHz, 100MHz faster than reference models. Both of these settings will improve the overall performance of the card, and should yield impressive results across multiple games and benchmarks.

Along with the improved frequencies and cooling, PowerColor has also included a free copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. There is a slight price increase for all that's included with this card, but with improved performance, cooling and a free game, the premium is to be expected.

 

Specifications
Graphics Engine
RADEON HD6850
Video Memory
1GB GDDR5
Engine Clock
820MHz
Memory Clock
1100MHz (4.4Gps)
Memory Interface
256-bit
DirectX® Support 11
Bus Standard
PCIE 2.1
Standard Display Connectors
DL-DVI/SL-DVI-D/HDMI/DisplayPort
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 215.9mmx111.2mmx38xmm
Minimum System Power requirement (W) 450W
Extention Power Connector One 6-pin PCI Express

The packaging of the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ comes in a similar fashion to other graphics cards recently released by the company. This includes an image of a high performance sports car on the front with the model number of the card and a list of select key features. Since this version includes a free copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, there is an icon of the game on the front of the box. The back of the packaging lists further details and support of the GPU. All of the inner contents come packaged in a plain cardboard box.

The graphics card is positioned toward the top of the inner box, and comes wrapped in an anti-static bag. Below the graphics card is a compartment that houses the accessories which consist of a driver CD, quick installation guide, CrossFire bridge, VGA to DVI converter and a booklet with a free download code for Modern Warfare 2.

As part of the PCS+ series this version of the HD 6850 includes an improved cooling solution and comes with factory applied overclocked settings. The reference AMD Radeon HD 6850 graphics card has a standard clock setting of 775MHz and memory clock speed of 1000MHz (4000MHz effective). The PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ on the other hand has a clock speed rating of 820MHz and memory frequency of 1100MHz (4400MHz effective). With the factory overclock and after-market cooling, this card wil have better gaming and cooling performance than the reference models. Even with an non-reference cooler, the PCS+ manages to shave a few inches off the dimensions of the HD6850, measuring 8.5 inches in length.

As part of the new HD 6800 series the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ uses a PCI-E x16 interconnect bus type at 2.1 standard. Even though the HD 6850 uses the newer PCI-E standard, it can still be used in combination with motherboards that include a PCI-E x16 slot designed prior to the implementation of the latest bus type.

The standard non-overclocked HD 6850 has a has a max TDP of 127W and uses a single 6-pin power connector. The PowerColor PCS+, even with the factory applied overclock, should be within the same ball park when it comes to total power consumption, though there will be a slight increase. The card still only requires one 6-pin power adapter, which is found at the back of the PCB.

The rear I/O options on the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ are for the most part the same as the reference models, however this card removes the dual Mini-DisplayPorts, and in their place is a single full-sized version 1.2 DisplayPort. Like all other cards in the series, both the DisplayPort and HDMI port support AMD's Stereoscopic 3D technology, but the HDMI port can only support resolutions up to 1920x1200, whereas the DisplayPort can support displays of up to 2560x1600. The two DVI ports that are included use a different standard; one is a DL-DVI port and the other a SL-DVI port. The SL-DVI port is essentially a VGA port that will support resolutions up to 2048x1536, and the DL-DVI port can be used with 30" monitors up to 2560x1600. As with the previous generation of AMD graphics cards, the DP and DVI ports can utilize Eyefinity technology, which allows multiple monitors to be used as one.

The PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ includes ventilation holes throughout the heatsik shroud to improve the overall airflow. The ventilation will allow the hot air from the GPU to be expediently removed the from heatsink and improve the cooling capabilities of the card.

The PCS+ models from PowerColor use an improved cooling solution that increase the overall cooling efficiency of the card, and reduces the noise level as well. On this model PowerColor used a large heatpipe-based heatsink with a 90mm fan that is attacked to a sleek black heatsink shroud. PowerColor states the improved cooling should increase the cooling performance by 15%, and lower the maximum dBA.

The heatsink is attacked to the shroud via four small screws. After the the screws are removed the heatsink can be separated from the cover, but the fan stays attached. The fan is 90mm and uses a PWM controller to adjust the rotation according to the internal GPU temperature. Since the fan is attached to the shroud there is ample distance between the fan and cooler, which improves the airflow and allows more of the array to be effected by it.

The heatsink used on this model has a large rectangular finned array that connects to the core and has three copper heatpipes that come out the side. The heatpipes increase the cooling efficiency of the heatsink, as does the large surface area of the array, reducing the operating temperature of the HD 6850's Barts GPU.

The base of the heatsink has a large surface area that makes direct contact with the GPU. There is a fair amount of thermal paste applied to the base, which ensures the heat is properly transferred away from the core where it can then migrate up to the array and eventually out of the card.

The PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ uses the new Barts Pro graphics processing unit, built on a 40nm silicon fabrication process and has a total die size of 255mm². Even though the die size is 31% of Cypress core, the Barts GPU still manages to include 12 SIMDs (divided between two clusters) that each have 80 Stream Processors per cluster, giving the HD 6850 a total of 960 Stream Processors. Additionally, the Barts Pro GPU utilizes 32 Raster Operation Processors (ROPs), 48 texture units and with this being a PCS+ model the GPU clock frequency is increased from 775MHz to 820MHz. The included memory  on the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ is manufactured by Hynix and there is a total of 1GB of GDDR5 memory that is rated at 1100MHz (4400MHz effective) and is processed through a 256-bit memory bus.

 

Overclocking:

Even with the increased frequencies I was hoping the PowerColor PCS+ had some additional overclocking headroom in it. This is because previous HD 6850 graphics cards that have made it to our labs were able to increase in clock speeds quite significantly, which is in direct contrast to its older sibling the HD 6870. After I started overclocking the memory and core clocks I could quickly tell the PowerColor PCS+ had plenty of additional room to play with, as it continuously passed stability test after test. At the end of the testing processes the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ was able to increase the core clock by 161MHz to 981MHz, which is an increase of near 20%. the memory also scaled very well, and was able to add an additional 104Mhz to the speed for a total rating of 1204MHz (4816MHz effective).

Hardware Configuration:

Software:

All the ATI cards released prior to the 6800 series will be tested using AMD's Catalyst 10.8 drivers, while the NVIDIA graphics cards will be tested using their 260.89 drivers. Both the HD 6870 and HD 6870, however, will be tested with AMD's latest 10.10 drivers release.

Benchmarks DX11:

Benchmarks DX10:

All benchmarks were performed at resolutions of 1280x1024, 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Vsync is disabled in the control panel and AA is set to x4 with AF set to x16. The only benchmark performed with lower AA and AF is Street Fighter IV, which showed better scaling when AA and AF were set to 0.

Usage:

MSI's Kombuster will be used to gauge the power requirement and temperature of the graphics cards. The program applies a very heavy load to the GPU and as such will push the card beyond that of a game or benchmark. For the minimum temperature and power consumption the system will be left in an idle state for 15 minutes and for load Kombuster will be left on for 15 minutes.

Comparison Specifications:

 
AMD Radeon HD 6870
AMD Radeon HD 6850
ATI  Radeon
HD 5750
ATI Radeon HD 5770
ATI Radeon HD 5830
ATI Radeon HD 5870
NVIDIA GTX 480
EVGA GTX 460 FTW
Processing Cores
1120
960
720
800
1120
1600
480
336
Core Clock
900MHz
775MHz
700MHz
850MHz
800MHz
850MHz
700MHz
850MHz
Memory Clock
1050MHz
1000MHz
1150MHz
1200MHz
1150MHz
1200MHz
924MHz
1000MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit
256-bit
128-bit
128-bit
256-bit
256-bit
384-bit
256-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1.5GB GDDR5
1GB 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!

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

Aliens vs Predators 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.

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 new standard.

Street Fighter 4 doesn’t necessarily push a graphics card to the limits, but it is a good benchmark to gauge the overall performance. This test is run at default settings to show the best scaling possible.

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.

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.

Call of Duty is one of the most successful game franchises of all time and Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration in the series. The games combine modern-day settings and locations with jaw-dropping graphics and explosions.

Darkest of Days puts the player in historic battles to ensure the survival of key figures from the past. It is a very interesting concept and the use of real life conflicts keeps the title engaging. The in-game options does not allow PhysX to be disabled, so it can often favor NVIDIA graphics cards over those from ATI.

Darkest of Days puts the player in historic battles to ensure the survival of key figures from the past. It is a very interesting concept and the use of real life conflicts keeps the title engaging. The in-game options does not allow PhysX to be disabled, so it can often favor NVIDIA graphics cards over those from ATI.

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.

Temprature:

To measure core GPU temperature, MSI's Kombustor was used. The idle temperature was taken after leaving nothing running for up to 15 minutes. The load temperature was taken 15 minutes after starting Kombuster for Multi-Core graphics cards.

The operating temperature of the PoweColor HD 6850 PCS+ was very good at both stock and overclocked settings. We didn't see a 15% decrease in temperature over the reference model, but the PowerColor card has higher frequencies than the reference HD 6850. The best aspect about the included cooler is that it operates at a near silent level when rotating at low RPM, but is still very quiet even when the fan is at full rotation.

 

Power Usage:

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. Note that the above 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 at the end of a 30 minute Kombustor run.

Power usage was also very good. The PowerColor card was able to maintain a lower power rating than the HD 6870 even after being overclocked past 9000MHz.

 

Conclusion:

The HD 6850 even in reference form is a very capable graphics card that has an in-game performance level rivaling cards that commanded a $350+ premium just a year ago. The PowerColor HD 6850+ is no reference card though, as this model boasts GPU and memory clock speeds of 820MHz and 1100MHz respectively. With these settings the PowerColor HD 6850 was able to handily outperform the reference model and do so with a lower operating temperature and sound level. This essentially means that owners of this card will have increased performance, cooling and acoustics out-of-the-box with no additional tweaking required. PowerColor is also including a free copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which enhances the overall price to price ratio even when taking into account the price increase between this card and reference models.

In addition to the improved gaming performance, the HD 6850 uses the new Barts Pro graphics processor which includes all of the latest AMD architectural improvements. These consist of improved parallel processing, DX11 performance, Morphological-AA, and a new UVD3 decoder which adds acceleration for Blu-ray and DivX HD. AMD has also improved upon the Eyefinity technology, as the 6800 series graphics cards utilize the latest DisplayPort capable of supporting up to three monitors per connection. This will make Eyefinity easier to setup and will eliminate the problem of having to use multiple connection types to properly run Eyefinity.

The PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ ships with a factory overclock, of 820MHz, but I found it to have plenty of additional overclocking headroom. After spending the better part of an hour raising frequencies and running stability tests, this card was capable of achieving speeds well beyond the factory HD 6870 levels. The final GPU clock speed was capable of running all the tested games, benchmarks and stability test at 981MHz, and the memory was stable at 1204MHz. These settings were very impressive for a graphics card that doesn’t include any voltage control options.

One thing I did find off about this card was that a temperature decrease was observed after an aftermarket thermal paste was applied. After removing the cooler to take pictures of the bare PCB, I applied a new thermal compound to the GPU and placed the card back into my system. With the new thermal compound, there was a drop in temperature that fluctuated between 3°C and 6°C when the GPU was stressed. Even though the aftermarket thermal paste offered better overall cooling, the included cooler with the stock TIM was very efficient. One other issue is the included Call of Duty game is quickly becoming an old title, and some might not feel it warrants a higher premium for the overall package at this point.

In all this is an exceptional graphics card based on the Barts Pro GPU, featuring improved performance, cooling and acoustics over the reference design. Add to this a free game and it all adds up to make this model well worth the asking price and deserving of our recommendation.

»Neoseeker.com

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