AMD Radeon HD 6850 & HD 6870 Launch Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, October 21st, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Roundups/amd_radeon_6870_6850/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Last week AMD treated the press to an event that highlighted their commitment to Fusion processing, open source software and how they work with their partners to improve computing on nearly every level. This all proved very impressive and left us excited about AMD’s future APU’s and hardware acceleration, however the real stars of the show were AMD's new graphics cards: the Radeon HD 6870 and HD 6850 (which utilize the new enhanced hardware acceleration technologies). These new cards are AMD's second generation DX11 products and as such come with a host of new technologies to improve tessellation performance over the HD 5000 series graphics cards.

The launch of the HD 6800 series is a departure from the ordinary, as graphics cards manufacturers usually release the top of the line products first and then cover their bases by moving on to the mid-range and finally low-end product launches. AMD this time chose to launch their mid-range graphics cards first, followed by the release of their higher-end Cayman Architecture later this year. With the 6800 series, AMD is targeting mainstream markets so we are not going to see ground shattering performance that would put NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 480 cards to shame. However, releasing a graphics card into the mainstream first is not necessarily a bad thing as cards in this price range sell at a much higher volume than those for the enthusiast market, giving AMD a stronger product to pit against against the NVIDIA GTX 460 and other Fermi based graphics cards.

Also adding to the confusion is that AMD has decided to change the naming scheme to the 6000 series product from what what has been used throughout the previous generations. Essentially, the names have just shifted and now the mid-range cards fit into the 6800 series and the high-end products will be released under the 6900 series. Honestly it was a confusing at first, but after using the new scheme for a week now I have found it to be so similar to the old scheme that transitioning over was very easy.

Being a mid-range launch, these cards will not command the $400-$500 premium of the high-end products and will instead sell at more affordable pricing. According to AMD, the suggested retail pricing for the HD 6850 is set at $179 and the HD 6870 will sell for $239.  With these price tags, AMD is looking to offer Cypress level performance for in the mainstream market.

A new launch is always an exciting prospect and I can’t wait to get these cards into our test system and see exactly what AMD has delivered. We will be testing both the AMD HD 6850 and HD 6870 in this review, as well as an overclocked version of the HD 6870 from Diamond. Also, since we had some extra time between the cards arrival and the launch, we will even include CrossFire numbers with the HD 6870 and HD 6850 running together.

The AMD Radeon HD 6800 series graphics cards sport a newly designed heatsink cover that eliminates much of the rounded look of the HD 5000 series. This gives the 6850 and 6870 a very modern and sleek appearance. Adding to the new heatsink cover design is a circular visual effect that surrounds the fan opening and extends to the back of the card. Just above the rear-most part of the heatsink AMD includes the model number of the product in large lettering. Overall, the look is very pleasing, distinct and even though the ATI name is gone, the ATI "look" is still intact thanks to the use of a red and black color scheme. The HD 6850 and 6870 are similar in appearance, but the HD former is considerably smaller and has lower profile fan.

The HD 6870 uses the same visual look as the HD 6850, and from the top view the only noticeable differences are the size of the PCB, model number logo and height of the blower style fan.

The first non-reference card we are going to be looking at is the Diamond HD 6870 XOC graphics card. This card uses the same heatsink cover as the reference AMD card, but in place of the red and black styling is a logo sticker that includes the Diamond brand, model number and an image of the iconic "Ruby". The included product sticker gives the card a very nice look and this will be one of just many designs we will surely see on the market. What really distinguishes the Diamond XOC product from the other 6870's that we are going to be looking at in the review is that it comes with a factory applied overclock. The reference HD 6870 comes with core/memory clock speeds of 900/1050MHz, whereas the Diamond XOC comes with out-of-the-box settings of 940/1100MHz.

Both the HD 6870 and HD 6850 are smaller than any AMD model using the Cypress core. The HD 6870 is the larger of the two cards, but still is only 9.65" long. The HD 6850 has a smaller footprint and measures roughly 8.9".

The HD 6870 and HD 6850 do not include the back plate that is found on the high-end HD 5800 series, but this is understandable due to their status as mainstream cards. Other than the lack of the back plate, there is little on the back to distinguish the 6000 series from the 5000 series.

Both the HD 6870 and HD 6850 include a single CrossFire connector, so these cards are not capable of 3 or 4-way CrossFire. This could be a potential downside to the Barts, but 3 and 4-way CrossFire is usually only utilized in the high-end market

Other than the size of the PCB's, there is one major aesthetic difference between the two models: the HD 6870 has red and black accents found on the side of the card that surround the entirety of the heatsink cover, while the HD 6850 only has one red layer.

The HD 6870 has two 6-pin power connectors which will allow the card to be supplied with up to 225W of power. The HD 6870 actually has a much lower TDP of only 151W though. It seems a bit odd to add an additional power connector that will only be supplying 1W, but this does give a good buffer for overclocking. The HD 6850 on the other hand uses only a singe 6-pin power connector and has a max TDP of 127W.

The rear I/O options on the HD 6800 series see a major overhaul and now include a HDMI 1.4a port, dual Mini DisplayPorts, one SingleLink-DVI port, and a DL-DVI port. The most exciting change is that the dual Mini-DP ports are now using the newer 1.2 version spec. This gives the DP ports higher bandwidth and refresh rate, which allows each port to support Stereoscopic 3D, A/V and even multiple displays through a single port. The HDMI port is also updated to support the latest technologies and the 1.4a connection now adds support for stereo 3D with AMD's HD3D Technology.

Each included Mini-DP 1.2 port can support up to three monitors, so with two included ports the 6800 cards can technically let you run up to six monitors via the DP ports alone. This will make setting up Eyefinity much easier and eliminates the need for Eyefinity 6 edition graphics cards.

The inner cover of the heatsink shroud is designed to fit over the blower fan and heatsink. The end of the cover though has an opening that directs the outgoing air to the small ventilation area on the rear panel.

The HD 6870 has a substantial cooling solution that consists of a three heatpipe heatsink that sits directly in front of a large blower fan. For improved cooling, the heatsink uses a solid copper core. Additionally there is a large, integrated heatspreader found under the heatsink and fan. The heatspreader makes contact with the VRM and memory on the PCB, reducing the operating temperatures of both areas.

The HD 6870 has a similar PCB layout to that of the graphics cards based on the Cypress core, but there are some noticeable differences. The GPU is now a small rectangle instead of the square chip that is found on cards such as the HD 5870 and HD 5850. This is due to AMD being able to reduce the Barts die size to 255mm², thus using 25% less silicon than the 334mm² Cypress die. Another noticeable difference is that the VRM is located at the near the I/O panel and not the back of the card. This should actually improve the GPU temperatures as the hot air coming from the voltage regulation area will not have to travel past the GPU before being exhausted out the card. Even with the reduced size, the HD 6870 packs in 1120 Stream processors, 1.7 billion transistors, 32 ROPs and 56 Texture Units. This gives the HD 6870 less raw processing power than the HD 5870, but the HD 6870 does come with a 900MHz  GPU clock and 1GB of GDDR5 memory rated at 1050MHz (4200MHz effective), so the faster clocks should make up for some of the reduced architecture. In all the HD 6870 has a computing power of up to 2.0 TeraFLOPS, so this $239 dollar mainstream graphics card should offer performance right between the high-end HD 5870 and HD 5850 graphics cards.

Along with the base architecture AMD has included some new technologies with the Barts GPU. These consist of Advanced Parallel Processing, HD3D and Morphological AA.

Advanced Parallel processing is essentially a new name for ATI Stream technology. This is the process of adding acceleration on both a hardware and software level with parallel processing between both the GPU and CPU. There are many applications that support this technology and it can greatly enhance the speed of the support application. Now with the new HD 6800 series AMD has updated this technology to now include support for DirectCompute 11, OpenCL and have even added a UVD3 engine on the die. This will give the core improved support for tessellation, and improved Divx and Blu-Ray 3D encoding.This is all part of the new EyeSpeed technology. AMD is making a big push with this technology and have teamed up with a host of partners to ensure EyeSpeed is widely supported.

Another new feature is AMD's HD3D technology. Stereophonic 3D computing is not new to the market, and in fact Nvidia has employed 3D support in products for sometime now. What is new though is AMD's approach to the technology. Where Nvidia uses a close sourced method to diver Stereoscopic 3D, AMD is using an open-source method that allows many manufactures to create their own means of support. This means that there will not be a specific standard between the compatible 3D displays, glasses and software.

Next up, AMD is Morphological Anti-Aliasing support for their new graphics line. This is an AA method that uses a post process filtering technique with Accelerated DirectCompute. This approach can deliver full screen Anti-Aliasing, faster super sampling and is compatible with DX9 through DX11.

 

 

In contrast to the cooler on the HD 6870, the HD 6850's solution is rather small. The HD 6850 has a lower thermal envelope though, along with slower frequencies, so the cooling should be more than adequate. The characteristics that both cards share in common are a blower style fan and plastic liners inside the heatsink cover that direct the hot air out the cards rear exhaust opening.

The heatsink that cools the HD 6850's core is a small aluminum piece that has a copper base. Again this is reduced from the HD 6870's cooler, but it should be more than enough to properly cool the GPU.

The HD 6850 uses the same architecture as the HD 6870, as they are both based on the 40nm Barts GPU, but comes with a lower shader core count and frequencies. The HD 6850 has 960 stream processors, a clock that comes in at 775MHz an and there is 1GB of GDDR5 memory rated 1000MHz (4000MHz effective). Both the HD 6850 and 6870 cores have 32 ROPs and use a 256-bit memory interface. Also, like the HD 6870, the HD 6850 uses a smaller die size than the Cypress core, but this card should still deliver performance equal to or better than the older HD 5830.

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking the AMD HD 6870 and 6850 was done in the same manner as previous AMD graphics cards. This consisted of raising both the memory and GPU clock speeds in the Catalyst Control Center until the point where graphics cards became unstable. The HD 6870 was the first in the test system, and with the dual 6-pin power connectors I was hoping that it had plenty of headroom left for overclocking. The end result was in my opinion decent, but I was hoping to achieve higher frequencies than that of the 970/1140MHz it maxed out at. This is a reference model though, and I have verified that some models are capable of remaining stable at the 1000MHz level.

The HD 6850 has lower clock frequencies which appears to have given it more headroom than the HD 6870. In my testing I was able to push the core clock of the HD 6850 to 924MHz, which is a 149MHz increase. The memory on the HD 6850 also overclocked quite well and was able to max out at 1170Mhz.

Hardware Configuration:

Software:

All the ATI cards released prior to the 6800 series will be tested AMD's Catalyst 10.8 drivers, while the NVIDIA graphics cards will use their 260.89 drivers. Both the HD 6870 and HD 6870, however, will be using AMD's 8.782 RC2 drivers.

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
ASUS ARES HD 5970
NVIDIA GTX 295
NVIDIA GTX 480
EVGA GTX 460 FTW
Processing Cores
1120
960
720
800
1120
1600
1600 x 2
240 x 2
480
336
Core Clock
900MHz
775MHz
700MHz
850MHz
800MHz
850MHz
850MHz
576MHz
700MHz
850MHz
Memory Clock
1050MHz
1000MHz
1150MHz
1200MHz
1150MHz
1200MHz
1200MHz
999MHz
924MHz
1000MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit
256-bit
128-bit
128-bit
256-bit
256-bit
256-bit
448-bit
384-bit
256-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
4GB GDDR5
896MB DDR3
1.5GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
55nm
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!

For this launch we were sent more cards than is customary, so there is a magnitude of information in our graphs this time around. Right off the bat, it is easy to see where both the HD 6870 and HD 6850 are lining up in comparison to the competition. The HD 6850 at stock just outperforms the HD 5830, and the HD 6870 sits just under the HD 5870. This means that we should see performance levels rivaling that of the Cypress cores across the majority of the games we will be testing. One thing that took me by surprise though was just how well the HD 6850 and 6870 scale when used in CrossFire.

Looking at the performance of the Diamond HD 6870 XOC you can see a noticeable gain in performance, which is due to the out of the box overclock of 940/1100MHz.

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.

Unigine has the HD 6850 and HD 6870 separated by a wide margin. The HD 6850 at stock performs just below the HD 5830, but once overclocked surpasses it and shows some nice improvements at the lower resolutions. The HD 6870 on the other hand performs better than even the HD 5870, and this is prior to overclocking. This speaks well for the improved DX11 performance of the 6800 series. Again, the HD 6870 and HD 6850 in CrossFire perform amazingly and are just shy of the performance of the $1200 ASUS ARES HD 5970 graphics card.

The Diamond HD 6870 XOC has high frequencies than the reference model and as such performs slightly better. Things are different when the reference HD 6870 itself is overclocked to 970/1140MHz. This trend should continue on as it aligns itself perfectly with the clock speeds.

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.

Aliens vs Predator again shows the improved DX11 performance of the Barts GPU. The HD 6850 perform better than the HD 5830 in this benchmark and even rivals the GTX 470 after overclocking. The HD 6870 at stock also performs quite well and roughly aligns itself to the performance of the GTX 480. After overclocking though, the HD 6870 surpasses the GTX 480.

The Diamond HD 6870 with the factory applied overclock sits just above the GTX 480 in this benchmark, which shows off the improved performance of the additional clock speeds.

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.

Metro 2033 can be a very demanding game for graphics cards, so it is very impressive to see that even the HD 6850 performs at the same level as the HD 5870. The NVIDIA graphics cards do have a slight edge in this game, but AMD is really closing the DX11 performance gap. There is also another impressive showing for the CrossFire setup as it virtually tied with ASUS ARES.

Again the Diamond HD 6870 XOC performs right between the reference card at stock and at max overclock.

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.

The HD 6800 series cards at stock perform right were they should in the Street Fighter benchmark. This puts the HD 6870 ahead of the HD 5830 and the HD 6870 behind the HD 5870. After overclocking the core and memory, the cards perform considerably better and the 6870 OC'ed even manages to achieve higher frame rates than the HD 5870.
The difference in performance of the ASUS ARES and two 6800 cards in CrossFire is also very narrow in this test. 

The Diamond HD 6870 XOC graphics card performs very well in Street Fighter IV and with the factory overclock is able to compete with the HD 5870 without need for any additional overclocking.

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.

The NVIDIA graphics cards all outperform the new 6800 models in Batman, but the Barts do manage to put up a good fight.

The Diamond XOC has noticeably better performance the the reference model and is able to exceed 70FPS even at 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.

All of the HD 6800 graphics cards perform very well in Crysis at all resolutions. When comparing the AMD cards to NVIDIA's though, you can see that the 6850 and 6870 perform slightly better than the GTX cards in the higher resolution tests.

Yet again the Diamond XOC performs just shy of our overclocked reference HD 6870 at 970MHz, but it still managed to perform at the same level as the Nvidia GTX 480.

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.

The 6800 series graphics cards performed great against the competition, but Darkest of Days has notoriously bad support for SLI and CrossFire, so the 6850/6870 CrossFire performance suffered.

The Diamond HD 6870 XOC put up a good showing and was only slightly slower than the 970MHz HD 6870.

Resident Evil V is the newest installment of the Resident Evil series. The game comes with a built in benchmark that features a bunch of zombies walking around the center of a village. Believe it or not this seemingly simple benchmark can push video cards way out of their comfort zone!

The performance trend of the 6800 series continues with the HD 6850 pulling ahead of the HD 5830, and the 6870 coming in just shy of the HD 5870. These are impressive gains in performance over the HD 5700 series, showing that AMD has succeeded in bringing the performance of the Cedar core to the mainstream 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 performance across all of the 6800 series graphics cards is impressive in this benchmark, but what really stands out is that the HD 6870/6850 CrossFire setup outperformed the 4GB HD 5970 graphics cards. This means that two cards with a cost of around $420 dollars are not only competing with the $1200 dollar ASUS ARES, but in at least one test scenario are out performing it.

The Diamond HD 6870 XOC in this test is again just shy of our maximum HD 6870 overclocked cards performance, but there is only a one to two frames-per-second separating the two.

Temperature:

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 temperatures of the new 6800 series core were higher than expected, but not surprising as the cores are still 40nm. The HD 6850 had the lowest temperature out of all the new cards, but even it nearly reached the 80°C mark when under full load.

The Diamond HD 6870 XOC ran a little hotter than the reference card, but this is to be expected with the additional clock speed.

 

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.

Unlike the temperatures, the power usage is much improved over the Cypress cores. Even after overclocking the HD 6870 to 970/1140MHz, it still consumed less power than a reference HD 5830, and in CrossFire the 6800 series cards still used less power than a single Nvidia GTX 470.

The Diamond XOC does have a slight power usage increase due to the factory overclock, but at load it only accounts for a 3W difference. The idle power usage was much higher than the reference card though. This, however, was not isolated to the Diamond model as the reference card showed a similar increase once overclocked.

 

Conclusion:

I have been testing various AMD 6800 series graphics cards for the better part of a week now, and I have to say that I am very impressed with what AMD has done. This is not to say that the HD 6800 series graphics cards have ground breaking performance, but at the $179 and $239 price segments, AMD has definitely raised the bar in terms of mainstream performance value. This is especially true in titles that utilize DX11 technologies. The HD 6850 is the more budget friendly of the two cards and as such trims the architecture to accommodate the price. Still, even with reduced Stream processors and a clock frequency of 775MHz, the HD 6850 performed great and in nearly all the tests quite handily outpaced the HD 5830. This makes the HD 6850 and great budget graphics card. The HD 6870 is the more expensive of the two and includes more processing power. This showed in all the tests as the HD 6870 at time rivaled the performance of the HD 5870. With the exceptional performance level of both the HD 6870 and HD 6850, consumers can now enjoy high-end Cypress gaming power for a fraction of the price.

Along with the great performance of the single cards, the HD 6800 series also scale incredibly well when being used in CrossFire. When combined in our tests, the HD 6870 and HD 6850 performed at nearly at the same level as the HD 5970 in some of the benchmarks. Additionally, the two cards in CrossFire had a lower TDP than a single HD 5970, and with a combined price of $418 dollars they are nearly $200 dollars less than the current AMD flagship graphics card. The only game that did not have the two cards performing exceptionally well was Darkest of Days, but this title does not support CrossFire or SLI, so looking at that game's dual GPU performance is not a good indicator of how the cards will perform in the majority of other games on the market.

When it came to overclocking, the HD 6850 and HD 6870 were able to achieve decent results, however the HD 6850 proved to have more overclocking headroom than the HD 6870. The end results in our labs had the HD 6870 clocked 970/1140MHz and the HD 6850 at 920/1170. With these settings both cards showed substantial performance gains, which adds to the overall value of the cards.

Along with great performance the new Barts also include new technologies and one of the more exciting aspects of the 6800 series is the use of dual version 1.2 DisplayPorts. The new ports add support for 3D displays and even allow a single signal to be split among three displays from one connection. This does require the use of a cable splitter but with the ability to use six monitors on the two ports, Eyefininty could eventuality become more accessible for the average consumer. The 3D support on the other hand still seemed to be in the early stages of development. Even though I was shown first hand a working display using a 6800 graphics card paired with a pair of Oakley glasses, it might be some time before 3D is readily available for AMD users. This is mostly due to the lack of supported monitors on the market.

So while AMD seems to have a success on their hands, NVIDIA will not be sitting quietly as the Barts-based cards start to role in. NVIDIA's response to the new AMD Radeon HD 6850 and HD 6870 are price cuts in their current Fermi lineup. To compete against the HD 6850, NVIDIA is reducing the price of the 1GB GTX 460 to $199 and they have even reduced the GTX 470 price to $249. This does make put NVIDIA in a competitive position against the Barts, but with the high-end Cayman GPUs just a month away price cuts might not be enough. However, I am sure they have something in the works to counter the Cayman launch.

Ultimately, the AMD HD 6850 and HD 6870 both perform at levels that rival the high-end performance of the 5800 series, at a substantially lower price tag. The HD 6800 series also includes many new technologies such as DP 1.2, HDMI 1.4a connections as well as improved DX11 performance. The new Barts GPU have whet our appetite for the upcoming Cayman products, and we now can't wait to see what AMD's actual high-end graphics cards can do. Thanks to AMD, this is shaping up to be one exciting holiday season!

Along with the reference cards we were also able to test out an overclocked version of the HD 6870 from Diamond. This card comes with the GPU clocked at 940MHz and the memory bumped up to 1100MHz. These clock speeds increased the performance right of the the box, which usually account for an additional two to four FPS. There were some games though that had the Diamond XOC performing 10FPS better than the reference model. This makes the Diamond XOC an ideal solution for anyone looking for the best out of the box experience.

It is also important to mention that AMD says there will be no shortage of AMD 6800 series graphics cards and that there will be tens of thousands of boards available as soon as the first reviews go live.

»Neoseeker.com

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