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AMD Radeon HD 6870 & HD 6850
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by Rob Williams on October 22, 2010 in AMD-Based GPU

It’s been a long time coming, but gamers can finally relax… AMD’s Radeon HD 6800 graphics cards are finally here. They may still be built upon a 40nm process, but AMD has brought a lot to the table here. We set out to see how the HD 6850 and HD 6870 compare to their closest competition, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 460 and GTX 470.

Final Thoughts

When NVIDIA launched its GeForce GTX 480 this past spring, it put an end to what seemed like months and months worth of speculation. At the time, I felt like the launch had an insane rumor cycle leading up to its launch, but after the past couple of months, I’m confident AMD’s beaten it with this one.

Over the course of the past couple of months, there were rumors that the HD 6870 would be twice as fast as the HD 5870, and that of course didn’t happen. Then there were rumors that the HD 6870 would effectively be the HD 5770 replacement. In the truest case, that’s not true. There were also rumors that tessellation performance would be at least doubled, and while we did see nice improvements in certain titles, I am not quite sure that value was reached.

With all these rumors behind us, and just facts on the table, has AMD delivered a knock-out launch here? It all depends on your perspective on things. For me personally, I’m stoked about this launch for a couple of reasons, the main one being the $/FPS ratio. The Radeon HD 6870 is about ~15% slower than the HD 5870, but costs much less ($240 from $400).

At the same time, things like power efficiency have been improved, DirectX 11 performance amped up, a great selection of display ports included, improved pricing and a bevy of other things that we were not able to tackle in time for the embargo. In particular, AMD boasts “EyeSpeed”, a conglomeration of its improved GPGPU technology and also video support, for things like Blu-ray 3D.

AMD Radeon HD 6800

For those who care for nothing but performance, NVIDIA helped make AMD’s launch quite a bit more interesting with a couple of price-drops on its GeForce GTX 460 and GTX 470. As we saw all throughout our test results, the HD 6870 performed quite well compared to the GTX 470, with the latter coming out just a tad ahead overall, and the HD 6850 had a similar story when compared to the GTX 460. The overall relative differences between the two sets of cards is for the most part minimal, most times being just a couple of FPS.

Here’s the current suggested pricing on all four cards:

  • HD 6850 1GB – $180
  • GTX 460 1GB – $200
  • HD 6870 1GB – $240
  • GTX 470 1280MB – $260

Based on this pricing alone, it’s hard to give the nod to any of the cards based on the performance we saw. NVIDIA’s cards are now $20 more expensive than AMD’s, and the performance gains there didn’t quite scale to the same degree. In the end, it comes down to which side you favor, and what features you’re looking for.

On the NVIDIA side, there’s things like 3D Vision, PhysX, great tessellation performance (the importance of this is still yet to be seen) and current market availability, which means that a lot of models might be priced even less than what’s mentioned above. The main downsides of NVIDIA’s cards are heat, power and the lack of being able to do a 3×1 monitor setup off of a single card.

AMD Radeon HD 6800

For AMD, the company has delivered some new products that literally forced NVIDIA to drop the prices of its own, and for consumers, that’s a great thing. One thing I’ve seen talked about is that AMD has made a foolish move with its HD 6800 series in that it decided to refine things rather than release a brand-new architecture, but I find that a bit strange. Pricing aside, AMD has the better product as far as I’m concerned (I’ll get into the reasons in a minute), and the fact that NVIDIA dropped prices right before this launch proves it.

The reason I think AMD has a winner here is that instead of letting things linger on as they were, the company decided to let the next major architecture continue brewing, and in the meantime delivered some new parts to gamers. And these are great parts, make no mistake. They may not be faster than the previous-gen, but the differences there are minor. The upsides of the cards make up for that minor lack.

One of the largest bonuses of AMD’s recent cards to me has been power consumption. There’s just no comparison. The HD 6870′s TDP is 151W, and based on our testing, that seems about right. The full PC load, and we’re talking a 4.0GHz overclocked Core i7 as well, came to 323W. By comparison, NVIDIA’s GTX 470 resulted in 393W, and GTX 480 a staggering 476W.

Not everyone cares about power though, and that’s fair. Another area that AMD has done well is with temperatures, and funny enough, this is one area that the latest cards didn’t improve. The die size as a whole is a tad larger, if you compare to Juniper, and though it’s more efficient, it also runs a bit hotter. The HD 6870 stressed to about 87°C, while the HD 5850 was closer to 75°C. In the end, the fact that the new cards don’t surpass 90°C is nice, but I still would have liked to have seen them even lower.

AMD Radeon HD 6800

Though it might just be a niche at this point in time, I feel that 3×1 monitor gaming is going to take off at some point in the future, because after having experienced it myself over the past year, it’s one of the few GPU-related technologies that has gotten me truly excited. Games become more immersive, more fun, and sometimes, the setup can even give you a strategic advantage.

This is another major area where AMD’s cards shine, because it has stuck with allowing people to run three monitors off of one card, right out of the box. The HD 6800 series of course bumps that up to 6, but let’s be realistic here… that’s about as extreme as a niche could get. The fact that the feature is there is nice, but I don’t see it being one many people are going to talk about.

NVIDIA requires gamers to use two of its cards for multi-monitor gaming, so the fact that AMD continues to let gamers purchase an affordable card and power three monitors off of it is fantastic. This is one thing I really, really wish NVIDIA would change. There’s no single reason the company chooses to do things the way it does except to charge people more. And nowadays, our GPUs are so powerful, that 3×1 off of a single card is hardly something to balk at.

The best part of this launch as a whole might be the fact that the rumormill can settle down for a little while, because coupled with that and both AMD and NVIDIA going back and forth with press manipulations all week (more so from the green side… you can figure out which green), I’m glad to see this launch done with. In the end, AMD’s launch hasn’t proved to be a mind-blowing one, but it’s exciting nonetheless, and for many different reasons.

In the end, this is a very good time to be a gamer.

As a side note, we didn’t have time to do additional testing for this article, such as overclocking and CrossFireX testing, but we will be delivering the latter in a separate article next week. Initially, I can say that CrossFireX scales well, with the HD 6870 scoring a 14,014 GPU score in 3DMark Vantage’s Extreme test. Compare that to the GTX 480′s 9,952. One definitely seems more tempting than the other, given the near-identical price-points.


AMD Radeon HD 6800 Series

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