AMD Radeon HD 6870 & 6850 Graphics Cards Debut

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Notice anything different in that Radeon graphics logo kicking back off to the left here?  If not, you weren't paying attention, so forty lashes for you with a bump-mapped, specular lit, highly tesselated wet noodle.  Though AMD may have finally decided to do away with their ATI branding so many years after the acquisition, you can rest assured the AMD Radeon team still has an ATI power plant driving their muscle car graphics division.  And it's safe to say that power plant is firing on all cylinders these days, with all the chatter and buzz we've been serving up here based on the company's upcoming releases and embargo lifts.  Earlier this week we confirmed the model naming and unveiled images of AMD's next generation Radeon HD 6800 series graphics products.  Today we're able to bring you details of this latest incarnation of Radeon graphics, as well as a full suite of performance metrics.

The previous Radeon family of GPU architectures had a decidedly green twist to their codename convention, with botanical designations like "Redwood", "Cedar" and "Juniper."  This time around we're still on an earthly track but we're headed to the tropics for the colder winter months, with codenames like "Barts", "Cayman" and "Antilles."  Ahh, fresh air, sunshine; pass the tanning butter.  Actually, with products like the new Radeon HD 6870 and Radeon HD 6850 rolling into retail this holiday season, you might be spending a bit less time outdoors but hey, umbrella drinks are still allowed.

Stay with us as we take a stroll through what AMD affectionately calls Barts, or short for St. Barts, where the trade winds of the Caribbean Sea blow and 3D graphics cards shred pixels like sunburned surfer dudes heading in for a rad air drop.

AMD Radeon HD 6870 and Radeon HD 6850
Specifications & Features

The first high-level detail we'll point out is that the Radeon 6800 series is in fact not a "die shrink."  These GPUs are still built on 40nm process technology.  However, the architecture has been significantly overhauled for what the company claims to better overall performance, than their previous generation midrange graphics chip, in 25% less silicon area.  In short, though it's not a die shrink, the way AMD has re-architected and partitioned their new GPU line-up, the net result is performance and power efficiency gains, similar to what a traditional die shrink brings.

Also, we should point out that the Radeon HD 6870 is not the successor to the Radeon HD5870 per se.  In fact, AMD likens it more as a follow-on to the Radeon HD 5850 but with certain features and performance characteristics, like the card's enhanced tessellation engine, that are in fact stronger than a Radeon HD 5870.  Comparatively, the new Radeon HD 6870 has 175MHz faster engine clock speed at 900MHz, versus the Radeon HD 5850 at 725MHz but it also has 320 fewer Stream Processors (1120 for the HD 6870, 1440 for the HD 5850).  The result is both cards offer around 2 Teraflops of compute performance.  The Radeon HD 6870 has a small memory bandwidth advantage at 134.4 GB/s, versus the Radeon HD 5850 at 128GB/s.  If you like, go here for a look at the previous generation architecture side-by-side, to compare with the slide above. 

Finally, you might be tempted to think that the Radeon HD 6850 is a follow-on to the Radeon HD 5850 when in reality, at least from a high-level spec standpoint, its closest kin from the previous generation is perhaps more in line with the Radeon HD 5770, at least in terms of pricing.  Though, as you'll note here, the new Radeon HD 6850 offers 160 more stream processors and higher overall compute throughput as well.  AMD is also coming out with enhanced image quality features like new Anti-Aliasing modes and higher quality Anisotropic Filtering in this midrange update release. We'll have more for you on these features, as well as a glimpse of follow-on higher-end product families coming to market, in the pages that follow of course.

With that in mind, however, today's AMD graphics launch is primarily about offering gamers and enthusiasts more bang for the buck and more performance per per watt.  The Radeon HD 6870 and Radeon HD 6850 drop in at $239 and $179 MSRP, respectively.  Pricing like this puts these cards well within reach for many-a-gamer.  Let's take a closer look at what makes them tick...

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soldier1969 4 years ago

These are for the mainstream users. Not a viable upgrade from my 5870. Waiting on the Caymen 6890 XT for my next upgrade. Bring it!

Dave_HH 4 years ago

That's Cayman (Radeon HD 6970) and yep, we want it brought too! :)

lifeskills 4 years ago

Good read!  Was glad too see some Branded cards, rather than the reference models I have seen so far.  Can't wait to see cayman and antilles coverage.

would love to hear about the stereoscopic 3d support these cards are introducing.

gibbersome 4 years ago

Great review! The excellent scaling bodes well for the dual-GPU 6990.

Some things that confused me:

-The naming convention will make it all the harder to compare previous generation cards with the new generation. Perhaps AMD wants to create more low to mid-end offerings and needed to free up some numbering space.

-Little disappointed that AMD chose to debut the series with the upper mid-range cards. Can't wait to see how the 6900 series perform, but right now the performance numbers are good, but not thrilling.

-The improvement in power, heat and noise will be very interesting to see in the mobile versions of these cards.


So all in all, AMD has served us a great appetizer course, but no entrée.

crowTrobot 4 years ago

It's weird how Sapphire chose to use the stock fan on the 6870 but placed the good, quiet cooling fan on the 6850.

I have the Sapphire 6850 and its the quietest fans I have ever heard (or not heard), it only starts to get noticeably audible at 55%  inside a case but during OCCT/Furmark the fans only throttle up to 59% so its still relatively quiet when you are gaming.

bob_on_the_cob 4 years ago

The Crossfire scaling is insane. Almost double performance in some games. That's just crazy. Not that I have the money to drop in 2 cards. I am getting a good size pay check tomorrow. About time to upgrade and now seems like a pretty good time to do that. My budget will most likely be around the $150 - $200 price point so this review hits that hard.

AKwyn 4 years ago

I myself am also waiting for Caymen as well. I want that card to blow away the GTX480 if it wants to get my hard earned money.

der meister 4 years ago

Any one know when the 6900 series cards will be out?

marco c 4 years ago

@Der - We can't say exactly, but it won't be long.

Der Meister 4 years ago

[quote user="Marco C"]

@Der - We can't say exactly, but it won't be long.


Sweet! In the next week or so then I would assume... 

rapid1 4 years ago

Well it seems as I have no visible upgrade path at all until the Caymen hits, and even then if I stay on the ATI hardware. Of course my5870 and 5850 are humming right along beating everything compared here anyways minus 20 watts anyway. I don't think 20 watts of power is really worth it personally.

The one thing I see as a mess up here is the fact that the 5800 and even 5700 series were all widely adopted. Being as I see it as not much of an upgrade I would bet many see it the same or at least a good amount of people, but this includes especially the ones who would use the amount of money on a GPU that these call for. Then on top of that I would bet shortly there will be some massive sales on the 5800 series cards of which I am sure there are many in stock.

So while I applaud the upgrading they did and especially the areas they concentrated on, I just don't see this series as being as good financially for the company. I am hoping all the CPU goodies supposed to be streaming out of AMD in the next six months makes up for them on the CPU side of things as well as evens things about between there CPU GPU offerings overall making them stronger market wide. If this does not happen they may have very well stalled there recovery.

Tom Kamkari 4 years ago

I only wish ATI folded as good as Nvidia, otherwise they are doing great as pointed out.

AKwyn 4 years ago

[quote user="Tom Kamkari"]

I only wish ATI folded as good as Nvidia, otherwise they are doing great as pointed out.


Well the ATI cards are designed primarily for gaming so I don't expect folding to be a high point for them.

gibbersome 4 years ago

My thoughts exactly rapid. This release is a refinement rather than a revolution. Since the release is right on time with their upgrade cycle, perhaps refinement was the only way to move forward with 32nm process not available yet (I think the article mentions this).

rapid1 4 years ago

Yes; it does mention all off the things about refinement. I am pointing out that basically ATI may not be the UBER performer in AMD's camp this go around, because the enthusiast side may not see the point in upgrading there 5870 to a 6870. The thing which makes this interesting from a business standpoint is ATI (now AMD) has never tried to wholeheartedly rip off there valued customers as Nvidia does time and again (and of course much like abused spouses the fan boys cower at there knees and call them god). AMD seems to use it to try to claw back to where they were several years ago which in an of itself is quite interesting. I will not cut on Intel because thankfully to them CPU's have kept advancing for the last several years, and AMD has followed on their coat tails trying to keep up. They actually seem to be getting themselves out of financial purgatory as well. I just think it would have been a better strategy business wise to do my damnedest to get a barn burning GPU on the market prior to all the processor goodies which are supposed to be coming down ATI's path in the coming months. Then with both main product sides of the company firing on all cylinders watch the phoenix rise from the ashes an all around market beater again. Who knows maybe I am just wishing dreamily to see AMD blow Intel and Nvidia to smithereens, so that the market as a whole will blow up with new enhanced R&D like what brought us core2 duo, and of course the chips Nvidia limped on for years (and renamed/re-released numerous times). If you see it much as a true picture of why competition is good all the way around (IE: Prices/new technology faster) for humanity it is good for us all if every market leader steps into battle guns ablaze, rather than just on one flank.

Mike Coyne 4 years ago

Yeah, I did read about them Now i will remember that was ATI. Now it had changed to new name "AMD Radeon" I am sure it still be former ATI  video card

lifeskills 4 years ago

Its funny what "mainstream" cards are capable of these days....

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