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AMD Radeon HD 6870 & 6850 Graphics Cards Debut
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Date: Oct 21, 2010
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta and Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specifications
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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The GPU, New Image Quality Features

Those of you that are familiar with AMD’s previous DX11-class GPUs should find the block diagram below very familiar. The new GPU—codenamed ‘Barts’—at the heart of the Radeon HD 6800 series borrows heavily of the previous generation, but it is refined in a number of ways. AMD states the new architecture offers up to 35% better performance per square mm, within a similar power envelope and that tessellation and geometry throughput has been increased. In addition, Barts offers new anti-aliasing modes, enhanced anisotropic filtering, and a host of display output and media acceleration updates.

The new Radeon HD 6800 series GPU, in its full configuration offers up to 2 TeraFLOPS of compute performance with a peak fillrate of over 24Gigapixles/sec. The tessellation unit has been upgraded over the previous generation to offer approximately double the performance in real-world gaming scenarios and it now has dual rasterizers to keep the chip fed and running more efficiently. In its full configuration, which is employed in the Radeon HD 6870, Barts has 14 SIMD engines with 1120 steam processor cores, 56 texture units, 128 Z/Stencil ROPs, and 32 Color ROPs. In the 6850, two SIMD engines have been disabled, bringing the total number of stream processors enabled down to 960, but all 32 Color ROPs remain enabled. If you’re keeping track, the Radeon HD 5850 had 1440 total stream processors enabled, with 72 texture units, and the same number of ROPs.

Like the previous generation, the Barts GPU powering the Radeon HD 6800 series is manufactured using TSMC’s 40nm process node. The chip is comprised of “only” 1.7 billion transistors, whereas the previous-gen Cypress GPU had 2.15B, and has a die size of 255mm2. Cypress is 334mm2. That’s quite a sizable reduction is die size, for a GPU that should offer similar or better performance, thanks to refinements to the architecture and increased clock speeds.

As we’ve mentioned, the Barts GPU offers approximately double the tessellation performance of the previous generation. But it also offers enhancements designed to improve image quality as well. The improved anisotropic filtering algorithm of the Radeon HD 6800 series addresses some issues which caused some visual anomalies in the previous generation. The new algo now offers smoother transitions between filtering levels and maintains full performance, regardless of angle.

A new anti-aliasing mode is set to debut with the Radeon HD 6800 series as well, but since it’s a post-processing filtering technique, this new "Morphological" Anti-Aliasing mode may be available to Radeon HD 5800 series owners as well at some point. The Morphological AA feature is accelerated using DirectCompute and delivers full-scene antialiasing, but at speeds much faster than super-sampling. It is compatible with any DX9, 10, or 11 applications and is switchable via the Catalyst Control Center.

Other enhancements to the Barts GPU included a new Unified Video Decoder engine, bringing it up to UVD 3. The only major change here is that the new architecture can now accelerate DivX and xVid files as well. The Radeon HD 6800 series also features HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.2 support.

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Design Goals and Product Positioning
As we noted earlier, AMD has taken the stance that this release is about bringing more cost and power-efficient graphics cards to market.  Obviously this is a good thing but let's not sip too deeply on that kool-aide just yet.  In plain, non-marketing speak, what we're really looking at here is a fairly aggressive redesign but targeted in the same manufacturing process technologies as the previous generation.  The AMD  Radeon Graphics team is coming out with this new GPU architecture right around the 14 month mark, which is about on par with their traditional cadence of design cycles. The cold hard facts of the matter is that, process technologies below 40nm for very large, complex designs like graphics processors, do not come easy and AMD had to make due with the semiconductor manufacturing geometries that were going to be available in full production at their target release time frame. 



So, in reality, doing more with less was not only the flag that marketing was going to wave but also it was very much what the Radeon graphics design team had to live by.  Fitting actually, for this new post-recession (we're told we can call it that now...) economy we live in.  As a result, focusing on not only performance-per-watt improvements but also performance per square millimeter of die real estate, where size matters from a cost standpoint, was also a key design goal for Radeon graphics chip architects.  Through the culmination of these efforts, AMD is claiming their new 6800 series cards are going to be the fastest sub-150W cards on the market, at decidedly lower price points.  We'll confirm this of course in our testing sections coming up.



But we digress, Barts, Cayman, Antilles; let's get back to warmer thoughts.  There's frost on the pumpkin these days after all.  The above slide from AMD's press deck shows where the new chips fall.  Notice the relative size of each chip, as well as the number of each.  Barts was designed to give near-Radeon HD 5870 performance at a lower price point, at its top end model but Cayman is the big Daddy island we're looking forward to sailing to sometime in Q4.  Take two Caymans and you've got Antilles.  Confused?  Don't be.  Follow along here...



As you can see on the above performance and release timeline, the Radeon HD 6870 and Radoen HD 6850 slide in just underneath their respective previous generation counterparts, if you consider model number conventions versus performance.  However both of these devices have beefed up tessellation units, as we mentioned, as well as improved thread management and buffering versus the previous generation.  Finally they offer these enhancements and performance characteristics in roughly 25% less silicon area.  Which means, as noted before, these cards will cost less and consume less power, but also these optimizations afford room to roll in an even higher-end GPU later this year, which will be Cayman.

Cayman will be significantly faster than AMD's current flagship Radeon HD 5870 GPU is now, with the high-end Radeon HD 6970 approaching the performance that a dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 offers today but again, with a better tessellation engine and certainly lower power than the previous generation dual-GPU card.  Expect the Radeon HD 6970 to arrive first, then a lower power/cost Radeon HD 6950 and finally, perhaps some time in Q1, Antilles will emerge as the Radeon HD 6990.   Antilles will be comprised of two Radeon HD 6950 GPUs on a single card. 

So there you have it, the roadmap.  Now let's look at what we have in hand today.  Here are the reference cards AMD sent in for testing.

 

 
AMD Radeon HD 6850 - 775MHz Core, 960 Stream Processors, 1GB GDDR5 @ 4Gbps

 

 
AMD Radeon HD 6870 - 900MHz Core, 1120 Stream Processors, 1GB GDDR5 @ 4.2Gbps

Two miniDP, one HDMI, two DL-DVI and a fairly big slab of PCB; the Radeon HD 6850 and Radeon HD 6870 measure in at 9-inches and 9.75-inches long respectively.  Both cards share the same display output configuration, which consists if dual DVI outputs (one single link, one dual link), and HDMI 1.4 output, and two mini-DP 1.2 otuputs. while the 6870 takes a pair of 6-pin PCI Express power connectors to the 6850's single connector.  The primary differences between the higher-end Radeon HD 6870 and the Radeon HD 6850, are the number of stream processors enabled in the GPU, core clock speeds and memory interface speeds.  The Radeon HD 6870 is comprised of 1120 stream processors clocked at a blistering 900MHz. The 6870's memory is running at 1050MHz or 4.2GHz quad pumped (GDDR5) which equates to 4.2Gbps for 134.4GB/s of memory bandwidth across its 256-bit interface.  The Radeon HD 6850 is built with 960 stream processors running at 775Mhz and a slightly slower memory interface speed of 1GHz or 4GHz GDDR5, which results in a 4Gbps data rate or 128GB/s of memory bandwidth. 

Let's look at some retail level product, shall we?
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XFX, Asus Radeon HD 6870 and 6850
A number of AMD’s board partners were at the ready with Radeon HD 6800 series products in time for this launch, so we gobbled up as many retail-ready products as we could to compliment the AMD reference cards we had for testing. For the purpose of this launch article, we acquired cards from Asus, Sapphire, HIS, and XFX.


 

 

 
Asus EAH6870

First up, we have the Asus EAH6870. As its name suggests, this is Asus’ Radeon HD 6870 offering, and like the other 6870 cards featured here, it mostly adheres to AMD’s reference design. Asus differentiates the EAH6870 by offering voltage adjustments that should allow for higher peak overclocks, but due to time constraints we weren’t able to test this feature. Of course, Asus also affixes a custom decal to the fan shroud, which clearly designates this card comes from Asus. In addition, there is an aluminum front cover to the shroud, which aids in heat dissipation.

Asus bundles their 6870 with a driver / digital user’s manual CD, a CrossFire bridge connector, a single power adapter, and a VGA-to-DVI adapter. No games or other goodies were to be found and the output configuration and frame buffer are identical to the reference models. As for the clocks, the card has a 915MHz GPU and 1GB of memory operating at 1.05GHz.

 

 
XFX Radeon HD 6870

Next up we have the XFX Radeon HD 6870. Like Asus’ card, XFX's 6870 is virtually identical to the reference design. The XFX Radeon HD 6870 is set apart by its elaborate fan shroud decal and by a custom case bracket. Whereas the other 6870 cards featured here have basic lined vents cut into the bracket for exhausting hot air from a system, XFX’s offering sports a vent with the letters ‘XFX’ cut in. Looks pretty cool if you ask us.

 

 

 
XFX Radeon HD 6850

XFX’s Radeon HD 6850, pictured above, is a complete departure from AMD’s reference design. The XFX Radeon HD 6850 sports a custom cooler and is built upon a PCB that slightly shorter than the reference design. In terms of its features and specifications, however, the XFX Radeon HD 6850 adheres to AMD’s specs, which is to say its GPU is clocked at 775MHz and its 1GB of GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1GHz. Like its higher-end counterpart, the XFX Radeon HD 6850 features a custom case bracket with ‘XFX’ vents, but this card had red DVI outputs and a funky shroud with vents all around.

XFX bundles their Radeon HD 6800 series cards with a quick install guide, warranty information, driver install guide, an XFX PSU brochure, a CrossFire bridge connector, and a cool “XFX Play Hard: Do Not Disturb—I’m Gaming!” placard.
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Sapphire and HIS Radeon HD 6870s

 

Like the Asus and XFX Radeon HD 6870 cards on the previous page, HIS’ and Sapphire’s offerings strictly adhere to AMD’s reference design.

 

 
HIS Radeon HD 6870

Save for the custom decal affixed to its fan shroud, the HIS Radeon HD 6870 looks just like the other 6870 cards featured hear. It uses the same cooler and PCB design, and has the same output configuration and GPU and memory clock speeds. HIS’ bundle consists of an installation guide, driver CD, and case badge, along with a CrossFire bridge connector, dual 6-pin PCI Express power adapters, and a single VGA to DVI adapter.

 

 
Sapphire Radeon HD 6870

Sapphire’s Radeon HD 6870 card is physically the same as the others featured in this article as well, again, with the sole exception being the custom decals installed on its fan and fan shroud. Sapphire, however, includes the most extensive accessory bundle. Along with the Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 card, we found an installation guide, driver CD, a case badge, and a CrossFire bridge connector, in addition to an HDMI cable, two 6-pin PCI Express power adapters, a VGA-to-DVI adapter, and a mini-DP to full-sized-DP adapter. Kudos to Sapphire for including all of the adapters and dongles to make installation easier for user that may need them.

 

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Test Setup & Unigine Heaven v2.1

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 motherboard powered by a Core i7 965 quad-core processor and 6GB of OCZ DDR3-1333 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS and installed the latest hotfixes, along with the necessary drivers and applications.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Core i7 965 (3.2GHz)
Gigabyte EX58-UD5 (X58 Express)

Radeon HD 5830
Radeon HD 5850 (2)
Radeon HD 5870 (2)
Radeon HD 6850 (2)
Radeon HD 6870 (2)
GeForce GTX 460
GeForce GTX 470
GeForce GTX 460 OC (EVGA)
GeForce GTX 470 OC (Galaxy)

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333
Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX June 2010 Redist
ATI Catalyst v10.10b
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers 260.89

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.1
3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
H.A.W.X.
FarCry 2
Just Cause 2
Alien vs. Predator
Left 4 Dead 2*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5*

* - Custom benchmark

Unigine Heaven v2.1 Benchmark
Synthetic DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark v2.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), and it also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.


There is little question that tessellation is a key feature of DirectX 11 and forward-looking DX11-based game titles.  Though like any other relatively new rendering technique, due largely to the fact that game developers need to support a broad legacy install base of older hardware, it is currently utilized sparingly in a only a few of the most leading-edge game titles.  That said, tessellation performance of a GPU will no doubt become more and more significant as next gen game engines increasingly make use of more advanced DX11 features. As a benchmarking tool, Unigine is a tessellation yard stick of sorts, with the ability to force tessellation workloads on the GPU that aren't really typical, in even the few titles currently on the market that make use of the feature.

Here we see the new Radeon HD 6870 beefed-up tessellation engine offers up to a 27% boost in performance, according to Unigine, versus the previous generation of Radeon 5000 series products.  The Radeon HD 6870 actually just edges out NVIDIA's strong tessellation engine in the GeForce GTX 460 but falls behind the more expensive GeForce GTX 470 by about 23% or so.  The Radeon HD 6850 offers roughly a 7% performance increase over the Radeon HD 5850 but can't keep pace with the GeForce GTX 460 and trails it by about 16% or so.
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3DMark Vantage Performance

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark Vantage

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which y isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.


The new Radeon HD 6800 series cards trail their 5800 series namesakes in 3DMark Vantage and land somewhere in between the stock GeForce GTX 470 and 460. The Radeon HD 5870 has a clear lead over the 6870, as does the 5850 over the new 6850. The Radeon HD 6870, however, is able to pull ahead of the stock GTX 460 and just misses the mark set by the overclocked GTX 460 and GTX 470. The Radeon HD 6850 trails both of NVIDIA's competitive offerings.
 



 

6870

6850

5870

5850

GTX 470

GTX 460

% Increase

88.0% 

90.9% 

74.8% 

 76.4%

90.2%

 91.3%

The performance trend we witnessed in the single-card testing, plays out again in the dual-card CrossFire and SLI tests. Interestingly, the Radeon HD 6800 series parts scaled better moving from one card to two than the 5800 series models did. The GeForces both scaled very well when running in SLI mode.

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ET: Quake Wars Performance

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance


Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on a radically enhanced version of id's Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many smaller textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering

The Radeon HD 6800 series cards performed very well in our custom ET:QW benchmark. The Radeon HD 6870 was able to outrun the GeForce GTX 470 and almost caught the Radeon HD 5870, while the 6850 pulled ahead of the stock GTX 460. Although, the Radeon HD 6850 couldn't quite catch the Radeon HD 5850 or overclocked GTX 460 here.
 



 

6870

6850

5870

5850

GTX 470

GTX 460

% Increase

 37.9%

56.3%

34.5% 

49.3% 

58.1% 

59.6% 

This game is getting a bit long in the tooth and was somewhat CPU-bound once we introduced a second GPU into the equation. None of the dual-GPU configurations scaled quite as well in this game due to the CPU limitation. And the same performance trend that we saw in the single card tests played out again here.

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FarCry 2 Performance

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA enabled.

The performance trend was somewhat different in the FarCry 2 benchmark. The Radeon HD 6870 performed just behind the GeForce GTX 470, OC'd 460, and Radeon HD 5870, while the Radeon HD 6850 trailed the GTX 460 and HD 5850. The deltas separating the cards weren't very big, though.
 



 

6870

6850

5870

5850

GTX 470

GTX 460

% Increase

 84.7%

95.8%

61.9% 

69.8% 

71.5% 

77.3% 

Superior multi-GPU scaling by the Radeon HD 6800 series parts allowed them to take the lead in the FarCry 2 benchmark, however. We checked in with AMD to see what kind of enhancements were made to CrossFire that could account for the enhanced scaling and were told the underlying CrossFire implementations were identical. These numbers were repeatable though,

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Left 4 Dead 2 Performance

Left 4 Dead 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


Left 4 Dead 2

Like its predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 is a co-operative, survival horror, first-person shooter that pits four players against numerous hordes of Zombies. Like Half Life 2, the game uses the Source engine, however, the visual in L4D 2 are far superior to anything seen in the Half Life universe to date. The game has much more realistic water and lighting effects, more expansive maps with richer detail, more complex models, and the list goes on and on. We tested the game at various resolutions with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.

The new Radeon HD 6870 and HD 6850 beat the GeForce GTX 470 and stock GTX 460, respectively, in our custom Left 4 Dead 2 benchmark, by the slimmest of margins. The comparable Radeon HD 5800 series products took the lead over the new 6800 series parts, however.
 



 

6870

6850

5870

5850

GTX 470

GTX 460

% Increase

 39.8%

63.8% 

23.9% 

46.1% 

26.1% 

47.4% 

Left 4 Dead 2 was essentially CPU-bound when a second GPU entered the equation, which resulted in scaling scores that were all over the map. Any of the cards tested here can play L4D2 at max settings, with high framerates; using multiple GPUs simply pushes framerates over the top.

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Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. Performance

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
DirectX Gaming Performance


Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare video game that takes place during the time of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.  Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 famous aircrafts in both solo and 4-player co-op missions, and take them over real world locations and cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye.  We used the built-in performance test at two resolutions with all quality settings set to their highest values, using the DX10.1 code path for both the Radeons and GeForce 400 series cards.

Both of the new Radeon HD 6800 series cards were able to outpace the stock GeForce GTX 460 in the H.A.W.X. benchmark, however, the GeForce GTX 470 ruled the roost, alongside the Radeon HD 5870 and overclocked GTX 460.
 



 

6870

6850

5870

5850

GTX 470

GTX 460

% Increase

 92.9%

 96.1%

72.5%

72.1% 

84.7% 

96% 

Once again, the Radeon HD 6800 cards' excellent CrossFire scaling allowed them to pull ahead of competitive offerings.

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Just Cause 2 Performance

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the similarly named original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called The Concrete Jungle.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level. 

The new Radeon HD 6870 performed about on par with the GeForce GTX 470 in the Just Cause 2 benchmark, while the Radeon HD 6850 hung right alongside the stock GeForce GTX 460. The Radeon HD 5870, however, was the fastest overall by small margin.
 



 

6870

6850

5870

5850

GTX 470

GTX 460

% Increase

 89.6%

90.5% 

67.4% 

71% 

50% 

59.6% 

The Radeon HD 6800 series scaled very well in the Just Cause 2 benchmark when a second GPU was introduced, which allowed them to pull ahead of both of the GeForces. The Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire config was still the fastest, though.

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Alien vs. Predator Performance

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion and high-quality shadow features, available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11 related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

With AvP we see that a Radeon HD 6870 performs about on par with a Radeon HD 5850 but drops a few frames per second at the ultra-high resolution of 2560X1600.  This is likely due to the 6870's fewer number of Texture Units, since geometry throughput and memory bandwidth are higher for the new architecture.  Regardless, the Radeon HD 6870 handily outpaces a stock GeForce GTX 460 but can't quite keep up with a GTX 470 or OC'd 460.  The new Radeon HD 6850 tracks the performance of a stock GeForce GTX 460 in this test.



 

6870

6850

5870

5850

GTX 470

GTX 460

% Increase

 97.7%

97.8% 

 83.4%

 84.8%

 89.7%

92.6% 

 

Here we've calculated performance scaling for you in AMD CrossFire and NVIDIA SLI multi-GPU modes again and it's no surprise at point that AMD once again shows better slightly better scaling for their latest generation of GPUs versus NVIDIA's.  This theme was prevalent in every multi-GPU test we've shown here. This wasn't the case in the previous generation AMD architecture but it clearly is now.  Impressive to say the least.

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Total System Power Consumption

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely power consumption and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet



The new Radeon HD 6800 series cards fared very well in terms of power consumption. While idling at the Windows desktop, they had the lowest power consumption of the bunch. And while under load (running the Unigine Heaven Benchmark) the Radeon Hd 6870's power consumption hovered around 256 watts, which was right in-line with the lower performing Radeon HD 5850, while the 6850 came in at right around the 237 watt mark, which was the lowest of all of the cards we tested.

With relatively low power consumption characteristics, it should come as no surprise that heat and noise were non-issues with these cards. The Radeon HD 6870 and 6850 reference cards both idled at approximately 46'C - 48'C and under load they peaked at around the 80'C mark. And at idle, both cards were barely audible. Under load, the 6870 was audible but remained quiet and unobtrusive, while the 6850 was as well, although the 6850's fan produced a more "pitchy" whine.
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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The new Radeon HD 6800 series cards performed very well throughout our entire battery of tests. Generally speaking, the Radeon HD 6870 performs about on par with the GeForce GTX 470 and somewhat behind the Radeon HD 5870, but it does so while offering lower power consumption. The Radeon HD 6850 finds itself in a similar situation. Overall, the Radeon HD 6850 trails the older Radeon HD 5850, but hangs with or outruns a stock GeForce GTX 460 1GB, an overclocked 460, however, will trypically be faster. Keep in mind though, factory overclocked Radeon HD 6800 series cards are right around the corner. We also witnessed excellent dual-GPU scaling when running the new Radeon HD 6800 cards in CrossFire mode. In fact, in a couple of games the 6800 series' strong scaling allowed the 6870 / 6850 CrossFire configurations to outrun competitive offerings, that were slightly faster when running on single GPU.

One word aptly describes AMD's latest Radeon HD 6800 series GPUs: refinement.  AMD's goal was to drive cost and power consumption out of their architecture, along with enhancing its capabilities, features and image quality in next-generation DX11 gaming engines.  To that end we'd say the company has succeeded masterfully. With the Radeon HD 6870 at $239 MSRP, gamers can enjoy virtually all the performance and then some of AMD previous generation $299 card, but with lower power consumption and better support for DX11 features like tessellation and seemingly better multi-GPU scaling. With respect to the Radeon HD 6850, the value proposition may be even stronger at its $179 MSRP.  Also, let's not forget that, especially in the midrange price points, as future higher-end cards are released, (think Cayman and the Radeon HD 6970) those street prices tend to fall back just a tad here and there. AMD has also stated that tens of thousands of these new cards have already shipped to e-tailers, so you'll be able to buy them right away.


Reference AMD Radeon HD 6870 and 6850 Cards

As we noted earlier on in our coverage here, AMD has essentially achieved the traditional intrinsic benefits of a process geometry reduction or "die shrink," with out actually having to execute on the expense of an actual process migration.  What we're looking at here with the Radeon HD 6800 series is a smaller, more efficient graphics engine, pushing higher clock speeds and throughput from less silicon area.  It's a great foundation to build from actually.  Cayman winds will blow sometime in the forth quarter this year and the performance bar will be raised again. Beyond that dual-GPU cards will follow, and further out, a true process migration is likely in the works.  AMD is sitting pretty we'd say. The only question really is, how will NVIDIA answer?


 

  • Strong Performance
  • Relatively Low Power Consumption
  • New AA and Aniso Modes
  • Very Competitive Pricing
  • Eyefinity Support
  • Relatively Cool and Quiet
  • Updated Video Engine

  • Naming Convention May Be Confusing To Some
  • Can't Quite Catch The 5870

 



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