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AMD Radeon HD 6870 and 6850 Overclocked Round-up
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Date: Jan 13, 2011
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Mathew Miranda
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Introduction


As enthusiasts, one of the things we can always count on is the never-ending progression of computer hardware. Year after year, video cards get faster, processors offer more cores and / or performance, and motherboards provide additional features. That top of the line, $500 GPU you bought a few years ago can't touch the performance of a $200 graphics card available today. Yes, it's tough to keep up with the rapid pace of technology. But by shopping smarter, you minimize the chance of feeling buyer's remorse a few months down the road.  


Right on cue, a new year brings a new series of cards from both AMD and NVIDIA. The trio of video cards we're looking at today are designed to provide the best bang for your buck. These factory overclocked Radeon HD 6800 series graphics cards from PowerColor and HIS have made their way into our testing lab, and it's time once again for another round up.


Some might glance over these products and wonder what the hook is. Any time a new series of graphics cards are launched by ATI or NVIDIA, it is common for add in board (AIB) partners to tweak various features so that consumers have even more attractive options to choose from, beyond the original reference design. Well, each one of the cards here has taken the basic blueprint from AMD, and gone a step further. In addition to higher GPU speeds, they also provide improved cooling solutions. The heatsinks have been redesigned to provide improved cooling in order to handle the increased frequencies that are set for their graphics engines, while also reducing noise output. Read on to find out if one of them has what it takes to be your next upgrade.

Overclocked AMD Radeon Mid-Range GPU Round-up
Let's Get It On!

PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+
940 MHz Core / 1100 MHz Memory
$274*
HIS HD 6870 Fan Turbo
920 MHz Core / 1120 MHz Memory
$259*
PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+
820 MHz Core / 1100 MHz Memory
$209*
                 * Current street pricing


When compared to reference design models, these cards command higher prices due to their improved features and performance. The PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ sells for $274 at the moment, considerably more than a stock HD 6870, which we've seen as low as $229. In addition, the HIS HD 6870 Fan Turbo can be purchased for $259. The PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ goes for $209, a $50 price premium over the most affordable HD 6850 we spotted ($169). Now let's take a closer look at each one to see how they differ and how much of a boost you can expect to see from them in various benchmarks.

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PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+

The first Radeon HD 6800 series graphics card we're looking at today is from Taiwan based video card manufacturer, PowerColor. We have seen a steady stream of reference and overclocked video cards featuring AMD GPUs from PowerColor. Here we get our hands on the latest release in the PCS+ product line.
 


PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ Graphics Card

 PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+
 Specs and Features

Model
AX6850 1GBD5-PPDHGJ

Core Clock
820 MHz
   
Memory Clock / Size
1100 MHz / 1 GB

Ports
Two DVI (1 single link, 1 dual link)
One HDMI
One DisplayPort
Accessories
User Manual
CrossFire Bridge
DVI to VGA Adapter
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Warranty
3 years

Price

$209



PowerColor offers four different models based on the HD 6850. There are two PCS+ versions available, one with Call of Duty included and one without. Both sport core clocks at 820 MHz and memory set to 1100 MHz. The HD 6850 PCS+ features a dual slot cooler with one fan in the middle of the customized heatsink. Air is drawn to the middle of card and transferred out the front and rear. It will be interesting to see how well this cooler dissipates heat compared to the reference design.


This card comes with a few accessories to help get you started. PowerColor includes a CrossFire bridge, a DVI to VGA adapter, installation guide, and driver disk. This particular model also comes with a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as part of the bundle.

 

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HIS HD 6870 Turbo

Hightech Information System (HIS) is a first tier ATI add-in board partner that focuses mainly on desktop graphics. The company claims to provide "faster, cooler, quieter" products that give them an edge within the market. In addition to reference design models of the latest Radeon cards, HIS releases overclocked versions featuring upgraded cooling solutions, like the iCooler Turbo V versions of their graphics cards.


HIS 6870 Fan Turbo Graphics Card

 HIS 6870 Fan Turbo
 Specs and Features

Model
H687FT1G2M

Core Clock
920 MHz
   
Memory Clock / Size
1120 MHz / 1 GB

Ports
Two DVI (1 single link, 1 dual link)
Two Mini DisplayPorts
One HDMI
Accessories
User Manual
Driver Disk
CrossFire Bridge
DVI to VGA Adapter
Two Molex to 6-pin PCIe Power Adapters

Warranty
2 years

Price

$249




The HIS HD 6870 Turbo features the reference design, dual slot cooling solution. They slapped on a custom decal while increasing the GPU clock from 900 to 920 MHz, and the memory from 1050 to 1120 MHz. It has two DVI ports, two Mini DP connections, and one HDMI port. Like the reference design, this card requires two 6-pin PCI Express connections from the power supply.  



Here you get a few accessories included with the graphics card. HIS includes two Molex to 6-pin PCI adapters, a DVI to VGA adapter, CrossFire bridge, and driver disk. There's also an HIS decal if you want to slap it on your case.

 

 

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PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+


Warranty coverage for PowerColor graphic cards are typically 2 years, but their PCS+ products get an additional year, for a total of 3 years. In addition, PCS+ products get better customer service according to PowerColor. This includes a response to all emails within 24 hours, one week turnaround on RMA's, and improved tracking information.


PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ Graphics Card

 PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+
 Specs and Features

Model
AX6870 1GBD5-PP2DHG

Core Clock
940 MHz
   
Memory Clock / Size
1100 MHz / 1 GB

Ports
Two DVI (1 single link, 1 dual link)
Two Mini DisplayPorts
One HDMI
Accessories
User Manual
CrossFire Bridge
DVI to VGA Adapter
Mini DP to DP cable
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2


Warranty
3 years

Price

$274



PowerColor's HD 6870 PCS+ makes use of a custom cooling solution exactly like the one found on the 6850 PCS+. This model operates at 940 MHz core and 1100 MHz memory, up from the 900 / 1050 MHz found on stock cards. But like the reference design, it has two DVI ports, two Mini DP connections, and one HDMI port. 



Look familiar? PowerColor includes a CrossFire bridge, a DVI to VGA adapter, mini DP to DP cable, installation guide, and driver disk. Also, this model also comes with a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as part of the bundle.

 

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Test System and 3DMark Vantage

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: In order to provide comparable results, the graphics cards featured here were installed on the same, high end X58 based test system. The components used consisted of the Asus Rampage III Extreme motherboard, Core i7 980X Extreme Edition processor, and 6GB of OCZ Blade memory.

Within the BIOS, we configured the processor to an overclocked speed of 4.27GHz and memory to 1869MHz. We feel these settings will minimize the occurrences of non-GPU related performance bottlenecks during benchmark runs and allow the graphics cards to show their true potential. Furthermore, our Crucial M225 solid state drive entered the testing process with a clean copy of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit installed. Once installation was complete, we fully updated the OS and installed the latest drivers and applications relevant to the review article.

HotHardware's Test System
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 980X Extreme Edition
Overclocked 4.27GHz

Asus Rampage III Extreme Motherboard
X58 Express Chipset

Gigabyte Super OC HD 5870 1GB
Gigabyte Super OC GTX 470 1.28GB
HIS HD 6870 Fan Power
MSI Hawk GTX 460
PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+
PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+
XFX HD 6870 1GB

6GB OCZ Blade DDR3-1869
(3 X 2GB) 7-8-7-20 1T


Crucial M225 128GB SSD
Firmware 1916

Display:
Dell 3008WFP LCD Monitor
2560 x 1600 Resolution

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Professional 64bit
NVIDIA GeForce Driver Release 260.63
ATI Catalyst Display Driver 10.12

Benchmarks Used:

3DMark Vantage
3DMark 11
Dirt 2
Far Cry 2
Just Cause 2
Lost Planet 2
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat

In order to find out where these cards fit in the graphics market, we put them up against some serious competition. The comparison group consists of four other models: Gigabyte's Super Overclock HD 5870, Super Overclock GTX 470, MSI's Hawk GTX 460, and a stock XFX HD 6870. We adjusted to the GPU and memory speeds of the SOC HD 5870 to match stock settings.


Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DX10 Performance


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 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.

As you might expect, the 6870's are faster than the GTX 460, but still trail the 5870 and GTX 470 in 3DMark Vantage. On the other hand, the HD 6850 PCS+ comes up behind the stock HD 6870 by a wide margin.

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Dirt 2 - DX11

 Dirt 2
 DX11 Gaming Performance


Dirt 2

Dirt 2 was released in September 2009 and provides a sequel to the original Colin McRae: Dirt racing game. Codemasters delayed the PC version of Dirt 2 so that they could enhance their Ego engine with DirectX 11 effects. Dirt 2 is also a solid benchmark for multi-core processors since DX11 is designed to take advantage of multi-threaded system architectures.



With image quality cranked up, all the cards in our round up did well during the Dirt 2 benchmark. The PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ and HIS HD 6870 Turbo performed similarly, while the 6850 turned in the slowest FPS, but was able to provide smooth game play throughout testing.
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Lost Planet 2 - DX11

 Lost Planet 2
 DX11 Gaming Performance


Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter developed by Capcom. It is the sequal to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and takes place ten years after the events of the first game. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates, while featuring major boss battles, extreme terrain, and the ability to pilot mechanized armor suits. We tested the game engine using the stand alone benchmark provided by Capcom, at 2560 x 1600, No AA, and high image settings.





Looking at these results, the GTX 470 is in another league when it comes the Lost Planet 2. But ignoring that particular card, the rest of the comparison group turned in similar performances. Only a few FPS separate the 2nd and 7th place result at each resolution tested.
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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat - DX11

 S. T. A. L. K. E. R. - Call of Pripyat
 DX11 Gaming Performance


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Call of Pripyat is the third game in the STALKER series and throws in DX11 to the mix. This benchmark is based on one of the locations found within the latest game. Testing includes four stages and utilizes various weather conditions, as well as different time of day settings. It offers a number of presets and options, including multiple versions of DirectX, resolutions, antialiasing, etc. SunShafts represents the most graphically challenging stage available. We conducted our testing with DX11 enabled, 2560 x 1600 resolution, no anti-aliasing, and ultra settings.





After testing STALKER in various resolutions, it's clear the game favors GeForce cards as the GTX 460 beat the overclocked HD 6870's at every resolution.

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FarCry 2 - DX10

 FarCry 2
 DX10 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 a built-in demo run recorded in the Ranch Map. The test results shown here were run at a resolution of 2560 x 1600, 8x AA, and maximum image settings.





With almost identical scores, both the PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ and HIS HD 6870 Turbo graphic cards handled FarCry2 easily at maximum settings.
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Just Cause 2 - DX10

 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 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 Dark Tower.  The test results shown here were run at 2560 x 1600, no AA, 2x aniso, and high image settings.





The HIS HD 6870 Turbo did surprisingly well during our Just Cause 2 benchmarks. It consistently beat the PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ in all of the resolutions tested.

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Power Consumption and Temps

Power Consumption and Operating Temperatures
How low can you go?


When it comes to power consumption, the PowerColor HD 6850 has the edge over the 6870s but not by much. At full load, the 6850 utilized only 6 watts less (349 vs 355) than the HIS 6870 Turbo. Surprisingly, it even sipped more power during idle than both 6870s. And comparing those two cards, the HIS used 8 watts less than the PowerColor at load. Their idle use was almost identical. 



Using Furmark's stability test, the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ reached 74 degrees Celsius under load, while maintaining 36 degrees at idle. Naturally, it ran cooler than the 6870s we tested. We found the reference design cooling solution on the HIS 6870 provided better results than the one found on the PowerColor PCS+.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion


Performance Summary: Now that we've seen all of the results, let's talk about the numbers. First, we'll discuss the PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+. Throughout testing, we found it remained competitive with MSI's overclocked GTX 460. And though it was measurably slower than the HD 5870 in almost every case, the 6870 PCS+ was 3% faster than the stock 6870 on average. From a head to head standpoint, both the PCS+ and HIS Turbo 6870s provided almost identical performance. Even with its redesigned cooler, though, the PowerColor card ran warmer and consumed more power than the overclocked HIS 6870 under full load.

Next, the HD 6870 Turbo from HIS did very well in our testing. Like we said, its performance was neck and neck with the PCS+ 6870, usually providing identical scores during our benchmarks. The most surprising feature about the Fan Turbo 6870 is that it ran 5 degrees cooler and consumed 8 watts less than PowerColor's 6870 PCS+. 

Finally, PowerColor's 6850 PCS+ turned in a decent performance, but it was never able to catch the stock 6870. On average, it ran 11% slower than the stock XFX 6870. Also, we only saw a 6 watt power saving over the HIS 6870 when we expected a larger difference. The PCS+ 6850 ran 5 degrees cooler at idle and 6 degrees cooler at full load than the HIS card.



The Recommendation:  If we had around $220-$275 to spend, which mid-range Radeon card would we choose for our next build? From a performance perspective, it was a toss up between the two 6870 cards we reviewed today. PowerColor's card had a 20 MHz advantage on the GPU, but the HIS Turbo used faster memory. Considering the HIS Turbo will run you $15 less, the choice between the two is straightforward. Yes, PowerColor's product definitely looks better with the customized heatsink, but unfortunately the redesign did not translate into better temps under load. And while the 6850 PCS+ did not disappoint, it trailed the overclocked 6870s throughout testing by about a 16% margin. With that said, it's hard to argue against the HIS Radeon HD 6870 Turbo. It keeps up with the performance of the competition while sporting a lower price tag. As a result, we recommend it to anyone in the market for a new Radeon graphics card in its price range.

 




  • HIS HD 6870 Fan Turbo
 
  • PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+
  • PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ 

 

 

 



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