AMD Radeon HD 6870 & 6850 Graphics Cards Debut

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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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