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What's the difference between the ATI 5850, 6850 and 6870?

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January 5, 2011 10:56:27 PM

Hey there Tom's Hardware,

I am looking at buying a new graphics card and my searches have lead me to consider the 5850. While looking for and at this card, I discovered the 6850 priced almost exactly the same ($9 cheaper). Instinct tells me that the newer card will be better - the 6850 - but benchmarks say the 5850 is the more powerful card.

Please inform me as to what the differences are between the two cards and (optionally) compare them to the 6870 ($60 more) as a third option, just for the sake of information.

I am looking at playing just about every game there is (Just Cause 2, Fallout 3/New Vegas, Call of Duty - all of them - Grand Theft Auto 4, Star Craft 2, Hawx/Hawx 2, Crysis - all of them/Crysis 2, the list goes on)

I will want to play them in 1920x1080 resolution through a Full HD 1080p monitor and Direct X 11 (where appliciable).
The computer will be running 4GB to 6GB of DDR3 RAM and an AMD Phenom II X4 965 CPU.

I may - at some stage - choose to run them in SLI or CrossFire mode if I think it will be any use.

Cheers,
-Klosteral
January 5, 2011 11:09:54 PM

It is a a naming anomaly by AMD. The 5850 and the 6870 are on par with performance. The 6850 is more in line with a 5830 I believe. I am not sure what the specs will be for Crysis 2 but any of the above should work for the current generation of games, the 6870 would be the more powerful option moving ahead.
January 5, 2011 11:42:57 PM

HD5850 was built in 4D .HD6800 series was built in 3D.
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a c 214 U Graphics card
January 5, 2011 11:46:24 PM

If planning to crossfire then the 68xx series would be the way to go.They are much better at crossfire than 58xx series.And will give you maximum performance.
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 12:01:07 AM

The HD6800 cards have much improved crossfire scaling as well as better performance in DX11 games. Here is a performance comparison at high resolutions;

I would just get an HD6850 and give it a nice overclock.
January 6, 2011 8:14:46 AM

I am considering the 6850 because it supposedly has better 3D and Direct X 11 support than the 5850. I am not familiar with overclocking at all. I have never overclocked a CPU or a GPU and I do not plan to. Also, the CrossFire option is simply a possibility that I may consider in the future. This upgrade has me buying a Gigabyte GA-880GM-USB3 and I do not think it supports CrossFire.

So in terms of single cards, tell me plainly and simply which I should buy.
5850 or 6850?
a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 12:33:16 PM

In terms of future performance, the 6850.

In terms of 'Right now" performance, the 5850.
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 12:43:29 PM

Yes, the 68xx series will deiliver better performance in crossfire than the 58xx series.
January 6, 2011 12:47:46 PM

Quote:
I have never overclocked a CPU or a GPU and I do not plan to.

If you want to CrossFire in the future you'll need to overclock your current CPU, otherwise you won't notice a big improvement in FPS.

Quote:
So in terms of single cards, tell me plainly and simply which I should buy.
5850 or 6850?

6850 because of the newer technology. Also, you may be able to mod it into a 6870.


a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 12:56:01 PM

Horhe said:

Quote:
So in terms of single cards, tell me plainly and simply which I should buy.
5850 or 6850?

6850 because of the newer technology. Also, you may be able to mod it into a 6870.



I thought it was the 6950 that you could mod into a 6970.. :bounce: 
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 1:52:50 PM

Quote:
I have never overclocked a CPU or a GPU and I do not plan to.
Overclocking a video card is quite simple, much easier than the CPU, especially if you don't want to push the card to its limits. I would recommend at least downloading MSI Afterburner and attempting it before dismissing the idea. The HD6850 can overclock a very large amount often about 30% so it would be a shame to just leave it at stock settings.

Horhe said:
If you want to CrossFire in the future you'll need to overclock your current CPU, otherwise you won't notice a big improvement in FPS.
He is using a Phenom II x4 965 which is already 3.4ghz at stock. Even if he wanted to OC that processor it doesn't really have much headroom but there is no reason to think it would be a significant bottleneck on crossfired HD6850s at stock except perhaps on the most CPU intensive games. Even for most of those a dual card setup will likely still give a decent benefit when maxing out settings/AA at high resolutions.
As for that motherboard you are correct that it does not support crossfire. If you are interested in having crossfire as an upgrade path is there a reason you are choosing that motherboard? There are similarly priced and featured boards that support crossfire, even from the same brand.
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 2:05:49 PM

As a single card the 6870 is faster or equal to a 5850 depending on the game.If your going to crossfire remember that you need good case airflow.I suggest the 6870 for crossfire instead of the 6850 because it doesn't get as hot as the 6850.6870 runs about 5-10c cooler than the 6850.
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 2:41:39 PM

purple stank said:
I suggest the 6870 for crossfire instead of the 6850 because it doesn't get as hot as the 6850.6870 runs about 5-10c cooler than the 6850.

This really depends on the cooling. Even on the reference models this is only true because the HD6870 has a more aggressive fan speed profile which has the side effect of making the HD6870 a significantly louder card. Also the HD6870 uses more power and thus gives off more heat which I would say is the more significant factor when considering a dual card setup.
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 3:14:04 PM

I thought the same,it didn't quite make sense to me that a lower powered card would produce more heat but i found more than 1 review stating that the 6850 produces more heat even in crossfire than the 6870cf.When crossfiring case airflow plays a big factor in keeping the cards cool.

EDIT:I think the Asus version or MSI with a good heatsink aren't as loud and are not incased so they won't make as much noise.
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 3:38:40 PM

purple stank said:
I thought the same,it didn't quite make sense to me that a lower powered card would produce more heat but i found more than 1 review stating that the 6850 produces more heat even in crossfire than the 6870cf.When crossfiring case airflow plays a big factor in keeping the cards cool.

EDIT:I think the Asus version or MSI with a good heatsink aren't as loud and are not incased so they won't make as much noise.

There is a difference between core temperature and heat given off. Temperature is related to how well the GPU cooler removes heat from the core while heat given off is directly related to power used by the card. With equivalent cooling the HD6850 will both run at lower temps and give off less heat.
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 3:44:08 PM

That would make more sense.
January 6, 2011 7:43:29 PM

People, please just completely forget about CrossFire for the moment. I am not going to buy two cards and a motherboard very soon which means I am not going to crossfire in the next 12-18 months.

So for the best SINGLE card I want the 5850, correct?
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 7:48:11 PM

I would still get the HD6850.
January 6, 2011 7:51:47 PM

So despite the fact that the 5850 is more powerful, the 6850 will have better Direct X 11 support and 3D capabilities as well as more scope for future upgrades.
I do not plan to OC my CPU or GPU any time soon.

State your reasons. Please.
a c 125 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 8:02:26 PM

The improved DX11 performance, as far as I've seen, is strictly in terms of tesslation which has yet to see it's true potential in games, and I fear it never will. As it stands most games with tesslation are currently only using it for character models, and I know the next Battlefield intends to use it a little more like for truck wheels. However, it will NOT be implemented like it is in Unigene for a good long while.

A 5850 is a very nice card, although one of the areas it truely shines is in it's overclockability. Since you're planning to stay stock I'd advise you to get a 6870 or a GTX 470/570. If there's a good deal on a 5870, that might be a good choice too.
6850<5850<470<6870<5870<570 AFAIK (for raw FPS performance)
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 8:29:38 PM

I would still say to go with the 6870,it's around the same price as the 5850 and performs the same if not better,and the 68xx series do better in crossfire which is what you will end up doing a year from now...
January 6, 2011 9:37:03 PM

Where I am looking in Australia, I can get the following:
GTX 460 - $182
ATI 6850 - $198
ATI 5858 - $209
ATI 6870 - $269
GTX 570 - $449
If you can show me where I can get a 6870 for around $200 including shipping, then I will agree.
Please stop saying CrossFire, I shouldn't have brought it up. I will sooner buy a more powerful card than a second 6870 and a motherboard that supports crossfire.
a c 125 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 9:48:58 PM

http://www.anandtech.com/show/4002/amd-radeon-hd-6850-o...

Stock 5850s are faster than stock 6850s, and 5850s can OC more too if you want.

In this review, the 6850s are max OC from 775 to 960, whereas I've taken my 5850 from 700 to 980 - and at stock clocks it's already faster.
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 9:55:05 PM

What version is that 6870 you listed for $270?
They go as low as $240 here with $20 MIR

I guess as a single card solution the 5850 would be the best.If you wait a couple more weeks i'm sure the prices will drop even more for the 5850.
January 6, 2011 10:01:12 PM

Yes, thank you. It would seem that the 5850 is the best card I can buy for the money. That said, the only brand offered is by PowerColor...
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 6, 2011 10:53:28 PM

At that price or in total?
January 6, 2011 10:57:29 PM

The 5850 for $209AUD is the full price including GST; the place is local so I do not pay for postage.
January 6, 2011 11:18:04 PM

if you're considering the gtx 570, plz consider a reference 6950.
i was about to get a gtx 570, but opted for a much cheaper 6950 and flash bios'd it to a 6970.
it is running incredibly.
if not, i'd probably look at the 6850 at those prices.
it probably won't max out everything at 1080p, but it'll get u where u want to go, and the price:p erformance is nice.
January 6, 2011 11:32:50 PM

I only put the GTX 570 in because somebody included that in a comparison list. Also, the GTX 570 is only $3 more than the ATI 6970 at $446. I am not willing to spend much more than $200AUD on a GPU and the 5850 is more than that so I am not going any further.

Why is it impossible to get a definitive comment on which is better - The 5850 or the 6850. Some say the 5850 and some say 6850.

If the differences are dependant on the use, please tell me the differences of the two so I can choose for myself.
January 6, 2011 11:50:49 PM

I have just been doing more research and I have discovered the following results:
PassMark - G3D Mark
ATI Radeon HD5850 - 2,453
ATI Radeon HD6850 - 2,604
http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/high_end_gpus.html

On that note, I think I will get the 6850, unless I can find a 6870 for under $220.
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 8:01:35 AM

Benchmarks in real games matter more than synthetic tests like Passmark. The chart I posted earlier in the thread should be fairly accurate. The HD5850 is about 5% faster than the HD6850 on average. IMO this doesn't make up for the advantages of the HD6850 like improved tessellation, much increased crossfire scaling if you ever do so and more current A/V features.
January 7, 2011 9:16:19 AM

So what this whole thing says is that if I can afford to stretch my budget to accommodate a 6870 for $269, then I should do it?

If that is so, than it is done because I would rather spend more money on something that does has both the benefits than just one card that had one or the other (raw speed and tessellation).

-Klosteral
a c 125 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 1:43:32 PM

Considering you want to do a good amount of gaming, I'd say if you can get the 6870 then that's the way to go. You'll be much more pleased than a single 6850/5850. I had a single 5850 and while it was definitely good, I found that in a few games I just couldn't max them out (Crysis was fine at High but not at all at Very High, etc). Not a big deal but a little more power was in order for me so I went and crossfired it which has proven ideal for me. But for a single card, then yes definitely go 1 tier up to the 6870.
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 2:44:36 PM

Klosteral said:
So what this whole thing says is that if I can afford to stretch my budget to accommodate a 6870 for $269, then I should do it?

If that is so, than it is done because I would rather spend more money on something that does has both the benefits than just one card that had one or the other (raw speed and tessellation).

-Klosteral

As you can see on the chart the HD6870 is about 16% faster than the HD6850. You need to decide for yourself whether that is worth the price difference between the two cards.
FYI just overclocking the HD6850 can give you performance a bit higher than a stock HD6870 if you are willing to change your mind on that topic. It really is quite easy to do.
January 7, 2011 8:08:21 PM

I do believe that overclocking anything - CPUs, GPUs, what ever - requires more advanced cooling and voids the warranty of the parts. I am not prepared to purchase additional cooling units and run the risk of damaging my parts out of their warranty.

That said, if the situation seems reasonable, such as a small overclock with standard cooling I am willing to attempt it. I would OC a Phenom II x4 955 3.2GHz to a 3.4GHz (965) with stock cooling because a 0.2GHz OC is not much. I would not go from 3.2GHz to 4.0GHz because I deem that unsafe; the risks outweigh the benefits.

What kind of an OC am I looking at to go from a 6850 to a 6870 and is it worth it? Or should I just spend the extra $70?
a c 125 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 8:26:58 PM

For CPUs you definitely need better cooling to OC, but for GPUs you rarely do. Most of the time they have very restricted fan profiles like topping out at 40-50% fan speed. There's quite a bit of room there for more cooling, but at the cost of noise.

As for voiding warranties, that depends. They generally can't tell if you OCed or not. Not unless you BIOS flash the card and don't change it back, or maybe with the CPU you leave all kinds of performance readings/benchmarks on your desktop (or OCing software even).

However, feeling unsafe with overclocking is fine and if you don't want to do it, then don't.
a c 272 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 8:30:37 PM

Klosteral said:
I do believe that overclocking anything - CPUs, GPUs, what ever - requires more advanced cooling and voids the warranty of the parts. I am not prepared to purchase additional cooling units and run the risk of damaging my parts out of their warranty.

That said, if the situation seems reasonable, such as a small overclock with standard cooling I am willing to attempt it. I would OC a Phenom II x4 955 3.2GHz to a 3.4GHz (965) with stock cooling because a 0.2GHz OC is not much. I would not go from 3.2GHz to 4.0GHz because I deem that unsafe; the risks outweigh the benefits.

What kind of an OC am I looking at to go from a 6850 to a 6870 and is it worth it? Or should I just spend the extra $70?

You might want to check on that, how is anyone able to tell that you have been OC'ing?
January 7, 2011 8:41:56 PM

Hmm. I understand that concept but I am sure I read somewhere - be it on an equipment manual or website or something that it is true. That said, your statement is valid and it gives me more reason to overclock and says that I can do so safely.

Still, what am I looking at in terms of percentage overclock for the graphics card?
a c 272 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 8:48:01 PM

Klosteral said:
Hmm. I understand that concept but I am sure I read somewhere - be it on an equipment manual or website or something that it is true. That said, your statement is valid and it gives me more reason to overclock and says that I can do so safely.

Still, what am I looking at in terms of percentage overclock for the graphics card?

"Mileage may vary" is the best that can be said as there is no real way of saying what any individual card or CPU can be OC'd to given all the available variables.
January 7, 2011 9:04:11 PM

I am asking those who claim that the 6850 can be overclocked to the level of a standard retail 6870. Obviously there must be some solid numbers attached to that.

I am really thinking that I am just going to buy a stock 6870 and OC'ing that when it starts to become outdated in 6-12 months.
a c 125 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 9:27:48 PM

Klosteral said:
I am asking those who claim that the 6850 can be overclocked to the level of a standard retail 6870. Obviously there must be some solid numbers attached to that.

I am really thinking that I am just going to buy a stock 6870 and OC'ing that when it starts to become outdated in 6-12 months.


Heh IMO, the way the games industry has stopped advancing graphics, if you can run Crysis or Metro 2033 at acceptable framerates you won't ever need to OC it lol
January 7, 2011 9:40:56 PM

That is true, but my Nvidea 9600GT can run Crysis with good framerates... on low settings. I want something that can run it on high :) 
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 9:48:44 PM

Klosteral said:
I am asking those who claim that the 6850 can be overclocked to the level of a standard retail 6870. Obviously there must be some solid numbers attached to that.

I am really thinking that I am just going to buy a stock 6870 and OC'ing that when it starts to become outdated in 6-12 months.

The HD6870 and HD6850 are actually the same processor and can overclock to the same general area(1ghz is high OC for either.) The HD6850 however starts with a lower clock speed. The reference speed of an HD6850 is 775mhz while the HD6870 already starts out at 900mhz. Thus although either can probably get up to 950-1000mhz overclocking an HD6850 will give you a much larger improvement over its reference performance. An HD6870 fully overclocked will still be a bit faster because of the extra shaders that are locked on the HD6850 but the difference will be much less than the two cards at reference.
Here is an article that includes benchmarks for an HD6850 overclocked to 983mhz on the core;
http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/asus_eah6850_di...
For reference HD6870 vs overclocked HD6850 you will want to compare the yellow bar on the stock charts to the red bar on the OCed chart. The card they are reviewing in that article would be my recommendation if you want an HD6850 with very good and quiet cooling that can handle a good OC.
Overclocking a video cards is quite easy and safe. The only issue would come in if you get carried away raising the voltage and ignore temps but if you are the sort to do things that recklessly I wouldn't recommend overclocking. If you are still unsure you can start out by overclocking on stock voltage. You won't get the best speeds you can but it will still be a nice boost and at stock voltage temperatures will hardly be affected at all.
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 7, 2011 10:23:44 PM

I think you can gain anywhere from 75-125mhz without messing with the voltage so you could easily get to 875mhz without upping the voltage and a stock 6870 is 900mhz.If you did mess with the voltage i'm sure you can surpass the 6870 at reference.
January 9, 2011 5:46:34 AM

This seems complex. For better performance and peace-of-mind I am going to stretch my budget to the 6870. Thank you everyone for your input.
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 9, 2011 6:05:10 AM

I own a XFX6870,good choice.You will be impressed.

Goodluck
Happy Gaming
January 9, 2011 7:21:11 AM

Cheers and I will :) 
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 9, 2011 11:59:16 AM

Klosteral said:
This seems complex.
It's really not complicated at all. A processor can achieve up to a certain speed on a certain voltage. Once you raise it to that speed any higher will make the card become unstable unless you put the voltage up a notch. That's it basically. Raising the core speed and voltages is as simple as moving a slider in Afterburner. You can use a program like Kombuster or Furmark to test the stability of an overclock once you think you have it set to what you want. They will stress the card to its limits to make sure it can handle the increased settings.
a c 214 U Graphics card
January 9, 2011 12:23:06 PM

^true
Really not that difficult at all,and if you want a really really easy way to do it ATI Overdrive is as simple as it gets,but it doesn't have any voltage controls.
!