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Test Setup And Benchmarks

AMD Radeon HD 6870 And 6850: Is Barts A Step Forward?
By , Chris Angelini

We chose to compare a number of graphics cards to the new Radeons, models from both AMD and Nvidia. Let’s start with a reminder of the suggested price of the new models: $180 for the Radeon HD 6850, and $240 for the Radeon HD 6870.

The similarly-priced Radeons that will be replaced by the new models are the Radeon HD 5830 and Radeon HD 5850. The Radeon HD 5830 can be found as low as $180 at the time of writing, and the Radeon HD 5850 can be found as low as $260. For interest’s sake, we also benchmarked the Radeon HD 5870 in our anti-aliasing and overclocking metrics.

From Nvidia's camp, we selected the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB, a card that admittedly starts right below the MSRP of the Radeon HD 6870, available at about $220 right now. This is where things get OMGWTFBBQ-crazy.

Nvidia wasn't about to let AMD launch these cards into a clear-cut market--not while its GeForce GTX 460 was only three months old and garnering great reviews. So, instead, we have a situation where prices are moving around in a pretty-dramatic way ahead of October 22, 2010. Nvidia representatives have made a concerted effort to let us know three things that they feel are very important for our readership to know at this time.

First, they want to announce massive (and what they claim are permanent) price drops on the GeForce GTX 460 and 470. We track this as closely as possible; the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB is indeed selling for $199 on Newegg, and the GeForce GTX 470 is now going for $260. Naturally, that makes it much more difficult for AMD to compete at $180 and $240. Suddenly, its own 6800-series cards are in another league entirely. Of course, such a dramatic move wouldn't be as juicy if it weren't accompanied by some scandalous drama. Immediately after receiving Nvidia's update, AMD forwarded a memo received by a French distributor, purportedly from Nvidia, which made it clear that the sale on both models is only going to last three weeks, after which time prices will presumably rise again. Ugh.

Secondly, they wanted us to know that the factory-overclocked EVGA GeForce GTX 460 FTW Edition card comes with an 850 MHz core clock, a 4000 MT/s GDDR5 data rate, and is available for $250 at Furthermore, they have positioned this specific graphics card as the competitor to the Radeon HD 6870, and requested that we include it in our benchmarks. Now this card is impressive to say the least, and it’s certainly an alternative option for folks considering the Radeon HD 6870. But at the same time, it’s a single overclocked SKU from one vendor. If Nvidia had announced an official, updated product with this ambitious overclock—say, the GeForce GTX 460+—we’d be a little more open to the idea. As it is, we're leaving it out of the majority of benchmarks. A price reduction of the GeForce GTX 470 certainly minimizes the appeal of this product, anyway. If you remain interested in what an overclocked GeForce GTX 460 can do, we include it in the overclocking benchmarks section.

Finally, the company wanted us to know that the reference clocks for the GeForce GTX 460 are essentially obsolete, that the majority of manufacturers are overclocking their cards, and that we should be benchmarking the new Radeons against factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 460 cards. Our initial reaction to this was a defensive reluctance to agree to anything of the sort (like Big Worm, we're adverse to anyone playing with our emotions). But since it’s our duty to assess the market and compare prices and options, we spent some time investigating the claim. We looked at Newegg to see what the lowest-priced GeForce GTX 460 1 GB sold for, and then we catalogued the clock speeds of the cards within $5 of the lowest $220 price tag.

Out of the seven cards that fit those criteria, only two are equipped with the 675 MHz reference clock. The rest are overclocked between 700 and 765 MHz (core clock). With the vast majority of budget GeForce GTX 460 cards overclocked, the reference model doesn’t really give an accurate representation of the market. We decided the fairest thing to do was to average the clock rates of these cards. As a result, we are benchmarking the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB at 708 MHz for our tests, a 33 MHz increase over the original reference core clock. This increase is so low that, frankly, it will probably have no measurable impact on our results. It does seem like the fair thing to do, though. The memory runs at the reference 900 MHz GDDR5 clock, as even overclocked models tend to leave memory untouched.

We are also benchmarking the GeForce GTX 470 in order to see what kind of performance improvement this model affords. Right now most GeForce GTX 470 cards are $260, and one can even be found for $230 after a rebate. If these turn out to be temporary prices, and you like them, then now would be the time to jump, because, as we mentioned, it has already been suggested by AMD that Nvidia's sale will only last three weeks.

Test System
Intel Core i7-920 (Nehalem), 2.67 GHz, QPI-4200, 8 MB Cache
Overclocked to 3.61 GHz @ 172 MHz BCLK
Gigabyte X58A-UD3R
Intel X58, BIOS version FA
Onboard Gigabit LAN controller
Mushkin PC3-10700H
  3 x 2048 MB, DDR3-1376, CL 10-10-10-25-1T
HIS Radeon HD 6870
MSI N6870
Radeon HD 6870, 1 GB GDDR5
HIS Radeon HD 6850
Radeon HD 6850 Reference
AMD Radeon 5850 Reference
AMD Radeon HD 5830 Reference
EVGA GeForce GTX 460 FTW Edition
GeForce GTX 460, 1 GB GDDR5
AMD Radeon HD 5870 Reference
Galaxy GeForce GTX 470
1280 MB GDDR5
(all clock rates have been set to reference specifications for the purpose of benchmarking)
Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar WD50 00AAJS-00YFA,
500 GB, 7200 RPM, 8 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Thermaltake Toughpower 1200 W
1200 W, ATX 12V 2.2, EPS 12v 2.91
Software and Drivers
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
DirectX versionDirectX 11
Graphics Drivers
AMD Catalyst 10.10 Beta, Nvidia GeForce Driver 260.89 WHQL
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