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AMD Radeon HD 6870 And 6850: Is Barts A Step Forward?

The Radeon HD 6800 Verdict

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It’s obvious that when Shakespeare penned this famous quip, he was foretelling the arrival of AMD’s Radeon HD 6800-series cards. Wherefore art thou, Radeon 6700?

All kidding aside, once you accept the outright-confusing naming scheme, the Radeon HD 6870 and 6850 have a lot going for them. These are the cards that lead AMD’s charge into the realm of stereoscopic 3D, the cards that make six-monitor Eyefinity a much more accessible possibility, the cards that add the first post-processing based AA mode, the cards that bring AMD’s tessellation performance much closer to the GeForce-based competition.

More important than all of those points put together, though, the Radeon HD 6800-series lowers the buy-in for very powerful graphics cards. Last week, the cheapest GeForce GTX 460 you could find was $220—the Radeon HD 6850 offers performance in the same league for an MSRP of $179.99. Not very long ago, the Radeon HD 5850 was priced at $300—and enthusiasts were happy to pay that much! Now, the Radeon HD 6870 ups the ante a little for the low price of $240.

Almost as a validation of the notable price/performance potential of AMD’s new Radeon models, Nvidia very quickly slashed its own prices in a very aggressive fashion. At $200, the GeForce GTX 460 is more powerful than the Radeon HD 6850 and offers some stiff competition. We’re already seeing these prices on Newegg, sometimes even lower with rebates. Even more impressive is the price reduction of the GeForce GTX 470, with at least one model reduced to $260 on Newegg—once again, even lower with rebates. AMD contends that these prices are temporary and will go back up after three weeks. Fine. Buy now while the value is there.

For anyone interesting in upping their game (or buying a Christmas present for a PC gamer), all of these cards are fantastic buys at prices we couldn’t have imagined back when they launched, Radeon and GeForce alike. It remains to be seen whether AMD can deliver the Radeon HD 6800-series in force to supply the inevitable demand, but the company claims that ten thousand cards are already waiting to be sold.

It also remains to be seen if Nvidia can maintain the long-term price war it recently declared. Every single GeForce GTX 470 is equipped with a monolithic GF100 GPU in the 530 square millimeter range. That’s close to twice the size of the Radeon HD 6870’s 255 mm2 die. How long can Nvidia keep up such a numbers-based fight? Not long, we’d guess, if there’s nothing else waiting in the wings. But this sure would be a good time to introduce a card with a fully-equipped GF104 and 384 CUDA cores enabled (Ed.: I can’t comment, but I know something that you don’t, Don).

But enough speculation. The bottom line is that the new Radeon HD 6800-series refreshes excellent performance. It also introduces a handful of notable features at lower prices that what we were seeing previously. It’s hard to complain about that. To misquote the bard, “Now go we in content!”