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

Test Setup And Benchmarks

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 EVGA.com. 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
CPUIntel Core i7-920 (Nehalem), 2.67 GHz, QPI-4200, 8 MB CacheOverclocked to 3.61 GHz @ 172 MHz BCLK
MotherboardGigabyte X58A-UD3R Intel X58, BIOS version FA
NetworkingOnboard Gigabit LAN controller
MemoryMushkin PC3-10700H  3 x 2048 MB, DDR3-1376, CL 10-10-10-25-1T
GraphicsHIS Radeon HD 68701 GB GDDR5MSI N6870Radeon HD 6870, 1 GB GDDR5HIS Radeon HD 68501 GB GDDR5Radeon HD 6850 Reference1 GB GDDR5AMD Radeon 5850 Reference1 GB GDDR5AMD Radeon HD 5830 Reference1 GB GDDR5EVGA GeForce GTX 460 FTW EditionGeForce GTX 460, 1 GB GDDR5AMD Radeon HD 5870 Reference1 GB GDDR5Galaxy GeForce GTX 4701280 MB GDDR5(all clock rates have been set to reference specifications for the purpose of benchmarking)
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar WD50 00AAJS-00YFA, 500 GB, 7200 RPM, 8 MB cache, SATA 3Gb/s
PowerThermaltake Toughpower 1200 W1200 W, ATX 12V 2.2, EPS 12v 2.91
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
DirectX versionDirectX 11
Graphics DriversAMD Catalyst 10.10 Beta, Nvidia GeForce Driver 260.89 WHQL
  • SteelCity1981
    Yeah I agree. I don't get AMD's marketing on the 6000 series. One would think that the 6870 would obv performan better then the 5870 at first glance but instead it yelds less performance then the 5870. That just doesn't make any sense from a consumor standpoint.
    Reply
  • TheRockMonsi
    I like where AMD is going with the 6000 series, not so much with naming, but pretty much everything else about it. Can't wait for the 6900's, those are going to be beasts!!!!!
    Reply
  • Randomacts
    Its here.....
    Reply
  • Poisoner
    I think AMD did a great job with these cards. Its just sick at what performance you can get for 200 bucks.
    Reply
  • Super review. but i think HD6850 is faster than 1gb gtx 460....
    Reply
  • duk3
    Nice benchmark suite!
    I am looking forward to the 6900 series and 22nm gpus later on for some real performance improvements.
    Reply
  • takeapieandrun
    Not exactly powerhouses, but I do believe they will be great for market competition.
    Reply
  • agnickolov
    This is what happens when a company is left with no competition for so long...
    Reply
  • forces
    nice but... where is Crysis!!!? they can play Crysis i know but how well can they play it? everyone has Crysis and have played Crysis and will play it... :(, its a nice game to compare perfomance...
    Reply
  • rottingsheep
    6850 vs 1gb 460. i would pick 460 because it overclocks a lot better
    Reply