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AMD Radeon HD 6870 & HD 6850 Review

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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StarCraft II (DX9)

StarCraft II (DX9)


In order to test StarCraft II performance we recorded a typical multiplayer battle on the Agria Valley map and used it as a replay in order to ensure every run was identical to one another. We used the last 3 minutes of the replay which includes the final assault on the enemy base. MSAA was applied in the NVIDIA and ATI control panels for certain tests.


1680 x 1050





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Unigine: Heaven v2.0 (DX11)

Unigine: Heaven v2.0 (DX11)


Unigine’s Heaven benchmark is currently the de-facto standard when it comes to simple, straightforward DX11 performance estimates. While it is considered a synthetic benchmark by many, it is important to remember that no less than four games based on this engine will be released within the next year or so. In this test we will be using a standard benchmark run with and without tessellation enabled at three resolutions,


1680 x 1050





1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Unigine: Heaven - Normalized Tessellation Performance

Unigine: Heaven - Normalized Tessellation Performance


Supposedly, AMD’s new architecture makes use of increased tessellation efficiency when compared to the outgoing HD 5800 series cards. In this short section we will be taking the results from the Heaven benchmark tests on the previous page and plotting them on a comparative graph.


AMD has made claims of increased tessellation efficiency and our Unigine results seem to confirm this; especially with the HD 6850. In comparison to the HD 5850, the Barts Pro card features less of a performance hit when tessellation is turned on. The difference isn't all that much but it is noticeable on a graph like this.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Location
Montreal
8x MSAA Performance Testing

8x MSAA Performance Testing


In this section we take a number of games we have tested previously in this review and bring things to the next level by pushing the in-game MSAA up to 8x. All other methodologies remain the same.

BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Note that 8x MSAA is enabled via the game’s config file for the NVIDIA cards since it is not a selectable option within the game menu



Dirt 2 (DX11)



Just Cause 2 (DX10)

 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Montreal
Temperature & Acoustics / Power Consumption

Core Temperature & Acoustics


For all temperature testing, the cards were placed on an open test bench with a single 120mm 1200RPM fan placed ~8” away from the heatsink. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C (+/- 0.5°C). If the ambient temperatures rose above 23°C at any time throughout the test, all benchmarking was stopped. For this test we use the 3DMark Batch Size test at it highest triangle count with 4xAA and 16xAF enabled and looped it for one hour to determine the peak load temperature as measured by GPU-Z.

For Idle tests, we let the system idle at the Vista desktop for 15 minutes and recorded the peak temperature.



For the most part, the HD 6800 series’ temperatures stay well within check. However, their blower-style fans result in an acoustical profile that is slightly above that of the GTX 460. The noise both the HD 6870 and HD 6850 make won’t be noticed over the din of gaming or likely over your case fans since it can’t be classified as anything close to loud.

One disappointment was the XFX card here. Its temperatures were by far the best of the bunch due to the vapor chamber heatsink but it kicked up a racket when compared to the other cards. It is far from “loud” but it was noticeable when in-game sounds were turned down.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we once again use the Batch Render test in 3DMark06 and let it run for 30 minutes to determine the peak power consumption while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 30 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption. We have also included several other tests as well.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.


Power consumption for the HD 6800 series is extremely good when you consider the framerates they are pumping out. The HD 6850 in particular was extremely frugal. We would recommend a good 450W PSU for the HD 6850 and a brand name 500W power supply for the HD 6870 depending on your system configuration.
 

SKYMTL

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Conclusion

Conclusion


Whenever a new or even “refreshed” architecture is released, there are always high expectations for performance and even pricing that usually fizzle out once reality sets in. AMD’s HD 6870 and HD 6850 are two cards that finally buck this trend and actually managed to exceed our expectations in nearly every conceivable way. The changes between Cypress and Barts can’t necessarily be counted as revolutionary but AMD has shown how small tweaks to an existing architecture can result in a family of products that deliver the goods at a reasonable price point.

Much of the criticism that was justifiably leveled against NVIDIA’s higher end Fermi cards was never aimed at the GTX 460 products simply because they were and still are highly competitive products. The HD 6800 series meanwhile is very much like the GTX 460 in this respect. Parallels can even be drawn between these new AMD cards’ accomplishments in terms of price, performance and efficiency and those of the now-legendary 8800 GT. Much like the 8800 GT, both the HD 6870 and HD 6850 punch far above their weight categories and as such have had a profound impact upon the $150 to $250 market even before launch.


When looking at things from a purely numerical perspective, the HD 6870 is quite obviously a product to be reckoned with. It has the ability to significantly outdistance the GTX 460 1GB at nearly every single resolution and IQ setting we used which came as a complete shock considering its price hovers around the $240 mark. When compared to the HD 5850, the Barts XT is still a clear winner; particularly in DX11 games like Lost Planet 2 where tessellation speed is essential. Due to its high clock speeds, on-die communication improvements and tweaked tessellation performance, the HD 6870 can even run with the HD 5870 and GTX 470 in some situations. Along with relatively low power consumption, these factors make this $239 card a clear choice when it comes to choosing a GPU between the $200 and $250 marks.

The HD 6850’s place in the market is a bit less ambitious than its big brother and its overall performance advantage over the competition is slightly less clear cut but it fits perfectly into a particular market niche. This card runs circles around the anemic HD 5830 while posting a few results that brought it close to the HD 5850’s performance level. In our opinion, the HD 6850 provides an excellent alternative to the GTX 460 768MB and has the ability to compete directly against the more expensive GTX 460 1GB. It's performance (like that of the HD 6870) does drop a bit when AA is turned on but by and large the HD 6850's results are simply impressive for a card that is being introduced for under $180.

One item which needs to be mentioned is the high resolution performance both HD 6800-series cards displayed. We doubt that many people buying a $250 card will spend $1000 or more on a 30” monitor but you can count the HD 6870 and HD 6850 as a kind of security net for future upgrades. If you decide to take the plunge into 2560 x 1600 gaming, the products based off of the Barts architecture won’t cause your games to fall flat on their faces.

At this point we can’t really draw any conclusions about AMD’s announced “graphics plus” initiatives simply because many of them are still works in progress. However, from the outside looking in AMD definitely seems to be heading in the right direction on this front as well. There are still lingering questions regarding support, implementation and control over stereo 3D on their hardware but stay tuned for a full HD3D article sometime in the near future.

With the HD 6870 and HD 6850, AMD has proven they can deliver evolutionary products that hit all the right points while remaining highly competitive performance-wise. They also retail for prices which are appealing for the vast majority of gamers. We can say one thing without a doubt: the shake-up they are about to cause is exactly what the GPU market needed.

The stage is now set for the upcoming releases of both Cayman and Antilles and if the HD 6800-series is an indication of what’s to come, we’re in for one heck of a Christmas shopping season.





AMD Radeon HD 6870 & HD 6850 Review Comment Thread

Note that due to the limited time we had with these cards, Crossfire and Overclocking articles will be published separately
 
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