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HD 6870 & HD 6850 vs. GTX 460 1GB: An Overclocking Study

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SKYMTL

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HD 6870 & HD 6850 vs. GTX 460 1GB: An Overclocking Study




With AMD’s release of their HD 6800 series, one heck of a shakeup has been delivered to the GPU market. With the HD 6870 arriving on store shelves at $240 and the HD 6850 making its mark with a price tag of just $180, things weren’t looking good for NVIDIA’s GTX 460 1GB. However, the situation was turned on its head just before the launch widow for Barts opened.

Seeing an avalanche approaching in the form of two highly competitive AMD cards, NVIDIA decided to cut the prices of their most popular cards. You can now find a GTX 460 1GB for a little as $199USD and a few GTX 470 reference products for a bargain basement cost of $230USD.

One of the most important aspects of this price reduction is the fact that prices for highly overclocked versions of the GTX 460 1GB have fallen to new lows as well. One of the premier products available from NVIDIA’s board partners is of course the EVGA GTX 460 FTW which is overclocked to a stratospheric 850Mhz core speed. It’s price? $229 USD. This provides a tantalizing opening for customers who are looking at the HD 6870 and are wondering what it lines up to in NVIDIA’s current sable of products.

We can’t forget that AMD’s HD 6870 and HD 6850 can be overclocked as well and according to our conversations with board partners, we will likely see products sporting substantially higher clock speeds very soon. Some like ASUS have already provided users with overclocking tools that can push the reference speeds to new heights.

It should go without saying that NVIDIA was extremely conservative with the frequencies given to the GTX 460 cards. AMD’s new products on the other hand are a bit of an unknown when it comes to average overclocking speeds and performance.

With these two points in mind, we decided to tackle the questions of clock speeds and performance head on.

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SKYMTL

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The Cards & The Software

The Cards


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Since the release of HD 6800 series reviews, one of the most talked-about cards hasn’t been the new AMD products but rather the EVGA GTX 460 1GB FTW. One of the main reasons behind this is the fact that EVGA’s flagship GTX 460 suddenly showed up in a large cross section of HD 6870 reviews across the net. It’s performance is undoubtedly mind-boggling due to a core clock of 850 Mhz and memory running at 4200Mhz QDR. The FTW’s price is also comparable to the HD 6870 at around $240 but unfortunately, finding one is a bit hit and miss these days and popularity has surged.

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For the AMD comparison we used our two highest-clocking samples: a Sapphire HD 6870 1GB and the XFX HD 6850 1GB Vapor Chamber Edition. While we may call these two cards our “highest clocking”, the other products we had weren’t all that far behind. Both of these sport reference clock speeds.


The Software


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For overclocking, we used a combination of MSI AfterBurner (for the GTX 460) and Sapphire’s Trixx (HD 6870 & HD 6850).

Unfortunately, since EVGA’s Precision doesn’t support voltage increases at this time we had to fall back onto MSI’s AfterBurner which in itself is an absolutely excellent piece of software. It allows for every modification you could possibly want and features a monitoring window as well.

Sapphire’s Trixx on the other hand isn’t available to the public quite yet but we’ve made use of a pre-release version to overclock the AMD cards. This is actually one of the best AMD-centric utilities we have come across in recent years and it also full supports voltage adjustments on the HD 6800-series; something which no other utility currently supports.
 

SKYMTL

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Final Overclocks

Final Overclocks


Please remember that voltage increases in particular should be applied with care as they could have an adverse impact upon the longevity of your card. In many cases, applying additional voltage with a third party utility will void your warranty.

Before going into the actual clock speeds we achieved let’s talk about stability. To achieve true stability, a given graphics card has to complete ALL of our benchmarks without crashing or artifacting. In addition, it must be able to pass a 6-hour stability test with MSI’s Kombustor utility.

What we are showing below is two different overclocks for each product: one with its stock voltage and the other with a slightly increased core voltage. We kept the voltage tuning within some limits due to the impact it has on overall core temperatures. If at any time core temperatures reached above 90°C with the fan speed at 50% throughout testing, the voltage and clock speeds were scaled back until a reasonable sub-90°C peak temperature threshold was reached.

NOTE: GDDR5’s error correction features can constrain performance so in some cases, even though higher memory clocks are achieved, performance doesn’t necessarily increase. If potential errors (artifacts) are detected, GDDR5 has the capability to adjust latency, hold times, etc to correct performance before the errors can make their way to the display output. The result is software monitoring programs still reporting a higher memory speed but overall performance isn’t positively impacted in any way.

To avoid this, we made sure every memory clock speed increase we applied had a corresponding performance increase as well.



EVGA GTX 460 1GB FTW

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OC @ 1.1V

EVGA’s GTX 460 FTW already comes with a slightly increase voltage which is likely necessary due to its already sky-high clock speeds. Unfortunately, this also meant that any additional overclocking was tightly constrained. Even the GDDR5 couldn’t really be pushed all that much. The reason we are not showing an increase in clock speeds at the card’s reference voltage is because the core couldn’t be pushed more than 10Mhz above it’s “stock” 850Mhz. This shows you how close our sample was to outright instability even at the clock speeds it ships with.

Maxing out the voltage in AfterBurner didn’t really result in all that much leeway either. The temperatures of the GTX 460 stayed well under the limits we set but stability above 900Mhz was impossible to achieve.


Sapphire HD 6870 1GB

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Stock Voltage OC / OC @ 1.22V

Much like the EVGA card, the HD 6870 seems to be near its maximum allowable core clock speed at default voltage settings. However, there is some headroom to be gained if you are patient. The memory on the Barts XT on the other hand has the ability to overclock like a bat out of hell.

Increasing the voltage led to extremely good core speed scaling but also a rapid increase in core temperatures. In our opinion the default heatsink is well-suited for some minor overclocking but pushing past the 1Ghz mark results in high temperatures and fan speeds that can be annoying to you and anyone in the next room.


XFX HD 6850 1GB

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Stock Voltage OC / OC @ 1.22V

The HD 6850 is an overclocking monster. Really, what more is there to say?

Even without a voltage increase, core speeds hovered around the 890Mhz mark and the GDDR5 found itself at a respectable 1092Mhz. Neither of these is quite as high as a stock HD 6870 but performance should nonetheless be interesting to see.

Adding a bit of voltage resulted in yet another bump of about 130Mhz which likely won’t affect performance by all that much but it still great to see an AMD HD 6800 series card matching its NVIDIA competitor in the overclocking department.

Unfortunately, we had to end our HD 6850 overclocking exercise due to heat issues with both the reference and XFX Vapor Chamber heatsinks.
 
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SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 920(ES) @ 4.0Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: Corsair 3x2GB Dominator DDR3 1600Mhz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: CoolIT Boreas mTEC + Scythe Fan Controller (Off for Power Consumption tests)
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

Sapphire HD 6870 1GB
XFX HD 6850 1GB VC
ATI HD 5870 1GB (Ref)
EVGA GTX 460 1GB FTW
NVIDA GTX 470 (Ref)
NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB (Ref)




Drivers:

NVIDIA 260.89 WHQL
ATI 10.10 WHQL


Applications Used:

Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
Just Cause 2
Lost Planet
Metro 2033
Starcraft 2
Unigine: Heaven


*Notes:

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT OUR BENCHMARKING PROCESS PLEASE SEE THIS ARTICLE

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Location
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Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)

Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)


When benchmarking Aliens Versus Predator, we played through the whole game in order to find a section which represents a “worst case” scenario. We finally decided to include “The Refinery” level which includes a large open space and several visual features that really tax a GPU. For this run-through, we start from within the first tunnel, make our way over the bridge on the right (blowing up several propane tanks in the process), head back over the bridge and finally climb the tower until the first run-in with an Alien. In total, the time spent is about four minutes per run. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)

BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)


To benchmark BF: BC2 we used a five minute stretch of gameplay starting from the second checkpoint (after the helicopter takes off) of the second single player mission up until your battle with the tank commences. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Location
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DiRT 2 (DX11)

DiRT 2 (DX11)


Being one of the newest games on the market, DiRT 2 cuts an imposing figure in terms of image quality and effects fidelity. We find that to benchmark this game the in-game tool is by far the best option. However, due to small variances from one race to another, three benchmark runs are done instead of the normal two. It should also be mentioned that the demo version of the game was NOT used since after careful testing, the performance of the demo is not representative of the final product. DX11 was forced through the game’s config file. In addition, you will see that these scores do not line up with our older benchmarks at all. This is due to the fact that a patch was recently rolled out for the game which included performance optimizations in addition to new graphics options.

1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Just Cause 2 (DX10)

Just Cause 2 (DX10)


Just Cause 2 has quickly become known as one of the best-looking games on the market and while it doesn’t include DX11 support, it uses the full stable of DX10 features to deliver a truly awe-inspiring visual experience. For this benchmark we used the car chase scene directly following the Casino Assault level. This scene includes perfectly scripted events, some of the most GPU-strenuous effects and lasts a little less than four minutes. We chose to not use the in-game benchmarking tool due to its inaccuracy when it comes to depicting actual gameplay performance.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Lost Planet (DX11)

Lost Planet (DX11)


Lost Planet is a game that was originally released on consoles but in its port over to the PC, it gained some highly impressive DX11 features. For this benchmark, we forgo the two built-in tools and instead use a 2 minute gameplay sequence from the second level in the first chapter. The reason we use this level is because it makes use of three elements that are seen throughout the game world: jungles, water and open terrain.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Metro 2033 (DX11)

Metro 2033 (DX11)


There has been a lot of buzz about Metro 2033 which has mostly centered on its amazing graphics coupled with absolutely brutal framerates on even the best GPUs on the market. For this test we use a walkthrough and combat scene from The Bridge level which starts at the beginning of the level and lasts for about 3 minutes of walking, running and combat. Famerates are measured with FRAPS and Advanced PhysX is turned off.


1680 x 1050

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1920 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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