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HD 6870 Roundup: Diamond, PowerColor, MSI, Sapphire & XFX

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SKYMTL

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As AMD’s HD 6000-series of graphics cards has matured, their popularity seems to be on the rise. Lower prices which have finally stabilized in the face of some tough competition and the upcoming release of some highly anticipated games have contributed to this renewed interest in AMD DX11 products. The situation couldn’t be better for the companies hawking these cards and many of them have introduced their own versions which break away from the usual reference designs.

In our opinion, the HD 6870 –ironically a card which many once deemed overpriced- is now perfectly placed to take advantage of this upsurge in demand for high performance GPUs with a sub-$250 sticker price. Right now the GTX 560 Ti and HD 6950 1GB occupy the upper end of this segment with a steady cost of $249 but the HD 6870 acts as a bridge between $249 and $189 with non-reference designs doing most of the legwork. Indeed, the sheer number of choices is mind boggling.

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In order to get a clearer picture of what AMD’s board partners have on offer, we canvassed retailers’ pages and came up with a list of five HD 6870 boards that piqued our interest. Some like the ones from PowerColor, XFX, Sapphire and MSI deviate from the reference design in extreme ways while Diamond’s card sticks to a known layout while offering higher clock speeds. This should make for a good cross section of the current selection of available HD 6870 cards.

Even though all five cards we are testing in this roundup are quite a bit different from one another on a number of levels, not one of them currently costs more than $219 after rebates. So the potential for value-oriented performance is certainly there but will some of them be too close to the GTX 560 Ti’s price for comfort?

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SKYMTL

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Diamond HD 6870 XOC

Diamond HD 6870 XOC


Product Number: 6870PE51GXOC
Warranty: 2 Years

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Diamond’s cards rarely make much in the way of waves in this industry but their adherence to AMD’s reference design usually ensures quality stays consistent. In this case, we see a bare bones package which includes a Crossfire connector and not much else. Considering the XOC can be found for less than $220, the lack of a massive accessory and game package can easily be forgiven.


As we’ve already mentioned, the Diamond XOC strictly adheres to the reference design so it uses the standard blower-style heatsink and generic shroud with an XOC-branded sticker being the only distinguishing feature.

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The backplate uses a reference layout as well with a pair of DVIs, two mini DisplayPort outputs and a single HDMI 1.4a connector. Unfortunately, since Diamond doesn’t include a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adaptor, you’ll need to buy one in order to use DP-equipped monitors.
 

SKYMTL

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MSI HD 6870 Hawk

MSI HD 6870 Hawk


Product Number: R6870HAWK
Warranty: 3 Years

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MSI’s Hawk series of cards are usually built to be leaders in certain segments of the market and always come with the highest quality components possible. The HD 6870 Hawk’s accessory package alone encompasses nearly every item one could possibly want. There are two Voltage Read break-outs (more on those later), two Molex to 6-pin power adaptors, a DVI to VGA dongle and finally a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adaptor. Incredibly, the Hawk also happens to be tied with the PowerColor card for the title of least expensive product in this roundup.


The Hawk really is one stunning card with the Twin Frozr III’s dual 80mm “propeller blade” fans which are supposed to increase airflow by about 20% over other designs. These sit atop a large aluminum heatsink that’s equipped with five large heatpipes to effectively cool the GPU core. We have seen this combination work wonders in the past so it will be interesting to see if MSI can repeat their great showing from a few months ago.

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Alongside a completely custom PCB, Military II Class component selection, an 8+2 phase VRM and a high end cooling design, MSI has also included a number of features which are designed to allow overclockers to push the Hawk to its limits. The leading edge of the PCB houses three pins-outs (seen above in a slightly beige colour) for the memory, core and VDCCI voltage read points. Basically, you attach the included adaptors to these points and then use a multimeter to determine the input voltages.

MSI has also included a small switch to allow users to dynamically adjust fan speed between two modes. The Silent mode allows for the lowest possible RPM setting while maintaining low GPU temperatures while the Performance mode ensures low temperatures while sacrificing acoustical properties.

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While the outputs at the card’s rear mirror those of the reference design, we can see that even though the Hawk’s custom PCB maintains the reference length, the heatsink’s design pushes the overall length to about ¾” more than a regular HD 6870.
 

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PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+

PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+


Product Number: AX6870 1GBD5-PP2DHG
Warranty: 2 Years

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PowerColor may not be a regular around these parts but their PCS+ is one of the more popular HD 6870 cards currently on the market simply because it combines a custom heatsink and higher clock speeds with a downright amazing price. At the time of writing this article, it can be found for as little as $220 before rebates; making it one of the least expensive cards in this roundup.

Naturally, in order to maintain such a low cost some sacrifices had to be made and it is the accessory package that has gone on the chopping block. A Crossfire bridge is included but adaptors for DVI to VGA, power and mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort are MIA.


The PCS+ has what can only be called a love it or hate it design but let’s be honest: this card will spend the vast majority of its time in a case, never to be seen again. So regardless of the red PCB and slightly odd heatsink shroud, you’ll still be able to benefit from its large and hopefully very quiet 92mm fan.

PowerColor has also used a custom PCB design which breaks up the PWM into two sections: the single phase memory PWM is placed near the power connectors while the current to the GPU is controlled by modules placed closer to the I/O connectors.

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Like most other cards in this roundup, the PCS+ sticks to the reference design of two 6-pin power connectors and a backplate featuring two DVI connectors, a pair of mini DisplayPort outputs and a single HDMI connector.
 

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Sapphire HD 6870 Toxic

Sapphire HD 6870 Toxic


Product Number: 100314TXSR
Warranty: 2 Years

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Currently Sapphire has two “flagship” product ranges: the Toxic and the Ultimate. While Ultimate-branded cards are rare at best, the Toxic versions are widely available and sport great cooling, high clock speeds and more than complete retail packages. In this case, the accessory list is second to none with a full-length HDMI cable, a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adaptor, a DVI to VGA dongle, two Molex to 6-pin connectors and a Crossfire interconnect.


The HD 6870 Toxic has a distinct look to it with a large 92mm fan pushing cool air down onto Sapphire’s excellent Vapor-X heatsink. The engineers have also tried to somewhat direct the airflow by closing off the back and slightly beveling the front portion of the heatsink shroud. Whether or not this works is up for debate but considering the minimal amount of heat the core produces on this card, it shouldn’t negatively impact in-case temperatures one way or another.

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In what’s becoming a common story in this roundup, Sapphire has chosen to once again go with a reference I/O layout which allows for out of the box Eyefinity compatibility.
 

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XFX HD 6870 Black Edition

XFX HD 6870 Black Edition


Product Number: HD-687A-ZDBC
Warranty: Double Lifetime


XFX currently one of AMD’s more recognizable partners, mostly due to their Double Lifetime Warranty and excellent customer service. The Black Edition is one of their first attempts to make a pre-overclocked AMD card that sports a high performance aftermarket heatsink.

While it comes with a wicked looking case badge, some decals and a Crossfire bridge, this card forgoes any type of adaptor for some reason. This means XFX’s HD 6870 Black Edition is not compatible with Eyefinity out of the box.


The heatsink which XFX equipped this card with uses dual 80mm fans alongside an extensive aluminum fin array. There are also two massive copper heatpipes to transfer the core’s heat to the fins. We actually like this new direction XFX has taken and hopefully this won’t be the first and last time we see this design.
 

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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 2TB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Testing Platform:

Processor: Intel Core i5 750(ES)
Memory: OCZ Platinum 2x2GB PC3-12800
Motherboard: Intel DP55WG (Warrensburg)
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE w/Noctua NF-P12
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1



Drivers:

NVIDIA 270.51
ATI 11.4 Preview + CAP 11.2 R4


Note: Even though AMD claims the “AMD Optimized Tessellation” feature in the 11.1a drivers has not yet been implemented, we have changed the setting to “Off” in order to ensure additional, untested optimizations are not enabled.

Applications Used:

3DMark 11
Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
F1 2010
Just Cause 2
Lost Planet
Metro 2033
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

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3DMark 11 (DX11)

3DMark 11 (DX11)


3DMark 11 is the latest in a long line of synthetic benchmarking programs from the Futuremark Corporation. This is their first foray into the DX11 rendering field and the result is a program that incorporates all of the latest techniques into a stunning display of imagery. Tessellation, depth of field, HDR, OpenCL physics and many others are on display here. In the benchmarks below we have included the results (at default settings) for both the Performance and Extreme presets.


Performance Preset

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Extreme Preset

HD6870-ROUNDUP-85.jpg
 

SKYMTL

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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

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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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