Product: AMD Radeon HD 6870 & HD 6850 1GB Video Cards
Company: AMD
Authour: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: October 21st, 2010
Summary & Conclusions

AMD Radeon
AMD Radeon
Compulsion. With every 'next generation' we expect a need, a want, to be satiated by the new product. Performance. Value. Features. That's a problem for AMD this time, as we've seen this level of performance before, giving current HD 5800 series owners, and GTX 470 and 480 owners - not much to contemplate. What then, is the purpose of the Northern Islands 'Barts' GPUs?


AMD is splitting their high end - two GPU designs to replace one. By launching the 'Barts' part first they've made this strategy harder to see, but it's still visible. AMD needed a compelling high performance part in the 'sweet spot' $200-$250USD price point; The HD 5830 was ok, until the GTX 460 turned up and things got ugly. The HD 6800 series brings most if not all of the performance of the HD 5850 into the sweet spot, at lower power and heat levels, with new features. Making Cypress into a smaller part increases yields, and number of dies per wafer, reducing costs. It's an obvious good business decision.

Sapphire Radeon HD 6850
Sapphire Radeon HD 6850

The products we see today are based on decisions made 18-24 months ago, before Eric Demers became CTO of the AMD Graphic products group and was still serving as Chief Architect. Back then, the problems of TSMC's 40nm and 32nm processes weren't fully realized. Eric describes AMD's graphics technology cadence as 'tick-tick', incrementally improving with each generation in quick succession. AMD product manager and Senior VP Rick Bergman (former CEO of ATI) states that this design is not for AMD to compete, but to win in the graphics segment - just like Evergreen's 25 million parts shipped covering 90% of DirectX 11 sales. At the time of committing to this product and release, the details of NVIDIA's execution were unknown, but AMD knew they had a gap in their line up within the $200-$250 sweet spot. Revamping Cypress into a lower power, similar performing part addresses the issues they foresaw - quite well, in fact.

The ongoing production and sales of the ATI Radeon HD 5700 series is more difficult to comprehend. It's a good part, especially with the new lower $110-$150 price points. Again, this appears to be a concession to the realities of the times, as bringing five or six new chips to market isn't feasible right now. Last year we saw AMD's sweet-spot strategy execute and deliver five product lines from four core chips, in four months. This year is seems likely that we will see the same, accompanied by three FUSION Accelerated Processing Units - Ontario, Zacate and Llano.

Replacing The HD 5800 - So Good It Has To Be Replaced Twice!
Replacing The HD 5800 - So Good It Has To Be Replaced Twice!

We don't want to give the impression that Barts is a failure, or a marketing decision made flesh. Each generation, AMD has taken the high end performance and slotted it second in their line up - consider the 4870 vs. 5770, for example. What is a bone of contention here, for some reason, is the naming nomenclature - 6800 replacing 5800. The problem is we don't know anyone who buys on naming scheme. Everybody we speak to buys on price and performance. One of the two is the most important factor. Power, Heat, Features, come in a ways behind that, with the name of the actual product only relevant when you want to buy the thing in stores or online. Expecting a $250 part to outperform the last generation $400 part isn't quite sensible. Sites like Rage3D exist because consumers are expected, and should be taught from a young age, to research purchases before buying. AMD's biggest problem with the Radeon HD 6800 series is early price bumps, where (r)etailers and partners price above MSRP hoping to cash in like last time. Unfortunately, the market is competitive now (GTX 460 1GB for $169-$200, GTX 470 for $229-$259), to every consumers' benefit - at least at this price point.

Crossfire HD 6850's - Low Power, High Performance!
Crossfire HD 6850's - Low Power, High Performance!

5 Stars Award
5 Stars Award
Sapphire's Radeon HD 6850 is a great implementation of AMD's Barts product. The replacement of the stock heatsink and blower cooler with heatpipe cooler and axial fan gives the card a smart look and great thermal management. Performance is good, with some nice Crossfire scaling in conjunction with our reference AMD Radeon HD 6850. The choice to use a single full size DisplayPort output won't disappoint many, but does mean the card is not Eyefinity6 capable. The already strong media features of the AMD Radeon HD 5000 series are seriously bolstered here, with UVD3 and HDMI 1.4a. The included long Crossfire cable (picture above) and HDMI 1.4a cable are very useful, and the card itself looks well built. We'll go further into overclocking and tweaking in our next look at the Bart's architecture, soon! 


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