AMD Radeon HD 6870 Roundup



Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: February 13th, 2012

Summary

We're impressed with each tested card's performance here - they each managed to be significantly better in some ways than AMD's reference design. The overclocking succes enjoyed here may not be reflected in your purchase, and is a warranty voiding action, so which card is best for you depends on what you're looking for.

HIS IceQ HD 6870 X Turbo X
HIS HD 6870 IceQ X Turbo X

The HIS IceQ X Turbo X is the fastest out of the box, and offers great cooling with low noise at the same time - improving on all three important metrics vs. the a stock card. It's a little pricey, weighing in at nearly $50USD more than a reference design card, but you get all that overclocked performance with a full warranty; worth a lot to some. For CrossFireX use, the external exhaust should help keep in-case temperatures down, and in close proximity to a second card it should easily keep pulling air through - better than AMD's stock design. This is the card to get for best out-of-the-box, plug in and go performance.

Sapphire HD 6870 D3
Sapphire HD 6870 D3 Edition

Sapphire's HD 6870 D3 is apparently all about potential, giving us the biggest % increase in performance from stock. The stock overclock is not the mildest here, but only just; the effort in the Sapphire design went into the cooler, not binning the ASICs. The cooler and PCB redesign are effective, giving a great design for multi-GPU use; lots of airflow in close quarters. If you're not afraid of warranty violation, Sapphire's TRIXX software and this card make a potent combo with it's low price.

Powercolor's PCS+ 6870
PowerColor PCS+ 6870

Powercolor's PCS+ 6870 sleeper turned out to be quite a goer, tied with Sapphire for the top GPU engine clock speed but the lowest memory overclock increase. It handled the higher voltage required to get over 1GHz with ease, but the cooler gets a little noisy at higher speeds. Again, a good choice for multi-GPU with it's slanted rear shroud and plenty ventilation slots to help decrease the static pressure the fan has to fight to keep air moving and thus improves cooling.

HIS HD 6870 IceQ
HIS HD 6870 IceQ

The second HIS entry, the IceQ brings a big smile to our face purely for nostalgic reasons. It's a nice surprise that the IceQ has the trousers to back up the mouth, with a great overclock and fantastic cooling performance. The retention of the stock PCB design, especially for power phases, is a little disappointing but overall this is a great choice for low-noise environments - provided you've got the case space for that monstrous cooler. In CrossFireX we can't imagine that blower performing any less effectively, with it's placement putting it out of direct contact with closely adjacent cards. The price premium for that cooler seems well worth it.

ASUS HD 6870 DirectCU
ASUS HD 6870 DirectCU

The ASUS HD 6870 DirectCU is a different kind of monster, very mildly overclocked given it's massive potential with upgraded power circuitry and cooling. The most engineering effort in cooling seems to be delivered here, with the rear backplate heatsink. However that same effort might be undone in CrossFireX, with closely adjacent spacing possibly starving the card next to it for air. ASUS' Smart Doctor software lets you tweak a lot further than other manufacturers, reinforcing the design - this is for the serious overclocker who wants every MHz of performance out of his/her purchase, card life and warranty be damned. Again, a premium price compared to stock, but the value seems very evident in it's potential for submitting to punishment. If you're the guy who finds the voltage wall just to write down 'safe minimum settings', this is your card.

Introduced in November 2010, AMD's AIB partners have shown their revisions and innovation to be key in extending the shelf life of this peformance gamers card. Their customizations and engineering will soon be put to the test again, as AMD's new line up approach - these guys set the bar for the new generation to leap.