All things considered, the Radeon HD 5000 series has gone very well for AMD. When they launched it just over a year ago, they beat NVIDIA to the punch by nearly 6 months and enjoyed a solid term as the kings of the GPU world, with halo parts like the 5870 and 5970 giving them renewed exposure at the high-end of the market while mainstream products like the 5670 redefining the HTPC.  Ultimately all good things come to an end though, and as NVIDIA has launched the GeForce 400 series AMD has needed to give up the single-GPU halo and lower prices in order to remain competitive.

But if spring is a period of renewal for NVIDIA, then it’s fall that’s AMD’s chance for renewal. Long before Cypress and the 5000 series even launched, AMD’s engineers had been hard at work at what would follow Cypress. Now a year after Cypress we get to meet the first GPU of the next Radeon family: Barts. With it comes the Radeon HD 6800 series, the culmination of what AMD has learned since designing and launching the 5800 series. AMD may not have a new process to produce chips on this year, but as we’ll see they definitely haven’t run out of ideas or ways to improve their efficiency on the 40nm process.

  AMD Radeon HD 6870 AMD Radeon HD 6850 AMD Radeon HD 5870 AMD Radeon HD 5850 AMD Radeon HD 4870
Stream Processors 1120 960 1600 1440 800
Texture Units 56 48 80 72 40
ROPs 32 32 32 32 16
Core Clock 900MHz 775MHz 850MHz 725MHz 750MHz
Memory Clock 1.05GHz (4.2GHz effective) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz effective) GDDR5 1.2GHz (4.8GHz effective) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz effective) GDDR5 900MHz (3600MHz effective) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
FP64 N/A N/A 1/5 1/5 N/A
Transistor Count 1.7B 1.7B 2.15B 2.15B 956M
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 55nm
Price Point $239 $179 ~$349 ~$229 N/A

Launching today are the first two members of AMD’s HD 6000 series. At the top end we have the Radeon HD 6870, a card utilizing a full-fledged version of AMD’s new Barts GPU. The core clock runs at 900MHz, which is driving 32 ROPs and 1120 SPs. Attached to that is 1GB of GDDR5 running at 4.2GHz effective. AMD puts the load TDP at 151W (the same as the Radeon HD 5850) and the idle TDP at 19W, lower than the last generation parts.

Below that is the Radeon HD 6850, which in the long history of 50-parts is utilizing a harvested version of the Barts GPU, which along with a lower load voltage make the card the low-power member of the 6800 family. The 6850 runs at 775MHz and is attached to 960SPs. Like 6870 it has 1GB of GDDR5, this time running at 4GHz effective. With its lower power consumption its load TDP is 127W, and its idle TDP is unchanged from 6870 at 19W.

The Barts GPU at the heart of these cards is the first GPU of AMD’s Northern Islands family. We’ll dive more in to its architecture later, but for now it’s easiest to call it a Cypress derivative. Contrary to the (many) early rumors, it’s still using the same VLIW5 design, cache hierarchy, and ROPs as Cypress. There are some very notable changes compared to Cypress, but except for tessellation these are more about quality and features than it is about performance.

Compared to Cypress, Barts is a notably smaller GPU. It’s still made on TSMC’s finally-mature 40nm process, but compared to Cypress AMD has shaved off 450 million transistors, bringing the die size down from 334mm2 to 255mm2. Much of this is achieved through a reduction in the SIMD count, but as we’ll see when we talk about architecture, it’s one of many tricks. As a result of AMD’s efforts, Barts at 255mm2 is right in the middle of what AMD considers their sweet spot. As you may recall from the 5870/Cypress launch, Cypress missed the sweet spot in the name of features and performance, which made it a powerful chip but also made it more expensive to produce (and harder to fabricate) than AMD would have liked. Barts is a return to the sweet spot, and more generally a return to the structure AMD operated on with the 4800 series.

With a focus on the sweet spot, it should come as no surprise that AMD is also focusing on costs and pricing. Realistically the 6800 series composes a lower tier of cards than the 5800 series – the performance is a bit lower, and so is the pricing. With a smaller GPU, cheaper GDDR5, and cheaper/fewer components, AMD is able to practically drive some members of the 6800 series down below $200, something that wasn’t possible with Cypress.

For today’s launch AMD is pricing the Radeon HD 6870 at $239, and the Radeon HD 6850 at $179. This is a hard launch, and boards should be available by the time you’re reading this article (or shortly thereafter). The launch quantities are, as AMD puts it, in the “tens of thousands” for the entire 6800 series. Unfortunately they are not providing a breakdown based on card, so we don’t have a solid idea of how much of each card will be available. We do know that all the initial 6870 cards are going to be relabeled reference cards, while the 6850 is launching with a number of custom designs – and in fact a reference 6850 may be hard to come by. We believe this is a sign that most of the card supply will be 6850s with far fewer 6870s being on the market, but this isn’t something we can back up with numbers. Tens of thousands of units may also mean that all the cards are in short supply, as cheaper cards have a tendency to fly off the shelves even faster than expensive cards – and the 5800 series certainly set a record there.

The rest of AMD’s products remain unchanged. The 5700 continues as-is, while the 5800 will be entering its twilight weeks. We’re seeing prices on the cards come down a bit, particularly on the 5850 which is caught between the 6800 cards in performance, but officially AMD isn’t changing the 5800 series pricing. Even with that, AMD expects the remaining card supply to only last through the end of the year.

Countering AMD’s launch, NVIDIA has repriced their own cards. The GTX 460 768MB stays at $169, while the GTX 460 1GB will be coming down to $199, and the GTX 470 is coming down to a mind-boggling $259 (GF100 is not a cheap chip to make, folks!). NVIDIA is also banking on factory overclocked GTX 460 1GB cards, which we’ll get to in a bit. Seeing as how AMD delivered a rude surprise for NVIDIA when they dropped the price of the 5770 series ahead of the GTS 450 launch last month, NVIDIA is a least trying to return the favor.

Ultimately this means we’re looking at staggered pricing. NVIDIA and AMD do not have any products that are directly competing at the same price points: at every $20 you’re looking at switching between AMD and NVIDIA.

October 2010 Video Card MSRPs
NVIDIA Price AMD
$260  
 
$240 Radeon HD 6870
$200  
 
$180 Radeon HD 6850
$170  
$130 Radeon HD 5770
$80 Radeon HD 5670/5570
Barts: The Next Evolution of Cypress
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  • StriderGT - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I agree with you that the inclusion of the FTW card was a complete caving and casts shadows to a so far excellent reputation of anandtech. I believe the whole motivation was PR related, retaining a workable relation with nvidia, but was it worth it?!

    Look how ugly can this sort of thing get, they do not even include the test setup... Quote from techradar.com:

    We expected the 6870 to perform better than it did – especially as this is essentially being pitched as a GTX 460 killer.
    The problem is, Nvidia's price cuts have made this an impossible task, with the FTW edition of the GTX 460 rolling in at just over £170, yet competently outperforming the 6870 in every benchmark we threw at it.
    In essence, therefore, all the 6870 manages is to unseat the 5850 which given its end of life status isn't too difficult a feat. We'd still recommend buying a GTX 460 for this sort of cash. All tests ran at 1,920 x 1,080 at the highest settings, apart from AvP, which was ran at 1,680 x 1,050.

    http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/pc-compone...
    Reply
  • oldscotch - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    ...where a Civilization game would be used for a GPU benchmark. Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    It's actually quite taxing on the maps. It lags on my HD4850.

    The reason is, it uses DX 11 DirectCompute features on texture decompression. The performance is noticeably better on DX11 cards.
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    "Ultimately this means we’re looking at staggered pricing. NVIDIA and AMD do not have any products that are directly competing at the same price points: at every $20 you’re looking at switching between AMD and NVIDIA."

    Not when you figure in NVidia's superior drivers, or power consumption...depending on which one matters most to you.
    Reply
  • Fleeb - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I looked at the load power consumption charts and saw the Radeon cards are better in this department and I don't clearly understand your statement. Did you mean that the nVidia cards in these tests should be better because of superior power consumption or that their power consumption is superior in a sense that nVidia cards consume more power? Reply
  • jonup - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I think he meant the nVidia has better drivers but worse power consumption. So it all depends on what you value most. At least that's how I took it. Reply
  • zubzer0 - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Great review!

    If you have the time I would be wery happy if you test how well these boards do in Age of Conan DX10?

    Some time ago you included (feb. 2009) Age of Conan in your reviews, but since then DX10 support was added to the game. I have yet to see an official review of the current graphics cards performance in AoC DX10.

    Btw. With the addon "Rise of the godslayer" the graphics in the new Khitai zone are gorgeous!
    Reply
  • konpyuuta_san - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    In my case (pun intended), the limiting factor is the physical size of the card. I've abandoned the ATX formats completely, going all out for mini-ITX (this one is Silverstone's sugo sg06). The king of ITX cases might still be the 460, but this is making me feel a bit sore about the 460 I'm just about to buy. Especially since the 6870 is actually only $20 more than the 6850 where I live and the 6850 is identically priced to the 460. There's just no way I can fit a 10.5 inch card into a 9 inch space. The 9 inch 6850 would fit, but there's a large radiator mounted on the front of the case, connected to a cpu water cooling block, that will interfere with the card. I've considered some crazy mods to the case, but those options just don't feel all that attractive. The GTX460 is a good quarter inch shorter and I'm getting a model with top-mounted power connectors so there's ample room for everything in this extremely packed little gaming box. I'm still kind of trying to find a way to put a 6850 in there (bangs and bucks and all that), which leads to my actual question, namely:

    The issue of rated power consumption; recommended minimum for the 460 is 450W (which I can support), but for the 6850 it's 500W (too much). How critical are those requirements? Does the 6850 really require a 500W supply? Despite having lower power consumption than the 460?! Or is that just to ensure the PSU can supply enough amps on whatever rail the card runs off? If my 450W SFF PSU can't supply the 6850, it really doesn't matter how much better or cheaper it is ....
    Reply
  • joshua4000 - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    let me get this straigt, fermi was once too expensive to manufacture due to its huge die and stuff but its striped down versions sell for less and outpace newley released amd cards (by a wide margin when looked at the 470)

    amds cheaper to manufacture cards (5xxx) on the other hand came in overpriced once the 460 had been released (if they havent been over priced all along...), still, the price did not drop to levels nvidia could not sell products without making a loss.

    amd has optimised an already cheap product price wise, that does not outperforme the 470 or an oced 460 while at the same time selling for the same amount $.

    considering manufacturing and pricing of the 4870 in its last days, i guess amd will still be making money out of those 6xxx when dropping the price by 75% msrp.
    Reply
  • NA1NSXR - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Granted there have been a lot of advancements in the common feature set of today's cards and improvement in power/heat/noise, but the absolute 3D performance has been stagnant. I am surprised the competition was called alive and well in the final words section. I built my PC back in 7/2009 using a 4890 which cost $180 then. Priced according to the cards in question today, it would slot in roughly the same spot, meaning pretty much no performance improvement at all since then. Yes, I will repeat myself to ward off what is certainly coming - I know the 4890 is a pig (loud, noisy, power hungry) compared to the cards here. However, ignoring those factors 3D performance has barely budged in more than a year. Price drops on 5xxx was a massive disappointment for me. They never came in the way I thought was reasonable to expect after 4xxx. I am somewhat indifferent because in my own PC cycle I haven't been in the market for a card, but like I said before, disappointment in the general market and i wouldn't really agree with the statement that competition is alive and well, at least in any sense that is benefiting people who weight performance more heavily in criteria. Reply

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