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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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  • Setsunayaki - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    There was a graph where a 4XXX series card beat the 6XXX series card...There were many where the 5XXX series was higher...Tesellation performance is higher on the 460 GTX and SLI scales better than crossfire...

    What the tesselation performance graph really means is that if you were to take an 460 GTX and 6870 and turn off tesselation and play a game....the 6870 gets a higher framerate, but if you turn on Tesselation on Both cards and go full force with Tesselation and other features (considering that Nvidia has support for PhysX and most games now have some physics implementation)...the outcome shows the 6870 taking such a performance hit that as far as framerates go....a 460 actually matches it or beats it outright.

    What ATI/AMD really needs to work on is Integrating more technologies on its card to actually have more options during a game. No physics processing, Just an optimization on AA and AF...and tesselation performance that doesn't come close to a 460, along with horrible linux support...I really wonder and hope that their flagship card shows something steller....

    Not to argue against it, but for the deserving ATI/AMD fans who have stuck with them over the years. ^_^
    Reply
  • Alilsneaky - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Prices are high for both in my country (Belgium).

    199 Euro for the 6850 and 279 euro (in the cheaper shops, upto 350 in others) for the 6870.

    Very bland release for us, nothing to get excited about at that price point.

    I also take offense to the naming scheme, why pick a name that will inevitable deceive many people into buying a sidegrade.
    Reply
  • Pastuch - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    There was not nearly enough discussion on DTS HD MA and TrueHD pass through in this article. Gaming is 50% of the reason to upgrade, the rest of my focus is HTPC use. Please compare the GTX 460 vs the 6870 regarding bit-streaming, video quality and hardware decoding.

    Thanks.

    P.S. Nvidia usually does a pathetic job on anything not related to gaming.
    Reply
  • Scootiep7 - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I think you guys are a little off on calling the 6870 the $200 price point King. The cheapest retail for the card right now is $239.99 for any model and then you have to add in another $5~10 for shipping. That sticks it at $245 - $250. That's no where near the $200 price point. And with most GTX 460 1GBs sitting at about $170 - $190 (w/ shipping), this card is not competing with them on price at all. Maybe in a few months if prices drop, but not now. It's more in the GTX 470 range and that is much tougher competition. I'm sorry, but the 6870 is NOT the $200 price point King. It's not even close. Reply
  • Lolimaster - Sunday, October 24, 2010 - link

    HD6850 offers better performance tha 460 1GB
    HD6850 costs $175

    HD6870 kill both of them, and also 470 performance/power consumption (80w less)
    Reply
  • Scootiep7 - Sunday, October 24, 2010 - link

    Ok, I'm sorry, but I have to laugh at this. Where the hell are you finding a 6850 for $175. The cheapest ANYWHERE is $199 and you still have to factor in #8ish shipping. Re-read my post and realize that the prices I quoted are accurate and you're still looking at a $30 price difference between the 6850 and the 460 1gb. Yes the performance is better, but it's not amazingly better and I don't think it justifies it. Hey, I'm all for the red team this time around. I picked up a 5770 which is an amazing bang for the buck card. I'm just saying that calling the 6870 or the 6850 the new $200 price point king is wrong. Too many variables. Reply
  • orthancstone - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I'm especially pleased to see the 4870 included in some benchmarks. As someone who owns one and who was never impressed with the performance boost/cost ratio of the 58/59xx lines, I've been wondering how the 6xxx line would compare to the two generation old stuff. I'd love to see it included in the third party 6xxx reviews. Reply
  • Edison5do - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    As a owner of a HD 4850 was planning to get an HD 5770 but at this point it looks like HD 6850 looks like a better option with a few more bucks.. or wait to see if the HD 5770 will drop price a little more.... Reply
  • Sando_UK - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Anandtech is one of my favourite review sites and it's a real shame to see what's happened here. I don't know the reasons why you guys needed to include the 460 OC in this review (does sound like a fine card btw, but this wasn't the place for it) - can't see any reason this wouldn't have been much better compared in a separate article. The fact Tom's hardware did a very similar thing makes the whole thing fishy...

    New generations/architectures don't come along very often and deserve proper comparison and coverage - I'm not an AMD or Nvidia fanboi (happy to go with whichever is best price/performance/extras at the time) but we rely on you guys to give us the facts on a level playing field. I'm sure you have in this case, but even the suggestion of impropriety damages you (extremely good) reputation, and I think it's something you should really try to avoid in the future - be it AMD or Nvidia reviews.

    Otherwise, thanks for all your hard work.
    Reply
  • Natfly - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    It's sad to say, but this review fucking sucks. UVD and the display controller have been overhauled but you make no mention of any of the changes. Are there still only 2 RAMDAC clocks? Or can you now use passive DP converters while using both of both DVI ports?

    And including an OC'd card because nVidia pushed you into it? Way to take a shot to your credibility. And no mention of its clocks or price... AND no overclocking numbers for these new cards when you are specifically comparing it to an OC'd card? I mean wtf, this review is not up to previous Anandtech standards.
    Reply

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