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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  • Donkey2008 - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Can you provide a link to your website so I can read your review of the cards? That would be awesome. Reply
  • Natfly - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Sure, right here: http://tinyurl.com/36ag36d Reply
  • BlendMe - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    So you're telling me I can get two 6870 and spend lest money, use less power and have more performance than a GTX 480? I like the idea of going back to what made the 48xx cards so great. Small, cheap and expandable.

    Can't wait for the rest of the line up.
    Reply
  • tpurves - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    how is it that the nvidia cards go UP in framerate when you increase the resolution from 1650 to 1920 and add 4xAA? Did you mix up some test run numbers? Reply
  • mapesdhs - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link


    It's a pity the charts don't include SLI results for the EVGA 460. I would like to have seen
    how close it came to 470 SLI, given the 470s inferior power, GPU load temp and noise
    results. The 470 GPU load temps under Crysis for just one card are particularly scary;
    the idea of using two 470s SLI, and even more so oc'ing them, seems like a recipe for
    thermal mayhem - alien astronomers with IR telescopes would wonder what the heck
    they've spotted. :D

    The price drop on the 470 is interesting, but the EVGA 460 still looks like a better buy
    because of the power/heat issues, especially so for those considering SLI (as I am),
    and also the fact that the EVGA is as good or better than the 6870. This graph is the
    one that interests me:

    http://images.anandtech.com/graphs/graph3987/33232...

    The stock 460 SLI is clearly nowhere near as good as 6870 CF or 470 SLI, but given
    a single EVGA 460 matches the 6870, I'd really like to know how two EVGAs perform.
    Any chance you could add the data later?

    On the other hand, one could assume the 6870 should have some oc'ing headroom,
    but toms' review didn't show that much of a gain from oc'd 6870s.

    The 6870 here in the UK seems to be about 200 UKP (Aria, Scan), though the XFX
    version looks to be an exception (178 from Scan). The EVGA is 174 (Scan, but no
    stock yet). For those who don't want to spend that much, the 800MHz Palit Sonic
    Platinum 460 has dropped down to only 163 (last week it was 183). I almost bought
    two of the Palit cards last week, so I'm glad I waited.

    Obviously the pricing is all over the place atm, and likely to wobble all over again
    when the next 6xxxx cards are released. Either way, despite the lack of major
    performance increases atm, at least there's finally some pricing/value competition.
    I think I'll wait until the dust settles re pricing, then decide. Quite likely many others
    will do the same.

    Ian.
    Reply
  • AtenRa - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Why did you run at 1920x1200 and not 1920x1080 ??

    most 1920x1200 monitors are extincted from the market and 1920x1080 is becoming the defacto resolution.
    Reply
  • Lunyone - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Well with bowing down to nVidia on the selection of "what" GPU to use, you have lost all credibility in my eyes. Even Tom's Hardware took a higher road and agreed to use the "hand picked" GPU, but limited the clocks to near stock settings, so there was a more "real" world comparison. Who nows if this isn't the first time that this has happened at Anandtech. I notice no rebuttals on Anand's part, so I'm guessing that they are quite amazed that people are seeing how one sided this issue is. This article wouldn't affect my purchase, since I look a several sites to draw a conclusion from. But my confidence in quality and fair reporting from Anandtech's reviews have been compromised, IMHO. I don't know if I will put any merit to any on Anand's reviews, time will tell. Reply
  • Sunburn74 - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Gee. You know whats all this about Anandtech losing credibility? Nvidia specifically asked them to test one card and the consumer benefits from having this information. Its not like anandtech didn't include the reference gtx460 as well. Anything that tells the consumer more about how valuable his dollar really is, is a good thing imo.

    I currently have an oced radeon 5850 and it annoyed the hell out of me trying to justify whether or not the extra 30 bucks I eventually ended up paying for it, was worth it. There weren't any reviews at the time you see...
    Reply
  • SandmanWN - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    You can't gauge value of an overclocked card against a stock card. You have no idea what the other card can do. What you are saying is nonsense if you really put two seconds into thinking about what you just said. Reply
  • mindbomb - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    we are talking about factory oc'd cards.
    It's not like Anand was playing around in rivatuner.
    Reply

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