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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  • Ryan Smith - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Quality is unchanged. UVD 3 adds a few fixed function blocks, but quality is a matter of post-processing and hence affected by the drivers once you have sufficient shader power to do all the post-processing. Reply
  • Pastuch - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I posted about this earlier but my post was deleted.

    Ryan there is a ton of HTPC users on this site.

    1. Exactly how long is the Radeon 6870/6850 vs the GTX 460?

    2. How does the GTX460 compare to the Radeon 6 series regarding bitstreaming high def audio?

    3. How UVD3 post-processing compare to Nvidias?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    It's exactly the same as this: http://www.anandtech.com/show/3973/nvidias-geforce... Reply
  • HigherGround - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Why was EVGA card included in this test? The rest of the field is generic (non OC, no brand), so why included an OC card, which skews the readers perspective? Pretty sure EVGA paid you to included its top OC card in this review ... Reply
  • Parhel - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    No, NVidia paid them to include it. NVidia sends "guidelines" to all the hardware review sites, telling them what settings to use and which cards to use in the comparison. In the guidelines for today's review was to use the EVGA GTX 460 FTW, and and site you see using it is essentially a paid NVidia shill.

    I could care less about ATI vs NVidia, as I'm not really a gamer, but I'm very disappointed today to see my long time favorite hardware site stooping to this level. In the end, it gives consumers bad information, which should be antithetical to the purpose of a site like this.
    Reply
  • AtwaterFS - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I agree, this site is typically class-leading, but this article give AnandTech a bit of a black eye and the results dont particularly jive with "un-biased" sites like HardOCP. Reply
  • DrKlahn - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I was going to post the same thing. As a long time reader of this site, I was very disappointed with the decision to include the overclocked card. Either the ATI cards should have been overclocked and their results provided in every test or it should have been excluded as per the normal benchmarking guidelines.

    I would have no issue with a followup or side article comparing factory overclocked offerings. But this is clearly bowing to pressure from Nvidia and I expected better of this site.
    Reply
  • aungee - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    To Include the EVGA GTX 460 FTW was unfair and whether intentional or not it did spoil the launch party for AMD on this site to some degree. It would have been more appropriate to make a small mention of it's existence and to benchmark it in the future against any factory OC 6800 cards.

    After getting your head around the naming, AMD needs to be credited for bringing such a performance on only a 255 mm2 package (it even caused the price drop for the 530mm2 GTX 470) . AMD has headroom to drop the price of the 6800 cards so lets hope they do soon.
    Reply
  • tigersty1e - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I couldn't find the clocks, but if you do include an OC'd card in your benches, you should give us the clocks. Reply
  • dertechie - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    850 MHz Core, 1700 MHz shaders, 4 GHz Memory, up from 675 MHz Core, 1350 MHz shaders, 3.6 GHz Memory.

    That's a 26% Core OC and an 11% Memory OC. However, the cost has been OC'd too, the FTW card costs the same $240 as the stock Radeon 6870.
    Reply

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