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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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  • Chris Peredun - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Not bad, but consider that the average OC from the AT GTX 460 review was 24% on the core. (No memory OC was tried.)

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3809/nvidias-geforce...
    Reply
  • thaze - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    German magazine "PC Games Hardware" states the 68xx need "high quality" driver settings in order to reach 58xx image quality. Supposedly AMD confirmed changes regarding the driver's default settings.
    Therefore they've tested in "high quality" mode and got less convincing results.

    Details (german): http://www.pcgameshardware.de/aid,795021/Radeon-HD...
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Unfortunately I don't know German well enough to read the article, and Google translations of technical articles are nearly worthless.

    What I can tell you is that the new texture quality slider is simply a replacement for the old Catalyst AI slider, which only controlled Crossfire profiles and texture quality in the first place. High quality mode disables all texture optimizations, which would be analogous to disabling CatAI on the 5800 series.So the default setting of Quality would be equivalent to the 5800 series setting of CatAT Standard.
    Reply
  • thaze - Saturday, October 30, 2010 - link

    "High quality mode disables all texture optimizations, which would be analogous to disabling CatAI on the 5800 series.So the default setting of Quality would be equivalent to the 5800 series setting of CatAT Standard. "

    According to computerbase.de, this is the case with Catalyst 10.10. But they argue that the 5800's image quality suffered in comparison to previous drivers and the 6800 just reaches this level of quality. Both of them now need manual tweaking (6800: high quality mode; 5800: CatAI disabled) to deliver the Catalyst 10.9's default quality.
    Reply
  • tviceman - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I would really like more sites (including Anandtech) to investigate this. If the benchmarks around the web using default settings with the 6800 cards are indeed NOT apples to apples comparisons vs. Nvidia's default settings, then all the reviews aren't doing fair comparisons. Reply
  • thaze - Saturday, October 30, 2010 - link

    computerbase.de also subscribes to this view after having invested more time into image quality tests.

    Translation of a part of their summary:
    " [...] on the other hand, the textures' flickering is more intense. That's because AMD has lowered the standard anisotropic filtering settings to the level of AI Advanced in the previous generation. An incomprehensible step for us, because modern graphics cards provide enough performance to improve the image quality.

    While there are games that hardly show any difference, others suffer greatly to flickering textures. After all, it is (usually) possible to reach the previous AF-quality with the "High Quality" function. The Radeon HD 6800 can still handle the quality of the previous generation after manual switching, but the standard quality is worse now!

    Since we will not support such practices, we decided to test every Radeon HD 6000 card with the about five percent slower high-quality settings in the future, so the final result is roughly comparable with the default setting from Nvidia."

    (They also state that Catalyst 10.10 changes the 5800's AF-quality to be similar to the 6800's, both in default settings, but again worse than default settings in older drivers.)
    Reply
  • Computer Bottleneck - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    The boost in low tessellation factor really caught my eye.

    I wonder what kind of implications this will have for game designers if AMD and Nvidia decide to take different paths on this?

    I have been under the impression that boosting lower tessellation factor is good for System on a chip development because tessellating out a low quality model to a high quality model saves memory bandwidth.
    Reply
  • DearSX - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Unless the 6850 overclocks a good 25%, what 460s reference 460s seem to overclock on average, it seems to not be any better overall to me. Less noise, heat, price and power, but also less overclocked performance? I'll need to wait and see. Overclocking a 460 presents a pretty good deal at current prices, which will probably continue to drop too. Reply
  • Goty - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Did you miss the whole part where the stock 6870 is basically faster (or at worst on par with) the overclocked 460 1GB? What do you think is going to happen when you overclock the 5870 AT ALL? Reply
  • DominionSeraph - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    The 6870 is more expensive than the 1GB GTX 460. Apples to apples would be DearSX's point -- 6850 vs 1GB GTX 460. They are about the same performance at about the same price -- $~185 for the 6850 w/ shipping and ~$180 for the 1GB GTX 460 after rebate.
    The 6850 has the edge in price/performance at stock clocks, but the GTX 460 overclocks well. The 6850 would need to consistently overclock ~20% to keep its advantage over the GTX 460.
    Reply

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