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From a variety perspective, the Radeon HD 6800 series is certainly the most interesting Radeon *800 series launches in recent history. AMD typically launches with (and only with) reference cards, and then in time partner-customized cards show up as AMD approves the designs and partners have the time to do the engineering legwork to make custom cards. In the case of the 5800 series this was a particularly long period of time, as TSMC’s production shortage meant that AMD was intentionally shipping out reference cards as fast as humanly possible; and as a result we didn’t see our first custom 5800 series card until 6 months later in February of 2010. It was a much more controlled launch than normal for AMD.

The 6800 series on the other hand turns that on its head, giving us a much more liberal launch when it comes to card designs. While the 6870 series launched and is still all-reference, the 6850 is the opposite, having launched with a number of custom designs. In fact you won’t find a reference 6850 in North America unless you’re a hardware reviewer. With an all-custom launch the door is opened to a wide variety of cards with a wide variety of performance characteristics, so we have wasted no time in collecting a few cards to see what they’re capable of – after all we’ve seen what the non-existent reference card can do, but how about the cards you can actually buy? And how about overclocking, do the latest 6850 cards continue the tradition of the *850 being strong overclockers? Today we’re going to answer all of that and more.

  AMD Radeon HD 6850 XFX Radeon HD 6850 MSI R6850 OC Asus EAH6850
Stream Processors 960 960 960 960
Texture Units 48 48 48 48
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 775MHz 775MHz 820MHz 790MHz
Memory Clock 1GHz (4GHz effective) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz effective) GDDR5 1.1GHz (4.4GHz effective) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz effective) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
FP64 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Transistor Count 1.7B 1.7B 1.7B 1.7B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $179 ~$189 ~$199 ~$185

The first wave of 6850 cards launching were stock-clocked cards. Our intention had been to grab all stock-clocked cards, but manufacturers have been racing to get factory overclocked cards out the door, and we ended up with 2 overclocked cards after all: the Asus with a token 15MHz core overclock, and the MSI with a more serious 45MHz core and 120MHz(480MHz effective) memory overclock. Expect to see many more overclocked cards soon, as manufacturers are eager to get their more profitable overclocked cards out, typically rolling them out along with additional levels of customization such as custom PCBs.

As we’ll see in our performance results, it’s interesting to note that while no two cards are alike in terms of temperature and acoustics, the resulting overclocks were all highly similar. At stock voltage all of our cards could hit at least 850MHz core, and with 6870 voltages (1.172v), all of them hit 940MHz. At even higher voltages such as 1.22v we’re able to push a couple of these cards up to 960MHz core, but it looks like 940-950MHz is the sweet-spot for the 6850 based on the results we’re seeing today. Meanwhile the memory hits a solid wall at 1150MHz (4.6GHz effective); none of our cards would do 1200Mhz (4.8GHz effective) which makes sense given that AMD purposely used a slower memory controller as a tradeoff for a smaller die.

It’s also interesting to note that while the load voltage on our reference 6850 was 1.094v, all of our cards here today (even the non-overclocked XFX) feature a higher voltage of 1.148v. At this point we’re still trying to get to the bottom of this, as AMD hasn’t been able to get back to us with a reason for why we’re seeing this discrepancy. The load voltage is a significant factor for the amount of power drawn (and heat generated) by cards, which means none of our partner 6850s have been able to match the reference 6850 in this aspect. We’re trying to make sure that 1.094v is indeed the 6850’s stock load voltage, or if we need to revise our previous results.

In any case, today we’ll be looking at 3 partner cards alongside our reference 6850: the XFX Radeon HD 6850 (HD-685X-ZNFC), the Asus EAH6850, and the MSI R6850 OC. This represents a diverse group of cards, ranging from short & stubby cards to longer cards with custom PCBs, and everything in between.

Meet The XFX Radeon HD 6850
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  • Will Robinson - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    Yep, the stuff said so far about AT being smart to discuss this is right.
    I don't think anyone seriously believes the site would be biased.
    I trust AT.
    Having said that it's a shame those people who dismiss the complaints of many over the inclusion of overclocked cards don't wise up a bit.
    They don't agree with you but it doesn't mean they are wrong.
    Reply
  • expose - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    What the title says, might as well admit within the article that you are catering to a audience and no longer practicing journalism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism
    Doing a o/c feature on a card and then print a conclusion based on no results from the competitors stock o/c or any o/c results this time is amateur.
    No longer professional or unbiased, and almost useless content because of random unpredictable motives.
    Reply
  • jabber - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    I was rather dissapointed two weeks ago when we had all the 6850/6870 reviews that put stock AMD units up against purely OCd Nvidia units and no one seemed to dare to just OC a 6850/70 to a similar degree for the sake of apples to apples. I guess Nvidia's review instructions to the tame (paid) press worked a charm.

    Ok so putting OCd AMD units against non OCd Nvidia units may redress the balance but its still not what any of us wanted to see in the first place.

    Am I the only one not taking crazy pills around here?

    We's like to see a list of stock AMD and Nvidia unit benchmarks and then a list of OCd AMD/Nvidia units.

    Just like in the old days. Is that too hard?
    Reply
  • FeynmanDIagrams - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    Unfortunately reviewers can't always include 100 different comparisons due to time constraints. It takes a long time to benchmark a single card. This reviewer might not of had access to a 460FTW either.

    I use a standard MSI Cylone 460 1GB that I manually OC'd to 950/1050 on air. You don't have to buy the "super super overclocked" editions to get these speeds, just have adequate cooling. You're typically only going to find extreme overclock comparisons on overclocking forums rather than review sites.

    While they don't include PhysX or CUDA, they are affordable mid-range cards that help keep competitor's prices in check. While AMD has had Crossfire driver issues in the past, Nvidia still seems to have major stuttering issues and low GPU usage for the past 9 months. They also seem to require you to run on a Bloomfield chip to have decent GPU usage(even that doesn't always fix it), where as even the 5870/5970 can make full use of the card on a modest Phenom or C2Q chip.

    The 6850/6870 seem like excellent choices compared to their 460/470 competitors.
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    you wrote... All of the cards could hit 850MHz core at stock clocks
    All of the cards could hit 940MHz core at 1.172v, the 6870 load voltage
    We had to give the cards significantly more voltage to get above 940MHz. This culminated at 1.22v on the Asus and MSI cards for 960MHz

    I think "All of the cards could hit 850MHz core at stock clocks," should be "All of the cards could hit 850MHz at stock VOLTAGES," but maybe I am completely misunderstanding the info reported here?
    Reply
  • jcn4boxes - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    mm2587, while obviously upset, has a valid point.
    amd vs nvidia "fan boyz" should have no place in hardware reviews, imo.
    rather the data should be presented and let that speak for itself.
    i hope the "kicking to the curb" notion is just that and not a peace offering to a advertiser/contact.
    Reply
  • Galcobar - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    Never understood the flaming which results when a review includes factory overclocked video cards.

    For one point, it's not a YMMV situation -- a card purchased with a factory overclock will conform to those specifications. Think of it this way: if all the stock clocked cards were pulled from the market, would that mean the cards are no longer reviewable? Of course not, given the stock clocks are as much an arbitrary factory choice (to achieve a certain yield) as the overclocks.

    Where it gets particularly odd is how processors whose only difference is the multiplier can be reviewed with no howls of indignation. When Intel turns up the multiplier and sticks a higher model number on it, they're issuing a factory overclocked chip and charging more for it. Yet no one complains a 950 should not be reviewed next to a 930...

    The whole point of reviews is to look at price, performance, and the balance between.
    Reply
  • khimera2000 - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    ill give you a clue. one is overclocked, and represents the top of the OC scale for factory cards, also represents what a hand picked model can do.

    the other is a stock card.

    at the time it was the only card i found that clocked at that speed, and the others trailed by at least 100mhz. the FTW card is just nvidia showing off and did not represent what was available on average at the time.

    Just like now where its noted that its vary difficult to find non OC 6850, but these where not included in the review even though they where available the day i read the review.
    it would mean that AT would have hand pick a card for every new releas. I can see that being a pain.
    Reply
  • totenkopf - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    Galcobar, your comparison to processors is a little misleading. when Intel augments the speed of their silicon, the respective parts are sold with distinct model numbers (950 vs. 930 as you pointed out) which is far different, and more dependable, than the 'OC' nomenclature. OCed graphics cards, on the other-hand, share the same technical designation with their non OCed counterparts. If little Billy asks his mom for a GTX460 FTW for Christmas, what do you suppose the odds are that he ends up with a stock GTX460 or some other 'OC' labeled variant?

    I will say that this whole argument is the stuff of fanboys. Purists and enthusiasts that frequent this site shouldn't be concerned with factory OC junk anyway, it all boils down to arguing over how one's favorite company is being represented. The whole OC edition thing is just money grab, product differentiation crap designed by OEMs to make people think they are getting a better product and part with more money. Usually the performance gain is negligible. Regardless, what good is an OCed card when they cost more money? The only consumer interest in OCing ought to be paying less to get more; which means you're better off getting the reference board for less money and making it faster. I don't think OCed cards have a place in reviews except in cases like this article. OCing was never supposed to be this mainstream, it defeats the whole purpose when it's up-cost marketing.

    Besides, semantically speaking, if you buy it in that configuration, it's kinda still stock. The Shelby isn't an OCed Mustang... it's a Shelby. Tuning it yourself could be considered OCing.
    Reply
  • Galcobar - Tuesday, November 09, 2010 - link

    If you want to argue that the crucial difference lies in model numbers -- which is to say, labelling -- then you'd want to remember that cards with higher overclocks do use different model numbers.

    768-P3-1360-TR
    768-P3-1362-TR

    versus

    i7-930
    i7-950

    That Intel sells the processors based directly on model number and uses the names in-house, while video cards are sold using the names and keeps the model numbers written small on the box doesn't really change the relationship.

    Higher cost for what amounts to a software change.

    Whether those software changes are worth paying for is another arguement entirely, but you are paying for an assured level of performance in either type of processor.
    Reply

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