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
$240 Radeon HD 6870
$180 Radeon HD 6850
$130 Radeon HD 5770
$80 Radeon HD 5670/5570
Barts: The Next Evolution of Cypress


View All Comments

  • GeorgeH - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    WRT comments complaining about the OC 460 -

    It's been clear from the 460 launch that a fully enabled and/or higher clocked 460 would compete very well with a 470. It would have been stupid for NVIDIA to release such a card, though - it would have made the already expensive GF100 even more so by eliminating a way to get rid of their supply of slightly defective GF100 chips (as with the 465) and there was no competitive reason to release a 460+.

    Now that there is a competitive reason to release one, do you really think Nvidia is going to sit still and take losses (or damn close to it) on the 470 when it has the capability of launching a 460+? Do you really think that Nvidia still can't make fully functional GF104 chips? Including the OC 460 is almost certainly Ryan's way of hinting without hinting (NDAs being what they are) what Nvdia is prepping for release.

    (And if you really think AT is anyone's shill, you're obviously very new to AT.)
  • AnandThenMan - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    "And if you really think AT is anyone's shill, you're obviously very new to AT."

    Going directly against admitted editorial policy doesn't exactly bolster your argument now does it. As for your comment about a 460+ or whatever you were trying to say, who cares? Reviews are supposed to be about hardware that is available to everyone now, not some theoretical card in the future.
  • MGSsancho - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    A vendor could just as likely sell an overclocked 470 card as well as a 480. But I think you made the right assumption that team green might be releasing overclocked cards that all have a minimum of 1gb of ram to make it look like their cards are faster than team red's. maybe it will be for near equal price points, the green cards will all be 20~30% overclocked to make it look like they are 10% faster than the red offerings at similar prices. Red cards could just be sold over clocked as well (we have to wait a bit more to see how well they overclock). All of this does not really matter. In the end of the day, buyers will look at whats the fastest product they can purchase at their price point. Maybe secondly they will notice that hey this thing gets hot and is very loud and just blindly blaming the green/red suits and thirdly they will look at features. Who really knows.

    Personally I purchase the slightly slower products then over clock them myself if i find a game that needs it. I would rather have the headroom vs buying a card that is always going to be hot enough to rival volcanoes even if it is factory warrantied.
  • Golgatha - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    The nVidia volcanoes comment is really, really overstated. I have a mid-tower case with a 120mm exhaust and 2x92mm intakes (Antec Solo for reference), and a GTX 480. None of these case fans are high performance fans. Under very stressful gaming conditions, I hit in the 80-85°C range, and Folding@Home's GPU3 client will get it up to 91°C under 100% torturous load.

    Although I don't like the power consumption of the GTX 480 for environmental reasons, it is rock solid stable, has none of the drawbacks of multi-GPU setups (I actually downgraded from a Crossfire 5850 setup due to game crashing and rendering issues), and it seems to be top dog in a lot of cases when it comes to minimum FPS (even when compared to multi-GPU setups).
  • Parhel - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    "And if you really think AT is anyone's shill, you're obviously very new to AT"

    I think you're referring to me, since I'm the one who used the word "shill." Let me tell you, I've been reading AT since before Tom's Hardware sucked, and that's a loooong time.

    If I were going to buy a card today, I'd buy the $180 GTX 460 1GB, no question. I'm not an AMD fan, nor am I an NVidia fan. I am, however, an Anandtech fan. And their decision to include the FTW edition card in this review means I can no longer come here and assume I'm reading something something unbiased and objective.
  • GeorgeH - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    It was actually more of a shotgun blast aimed at the several silly posts implying AT was paid off by EVGA or Nvidia.

    If you've been reading AT for ~10 years, why would you assume that Ryan (or any other longtime contributor) suddenly decided to start bowing to outside pressure? If you stop lighting the torches and sharpening the pitchforks for half a second, you might realize that Ryan probably has a very good reason for including the OC card.

    Even if I'm smoking crack WRT a GTX460+, what's the point of a review? It's not to give AMD and Nvidia a "fair" fight, it's to give us an idea of the best card to spend our money on - and if AMD or Nvidia get screwed in the process, I'm not going to be losing any sleep.

    Typically, OC cards with a significant clock bump are fairly rare "Golden samples" and/or only provide marginal performance benefits without significantly increasing heat, noise, and power consumption. With the 460, Nvidia all but admitted they could've bumped the stock clocks quite significantly, but didn't want to threaten their other cards (*cough* 470 *cough*) if they didn't have to. This is reflected in what you can actually buy at Newegg - of the ~30 1GB 460's, only ~5 are running stock. 850MHz is still high, but is also right in line with the average of what you can expect any 460 to get to, so I don't think it's too far out of place.

    Repeating what I said above, including the OC card was unfair to AMD, but is highly relevant to me and my wallet. I couldn't care less if AMD (or Nvidia) get screwed by an AT review - I just want to know what's best for me, and this article delivers. If the tables were turned, I'm sure that Ryan would have no problem including an OC AMD card in a Nvidia review - because it isn't about being a shill, it's about informing me, the consumer.
  • SandmanWN - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    What? Put the crack down... Really, if you are short on time to review a product and you steal time away from that objective just to review a specially delivered hand selected opponents card instead of completing your assignment then you've not exactly been genuine to your readers or in this case to AMD.

    If you have time to add in an overclocked card then you need to do the same with the review card, otherwise the OC'd cards need to wait another day.

    I have no idea how you can claim some great influence on your wallet when you have no idea of the OC capabilities of the 6000 series. If you actually bought the 460 off this review then you are banking that the overclock will hold up against a unknown variable. That's not exactly relevant to anyone's wallet.
  • GeorgeH - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    An OC'd 460 competes with the 6870, and the 6870 doesn't really overclock at all.

    Even overclocked, a 6850 isn't going to touch a 6870, unless you're going to well over 1GHz (which short of a miracle isn't going to happen.)

    It was disappointing that the review wasn't fleshed out more, but I'd say what's missing isn't as relevant to my buying decisions as how well the plethora of OC'd 460s compare to the 6870.
  • Parhel - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    "the 6870 doesn't really overclock at all"

    What? You're talking out of your ass No review site has even attempted a serious overclock yet. It's not even possible, as far as I know, to modify the voltage yet! We have no way to gauge how these cards overclock, and won't for several weeks.

    "850MHz is still high, but is also right in line with the average of what you can expect any 460 to get to"

    Now you're sounding like the shill. 850Mhz is not a realistic number if we're talking about 24/7 stability with stock cooling. No way.
  • GeorgeH - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    850MHz unrealistic? Nvidia flat out admitted that most cards are capable of at least ~800MHz (no volt mods, no nothing) and reviews around the web have backed this up, showing low to mid 800's on most stock cards, at stock voltages, running stock cooling. If you're worried about reliability, grab one of the many cards that come factory OC'd with a warranty.

    The 6870 doesn't now and never will overclock much at all, at least not in the way the 460 does. As with any chip, there will be golden sample cards that will go higher with voltage tweaks and extra cooling, but AMD absolutely did not leave ~20-25% of the 6870's average clockspeed potential on the table. The early OC reviews back this up as well, showing the 6870 as having minimal OC'ing headroom at stock voltages.

    If you're waiting to compare the maximum performance that you can stretch out of a cherry-picked 6870 with careful volt mods and aftermarket cooling, you're going to be comparing it with a 460 @ ~950MHz, not ~850MHz.

    As a guess, I'd say that your ignorance of these items is what led you to be so outraged at the inclusion of the OC 460 in the review. The magnitude of the OC potential of the 460 is highly atypical (at least in mid-range to high end cards), which is why I and many other posters have no issue with its similarly atypical inclusion in the review.

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