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

  • Finally - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Did you have a look at the games market lately? Noticed all those shabby console ports? There is no progress because the graphics power of an XBOX or PS3 is exactly the same as it has been when they were introduced.

    Then again, who wants to play dumbed-down console games, made by illiterates for illiterates running on antique hardware which severely limits innovation in the graphics sector?
  • jimhsu - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    "I know the 4890 is a pig (loud, noisy, power hungry) compared to the cards here"

    And hence your point. Essentially, major COMPUTER manufacturers (not just video card makers) simply are less concerned about maximum performance anymore -- for 95% of the population, what we have now is "good enough", and for the remaining 5%, getting more of the cheap stuff is also "good enough" (HPC builders, SLI/CrossFire, etc). Instead, people look at things like "is this quiet" (heat production, fans) or "what does this mean for my bottom line" (power consumption, replacability). The age of the monolithic "fast chip" is over.
  • Jamahl - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    AMD naming the cards the 6800 series or Anandtech changing their policy of not reviewing overclocked cards. Reply
  • spigzone - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    AMD renaming their cards = more confusing
    Anandtech 'changing' their policy = more inexplicable.
  • softdrinkviking - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    i join the throngs of disgruntled consumers that object to the new naming convention of the 6800 series.
    it's silly and stupid, and you should be ashamed of your collective AMD selves.
  • spigzone - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    I didn't like it either ... until I saw the release prices ...

    Then I didn't much care anymore.
  • gorg_graggel - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    why the heck didn't they just call them 6850 and 6530? according to the numbers those are the the true internal competitors...
    that would also fit with the premise that a next-gen card with the same naming conventions is at least a bit faster...
    the upcoming 6950 and 6970 cards could accordingly be named 6870 and 6890 respectively...
    and the next 2-chip variant could have the 69xx namespace for itself as it clearly wouldn't be justified to append an x2 to it, due to the same reasons the 5000 dual-chip cards don't do this...
    because of different chips? john doe doesn't know about such distinctions and just cares about performance (compared to older generations) when upgrading.
    he's just confused why the 6870 is slower than a 5870 and the guy who knows more about the tech behind it is pissed, because he has to explain to him why the names are not analogous to performance and why it's not kept consistent at least for a few generations...

    the explanations amd has given about this is not satisfying and gives me the impression that they deliberately want to confuse customers...however i can't think of a logical "why"...
  • jonup - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    To answer your question, Because that makes too much sense! Reply
  • Donkey2008 - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I agree 100%. The new naming scheme is misleading and it seems like 6750 and 6770 would have been much more accurate IMO. From AMD releases over the last several years, the performance of nex-gen 2nd tier cards are ~ equal to the previous top tier cards. This is the first time AMD has strayed from their naming scheme in a long time and it has all the makings of a marketing dept telling the engineers what to call their cards.

    Like to pointed out, 95% of consumers (the ones who waddle into Best Buy and tell someone at the Geek Squad counter to "install a gaming card") won't know the difference. Most of these average consumers will believe that a 6870 is a much better card performance-wise then the previous generation 5870, so they will see the price and think it is a steal. AMD is playing the numbers game with uneducated consumers ("higher numbers are better, right?") and it is sort of disappointing IMO. I expect more from them as a psuedo-fanboy (I am a current of owner of a 4850 and (2) 4890)

    I am still anxious to see what the 69xx has to offer, but some of the excitement of the entire 6xxx series launch has faded because of the new naming scheme. I just don't like marketing games and being played. Tech people are not only sharp, but HIGHLY biased and any deviation from outright perfection usually gets punished (i.e. Microsoft Vista, iPhone 4 antenna, Nvidia GT 250, etc etc). AMD should have known better.
  • gorg_graggel - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    hmmm well, on second thought it could make more sense in the future as the new scheme reorganized the naming to fit more to the performance categories...
    if they would have been named 6750/6770 their would be riots, because amd dared to raise the prices in the midrange segment, as the author of the article already said i think, which would be even worse...
    in the past amd changed strategies of how big and fast chips are a few times, but the naming didn't...they just didn't have single chips that deserved a name in the x900-range...
    so now that the cayman chip is in the 300w size amd changed its sweet-spot only strategy to a more standard strategy again with low-end, midrange, performance and high-end cards and the new naming does fit perfectly least i have this impression...
    so it maybe confusing now, but depending on how future products turn out it will make more sense again...

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