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

  • campbbri - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the great review. I don't know why everyone is complaining about mixing OC and Non-OC cards when you were extremely explicit in pointing it out. Reply
  • krumme - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I dont think you dont know why everyone is complaining.

    First. To be fair its far from everyone :), unfortunately because Anand is surrounded by far to many yes sayers. All positve. Great in many ways. But it does not develop the site as it could. There is a great huge community, and there is plenty of ressources to get ideas to new methology.

    Its good - if not vital - that Kyle is explicit about it. Otherwise it wouldnt be worth critizicing, then it would just look like a payed job, and nobody would care. Its not. But beeing explicit is not enough even if its most important and a huge quality. You need to have a good case. And Anand does have a very bad case.

    Read what Kyle wrote againg. Do you think this is his best and most sound decicion in his life? do he feel comfortable about it?

    He did betray himself a little bit. And he shouldnt do it. He should lissen to his own doubt.
  • snarfbot - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    yes i understand that, but i cant see how you can call a direct replacement that fails to outperform its predecessor as a success.

    especially when you consider that the prices have increased after launch as opposed to decrease as is normal. and have remained artificially high since, due to limitations at tsmc, which renders the cost argument pretty much moot.

    how about an analogy.

    6870 is to 5870 as 4770 is to 4870.

    and its on the same process which makes it even worse, although you cant really blame amd for that.

    you can very much blame their marketing department for making such a terrible decision though.

    its a terrible name, thats the whole point, at whatever price you cant call it a 6870 if it cant beat a 5870.
  • Trefugl - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    yes i understand that, but i cant see how you can call a direct replacement that fails to outperform its predecessor as a success.

    But the issue is that the 68xx series alone aren't really replacing the 58xx series. I think they are really splitting what the direct replacement to that market would have been into two - the 69xx (high-end enthusiast) and the 68xx (high-end mid-range).

    I agree that the naming scheme isn't the best, but I think a lot of that could have been mitigated (and maybe even made a non-issue) if the 68xx's weren't the first to launch. If the 69xx came out first people would have accepted them and been happy, but instead we have b*tching because of naming confusion...
  • Targon - Sunday, October 24, 2010 - link

    I missed this too until someone pointed out what I missed. The Radeon 6900 series will replace the 5800 series at the high end, and IS the proper high end part you are looking for.

    Back when DirectX 9 first came out, ATI only had DirectX 9 support in the old Radeon 9500 and 9700. When the X300, X600, and X800 came out, notice that AMD took the cards and started at 600 and 800, rather than 500 and 700 for the mid ranged and high end cards. This has continued a bit. In the HD 2000 series, you even had the HD 2900XT on the high end of the series, but then they went to the 3800, 4800, and 5800 series to mark the high end cards.

    So, AMD/ATI has been tweaking the names a fair bit. What initially threw me off is that the next generation high end cards are not the first cards to show up, and we have the mid-ranged cards showing up first.

    If the article said clearly, "We are reviewing the next generation mid range cards with the high generation 6900 due out next month" right up front in the article instead of buried in the text somewhere on page 2(or was it 3), there would have been less confusion.

    I don't mind the change in numbers if all parts come out at the same time, but for now, there is ONLY confusion because we have yet to see the 6970.
  • GaMEChld - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    I love how people are arguing over this naming change. As if people who buy discrete cards or look at video card specs don't know what their doing. If you don't know what you're buying, it serves you right.

    I don't know why this was so hard for people to understand. The 5700 was incredibly successful. AMD wanted to preserve that card for its performance and value. Thus, the 6700 name was taken. The 6800 model is a new model that sits BETWEEN where the 5700 and 5800 line had. If you recall, there was a MASSIVE performance gap between those lines, and AMD felt they should have something to bridge that gap.

    The new 6800 line bridges that gap. It offers NEAR 5800 power at a significant price reduction.

    And now ALL of the top tier cards are housed under the 6900 bracket, with the 6990 taking the dual GPU slot. If I had anything to complain about its the abandonment of the X2 designation on dual GPU cards.

    In fact, the only thing people should be angry about is the fact that the 6700 is virtually identical to the 5700 and offers little performance advantage. THAT is what is reminiscent of the 8800GT -> 9800GT transition. However, since the 5700 was a midrange product, maybe it received less attention than it should have.
  • DanaG - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Now, if the 6870 is what should've been a 6770, and a 6970 is what should've been a 6870... then what'll they call what should've been a 6970? 6-10-70 / 6ten70? 6X70? 6999? Or will they go to 6970 X2? Reply
  • spigzone - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    6990 ... yhat wasn't so hard now, was it? Reply
  • AMD_Pitbull - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    Gotta say, I agree 100%. I really don't understand why everyone is getting so bloody upset with this. New product, new line. You couldn't predict what was going to happen? Sorry. Companies like to keep people guessing.

    Also, if you really want to get technical, this 6870 DOES beat the 5870 if a few things as well. Overall greater effective product AND cheaper? Win in my books. Sorry QQ'ers.
  • dvijaydev46 - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    I tried converting a video file using my 5770 Hawk with MediaEspresso 6 (with hardware acceleration enabled of course), I wasn't impressed but Mediashow 5 properly utilized the GPU power and the speed difference in converting was clear. I'm not sure if there was a problem in the installation of my copy of MediaEspresso 6, but I think you guys can use Mediashow 5 to see if there is any difference in video conversion time with an AMD GPU as I don't have any other card. Reply

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