Final Words

Going in to our first meeting with AMD, we weren’t quite sure what to expect with the Radeon HD 6800 series. After all, how do you follow up on the blockbuster that was Cypress and the Radeon HD 5800 series?

The answer is that you don’t, at least not right away. With AMD’s choice of names in mind, Barts and the 6800 series isn’t the true successor to Cypress; but it is the next generation of Radeon for another market. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great product line though – in fact that’s far from it.

The 6800 series hits the one market segment that AMD couldn’t reach with either the 5800 series or the 5700 series: the $200 market.  As we said back in July when we crowned the GTX 460 the $200 king, the most successful chips are those chips that are designed from the get-go for the market they’re being sold in. The GTX 460 succeeded where the Cypress could not, as the penalty for using a harvested Cypress chip for that market was too severe and AMD had little else to work with.

Now 3 months later AMD has their appropriate answer to the $200 market in the form of Barts and the Radeon HD 6800 series. The Barts GPU is small enough to cheaply produce for that market, and with AMD’s rebalanced design it’s capable of trailing the 5800 series by only 7%, making Cypress-like performance available for prices lower than before. It’s the missing link that AMD has needed to be competitive with the GTX 460.

As a result, even with NVIDIA’s latest round of price drops AMD has managed to dethrone the $200 king, and in the process is reshaping the competitive market only recently established by the GTX 460. With AMD and NVIDIA’s price stratification there are very few head-to-head matchups, but there are a few different situations that bear looking at.

At the top end we have the Mexican standoff between the recently price-reduced GTX 470, the newly released Radeon HD 6870, and the overclocked GTX 460 as represented by the EVGA GTX 460 1GB FTW. At $260 the GTX 470 is several percent faster than the 6870, and at only $20 more NVIDIA has done a good job pricing the card. If performance is your sole concern, than the GTX 470 is hard to beat at those prices – though we suspect NVIDIA isn’t happy about selling GF100 cards at such a low price.

Meanwhile if you care about a balance of performance and power/heat/noise, then it’s the 6870 versus the EVGA GTX 460; and the EVGA card wins in an unfair fight. As an overclocked card in a launch card article we’re not going to give it a nod, but we’re not going to ignore it; it’s 5% faster than the reference 6870 while at the same time it’s cooler and quieter (thanks in large part to the fact that it’s an open-air design). At least as long as it’s on the market (we have our doubts about how many suitable GPUs NVIDIA can produce), it’s hard to pass up even when faced with the 6870.

Without the EVGA card in the picture though, the 6870 is clearly sitting at a sweet spot in terms of price, performance, and noise. It’s faster than the 5850 while drawing only as much power and yet it’s still slightly quieter. Meanwhile it completely clobbers the reference clocked GTX 460 1GB in gaming performance, although with NVIDIA’s new prices and the $30 premium we would hope that this is the case. If nothing else the 6870 wins by default – NVIDIA doesn’t have a real product to put against it.

As for the Radeon HD 6850 however, things are much more lopsided in AMD’s favor. It’s give and take depending on the benchmark, but ultimately it’s just as fast as the GTX 460 1GB on average, even though it’s officially $20 cheaper. And at the same time it draws less power and produces less noise than the GTX 460 1GB. In fact unless the GTX 460 1GB was cheaper than the 6850, we really can’t come up with a reason to buy it. For all the advantage of an overclock when going up against the 6870, the stock clocked card has nothing on the 6850. Even the GTX 460 768MB, while $10-$20 cheaper than the 6850, still has to contend with the fact that the 6850 is almost 10% faster and only marginally louder.

In fact our only real concern is that while the reference 6850 is a great card, the XFX card is less so – XFX heavily prioritized temperatures over noise, and while this pays off with a load temperate even better than the GTX 460, it comes at the price of noise levels exceeding even the 6870. Shortly before publication we got a note from XFX that they’re going to work on releasing a BIOS with a less aggressive fan, which hopefully should resolve the issue. In the meantime we suggest checking back here next week, as we’ll have several custom 6850s arriving next week that we’ll be reviewing as part of a 6850 roundup.

Wrapping things up, we believe this will probably go down as being the most competitive card launch of the year. AMD and NVIDIA reposition themselves against each other with every launch, but by first launching the Radeon HD 6000 series against NVIDIA’s mid-to-high range GTX 460, AMD has gone head-first in to one of NVIDIA’s most prized markets, and NVIDIA is pushing right back. If you would have told us 3 months ago that we would have been able to get GTX 460 1GB performance for $180 only a couple months later, we likely would have called you mad, and yet here we are. The competitive market is alive and then some.

Ultimately this probably won’t go down in history as one of AMD’s strongest launches – there’s only so much you can do without a die shrink – but it’s still a welcome addition to the Radeon family. With a new generation of Radeon cards taking their foothold, we now can turn our eyes towards the future, and to see what AMD will be bringing us with the Radeon HD 6900 series and the Cayman GPU.

Power, Temperature, & Noise


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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