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

  • 529th - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    the marketers wanted to differentiate themselves from Nvidia, that's why they are using their second place cards to be in the same category as nvidias second place cards

    If you are shopping for a top of the line card you should know atleast a little bit about them although the un-educated video-card shopper would think that a 470 and 5870 or 6870 is on the SAME performance level, WHICH ISN'T TOO FAR FROM THE TRUTH, but I think it's here where AMD marketers are trying to make a statement

    i could be wrong, i have had very little sleep last night, cedar point was a blast!
  • SininStyle - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    Can I just say THANK YOU for adding a OC edition of the 460. Don't know why everyone is whining. If you don't want to know how an OC edition compares then ignore the stupid bench for it. Why is such a huge deal?
    I personally am glad they included it and this is why. The 460 1gb stock is 675mhz and can OC "reliably" to 850mhz.. That's 175mhz gain and its noticeable. Stock volt stock fan. And for those that wanna claim heat, mine shows 64c at 75% fan on OCCT. The 6870 get 50hz OC at stock volt/fan. SEE why this is important people? $180 vs $240 with same results.

    Now with volt changes I'm sure they both have room to go I'm not sure how much. I tend to shy away from higher voltages at least for now.

    The 6850 is the better buy between the 2 68xx cards. That has allot of headroom to OC. That would even be a better comparison to the 460 due to the price. And owning the 460 doesn't make me a fanboy and I will say you can flip a coin for value on these 2.

    So again thanks for the added information. Cant see why anyone would complain about more info. If you don't like the info ignore it if it makes you feel better. Feel free to add OCed 6850s and 6870s I look forward to the comparison.
  • Parhel - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    "The 460 1gb stock is 675mhz and can OC "reliably" to 850mhz"

    No, it absolutely cannot. the FTW card is a "golden sample" which is why there are so few available. Stock cooling on a stock card will not get you to 850Mhz with 24/7 reliability. You *might* get to 800Mhz, probably a bit less. That's a great value, IMO. If I were in the market at the moment, I'd pick a base model GTX 460 and OC it. Not arguing that point at all. But presenting this card in the 6870 launch article is a sham and major black eye to Anandtech's credibility.
  • rom0n - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    Is it possible to post the GPUZ of the HD6850. It seems there are numerous cases where HD6850 has 1120 sent out to reviewers. See If this happens to be one of them the results may be a little misleading. If not then it'll reaffirm the results.
  • GullLars - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    This means a 6870 with open-air fan optimized for noise will be my early winter solstice present for myself, togheter with the 4x C300 64GB i just got :D
    I went for a value-upgrade of my old rigg with P2x6 1090T, 8GB kingston value DDR3, and AM3 mobo with SB850, so once i get both the SSD in RAID-0 and the GPU, I'll be a happy camper (or rusher) <3
    It'll tide me over untill i can get Bulldozer or a next gen Intel (high end/workstation) around winter 2011/2012.
  • poohbear - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    "Apparently a small number of the AMD Radeon HD 6850 press samples shipped from AIB partners have a higher-than-expected number of stream processors enabled.

    This is because some AIBs used early engineering ASICs intended for board validation on their press samples. The use of these ASICs results in the incorrect number of stream processors. If you have an HD 6850 board sample from an AIB, please test using a utility such as GPU-z to determine the number of active stream processors. If that number is greater than 960, please contact us and we will work to have your board replaced with a production-level sample.

    All boards available in the market, as well as AMD-supplied media samples, have production-level GPUs with the correct 960 stream processors."

    so which one did Anandtech get? false marketing is such BS, just wanna be sure your benchmarks for the 6850 are reliable and we're not getting overrated benchmarks due to a cherry picked review sample.
  • lakrids - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - link

    The review ended up looking like an advertisement for EVGA at page 7 and beyond. Why EVGA? Why not some other brand?
    Why include that brand at all? Just mark the card "GTX 460 OC'd 850MHz".

    At the very first benchmark: Crysis 2560x1600, you didn't include the reference GTX 460, you pitched the HD6870 against the EVGA overclocked version. EVGA here, EVGA there, EVGA everywhere.

    Would you blame me if I suspect you of being on EVGA's paycheck?
  • Lolimaster - Sunday, October 24, 2010 - link

    When I call you a Intel/Nvidia biased site I'm saying the truth. Are you reviewing the HD6000 or doins an EVGA product reviews.

    This is an insult.

    Nvidia will disappear like the dodo, just a bit more time and at that time all this sh1t will end.
  • SininStyle - Sunday, October 24, 2010 - link

    You do understand if Nvidia vanishes the price of GPUs goes through the roof right? Nvidia isnt going to vanish any earlier then Radeon. Saying either just translates into "Im a fanboy"

    Stop defending a sticker and start shopping price performance. Neither company would hesitate to rape your wallet if the other would allow it. Case in point look at the price of the 57xx and 58xx 2 months ago. Then look at the price of the same cards including the 68xx cards now. Any of these cards perform less then they did 2 months ago? But the price is a whole lot cheaper isnt it? Well you can thank the 460 for that. Competition results in better pricing for the same performance. You should be thanking Nvidia not hating them.
  • Super_Herb - Sunday, October 24, 2010 - link

    I love it - "as a matter of policy we do not include overclocked cards on general reviews"..........but this time nVidia said pretty please so we did. But because our strict ethical policy doesn't allow us to include them we'll just tell you we did it this one special time because a manufacturer specifically sent us a special card and then our integrity is still 100% intact......right? Besides, the "special" card nVidia sent us was so shiny and pretty!

    Back to [H]ard to get the real story.

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