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

  • Goty - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Other reviews show 6850s hitting 1GHz+ with software voltage modification, so I don't think that will be an issue. Reply
  • karlostomy - Monday, October 25, 2010 - link

    The question then is, why did anandtech choose to include the EVGA card that NVIDIA no doubt hand picked and delivered?

    Including the OC 460 card is one thing, but at the very least some 'attempt' at oc'ing the 6850 would have retained a semblance of reviewer impartiality.
  • wyvernknight - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    According to this article i just read it can do 6 way eyefinity.

    The diagram is close to the bottom.
  • notty22 - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    The reviewer addressed why the 460 o/c was included. Owners/gamers are reporting the ability to clock their 460's to the 810,820,850 mhz the clocks various "special" models come @ with stock voltage. I agree , its more of why did Nvidia do this ? Imho, it was to position the card without competing/obsoleting the gtx 465/470. Now that Nvidia has lowered the prices, and the good price point the new AMD cards launched with, this is a exciting time for the gamer.
    Now lets get some new, more powerful dx11 games !
    Thanx for the COMPLETE review !
  • Kyanzes - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I could have sworn that AvP had been mentioned as a future standard test game on Anandtech. I could be wrong ofc. Reply
  • 3DVagabond - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    I'm really surprised you went along with using the EVGA (OC) card nVidia sent you. They sent you what is commonly referred to as "a ringer", and you went along. You should have used the stock 460 (both models) and a stock 470, IMO. Why let nVidia name the conditions? They are obviously going to do everything they can to tilt the playing field. Was there anything else they wanted that you did for them? Reply
  • AnandThenMan - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Well in the article, they basically admitted to "caving in" to Nvidia by including the overclocked card. Obviously Nvidia was very keen to have a specific card included, seems dubious.

    "However with the 6800 launch NVIDIA is pushing the overclocked GTX 460 option far harder than we’ve seen them push overclocked cards in the past –we had an EVGA GTX 460 1GB FTW on our doorstep before we were even back from Los Angeles."

    I mean stating, "a matter of editorial policy" then ignoring that policy outright seems pretty sketchy to me. Like you said, makes one question the results in general.
  • DominionSeraph - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    If AMD's official segmentation strategy were to put a factory overclocked 6870 against the GTX 470, what would be the issue with AnandTech comparing the two? Granted, it doesn't mean much to enthusiasts who would just buy a stocker and overclock it to pocket the price differential, but I'd wager a card bought by your average idiot buying off the shelves of Best Buy isn't going to see anything other than the factory clocks. Reply
  • bji - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Actually the people overclocking their video cards and then dealing with overheating and loud-as-an-aircraft-engine fan noise are the idiots.

    Just thought that if you were going to go around saying disparaging things about people who have different values than you do, that you might appreciate some of the same.
  • spigzone - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    Maybe if you had dropped testing the FTW 460 for the time being, saving it for your 'overview' test next week, you would have had enough time to release a fully fleshed out and organized review instead of letting Nvidia jerk you around, compromising your own 'editorial policy' on only using stock cards in the initial review and saving you the time and trouble of coming up with lame @$$ rationalizations. Reply

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