AMD Radeon HD 6850 Overclocking Roundup: Asus, XFX, & MSIby Ryan Smith on November 8, 2010 12:40 AM EST
As this is a two-sided article, there are two things we’d like to touch on: Radeon HD 6850 overclocking in general, and how well the cards in today’s roundup stack up.
We’ll start with 6850 overclocking in general. While we only use a subset of our most performance-hungry games in overclocking testing, it’s clear that 6850 overclocking isn’t going to be a simple case of overclocking the core first, and getting what you can out of the memory second. In fact it looks to be the opposite: the 6850’s big performance pickup from overclocking is due to the memory overclock first, then the core overclock. As a result we’re less concerned with core overclocking (and overvolting) as we are with memory overclocking. Overclocking both is going to be necessary to compete with the 6870 in shader-bound games, but even the memory overclock alone can be quite potent. AMD’s Overdrive limits don’t look so bad in this respect, and based on our 4 cards 850/1150 is probably attainable on most cards.
On this note, it’s interesting that the only card in our roundup with a significant factory overclock, the MSI R6850 OC, had a much bigger memory overclock than a core overclock. We normally don’t put much thought in to how partners choose their overclocks beyond choosing things that bin in large enough numbers, but this certainly grabs our attention. Perhaps MSI has realized the same thing we have?
This brings us to the second half of our article: the 6850 roundup. Balance is usually the key to a good card, and in the mainstream market this is even more important. So among the 3 cards in our roundup it catches us off-guard to see that only 1 of the cards is really balanced: the Asus EAH6850. While the XFX Radeon HD 6850 has excellent cooling, it’s much too aggressive in our tests; lower temperatures don’t do anything on their own, we’re only concerned about them to the point that they’re low enough that we need not be concerned with the lifespan of a card. Meanwhile the MSI R6850 OC is just all-around worse, which while explainable at stock speeds due to its overclock, is hard to explain when we normalize clocks and voltages at 1.172v, 940/1150. There’s always something to be said for the benefits of a factory overclock, but compared to the Asus card it seems like there’s a lot to give up to get there.
And that leaves us with the Asus EAH6850. Asus’s design philosophy is normally what we’d call “aggressive”, as we have seen a number of their cards that trade temperature for noise, similar to the XFX. But this isn’t the case for the EAH6850 – it’s as balanced a card as we could ask for. It does well enough at cooling while approaching whisper-quiet noise levels, and even overclocked it manages to keep the 6850 in check without getting too loud or drawing more power than is necessary. At 9.5” long Asus did have to make some kind of tradeoff, but unless you have an extremely cramped case it’s definitely a reasonable tradeoff. Ignore the ridiculous token overclock, and you have the Radeon HD 6850 that not only stands above all others, but can more than give the GTX 460 1GB a solid kick to the curb.