AMD Radeon HD 6870 & HD 6850 Review

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: October 20, 2010
Product Name: AMD Radeon HD 6870 / HD 6850
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AMD’s Current and Upcoming Lineup

With the addition of the HD 6800-series into AMD’s lineup, there are bound to be some toes stepped on in the name of progress. The Nothern Islands GPUs will eventually take over the entire top to bottom product stack but for the time being the HD 6870 will replace the HD 5850 while the HD 6850 will take over from the HD 5830.

As we discussed on the last page, even though the Cypress cards have the HD 6800 series beat in terms of SPs and texture units, the new cards have a number of optimizations built into their architecture which allow for higher performance per square millimeter. Another benefit of these smaller cores is their ability to pack more performance into less transistors which leads to an increase in performance per watt as well. Even the HD 6870 which operates at a blistering 900Mhz core / 1050Mhz (4.2Gbps) for memory clocks consumes a maximum of 151W.

When it comes to the actual cost of these new graphics cards, you can expect them to be priced according to their relative performance against the HD 5800 series as well as the competition’s products. That being said, we expect to see the HD 6870 going for around $250 USD while the HD 6850 should retail for somewhere in the neighborhood of $179 - $199.

The entire point on this exercise in affordable prices is to replicate the pricing structure of the HD 4800 series; in particular the HD 4980’s initial SRP of $230. This hit what AMD calls the “sweet spot” in the market and we have to agree with them. The HD 5770 toyed with this $100 gap when it was introduced at $160 and the HD 5850 narrowly missed it by a good $50 upon release. Ever since the HD 4800-series cards there really hasn’t been much ATI / AMD competition against NVIDIA between the $150 and $250 price points other than the HD 5830. Obviously, that’s about to change.

So why did AMD name these cards the HD 6800-series if the higher end Barts XT has its paper specifications manhandled by the HD 5850? For starters, the HD 5700 series of Juniper-based cards will be staying with us until at least Q1 2011, at which point they will likely be replaced if AMD sees the need. Allowing the Barts cards to carry the HD 6700 moniker while being sold alongside the HD 5770 and HD 5750 would have caused more confusion in what is already a market with far too many overlapping products. This move has also opened up AMD's lineup for additional SKUs in markets that have been historically ignored.

Believe it or not, Barts only represents a small piece of AMD’s pie over the next quarter or so since they will be introducing a whole range of products that cover literally every price point from $199 on up. November will see the release of the Cayman XT-based HD 6970 and Cayman Pro-based HD 6950 which have all of the features seen in Barts plus enhanced rendering scalability and off-chip buffering for DX11 applications. These will be the spiritual successors to the HD 5870 and HD 5850 and should go head to head with the higher end Fermi cards.

December will see the introduction of Antilles which is meant to be the lynchpin of AMD’s renewed assault on the DX11 market. The HD 6990 will bring untold performance to the table through the use of a pair of Cayman GPU cores and additional features we can’t divulge at this time.

Before the introduction of the HD 6870 (Barts XT) and the HD 6850 (Barts Pro), there was a yawning gap between AMD’s budget friendly HD 5770 and the decidedly higher performing HD 5850. This chasm was bridged for a time by the HD 5830 but it exhibited inconsistent performance and never really had a chance of competing against NVIDIA’s GTX 460. This resulted in the GF104 based card garnering a large following in a short time frame. Indeed, the entire reason behind AMD’s push to release the HD 6870 and HD 6850 prior to the higher end HD 6900 series is to quickly cut into NVIDIA’s dominance of this highly popular market.

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