From a variety perspective, the Radeon HD 6800 series is certainly the most interesting Radeon *800 series launches in recent history. AMD typically launches with (and only with) reference cards, and then in time partner-customized cards show up as AMD approves the designs and partners have the time to do the engineering legwork to make custom cards. In the case of the 5800 series this was a particularly long period of time, as TSMC’s production shortage meant that AMD was intentionally shipping out reference cards as fast as humanly possible; and as a result we didn’t see our first custom 5800 series card until 6 months later in February of 2010. It was a much more controlled launch than normal for AMD.

The 6800 series on the other hand turns that on its head, giving us a much more liberal launch when it comes to card designs. While the 6870 series launched and is still all-reference, the 6850 is the opposite, having launched with a number of custom designs. In fact you won’t find a reference 6850 in North America unless you’re a hardware reviewer. With an all-custom launch the door is opened to a wide variety of cards with a wide variety of performance characteristics, so we have wasted no time in collecting a few cards to see what they’re capable of – after all we’ve seen what the non-existent reference card can do, but how about the cards you can actually buy? And how about overclocking, do the latest 6850 cards continue the tradition of the *850 being strong overclockers? Today we’re going to answer all of that and more.

  AMD Radeon HD 6850 XFX Radeon HD 6850 MSI R6850 OC Asus EAH6850
Stream Processors 960 960 960 960
Texture Units 48 48 48 48
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 775MHz 775MHz 820MHz 790MHz
Memory Clock 1GHz (4GHz effective) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz effective) GDDR5 1.1GHz (4.4GHz effective) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz effective) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
FP64 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Transistor Count 1.7B 1.7B 1.7B 1.7B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $179 ~$189 ~$199 ~$185

The first wave of 6850 cards launching were stock-clocked cards. Our intention had been to grab all stock-clocked cards, but manufacturers have been racing to get factory overclocked cards out the door, and we ended up with 2 overclocked cards after all: the Asus with a token 15MHz core overclock, and the MSI with a more serious 45MHz core and 120MHz(480MHz effective) memory overclock. Expect to see many more overclocked cards soon, as manufacturers are eager to get their more profitable overclocked cards out, typically rolling them out along with additional levels of customization such as custom PCBs.

As we’ll see in our performance results, it’s interesting to note that while no two cards are alike in terms of temperature and acoustics, the resulting overclocks were all highly similar. At stock voltage all of our cards could hit at least 850MHz core, and with 6870 voltages (1.172v), all of them hit 940MHz. At even higher voltages such as 1.22v we’re able to push a couple of these cards up to 960MHz core, but it looks like 940-950MHz is the sweet-spot for the 6850 based on the results we’re seeing today. Meanwhile the memory hits a solid wall at 1150MHz (4.6GHz effective); none of our cards would do 1200Mhz (4.8GHz effective) which makes sense given that AMD purposely used a slower memory controller as a tradeoff for a smaller die.

It’s also interesting to note that while the load voltage on our reference 6850 was 1.094v, all of our cards here today (even the non-overclocked XFX) feature a higher voltage of 1.148v. At this point we’re still trying to get to the bottom of this, as AMD hasn’t been able to get back to us with a reason for why we’re seeing this discrepancy. The load voltage is a significant factor for the amount of power drawn (and heat generated) by cards, which means none of our partner 6850s have been able to match the reference 6850 in this aspect. We’re trying to make sure that 1.094v is indeed the 6850’s stock load voltage, or if we need to revise our previous results.

In any case, today we’ll be looking at 3 partner cards alongside our reference 6850: the XFX Radeon HD 6850 (HD-685X-ZNFC), the Asus EAH6850, and the MSI R6850 OC. This represents a diverse group of cards, ranging from short & stubby cards to longer cards with custom PCBs, and everything in between.

Meet The XFX Radeon HD 6850
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  • JPForums - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    The EVGA GTX460 FTW used in the previous article can be found at newegg for $229.99/$239.99 (less $10 if you rely on MIRs).
    The cards in this article can be found at newegg for $184.99/$189.99.
    Ignoring all the flak anandtech took for including the FTW card in the first place, you are still talking two different price categories.

    While I'm in favor of comparing of including OC competition in an OC review, it isn't an absolute necessity.
    Further, it would be irresponsible to compare cards in different price categories.
    Given the variation in price from these OC units and how much they fluctuate, its near impossible to keep such an OC comparison relevant for long enough to be useful.
    As such, I don't mind the lack of OC competition.
    In fact, I think Ryan did a great job by focusing heavily on the AMD to AMD (6850 OC vs 6870 stock) comparison.
    As long as the same rules apply when nVidia's new cards (stock and OC) come out, I see nothing to complain about.
  • 7Enigma - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I disagree. Very few people are hard-capped at exactly X dollars. If I see that $20 more buys me 20% more performance I may just decide to shell out a bit extra coin. Taking this a step further, what is the point in including the GTX480? It's not even close to being in the same price category. It's used as a metric to show just what higher-end cards can do, and allows for the reader to quickly judge how long a past top-of-the-line part still has life before contemplating replacement with a middle-tier part.

    Personally to prevent muddying the charts I think one step above and below the price category (say +/- $50-75 for low/mid-range parts) is really all that is needed, but that SHOULD include the FTW. It's up to the reader to decide if the extra money, heat, noise, etc. is worth it for better performance. I do have to admit though that I like comparing my aging 4870 to the competition and it was nice to see it displayed in this review to remind me of the performance increase I could be seeing on my gaming system (currently game at 19" LCD so it's tough to justify as everything still plays great at that low resolution).
  • totenkopf - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    7Enigma, read the title. If you are concerned with relative performance at given price points for the purpose of informed shopping, seek out articles similar to 'best graphics cards for the money' articles like Tom's runs. Also, criticizing their decision to include the 480 because of price seems irrelevant, they are measuring the performance of various 6850's as per the title, the rest of the cards are just simple reference.

    In this case, an additional $75 dollars represents around 40% of these cards initial cost. That's a pretty big extra expense. If i were in the market for a $20,000 car, I wouldn't see myself casually spending an extra $8,000 to take advantage of a deal. Presumably, this article is aimed at readers who already have decided on the 6850 and want to know more about those particular cards, not readers shopping different price points.

    If Nvidia feels the OCed 460 is a better representation of that model, then they should respec the 460 at those speeds (i.e. GTX465). Until then, respect ATs decidion to leave out non-reference boards unless they are particularly relevant to the article (GTX 460 roundup). For reviews to remain relevant they must measure the nominal performance of specific models so average readers don't get confused/misled; people like you are already very well informed about the ever changing GPU market.
  • Willhouse - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    I would also like to see an overclocking comparison between Nvidia and AMD. I reveiewed the article here:

    The nvidia cards are behind by ~6 fps in crysis and more or less equal on Bad Company 2. That appears to be the only apples to apples games comparison.

    However, there is a key difference. No attempt was made to overclock the Nvidia memory, which you claim is key in the AMD article. I'm no expert, so maybe nvidia memory doesn't overclock well and the comparison is fair. However, there does not appear to be an apples to apples comparison in the recent AMD article, and I think this is worth a revisit.
  • Willhouse - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    Oops, sorry. I re-read the 6850/70 launch article and the GTX460 FTW performance is a pretty fair comparison (the memory was overclocked somewhat) to the cards from this article. Its omission from this article is strange to me though.
  • blandead - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    why would the gtx460 ftw it has nothing to do with this, go cry a river.

    its about 3 overclocked cards and reference others. not super super overclocked 460 ftw which is a competitor to 6870 in first place. so yea go look if you want.
  • vedye - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    The damage to Anandtech's image is already done. Before I easily trust every words it says. Now I look at these articles with grins of salt. It's a commercial website after all. Just read it as a joke.
  • Minion4Hire - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link


    Are you kidding? You're kidding, right?

    Anandtech is a site that gives a shit about its readers. They respond very well to feedback and always try to do well by their audience. You have literally NO clue about what this site is about and what they have done over the years.

    This supposed OC 460 debacle is a joke. I read the original article without the slightest problem with it and was entirely surprised when a bunch of oversensitive people got all butt hurt over nothing. What's wrong with comparing any given card(s) at any given price point(s)? The data speaks for itself. EVGA managed to offer one very competitive GTX 460. Kudos to them. I really don't care where or how Anandtech sourced said 460, they were able to include it in the article and that's awesome. The more data the better.

    Seriously, Ryan, Anand, just do your thing. Don't worry about offending anyone and don't hold back. You guys serve up great content, and have consistently done so for some time now. I and many others look forward to the rest of your Barts coverage as the other 6000-series products trickle their way into the market.
  • vedye - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    This "supposed OC 460 debacle" is a joke to you because you are a NV fan. I am using a GTX480 but I'm disgusted by NV's PR actions.

    Did NV PR called Anandtech asking him to include an OC 460? Yes he did. And he included a limited edition that has the highest OC percentage. No matter what you say.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    Limited edition? Is that why it has been for sale, in stock, ever since the article came out??

    The debacle was a complete joke. As if it shouldn't be allowed to compare a product with "OC" in the model number, because model numbers really mean so much.

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