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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  • spigzone - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Ryan - "It was made abundantly clear to us in the comments in our follow-up piece and in emails to us that you guys disapproved of our inclusion of non-reference cards in articles."

    Your statement utterly disingenuous = DISHONEST.

    It was crystal clear the howl that went up was specifically for using massively overclocked GTX460 cards in the FIRST REVIEW of the new AMD GPU series AND that it violated your own editorial policy on such 'first' reviews AND at that you didn't even include a Overdrive o/c'ed 6850/5870 for comparison.

    It was ALSO crystal clear the readers DO want non-reference and o/ced cards in FOLLOW UP articles.



    This is really disappointing.

    And VERY dishonest.
  • 7Enigma - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    While a little harsh, this is pretty much dead on (once you weeded through all the fan-boy posts that had no sane basis other than a love/hate for their particular brand).

    And as mentioned the fix for this is so simple it shouldn't take more than an hour to correct. Put the 460 FTW in the charts, mention the pricing is more than the 6850 variants and let the buyers decide.
  • mapesdhs - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Hear hear!

    The closing comment in the article is really dumb. Nobody in their right mind
    would buy a stock 460 1GB for reasons I posted about before (they're either
    more expensive than oc'd 460s, or not available at all - some sellers only
    sell oc'd versions; one seller's _cheapest_ 460 1GB has an 800 core!).

    So in the equivalent but opposite manner to the earlier article, readers are
    left with a misleading and inaccurate conclusion. That's a real shame. The
    earlier article was good because it showed how a real card that I could buy
    performed. This article gives no useful comparison info at all as that same
    card is left out, all because of a bunch of moaners. While I didn't agree with
    those who opposed the inclusion of the FTW in the earlier article, the strong
    sense from all of them was that they thought such cards *should* be included
    in this kind of article. Oh dear...

    This is like watching a pilot sheer a plane left/right too hard in turbulence -
    no sensible middle course adopted, so the tail fin falls off. What some
    perceived as an earlier mistake has merely been made worse.

  • tomoyo - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I don't think there's any dishonesty here at all. While I just mentioned that Ryan did make mistakes, I think they were 100% honest mistakes. His goal is to satisfy the readers. I think the effort is there, but in this case, the way it was handled was incorrect. It's pretty ugly to accuse someone of dishonesty without any reason to.
  • Ramon Zarat - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I didn’t read the whole 5 pages of comments, I didn’t need to.

    The very first comment and the subsequent “attempts” to address it was more than enough for me and unfortunately, even reinforced the impression of partiality toward Nvidia many noticed in the first article.

    This second article was the perfect opportunity to set the record straight and prove once and for all the 6850 is indeed a better buy over the 460, even a cherry picked and overclocked to death one. Pitting them one against the other was the thing to do, but no, Anand didn’t. Asking why he didn’t is kind of answering the question.

    The reality is those 6850 can all hit 1Ghz on air with the help of a slight voltage adjustment. Most reach 950Mhz at stock voltage. Some even report near 1.1Ghz stable, still with air cooling, but at 1.3V. The 460 can do 850Mhz on air under the best of circumstances, period.

    What we all want to see is an overclocked to death 460 against an overclocked to death 6850. Ask both Nvidia and AMD to send you the best of their respective sample and let see what a 460 at 850Mhz can do against a 6850 at over 1Ghz… If we are to accept bogus cherry picked sample, and we all know the limited 850Mhz edition are just that: super top cream golden cherry not representative of the vast majority of 460 GPU, lets assume ourselves entirely.

    Give us the power and thermal at those speeds. Also do a SLI VS CF at those settings.
    Again, we all know the answer: The 6850 destroys the 460 on power, speed, scalability and price ratio when apple to apple protocol is applied.. For some reason, this web site doesn’t want you, the reader, to know about it.

  • El_Capitan - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Really, read the 5 pages of comments. Maybe you can also stop speaking out of your ass.

    Listen, it's fine if the HD 6850 overclocks like a monster and there's results to prove it, but don't belittle the GTX 460 1GB with bogus claims. Why don't you provide us with some proof? Obviously AnandTech can't provide it, but you know how to Google, right?
  • 7Enigma - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I spent a bit of time over my lunch break to compare the Asus OC 6850 card in this review and the FTW 460 in the previous review. I put together a table in Excel but will have to summarize since this comment system is so archaic.

    I chose the Asus for 2 reasons: it was the top pic in this roundup due to power draw and noise and could OC to the same levels at 1.172, and it has such a low OC that at "stock" OC it is basically a reference 6850.

    Here is my summary:

    -At STOCK OC the Asus is 13-24% slower than the 460 FTW (10%, 13%, 24%, 13%, and 17% for Crysis, Battleforge, Civ 5, BC2, and ME2 respectively)

    -At 940MHz core only CIV 5 has a significant win for the 460 FTW (16%), the other games are a wash (-2 to 2%)

    -Idle power consumption is equal (I had to use the reference 6850 from the previous article since it is not in this OC article but they should be within a watt or two)

    -Load power consumption in Crysis is 13.5% lower with the Asus as compared to the 460FTW (269w vs. 311w)

    -Load power consumption in Furmark is 18.4% lower with the Asus as compared to the 460FTW (292w vs. 358w)

    -Idle noise levels are equal (again had to base this off of the previous article at reference clocks so could be slightly higher at idle but not likely)

    -Load noise levels are 3.5dB higher with the Asus as compared to the 460FTW (that IS significant as 3 dB is a doubling in sound pressure)

    So here's my recommendations:

    If you care only about performance the 940MHz OC'd Asus is tough to argue against. It's cheaper and behaves almost exactly like a 460FTW in the games tested except for CIV 5 where it is 16% slower at 1920X1200 resolution (both still very playable at 35.5fps and 42.2fps)

    If you care about power consumption the 940MHz OC'd Asus uses significantly lower power (13.5-18.5% less, 40-60w less)

    If you care about noise level the 940MHz OC'd Asus is significantly louder than the 460 FTW (3.5dB higher).

    If you do not want to OC these cards and use them strictly at their "stock" OC speeds the 460FTW is in a different class (both price and performance). The upgrade is worth it.

    So basically the only situation I would recommend the 460FTW over one of these 6850 OC cards (knowing that they *should* OC to 940MHz core, 1150MHz ram) is if the user does not plan to OC the card. And for that reason I definitely think the 460 FTW should have been compared in this review of aftermarket OC cards as it significantly changes the conclusion of the previous article.

    Sorry for the long rant.....
  • spigzone - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Long post maybe, but that was the opposite of a rant.

    Thanks for taking the time to lay out the hard numbers on this.
  • El_Capitan - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Yup, same sentiments.
  • SunLord - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I've yet to find a single 6850 that has two mini display port since launch and I highly doubt that they exist in the US if at all outside of the AMD branded reference card.

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