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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  • Mr Perfect - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    AT normally tears the cooler off to examine the card, and then dissects the cooler itself too. Neither 6800 article has done this though. It should be an even bigger priority when we're comparing non reference cards that are competing purely on their unique designs. Are these cards on loan? Do they have to be returned in the same condition they where received? If so, I say just ship them back without reviewing them. :P

    I just came from XBitLabs, where they did a proper teardown of both a stock 6850 and 6870, and that Asus card looks a lot like the stock 6870 board. It has the two top mounted PCIe power connectors, and the VRMs appear to be between the GPU and IO ports. I would not be surprised if it really was a 6870 PCB. Check it out!
  • khimera2000 - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I appreciate the review, it looks alot less of a hot article as the last one, and its clear that a good amount of effert went into this article just by the comments AT left, and the way the article was written.

    I was also wondering when will the review of the higher end 6xxx card be availabe?
  • Cali3350 - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    A lot of Doom and Gloom here about the OC cards. Let me try and tell you, Ryan and Anand, what I think the people want as a majority:

    1. Never use OC'd cards in a initial review. Ever. You guys, quite frankly, should have known this and the flak you are getting for using it is deserved imo. Nvidia conned you guys into making their cards unfairly better than the competition in the main review article of a major launch and you fell for it. That article will likely get much more readership than any roundup, and is likely to be looked up in higher numbers down the line. You played that one like a PR branch of Nvidia and you made people angry (imo rightly so). Dont ever do this again. Do not review anything but stock clocks in your GTX 580 review tommorow, and dont you dare use a overclocked anything in your upcoming Cayman review either.

    2. Always use OC'd cards in your comparisons. This a COMPARISON article of AIB's and the products they are offering. Ofcourse we want to see how a overclocked 460 compares to a overclocked 6850, this is the article where we go over what is out there in the retail market, not what is officially supplied by the creators. This article loses a lot of value without a 460 OC'd in it.

    Launch articles = what we are getting from the creators of the product.

    Comparison articles = what we are buying in the real world.

    I love this site, and I do not think your biased, but I wont defend you over the 68XX review either.
  • AnandThenMan - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I agree with what you are saying here. The problem is, the genie is out of the bottle. Anandtech should not let the 68xx review stand as is, the FTW results should be removed, and all references to it. And if that is not done, then overclocked AMD cards must be included in all future reviews, no exceptions. In fact, Anandtech should accept a hand picked, delivered to their door card from AMD.

    If neither are done, then I would question all results published here, there is a credibility problem to say the least. You can't start picking and choosing how reviews are done depending on the hardware. That is exactly why policies are in place. Sadly that policy was ignored.
  • Jamahl - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - link


    Ryan Smith and Anand deserve the fallout over this. They brought it on themselves as does any site that shifted their goalposts in the past few weeks.
  • Dwebtron - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I'm super interested in this one, as I'm holding on to mine... but it never appears in the charts?
  • RaptorTek - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Its really the immature fanboys that cant handle seeing their company/card lose that make a stink about including the FTW OC cards in the mix. It makes them feel insecure about themselves and their decisions on being a fanboy for which they decided to spend their hard earned money on. When it comes down to it, the more data we have available the better the decisions we can make on what really is the best hardware for the price. Having the FTW 460 1gb in the stock 6850/6870 article was good since it showed what the contending cards possibilities were. Including the FTW 460 1gb in this OC article would of been even more relevant for side by side comparisons. I would hope Anandtech can see that even if some of "the readers" complain about these things, its really for the best in the logical comparison of these cards.
  • El_Capitan - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Indeed. Why would any logical person WANT LESS data?

    Fanboy: My HD 6850 that I bought for $189.99 is better than a stock GTX 460 1GB you purchased for $239.99, and overclocks higher!

    Realist: I bought by GTX 460 1GB for $189.99 and it overclocks to 1015MHz without unlocking the voltage, what are you talking about?

    Fanboy: AnandTech doesn't show that, so it's not relevant!

    Realist: You're retarded.

    Fanboy: You're an Nvidia fanboy!

    Realist: I also own a HD 5870 2GB that I bought for $250.

    Fanboy: Yeah, right, whatever!

    Realist: ...

    Fanboy: Stupid fanboys, they think they know everything.

    Realist: :Facepalm:
  • AnandThenMan - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    You both completely missed the point, and sounded childish and fanboy-ish in the process.
  • jsrivo - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    From what I've read, the OCed cards are reaching 800-900MHz on average, and claiming that 1015MHz is realistic for most buyers is a bit fanboyish, in my opinion.

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