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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  • Etern205 - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    XFX cost $10 bucks more and has the exact same spec as the reference.
    Where does that $10 go to? To that "XFX" cut out on the I/O plate?

    All of them went and have gone with a single standard display port, rather than the 2x mini DP, thus you can only have 3 monitors rather than 6 in Eyefinity mode.
  • Etern205 - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Disregard the 2nd complaint, looks like the HD6850 do not have 2x mini DP, except for the reference card in the press shots
  • tigersty1e - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I think everybody was mad about the other article because it was pinning a stock ATI card with an OC'd Nvidia card.

    When you bring in an article about OC'd ATI cards, I want to see the competition's OC'd cards.
  • totenkopf - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I only now checked the prices...

    Is this a joke? What is all the fuss about the GTX460 FTW? It's the same price as a stock 5850 or 6870 and ~same performance. If you were a rational human wouldn't you buy either of those AMD cards and just OC them to the gills like the FTW... but smoke the crap out of it? more importantly, why are people up in arms about including it in this review when it isn't even supposed to compete with the 6850? It's a bad buy any way you slice it it seems.
  • Quidam67 - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    This drama about the GTX460, in relation to *this* article is out of hand.

    Frist off, the evga 460 FTW card is a Factory overclock, but this article is about the custom overclocking potential of the HD6850 cards.

    So if they were going to include GTX460 cards, it is irrelevent what the stock clock is. What is relevent is, after being custom overclocked, which card comes out first?

    Along those lines, most people already acknowledge that this sort of comparrison is best saved for the HD6870 cards where overclocked GTX460's are more likely to meet their match.

    Although I did not agree with AT's choice to include the evga GTX460 FTW in the HD 6850/70 launch article, I fail to see how they have done anything wrong with this piece. Perhaps you just need to wait for the right article to come out -so here's a suggestion, why don't you just ask for it, without hurling insults?

    Lastly, I think this forum (sadly) needs moderation. Some of the behaviour here is not of an acceptable standard, and dilutes the many quality posts that are made by people of a more rational and civil nature.
  • vedye - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    It's called credibility crisis. I just have a different feel to the Anandtech website now.
  • Andyburgos - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    (Takes a long breath, and warns about a long post)

    Hello everyone, and specially to the AnandTech staff.

    This is my first post, for I have created an account specially for this "overclocked cards or not?" affaire; I´m late to the party, and that´s because my opinion is maybe very different to what I have seen until now, and I wouldn´t like to upset anyone.

    I´m 21 years old, I work with computer hardware since I was 14, and not even living on the other side of the world (Argentina) has changed the fact that AnandTech is and was so important for my computer life as my first Athlon XP, my first 64-bit OS install or my first dual core processor. AT and the now derailed Tom´s Hardware were, back in the early 2000s, my main source of information, and the great articles on those pages helped me understand many things about computer hardware and software. Anand is GIFTED at explaining things, and I have yet to find one of his articles being boring; and the new reviewers, a bit unpolished at first and way improved now, are doing great and they provide new points of view: they make AT a more complete site.

    The fact that I live in Argentina and yet AT is my primary site for hardware information is a testament to the fact that I find them completely unbiased and absolutely professional in their reviews. In my country, while there are a couple of good publications about computer science, we are very far from this great standards.

    However, and with the most absolute respect, I think you need to review some of your reviewing standards. The staff has grown, and along the new points of view have come very different article layouts, wich make them a bit "harder" to read; the video card market has changed a lot in the last five or so generations, and you need to think about what to do with factory overclocked cards, as this case; processors have also changed a lot, and even Turbo results are worth discussing (i.e., what role plays thermal throthling in Intel and AMD processors and how does that affect performance instead of providing absolute numbers). As a loyal reader, wich has read every single hardware article from 2003 to now, I feel entitled to tell you what I think is best in this case, and as a general guideline to provide standars in other reviews:

    1) AVAILABILITY OF THE PRODUCT: in the GTX 460 FTW case, I think you missed that a bit. I mean, it may be available in USA, but in Argentina, while we keep up the pace in the generation of the cards, we do not in brand availability. The FTW is hard to find here, I think it must be in other "remote" locations, and a part of your readers are from there; at least in my city, you´re being read more frecuently than most national publications.
    Of course this does not affect the benchmarks, but it deserves a disclaimar as much as the inclussion of the FTW.

    2) PARTICULARITY (couldn´t find a better word in my dictionary) OF THE PRODUCT: the FTW was a heavily overclocked, non reference, not-so-broadly-available card; it can not be compared in any way to a reference Radeon 68x0. However, it CAN and it MUST be compared DIRECTLY with overclocked, non reference, not-so-broadly-available card as the MSI 6850. The GTX470 might be very competitive in terms of performance with the 6870, but if you say "ok, the 470 is faster, but mind you, it is a hot and power hungry card" and leave it at that you are openly aproving a very, lets be polite and say "unpolished" mArch as the GF100 is, and by oblitterating the fact that the GTX470 is basically lowering the price for making up all the mess they made in the first place you are making the same ripoff that nVidia made by renaiming the 8800GT 9800 GT and then GTS250, or AMD by calling Barts 68x0. The same goes for Intel: their naming scheme SUCKS BADLY, and you should be complaining about the fact that some i5 series are even dual core, or even worse i7s in notebooks. I´m saying this because I sincerely believe that Anand is one of the smartest thinkers in the I.T. industry, and he has to be heard.

    3) REFERENCE OR NOT: I will put it as simply as I can. Comparing a GTX460 FTW with a Radeon GeForce 6850 is like comparing a 1992 Nissan 240ZX stripped of all the inner panels, seats, air conditioning, etc., and the engine tuned to the max with a 2009 370Z. Both of thouse cars have made tradeoffs (noise for speed, size for performance for example) and both run at a similar final speed, but they do so in a different way. I think it is not a fair comparison: with the FTW, you get warranty along a heavy overclock, so the above comparison is not very fair, but the idea remains: compare by price, and reference or not. For example, you say that the FTW is worth having a different name such as GTX461, 465, whatever; but by comparing it to the stock 6850 you are saying "what the hell, it works out anyway" you are doing the same thing that EVGA and nVidia did by calling it 460 FTW.

    4) AT always changes for the best, you are very smart at changing for this is a constantly moving industry. Review your standards permanently, and listen to your readers but don´t get mad at it: can´t please everyone.

    Sorry for the long posts, and for those that will inevitably think I am a fanboy I will tell them that my 4 last video cards were Radeon 9600SE, GeForce PCX5900, GF 7300 GT, and recently GF9600GT.

    Best regards Anand & staff, and keep building the best hardware site on the net.
  • vshin - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    Ryan, dunno if you're still reading these comments but I just want to thank you for a good review of the various 6850 cards. It was a tremendous help.
  • Oxford Guy - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    Is there a way to change the fan speed profile so it won't be so aggressive/loud?

    Since it's using a vapor chamber, one would assume it should be able to run with a slower fan speed.
  • King.Koba - Thursday, December 2, 2010 - link

    Now that Sapphire's 6850 Toxic edition is out. I'd like to see it compared to these other factory over-clocked cards. Sapphire has been the biggest player in ATI/AMD cards for a long time and their Toxic series has always brought a little more to the table.

    This time, it has a 6870 style PCB with 2 6pin connectors. The potential of having 75 more watts available might allow it to push far past the other cards which were tested. It would be interesting to see if that potential translates in real world testing.

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