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AMD Radeon HD 6850 review

Verdict

Repositioned to the mid-range, it’s the best-value mainstream card on the market

Review Date: 22 Oct 2010

Reviewed By: Mike Jennings

Price when reviewed: £127 (£149 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
6 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

The ATI Radeon HD 5850 was a high-end part that debuted at £173 exc VAT. Despite winning awards, AMD believes it was something of an aberration, too expensive for most consumers despite its excellent benchmark results. Thus, at just £127 exc VAT, the new HD 6850 marks a return to the all-important “sweet spot”.

It’s not just cheaper than last year’s model; it also features a redesigned and optimised architecture. The main change concerns the arrangement of stream processors. While the HD 5800 cards had a single complex processor with four simple “slave” shaders, AMD has done away with slave shaders entirely and instead packaged a quartet of complex cores together.

AMD Radeon HD 6850

While this means the HD 6850 has only 960 stream processors compared to the 1,600 of the HD 5850, each quartet can handle more complex tasks in a more efficient manner. It’s a change that AMD hopes will allow its cards to do more with less.

The rest of the HD 6850 is conventional, with 1.7 billion transistors – 400 million fewer than the HD 5850 – and a 775MHz core clock. One gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM runs at 1,000MHz, and there’s a 256-bit memory bus.

These refinements made for some interesting results in our Crysis benchmarks. An average of 33fps in our 1,920 x 1,080 Very High benchmark is four frames faster than the Nvidia’s 1GB GeForce GTX 460; that gap remained when we activated 4x anti-aliasing, with a score of 29fps just about playable.

The HD 6850 scored 35fps in our High quality test at a higher resolution of 2,560 x 1,600, although that was the limit; when we loaded the same test at Crysis’ highest settings, the HD 6850 struggled to a score of 21fps.

Its Nvidia rivals were slightly ahead in our DiRT 2 tests, however. The GTX 460 ran through our maximum-quality benchmark at 1,920 x 1,080 at more than 60fps, with the HD 6850 returning 53fps.

Crysis performance

There’s little to worry about when it comes to heat and power consumption, either. A maximum temperature of 83 degrees isn’t too high, and a peak power draw of 248W in our test rig is significantly lower than Nvidia’s equivalents.

The final piece of AMD’s mid-range puzzle is the price, and it’s the card’s greatest strength. At £127 exc VAT the HD 6850 is the same price yet faster in most tests than the GTX 460. And when compared to AMD’s own HD 6870, the small loss in frame rates is easily made up for by the price saving of nearly £50. It’s a little unusual in that the HD 6850 is slower than its predecessor, but the price means it’s undoubtedly the finest mid-range card available.

Author: Mike Jennings

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User comments

Slower than predecessor

I'm not sure it's that unusual. The 57xx series was slower than the 47xx in most things. This was explained away by the introduction of DX11 support.

It's starting to look like this is a common theme in AMD's releases - drop the price markedly, drop the performance a little and hope the press go easy.

Perhaps it would be more instructive to compare the 6870 with the 5850 (as they're currently similar prices) and the 6850 with the 5830 (ditto). Comparing them based solely on the model number is not really valid, as AMD have changed the architecture, so I'd have thought price would be better.

By alynsparkes on 22 Oct 2010

Slower?

@Alynsparkes

Except other tech sites are finding the 6850 is the equal of the 460 1gb and that the 6870 is out performing the 470!

http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/graphics/2010/10/
22/ati-radeon-hd-6870-review/1

By fingerbob69 on 22 Oct 2010

Confusion over photoshots

Please can someone explain why pc pros product images are completely different to online retailer product images. Also here this card shows 2 display ports but on retail images with most esellers it shows only one.

By jamesv1001 on 28 Oct 2010

Agree with Confusion over photshots and lack of tech spec detail

Thanks james - I have had been looking to buy a 5570 but was becoming very frusterated when all the shots were different

AND

unable to find how many monitors could be driven after comment on page 64 "cards from the latest generation, which will run THREE monitors" (in last month's PCPro)

By ianalan on 28 Oct 2010

Photoshoots etc

Hey,

Thanks Ian and James for your comments.

First, photography. When we review graphics cards we stick with reference cards, in this case supplied by AMD - that's because it's impossible for us to review every partner card that's available, and we review the chipset rather than the various cooling and design options that each partner offers.

So, we photograph these reference boards which, unfortunately, aren't normally available to buy - or, if they are, they're tricky to get hold of amid the numerous overclocked/tweaked/new cooler/different display output models being offered by several different manufacturers. Rest assured, though, that the chipset is the same unless it's been overclocked!

With regards to Eyefinity, apologies for not including it in the review. The HD 6800-series cards can support up to six displays.

Hope this clears a few things up, and please ask if you've got any more questions.

Cheers,

Mike

By Mikey_Jennings on 28 Oct 2010

Thanks Mike but no, this doesnt clear it up

Sorry to be a fly in the ointment but this is not what I meant. Im well aware different manufacturers such as ASUS and XFX have versions of this card. Naturally I want the card you reviewed, ie the ASUS model and so looked online. The photos of the ASUS model card are completely different, including number of connections. Also Im not overly bothered about aesthetics, but the version for sale comes a very poor second to your review model in the looks department. Please see for yourselves:

http://www.scan.co.uk/products/1gb-asus-hd-6850-oc
-4000mhz-gddr5-gpu-790mhz-960-stream-processors-dp
-dl-dvi-i-dvi-d-hdmi

Is this the same card as reviewed? Looking forward to clarification.

p.s youre welcome Ian.

By jamesv1001 on 28 Oct 2010

Also on ebuyer they have the naff looking 6850:

http://www.ebuyer.com/product/244442

and the good looking (with more connections) 6870:

http://www.ebuyer.com/product/242835

Im confused :(

Thanks in advance.

By jamesv1001 on 28 Oct 2010

No worries.

If I'm getting mixed up, please excuse me - it's been (and continues to be!) a very long day - but we didn't review an Asus card, and the one that's linked on Scan is an overclocked version.

We reviewed a reference board provided by AMD and, while you won't be able to buy that, hopefully some similar ones will appear before long, with the reference chip untouched by overclocks and similar coolers.

Mike

By Mikey_Jennings on 28 Oct 2010

Ahh Im mixing Amd and Asus up in all the confusion of the different versions. I understand Mikey and thanks.

By jamesv1001 on 28 Oct 2010

One last question Mikey

As it seems impossible to buy the card you reviewed, can you advice if having the same chipset means all available versions will perform equally well? Also Im still confused as to why your review model has 2 display ports and yet every available 6850 only has one display port. It seems its the 6870 that has two. Thanks in advance.

James

By jamesv1001 on 29 Oct 2010

Did PCPro Benchmark the 4xx series in the same way?

Did PCPro Benchmark the 4xx series in the same way?

It would be great to see those added to the chart so that I can gauge how much of an improvement I would get.

By dajfiel on 29 Oct 2010

James - cards from board partners with the same chipset will perform very, very close to the card I've tested, although the odd frame or so of performance will always change thanks to environmental conditions, heatsinks, your CPU, any variety of reasons.

Basically, unless you're looking to buy an overclocked card, the HD 6850 reviewed here will perform in line with other models, even if they look different.

Regarding display outputs, it's up to board partners. The display outputs on the reference card I reviewed are there to demonstrate what's possible, but it's up to manufacturers to choose what to use. If you'd like more than you can find at the moment, I'd wait a few weeks - as with the HD 5800-series, firms are probably preparing their "Eyefinity" cards as we speak.

Dajfiel - our graphics benchmarks have been revised for this year (they were introduced for the GPU Labs a couple of months back) so they won't be the same. They're not far different, though, so I'll try to dig out the results and post them here. I'd be interested to see how far we've come!

Thanks for the comments.

Mike

By Mikey_Jennings on 29 Oct 2010

Thanks for taking the time to respond so comprehensively, its appreciated.

By jamesv1001 on 29 Oct 2010

Not such a value graphics card anymore...

Sighs

Price when reviewed: £127 (£149 inc VAT)

Best deals: £208.50

I suppose prices have skyrocketed because of favourable reviews...

By jamesv1001 on 4 Dec 2010

Not such a value graphics card anymore...

Sighs

Price when reviewed: £127 (£149 inc VAT)

Best deals: £208.50

I suppose prices have skyrocketed because of favourable reviews...

By jamesv1001 on 4 Dec 2010

Why is this card still on the A-list!!!!

Why is a card that is nearly four years out of date still being publicised as an A-list, best buy mainstream card with 5 out of 6 stars for performance!!!! 2010 this was released, come on Pc-Pro - get a grip!!!!

By wiredWireless on 25 Feb 2014

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