AMD Radeon HD 6870 Graphics Card

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AMD Radeon HD 6870 Graphics Card

November 7, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

AMD Radeon HD 6870
PCI-E Graphics Card
Street Price

Cloudy skies, bare trees, scarf-clad pedestrians, and slight dustings of frost on front lawns in the early morning can only mean one of two things: the onset of winter or the release of a new line of ATI graphics cards. Alas this year, there will be no new ATI card eating up your hard earned cash or miraculously appearing in a well-wrapped box underneath the Christmas tree. ATI is dead, done, no more. But relax, the new Radeons you've been waiting for are here and ready to keep you away from your loved ones during those long cold nights, they just now have a slightly different name. Noobs will continue to be fragged, characters will level up, and neglected spouses will hear the familiar placation "one more turn" (translation: see you in the morning).

This year ATI becomes AMD, a symbolic transition perhaps, but an end of an era nevertheless, and the start of a new one celebrated with a major press event for the 6800 series graphics card launch last month, as SPCR Editor Mike Chin documented. With the eagerly anticipated APU (accelerated processing unit, the fusion of the GPU and CPU on a single chip) on the horizon, ATI no longer simply compliments AMD with chipsets and integrated/discrete graphics. They are really one and the same now; it only makes sense for the company to have a single brand. However, they will have to live with the short-term pain of confused lay folk unsure about the compatibility of AMD graphics cards with their Intel-based systems.

The AMD Radeon HD 6870.

The Barts core of the HD 6000 series doesn't boast any revolutionary performance leaps over the HD 5000 line's Cypress core, at least not with the first wave of cards. Shortly after AMD's HD 5000 series supply fiasco, Nvidia came back from their long desktop graphics hiatus with GPUs with the new GF100 core. Of the cards nVidia released, the one that really hit it out of the park was the GTX 460, a US$200 card that easily offered the best value in that price range. With street prices of about US$180 and US$250 respectively, the new HD 6850 and 6870 cards are AMD's weapons to reclaim the midrange market.

The tale of the tape: HD 5850 vs. HD 6870.

Despite what the name suggests, the HD 6870 is not meant to be an upgrade for the HD 5870, but rather the HD 5850, with both cards currently retailing close to US$240. While we don't approve of misleading naming schemes, Nvidia has done much worse in the past, rebranding old GPUs with new, higher model numbers several times. Without getting technical, the main difference between Cypress and Barts is that the architecture has been rearranged to make it more efficient. So while the hardware specifications seem to be in the HD 5850's favor, under the hood the HD 6870 is doing more work with what it's got. Barts has a smaller die size, making it more energy efficient, and cheaper to produce, which means AMD can deliver better performance without sacrificing price or power consumption... or margins.

6870 back panel: 2 x Mini DisplayPort, 2 x DVI, 1 x HDMI.

Performance aside, there are a few things Barts can do that Cypress cannot. It has an updated version of UVD (universal video decoder) that supports MVC encoding, allowing the dual video streams required for stereoscopic 3D output. This coupled with an HDMI 1.4a connector gives the HD 6850/6870 the ability to play both games and Blu-ray movies in 3D. Almost as an afterthought, they've thrown in hardware acceleration for the DIVX/XVID codecs which is odd given it has been around for about 10 years and can be decoded via software without issue even on relatively slow machines.

In addition, AMD's Eyefinity multi-display technology has become even stronger. The 6850 and 6870 ship with a pair of Mini DisplayPort 1.2 connectors that can drive up to three monitors each, giving users the option of running six independent displays with a single card. Soon, there will be monitors with DisplayPort input and output, meaning you can daisy-chain them together. Inn the meantime a separate hub is required as a go-between for the extra displays. Unfortunately like the previous generation of cards, you cannot run three monitors through HDMI/DVI alone; at least one must be connected via a DisplayPort, so most users will still need adapters.

Specifications: AMD Radeon HD 6870
Interface PCI-E 2.1 16x
Fabrication Process 40 nm
Transistor Count 1700 million
Die Size 255 mm2
Core Clock Speed 900 MHz
Memory Clock Speed 1050 MHz
Memory Type GDDR5
Memory Size 1024 MB
Memory Bandwidth 134.4 Gbps
SIMD Engines 14
Stream Processors 1120
Texture Units 56
Color ROP Units 32
Memory Bandwidth 134.4 Gbps
Idle TDP 19W
Max TDP 151W
Additional Features DirectX 11, DirectCompute 11, OpenCL, Eyefinity, Shader Model 5.0, Open GL 3.2, UVD 3, Mini DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4a

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