Asus DirectCU & AMD Radeon HD 6850 Graphics Cards

Graphics Cards
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FINAL THOUGHTS

Gaming: Please check out gaming-oriented reviews of the HD 6870 at sites like like HardwareCanucks, The Tech Report, and AnandTech. The general consensus is that the HD 6850 performs well enough to compete with the slightly more expensive 1GB version of the GeForce GTX 460, and is arguably the best midrange GPU you can buy for under US$200.

Power Consumption: By our estimates, both the reference AMD Radeon HD 6850 and Asus EAH6850 DirectCU use only 16W when idle, a small improvement over the AMD Radeon HD 6870. On load, the reference card consumed 91W, while the slightly overclocked/overvolted Asus version used 100W (though with a slight voltage tweak, it draws almost even). Both numbers are excellent considering the performance delivered by the HD 6850. Most users will not require a big power supply upgrade to use either card.

Cooling: When idle, the stock heatsinks on both cards are very quiet, even by SPCR standards, with the reference model coming out slightly ahead; it is just a little bit quieter and smoother sounding. On load, the reference cooler is much louder, emitting 6~7 dB more than the amazingly quiet Asus DirectCU cooler. Our test system with the Asus card installed measured only 17~18 dBA@1m and the heatsink kept the GPU substantially cooler. However you can expect higher system temperatures with the Asus card in a traditional tower case as it does not exhaust air out the back like the reference cooler.

The AMD Radeon HD 6850 is energy efficient and relatively quiet for a reference card, though the fan speed is higher than it needs to be on load. It is rather odd though that a midrange card would be equipped with a vapor chamber heatsink rather than traditional heatpipes. The board layout is also different than every retail HD 6850 we've seen online. Furthermore, only a few of AMD's partners are using side-blowing exhaust style coolers; the vast majority are utilizing down-blowing heatsinks. It is beyond weird that no one is following this so-called reference design.

The Asus EAH6850 DirectCU is one of the best-cooled and quietest graphics cards we have come across in a long time. Though the heatsink doesn't look like much, its direct-touch heatpipes do an excellent job, allowing the fan to spin at fairly low speeds. It could even be quieter if Asus departed from the reference fan profile; end-users can use a variety of software utilities to make the EAH6850 DirectCU even quieter on load. Asus has also allowed users to play with the core voltage in both directions. You can undervolt to trim power consumption, heat, and noise, or you can overvolt it to reach higher clock speeds for better performance. At US$190, it is priced slightly higher than the cheapest HD 6850's, but it's worth the premium in our opinion. Its noise level is excellent, and you can tweak it for whatever purposes suits you.

Our thanks to AMD and Asus for the reference Radeon HD 6850 and Asus EAH6850 DirectCU samples.

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Asus EAH6850 DirectCU

SPCR Editor's Choice Award

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