Review: Good performance at a tempting price
Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 1GB GDDR5 hit the market back in October last year and it was one of the first cards from the new AMD`s HD 6000 series. While it sports reference clocks, Sapphire has made a few changes to their design that separates this card from the other reference AMD designs. Note that reference clocks stand at 775MHz for the GPU and 1000MHz (4000MHz effectively) for the memory.
While the name HD 6850 might suggest so, it's not the successor to the HD 5850. The product isn't a straight replacement for the HD 5770 either. Actually AMD brought this product to the market in order to compete with Nvidia's Geforce GTX 460. Taking everything into account, HD 6850 offers a nice bang per buck.It's well worth knowing, though that AMD has officially rebranded its HD 5700 Juniper based graphics cards to Radeon HD 6700 series. It appears that these rebrands are only for OEMs while retail/e-tail is still listing the HD 5700 series cards. The Radeon HD 6750 and the Radeon HD 6770 have the same specs as the HD 5750 and 5770 cards with added support for HDMI 1.4a.
Below you see GPUZ screenshot, confirming the clocks on our Sapphire HD 6850 card as well as the number of shaders (960).
Sapphire HD 6850 card is based on Barts core, which compared to the previous generation offers improvements on the field of tessellation, Eyefinity, video decoding and consumption. UVD engine is now in UVD 3 version; there’s also HDMI 1.4a for 3D Blu-ray as well as two DisplayPort 1.2 outs. The DisplayPorts support MultiStream technology, allowing up to 6 monitors to be used via only two DisplayPorts.
Sapphire HD 6850 packaging is eye catching, like always. Within the box (made of recycled paper), you’ll find the standard stuff as well as an HDMI 1.4a cable (1.8m).
Sapphire’s HD 6850 (11180-00-40R SKU) features reference clocks but Sapphire has made a few design changes. The card is 8.5 inches long (21.7cm), slightly shorter than the Radeon HD 5850, which also occupies two expansion slots. For reference, the Radeon HD 6870 measures 9.5" inches (24.1cm).
As you can see the card is strapped with special Sapphire designed cooling. The fan is 7.5cm in diameter and is connected to the 4-pin connector. Fan speed regulation can be performed via the Catalyst Overdrive or any other tool you may prefer. Sapphire's TriXXX tool will allow for GPU voltage changes. You can download it here, provided you register your card.
The memory chips are exposed and do not have a passive cooling solution on top of them.
Sapphire HD 6850's heatsink uses two 8mm thich heatpipes to draw heat from the GPU core.
The HD 6850 sports 256-bit memory bus like the HD 5800 series, rather than 128-bit like on HD 5770 cards. Sapphire HD 6850 (11180-00-40R SKU) card is equipped with 1024MB GDDR5 memory. The GDDR5 memory chips are made by Hynix (model number H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C). They are specified to run at 1250 MHz (effective 5000 MHz).
The I/O panel features one DisplayPort 1.2 connector, one HDMI 1.4a and two DVI connectors (one of them is single-link with maximum resolution of 1920x1200).
Radeon HD 6850 consumes 127W at max so it will require one 6-pin power connector. Software GPU voltage control is possible. CHiL's CHL8214 voltage regulator supports voltage control via I2C and comes with extensive monitoring and tweaking features.
Just like the Radeon HD 6870, Radeon HD 6850 comes with only one CrossFire connector. This means that you can only use two cards in 2-way CrossFire.
Motherboard: EVGA 4xSLI
CPU: Core i7 965 XE (Intel EIST and Vdrop enabled)
Memory: 6GB Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24
Harddisk: OCZ Vertex 2 100 GB
Power Supply: CoolerMaster Silent Pro Gold 800W
Case: CoolerMaster HAF X
Fan Controler: Kaze Master Pro 5.25"
Operating System: Win7 64-bit
AMD 11.2 CCC
Aliens vs Predator
TriXXX allowed us to boost GPU voltage to 1299mV, which helped in pushing the GPU all the way up to 985MHz. We were pretty surprised by the overclock we've achieved since most HD 6850 cards refused to run higher than 950MHz. However, note that overclocking results may vary from card to card and there is a realistic posibility that we've struck lucky. Overclocking helped us achieve up to 22% better results in Aliens vs Predator.
Sapphire HD 6850 will run quiet where GPU temperatures didn't exceed 69°C. Not even overclocking managed to push the temperatures beyond 76°C and the fan didn't run to loud either.
Sapphire's HD 6850 consumes around 15W when idle, which is comparable with the green camp’s GTX 460. During operation, HD 6850's maximum consumption was about 25W less than on the GTX 460 1GB.
So far, Sapphire announced two graphics cards based on Barts Pro GPU – Radeon HD 6850 and Radeon HD 6850 Toxic. We’re talking about cards from Northern Islands series, which is AMD’s second DirectX 11 graphics card generation.
Our today’s test subject, SapphireHD 6850 Radeon (11180-00-40R SKU) currently goes for €154, here.
The card comes with nonreference cooling which is efficient when it comes to cooling the GPU, and fortunately, we can say it’s pretty quiet. Sapphire decided to leave the card at reference clocks, but we boosted it by additional 210MHz for the GPU and 160MHz for the memory (640MHz effectively). Overclocking helped us achieve up to 22% better results in Aliens vs Predator.
Radeon HD 6850 is not a high-end card but rather a product made with medium budgets in mind, the so called Gamers’ sweet spot card. The card hit the shelves at the end of October last year with priced at around €150. As you can see, the price is still the same.
As far as performance goes, Sapphire HD 6850 really puts AMD’s architecture improvements to good use. The card does pretty well in DirectX 11 games matching the HD 5850 and GTX 460 1GB in some benchmarks. Compared to the previous, HD 5800 generation, tessellation performance increase is visible.
If you’ve stuck to DirectX9 or DirectX10 hardware so far and you’re looking for a nicely priced graphics card that will allow for playing all the latest titles, then Sapphire’s HD 6850 should definitely make your list.