|Sapphire 100315L Radeon HD 6850 Video Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Monday, 25 October 2010|
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Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 Conclusion
IMPORTANT: Although the rating and final score mentioned in this conclusion are made to be as objective as possible, please be advised that every author perceives these factors differently at various points in time. While we each do our best to ensure that all aspects of the product are considered, there are often times unforeseen market conditions and manufacturer changes which occur after publication that could render our rating obsolete. Please do not base any purchase solely on our conclusion, as it represents our product rating specifically for the product tested which may differ from future versions. Benchmark Reviews begins our conclusion with a short summary for each of the areas that we rate.
Beginning with frame rate performance, the Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 produces frame rates above the Radeon HD 5830 and just below the Radeon HD 5850. In our testing, Radeon HD 6850 performance was all over the place. There were times when it matched the more expensive Radeon HD 5850 and a few where it matched the 5830, but it always performed well above 5770 levels. It surpassed NVIDIA's 1GB GeForce GTX 460 in Battlefield BC2, Mafia 2, and Metro 2033, and matched performance in Crysis and Aliens vs Predator. In 3DMark Vantage, BattleForge, and Unigine Heaven, the Radeon HD 6850 was even with the 768MB GeForce GTX 460.
We didn't test AMD HD3D technology, or its impact on video game frame rates, primarily because the middleware was not made available and there are only two monitors that currently exist to support it: the Zalman Trimon 3D and iZ3D H220z1. At the time of launch Viewsonic had announced their 120Hz Fuhzion 3D monitor, but the product had not yet shipped. AMD HD3D technology presently supports one display, using either DL-DVI and DP monitors or a HDMI 1.4a-enabled 3D HDTV, so 3D movie playback on one of the few compatible 3D TVs is a more likely application of this feature.
Appearance is a more subjective matter, since the rating doesn't have any benchmark scores to fall back on. Partners traditionally offer their own unique twist on the reference design, and Sapphire has contributed their own custom cooling solution to the Radeon HD 6850 model 100315L. While our temperature results prove that AMD's reference design ultimately delivers function ahead of fashion by allowing heated air to externally exhaust outside of the computer case, Sapphire's solution offered cooler idle temps. This remains critically important to overclockers, but because the transition to 32nm wasn't achieved with Northern Islands the heat output with standard clock speeds is still considered moderately high.
I consider the constant move towards a smaller die process rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things, as NVIDIA once proved when their GeForce GTX 280 successfully launched at 65nm instead of 55nm. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is already building 32nm processors for other clientele, and AMD has noted that Moore's Law still applies - just not in regard to the Barts GPU. They claim that as a die processes become smaller, it also becomes much more costly to develop and produce.
There are six PLX display channel bridges on the Radeon HD 6850 video card, which opens up the functionality to various combinations of video connectivity. Four are dedicated to both dual-link DVI ports on the Sapphire 11180-00-40R SKU, while the reference design leaves one DVI port in single-link mode to enable two mini-DP outputs. HDMI 1.4a uses one channel, and a single full-size DisplayPort 1.2 output uses the sixth and final channel. The real innovation comes with DP 1.2, which can use a Multi-Stream Transport Hub to drive multiple displays at different resolutions, refresh rates, and color depth in Eyefinity.
Value is a fast moving target, and please believe me when I say that it changes by the minute in this industry. Delivering better performance and additional features at a lower cost to consumers has been the cornerstone of AMD's business philosophy for more than a decade, and they've repeatedly demonstrated this resolve in each of their many battles with Intel CPUs and NVIDIA GPUs. We've illustrated the cost per frame performance in the charts below:
In conclusion, the Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 introduces more flexibility for display devices, especially where Eyefinity is used, plus it enables stereoscopic 3D gaming and Blu-ray or 3D DVD playback for the first time. The reconfigured Cypress-turned-Barts GPU offers decent gaming performance that rivals NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460, and occasionally competes with the older Radeon HD 5850. The $180 price point is fierce with competition, and the Radeon HD 6850 might better benefit from discounts or rebates to succeed. AMD touted Barts' improved filtering performance, but test using 3DCenter Filter Tester showed that anisotropic texture filtering still remains an issue.
Overall I consider the Sapphire 100315L Radeon HD 6850 to be a noteworthy PC gaming product, stereoscopic 3D or otherwise, but overclockers could be disappointed with the lack of headroom and Sapphire's internally-exhausted cooling solution. This is AMD's first self-branded video card, retiring nearly twenty years of ATI brand name recognition, so while it's done well to demonstrate modest mainstream performance capabilities there are still a few green areas. I'm not convinced the Radeon HD 6850 is going to impress consumers with improved Eyefinity support or added stereoscopic 3D functionality until these technologies become more mature, but this doesn't hold back the Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 from delivering solid mid-range gaming performance.
What do you think of the Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 video card? Leave comments below, or ask questions in our Forum.
+ Modest mainstream DX11 graphics performance
- Fan exhausts all heated air back inside case
Final Score: 8.65 out of 10.
Recommended: Benchmark Reviews Seal of Approval.