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Written by Bruce Normann   
Monday, 10 January 2011
Table of Contents: Page Index
PowerColor Radeon HD 6870 PCS+ Video Card
Closer Look: PowerColor PCS HD 6870
PowerColor PCS HD 6870 Detailed Features
Features and Specifications
Video Card Testing Methodology
DX10: 3DMark Vantage
DX10: Crysis
DX10: Just Cause 2
DX9 SSAO: Mafia II
DX11: Aliens vs. Predator
DX11: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DX11: DiRT-2 Demo
DX11: H.A.W.X. 2
DX11: Lost Planet 2
DX11: METRO 2033
DX11: Unigine Heaven 2.1
PowerColor PCS HD 6870 Temperatures
VGA Power Consumption
AMD Radeon HD 6870 Final Thoughts
PowerColor PCS HD 6870 Conclusion

PowerColor PCS+ HD 6870 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.

From a performance standpoint, this is a 5850-class card with the potential to cost 30% less. It convincingly distances itself from the Radeon HD 5830, which used to occupy this price point. In stock form, it competes well with sanely overclocked GTX460 cards, and in overclocked form, it's starting to reach its full potential. The HD 6870 and its companion the HD 6850 fill a large performance gap AMD had in the 5xxx product line. I'm much happier with PowerColor's PCS+ style cooling solution, compared to the reference design with its loud radial blower. I'm disappointed by the fan profile though, as it could have been much more aggressive without sacrificing much in the way of noise performance. I observed much higher operating temperatures than I like to see during normal gaming scenarios.

The appearance of the PowerColor PCS+ HD 6870 1GB GDDR5 video card is very attractive; I'm even willing to give it a pass on the toy-car styling, just because it still looks good. The decorative touches are a bit over-the-top, but it actually looks more like a modern Batmobile than the HD5000 series cards did. The red PCB material is a PowerColor trademark and it is perfectly appropriate here. When installed in a typical ATX-style PC case, the fans point down towards the ground and you mostly see the back side of the board, so it will fit in perfectly in an AMD setting.

PowerColor_HD_6870_PCS_Video_Card_Bottom_Front_01.jpg

The build quality of the PowerColor PCS+ HD 6870 card was well above average, which is fine for this segment of the video card gaming market. The overall impression of the card was more high tech than solid, since the cooler isn't a dense block like some other cards. All the open space on the shroud takes away from the rigidity of the assembly. The packaging was good quality and reasonably informative and the box itself is smaller than some in this price segment, which is fine by me - less waste. I was very happy to see that the PC board was mostly clean and free from residue; PowerColor has definitely improved their manufacturing processes, or at least the vendor who builds cards for them has. The power supply used high quality parts, and followed the reference design for the most part. I imagine that the cooling system comes in at a lower overall cost than the reference design, but that's the only place I saw any form of cost cutting. I honestly thought the HD 6870 reference design cooler was too posh for the market segment, so this lower-cost design actually seems more appropriate.

The basic features of the PowerColor PCS+ HD 6870 are mostly comparable with the latest offerings from both camps, but it lacks PhysX Technology, which is a real disappointment for some. The big news on the feature front is the new Morphological Anti-aliasing, the two DisplayPort 1.2 connections that support four monitors between them, 3rd generation UVD video acceleration, and AMD HD3D technology. That's quite a handful of new technologies to introduce at one time, and proof that it takes more than raw processing power to win over today's graphics card buyer. All the functional features of the reference card are present here, including the I2C compatibility of the main PWM controller for voltage control on the GPU. The only thing missing is reporting of the fan RPM, which is odd because the fan has a three-wire connection which indicates a tachometer output feeding back to the PCB.

As of early January 2011, the price for the PowerColor PCS+ HD 6870 AX6870 1GBD5-PP2DH Video Card is $274.99 at NewEgg. This is for a bundle with a Power Jack, that props up the far end of the video card to prevent strain on the PCI Express connector. This particular card is so light, I don't think it really needs a Power Jack, but it certainly can't hurt. I've also seen the card elsewhere for $249.99, and you can always check our shopping app here at Benchmark Reviews to look for the best price. In contrast to some recent launches, where the price went up by $20-$30 a few weeks after the card hit the market, the Radeon HD 6870 cards seem to be holding steady, or dropping slightly. It's probably all a marketing mind game to keep the pricing of the rumored NVIDIA GTX560 down.

The PowerColor PCS+ HD 6870 takes the best of the Radeon HD 5770 and the HD 5850 and creates a lower cost version that equals the old high-priced spread. It also takes the best from the reference design and leaves the negatives behind, at least in my opinion. One day someone will invent a silent radial blower; until then, I will almost always prefer cooler designs that use an axial fan. The exhaust fans on my PC case do a great job at removing hot air, negating the only real reason I see for sticking with the AMD reference design for cooling. Even in CrossFireX, I don't see differential heating as an issue, because I don't see it - period. Maybe if you don't have good airflow into the side of your case, or the exhaust is not strong enough, then you might have an issue. Most of us have overkill airflow in our gaming cases and it ceases to be an issue.

Two months after its release, the Radeon HD 6870 is a viable alternative in its market segment. It hasn't pushed the NVIDIA offerings aside, and it never will at its current price, but now there are two really good choices in the upper midrange.

Pros:

silvertachaward.png+ Quiet cooling system
+ Performance on most games is excellent
+ 5850 performance levels at lower cost
+ Lower power than HD 5xxx, especially at idle
+ The VRM heat problem is fixed for good
+ Good price/performance ratio
+ Manufacturing quality is improved
+ Flexible output connections
+ Memory ICs are cooled by downflow fan
+ Afterburner support for I2C voltage control

Cons:

- Cooling fan profile is too slow, 20% - 38% normal range
- Reference design is actually cooler under load
- Tessellation performance still lags behind Fermi
- Hot air from GPU stays inside cases with limited exhaust
- The graphics industry completely missed the 32nm technology node

Ratings:

  • Performance: 9.00
  • Appearance: 8.75
  • Construction: 9.00
  • Functionality: 9.25
  • Value: 8.25

Final Score: 8.85 out of 10.

Quality Recognition: Benchmark Reviews Silver Tachometer Award.

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