AMD Radeon HD 6870 & HD 6850 - Northern Islands Ahoy!


A New Beginning with AMD

A New Beginning with AMD

In June 2008, ATI released their Radeon HD 4000 series to critical acclaim. In our review, we found it to be an absolute gem of a card, offering great performance for its price. It also took NVIDIA by surprise, so much so that they were forced to slash prices of their own cards even though they had only been out in the market for barely a month.

In September last year, ATI followed up with their awesome Evergreen series. Architecturally, Evergreen wasn’t a technological breakthrough, but ATI managed to increase graphics horsepower yet keep power levels down. The end result was some of the most power efficient cards we’ve seen. And crucially, ATI’s Evergreen cards were also the first in the world to offer full DirectX 11 compatibility, something that took their arch rival NVIDIA a further full six months to do. By which point ATI had already released their entire Evergreen line-up, and allowed them to build a significant lead over NVIDIA.

It’s been slightly more than a year since the launch of Evergreen and a lot has changed since. For one, the ATI brand has been killed off and has been replaced by AMD. AMD, if you recall, acquired ATI back in 2006. Hence, the new Radeons are now marketed as AMD cards, whereas the older Radeons will be continued to sold as ATI cards.

Also, NVIDIA’s Fermi is slowly gaining traction in the form of the outstanding GeForce GTX 460 and the mainstream GTS 450. Therefore what better time to launch your new generation of graphics cards then now?

And today, AMD has kickstarted the next round of graphics card wars by landing the first punch with their all-new Radeon HD 6870 and HD 6850, part of their brand new Northern Islands line-up.

With the rebranding of ATI to AMD, they've also taken the liberty to tweak the nomenclature of the Northern Islands line-up. Previously in Evergreen, the 5800 series represented the company’s premium single GPU cards, while the 5900 series represented the company’s single dual-GPU card, which also happens to be their most powerful offering.

In Northern Islands, that has been tweaked a little as the 6800 series now refers only to the company’s higher-end mainstream offerings. While the most powerful single GPU Northern Islands cards will instead be bumped up into the 6900 series.

Now before we delve further, here’s a quick look at how the Radeon HD 6870 and HD 6850 stacks up against its closest rivals. 

 Here's how the two new SKUs from AMD compare against its closest competitors.

AMD Radeon HD 6800 Series and competitive SKUs compared
Model

AMD Radeon HD 6870

AMD Radeon HD 6850 ATI Radeon HD 5870 ATI Radeon HD 5850 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460
Core Code  Barts XT Barts PRO Cypress XT Cypress Pro GF100 GF104
Transistor Count  1700 million 1700 million 2150 million 2150 million 3200 million 1950 million
Manufacturing Process 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 55nm
Core Clock 900MHz 775MHz 850MHz 725MHz 607MHz 675MHz
Stream Processors  1120 Stream processing units 960 Stream processing units 1600 Stream processing units 1440 Stream processing units 448 Stream Processors 336 Stream Processors
Stream Processor Clock  900MHz 775MHz 850MHz 725MHz 1215MHz 1350MHz
Texture Mapping Units (TMU) or Texture Filtering (TF) units  56 48 80 72 56 56
Raster Operator units (ROP)  32 32 32 32 40 24
Memory Clock  4200MHz GDDR5 4000MHz GDDR5 4800MHz GDDR5 4000MHz GDDR5 3348MHz GDDR5 3600MHz GDDR5
DDR Memory Bus  256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 320-bit 192 / 256-bit
Memory Bandwidth  134.4GB/s 128GB/s 153.6GB/s 128GB/s 133.9GB/s 86.4/ 115.2GB/s
PCI Express Interface  PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16
Molex Power Connectors  2 x 6-pin 1 x 6-pin 2 x 6-pin 2 x 6-pin 2 x 6-pin 2 x 6-pin
Multi GPU Technology  CrossFireX CrossFireX CrossFireX CrossFireX SLI SLI
DVI Output Support  2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link
HDCP Output Support  Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Street Price  Launch Price: US$239 Launch Price: US$179 ~US$360 ~US$270 ~US$259 US$199 (1GB) / US$169 (768MB)