There is a lot to digest in this article but it really comes down to WHAT games were running to decide on which card in each set was the “winner”.  NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 460 1GB reference card and the GTX 460 1GB from EVGA running at 850 MHz were easily the best performing cards in two of our benchmarks: Metro 2033 and Lost Planet 2.  It is no surprise that these are the two games that are utilizing tessellation in them the most and we have already discussed the advantages that NVIDIA’s architecture has for tessellation, even in the GF104 chip.  This was verified by looking at the Unigine Heaven tests as well where the NVIDIA cards were handily winning there as well.

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For AMD, there were a couple of games where the HD 6870 stood out as being better than not only the reference GTX 460 1GB but also the highly overclocked card.  Civilization V and the very popular Battlefield: Bad Company 2 titles both showed that the new Barts GPU was up to the challenge in these DX11 titles that do NOT rely heavily on tessellation.  Both Left 4 Dead 2 and F1 2010, both running in DX9 modes, showed the overclocked GTX 460 1GB and the HD 6870 to be running just about neck and neck. 

The HD 6850 had a little bit of an easier time; though it did fall behind (compared to the reference GTX 460 1GB) in the Metro 2033 and Lost Planet 2 tests, it wasn’t by as much as the HD 6870 did.  In the Bad Company 2 and Civ V tests it was easily the better option and even in the DX9 titles the edge leans toward AMD.  Overall then, the Radeon HD 6850 held up slightly better to its direct competition than the HD 6870 did.

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CrossFire performance still needs some work as we saw scaling percentages range from 40% to 95% depending on the game and NVIDIA has already proven that they can consistently get their GPUs scaling at 80%+.  Hopefully the AMD driver team is hard at work on more profile updates and driver updates to catch NVIDIA in this area.


The HD 6800 series of cards offers essentially the same feature set as the HD 5800 of cards with just few basic additions: morphological anti-aliasing, HDMI 1.4a support, DisplayPort 1.2 support and the new UVD3 engine.  Other than that, the changed display output configuration can be viewed as either a positive or negative depending on if you wanted two dual-link DVI outputs or desired more DisplayPort connectivity out of the box.  

Oh, and as another sort-of downer to it all, the removal of the second CrossFire connector seems like an unnecessary nerf to the platform.

Pricing and Availability

Ah, here it gets interesting.  Here is the pricing as we know it today based on the comparisons we made in all of our benchmarks on the previous pages:
Does that help?  I didn’t think so.  The HD 6870 is going to cost you a bit more than the GTX 460 1GB overclocked cards and offers better performance in some games, worse in others, but a better overall feature set I feel.  The new HD 6850 costs less than the GTX 460 1GB reference cards and is a better comparative performer making it a slightly easier “buy” than the HD 6870.

Both of the new HD 6800 cards should be available starting today.

UPDATE:  The Radeon HD 6870 and HD 6850 are available for sale right now!!  

Final Thoughts

I know I have said this a few times in the last couple of months, but the release of NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 460 card back in July has really spoiled me.  When it came out it was a dominant card for its price point and was easily the best choice for gamers looking for a ~$200 option.  Since then, all graphics card releases have been compared to it and haven’t really lived up to the expectation.  The GTs 450 was okay, the GT 430 just meh.  I was (unfairly) expecting a similar boost with the HD 6800 series of cards from AMD when in reality what we got was a very good answer to the GTX 460.

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AMD was likely losing ground in the $200 segment and because of that felt the need to get a reply out sooner than its original schedule had intended.  That is good news for gamers: now we have better, lower cost options from AMD and also a forced hand from NVIDIA that caused a price drop on the GTX 460 lineup.  (BTW, I warned everyone on my twitter feed to not buy any cards before today; you should be following me.)  If I was given a $220 budget today and asked to pick between the AMD or NVIDIA options, I would probably lean towards the AMD HD 6870 if only for the triple monitor support; other users might value the ability to run some sort of 3D Vision gaming and PhysX titles better on the NVIDIA cards.  It is a cop-out, but all of these cards are good options.

The Radeon HD 6800-series didn’t bring a drastic change to the GPU market like the HD 5800 series did; the architectures are just too similar for anything like that to have happened.  AMD should be proud of the release though and now that they finally have a solid answer to the $200 question, I am sure product managers there will sleep better at night.  We are really looking forward to next month though as we will see even more options from AMD and even NVIDIA.
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